December 9th, 2015


Books 37 through 50

37. Taking on Diversity, by Rupert W. Nacoste. This should be required reading by anyone who wants to hold public office, anyone who teaches and… really anyone who wants to interact with the public on any level. I’ve purged a lot of read books from my shelves, but I plan to keep this one. It not only brings up several issues regarding our diverse nation that I never considered before, but offers solutions on bridging the gaps that exist. Boy, do we need that right now! Nacoste, who teaches at North Carolina State University, would be a cool teacher to have. His writing style is conversational and easy to follow, but he pulls no punches. One thing he emphasizes is that there are no innocents. Or, to quote a song from Avenue Q, Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist. The book goes into more than just issues of race, and Nacoste includes numerous examples of his students’ writings (withholding names). One thing I hear a good deal is that discrimination is in the past, and discrimination doesn’t happen today. This book is a wakeup call- the very real examples of discrimination along issues of race, ethnicity, disability, sex, and religion are all too current. Prejudice is still very much alive and well, and all the more rabid from some sectors as we head on a (hopefully) steady course towards an increasingly diverse future. I say “hopefully” because Nacoste’s view is that there is no turning back time, no going back to segregation and government-sanctioned discrimination. I, personally, hope he is right. But events of this past year make me wonder if we can take progress so much for granted. Still, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to help the people in our society work through our differences.

38. Ida B. Wells-Barnett: The Light of Truth, edited by Mia Bay and Henry Louis Gates Jr. It took me all summer to read this dense book, but it is worth the effort. This is a collection of work by famed journalist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Most of the writing deals with her essays, columns and pamphlets protesting the lynch laws prevalent during her time, and her writing was an eye-opener for me. I know I’m not the only one but my “knowledge” (if it could be called that) of lynching was somewhat limited. I thought, and always had the impression, that lynching meant a spur-of-the moment enraged mob hanging someone. Oh no. That is the sanitized version of what lynching meant. Wells-Barnett, through her writings which could wax poetic one moment and hurl barbs the next, provides facts, numbers, figures and many interviews to counter the common opinions of the time- that lynchings were necessary, and were always done against someone who was guilty and deserved such treatment. Wells-Barnett details several cases where, when the culprit (who may or may not have been guilty of a crime) could not be found, lynch mobs attacked the family. Wives, children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers could be targeted. And forget the idea that a lynch mob was a spur of the moment group. There were more than a few cases where trains made special excursions to cities where a lynching was anticipated, and whole families – including small children- came out by the hundreds. And while hanging someone without the full benefit of trial would be horrible enough, it was “just” a hanging if the mob decided to be lenient. Removal of fingers, toes and ears for souvenirs was all too common, as was burning, shooting and stabbing. The victim would often be alive as these atrocities happened. What’s more appalling is the lack of action by the government (at least one governor is quoted as saying that he would have lead a lynch mob if circumstances warranted it). The number of people killed by lynchings run into the thousands. Wells-Barnett early on states that the Civil War really did not end in 1865; civil war continued for decades. I think she had a point. This is not an easy book to read, but it does contain an unvarnished look at our history. A history we need to acknowledge fully if we do not wish to repeat it.

39. El Deafo, by Cece Bell. This charming graphic novel is a sort of autobiography. Bell became deaf after contracting meningitis as a young child. She draws her characters as rabbit-like creatures – it is hard to miss the irony. Bell is unflinchingly honest in telling her story about adapting to a new world where, no matter what, she would stand out as being different. But eventually, she discovers that the hearing aid system she uses for school gives her an ability the other students don’t have, so she becomes El Deafo, someone who has super powers. The drawings are simple and clean, and there is a great mix of humor and sadness. This is good for older grade school and preteens, especially for those who may know someone with a disability.

40. The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. This story centers on Josh, the narrator, and his twin brother Jordan. The entire book is told in free verse; The Crossover would be an excellent, modern-day book for teachers working on the various forms of poetry with their students. The poetry and feelings conveyed aren’t limited to the sentences themselves, but often how the words are placed. Josh and Jordan are both in middle school. They are incredibly talented basketball players, more than living up to the image of their basketball star father. But this year, the brotherly ties that have always held the twins together starts to fray, particularly after Jordan develops feelings for the new girl in school. The story is a quick read, good for the reluctant reader and sports fan, as well as those looking for something just a bit different. If I have a nit, I did find it hard to believe that the two brothers were only 12, going on 13. The writing and vocabulary feel older, more like high school. That was my only issue. All in all, I highly recommend this book.

41. A Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz, with illustrations by Catia Chien. This lovely picture book is based on the real story of zoologist and conservationist Alan Rabinowitz. The illustrations have an organic feel, with its greens, golds and browns. Rabinowitz overcame many difficulties to help establish a jaguar sanctuary, fulfilling a promise he made as a child. This would be a good book for younger grade school, either for self-reading or for a teacher or librarian to read.
42. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. This picture book is a feast – both in information and in its illustrations. Most people, of course, have heard of Roget’s Thesaurus- but how many know about the man behind this ubiquitous book? Here, the reader can find a brief biography of Peter Roget, which includes timelines, family information and his thought processes which lead him to compile and publish the first thesaurus. The book is richly illustrated with charts, artfully arranged words and lovely illustrations. The Right Word is a book which you can flip through multiple times and see something new each time. This would be a good read for older grade schoolers (I do wonder if children younger than first grade might be a bit overwhelmed by all the detail), and a good way to learn new words (not to mention introducing a valuable writing tool).

43. Waiting is Not Easy, by Mo Willems. Those looking for a good, fun book for kindergarten age and younger cannot go wrong with any of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books. Once again, Willems publishes a book that has become a hit. Here, Piggie tells Gerald, an elephant, that she has a surprise for him. Gerald finds it very hard to wait so long for this surprise – something any young child can relate to! But Gerald finds in the end that Piggie’s surprise is well worth the wait.

44. The Noisy Paint Box, by Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPre. Artist Vasily Kandinsky always saw the world in a different way. But when he tried to convey what he heard through the colors of his paint box, he only served to confuse and infuriate his parents, family and teachers. As an adult, though, he would connect with other artists who wanted to paint what they heard and felt, and move away from the typical painting subjects such as portraits, still lifes and landscapes. This picture book does a wonderful job not just telling Kandinsky’s story, but showing through color and word placement how a sound might look. I’d recommend The Noisy Paint Box for older grade school; it is a good introduction to teaching abstract art and expanding color vocabulary. What I love about the illustrations is the contrast between Kandinsky’s everyday existence – especially with his strict, straight-laced family – done in muted, almost sepia tones, and the bright, vivid splashes of color when he is painting.

45. Viva Frida, by Yuri Morales. There are several recent books aimed at children and teens about famous artist Frida Kahlo. This book is perfect for younger children. It’s large, colorful illustrations are complimented by bold font types and few words per page. It is a good way to introduce young children (preschool to first grade) to Frida, but a good way to introduce the Spanish language (the book is written in both English and Spanish). What is fascinating about the illustrations is how the pictures use many 3D items, including a doll, as Frida thinks about her art. But when she gets to creating a piece, the illustrations take on the feel of one of her works. The book also includes a brief biography of the artist.

46. Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. What a charming and original story! This picture book would be great for younger grade school. An imaginary friend becomes lonely as other imaginary creatures are adopted by children. Finally, he decides to do the unimaginable and go search for a child himself. The illustrations are bold and imaginative, with great use of color and space.

47. Firebird, by Misty Copeland, with Christopher Myers. This picture book has famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland encouraging a young, nameless teen (who can be any teen) to aim high and reach for her dance dreams. This is a powerful message coming from Copeland, who overcame many obstacles to become a renowned soloist with the American Ballet Theatre. Her words are lushly illustrated by Myers’ work; his vibrant drawings seem to come alive on the page. I would recommend this for kindergarten (a teacher reading it) and grade school age.

48. Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo. A wonderful picture book for younger grade school, especially for children who may find themselves, or have found themselves, in a different and overwhelming situation. Here, a young boy visits his nana in the city, but he finds himself overwhelmed by the crowds, the noise, the busy streets and the unfamiliar. Nana makes him a cape, which she says will protect him. Feeling safer, the young boy sees the beauty and excitement of the big city. I love the bright, simple illustrations, which capture the vast feeling of the city.

49. You Are (Not) Small, by Anna Kang, with illustrations by Christopher Weyant. A perfect book for preschool and kindergarten age. It wonderfully illustrates not only the differences in sizes (big and small) but the differences in perceptions. The illustrations are simple and clean, and the text large and easy for developing eyes to read and follow. This would be great either as a solo read or for a classroom/library.

50. Separate is Not Equal, by Duncan Tonatiuh. Most adults have heard of the groundbreaking Brown v. The Board of Education, which overturned “separate but equal” across the United States. But seven years before this landmark case, another court battle, Mendez v. The Westminster School District, would provide the legal precedent in abolishing segregation. The story is told through the eyes of Sylvia Mendez, who, along with her brothers, were forced to attend a segregated school. Their father fought to desegregate the school system so his children could be afforded the same opportunity for a quality education. The illustrations are highly stylized, with sharp colors. The author’s notes at the end give a more detailed description of the court case, the Mendez family and current issues with segregation.

Currently reading: I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson, and Let’s Have Another, by Dan Coughlin.
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

This morning I finished reading another book by Suzanne Johnson called Elysian Fields. In a fashion, similar to Jim Butcher's Dresden series, it deals with a woman who acts as a guardian against the encroachment of the supernatural on post-Katrina New Orleans. This is the third book in the series. I found it amusing, but a little harder to follow than the previous novels. There's a couple more yet in the series; I'm not giving up on it yet, but my interest in these tales is flagging.
miss plum

Books 115-116: Tricky Twenty-Two and Christmas Cravings

Book 115: Tricky Twenty-Two (Stephanie Plum #22).
Author: Janet Evanovich, 2015.
Genre: Mystery. Chick-Lit. Comedy-Drama.
Other Details: Unabridged Audiobook (6 hrs, 27 mins). Read by Lorelei King.

Stephanie Plum might not be the world’s greatest bounty hunter, but she knows when she’s being played. Ken Globovic (AKA Gobbles), hailed as the The Supreme Exalted Zoo Keeper of the animal house known as Zeta fraternity, has been arrested for beating up the dean of students at Kiltman College. Gobbles has missed his court date and gone into hiding. People have seen him on campus, but no one will talk. Things just aren’t adding up, and Stephanie can’t shake the feeling that something funny is going on at the college—and it’s not just Zeta fraternity pranks.

As much as people love Gobbles, they hate Doug Linken. When Linken is gunned down in his backyard it’s good riddance, and the list of possible murder suspects is long. The only people who care about finding Linken’s killer are Trenton cop Joe Morelli, who has been assigned the case, security expert Ranger, who was hired to protect Linken, and Stephanie, who has her eye on a cash prize and hopefully has some tricks up her sleeve.
- synopsis from author's website.

A fun though predictable annual instalment in this series. That the series is very much to formula is illustrated by the fact that when I started listening to this I thought for a minute that I had downloaded an earlier book in the series instead of the latest. Stephanie, her friends, family and apparently immortal hamster, Rex, never age or change despite the series starting in 1994. Still, I have accepted the formula and always enjoy the ridiculous situations Stephanie finds herself in. She amuses me.

Book 116: Christmas Cravings (Greediy Yours Series).
Author: Emma Hamilton, 2015.
Genre: Chick-Lit. Romance. Food
Other Details: ebook. 98 pages.

How could everything that seemed so right suddenly have gone so wrong for Mia? Snow is on the ground and Christmas lights twinkle in the German Christmas market. The warm, spiced wine is just right, but there's still one key ingredient missing from her romantic dream. Will Mia's Christmas turn out to be sugar and spice and all things nice - or a deflated soufflé of loneliness and regret? Christmas Cravings is a festive romance standalone episode from the Greedily Yours series. - synopsis from NetGallery.

My thanks to the publisher who provided a copy via NetGallery in exchange for an honest review. This was a charming tale and while I am not a great fan of romance it proved a pleasant distraction. The writing style is quite straightforward with a touch of humour. During the times that Mia went off in her mind recalling recent events her pal Lizzy called her back to the here and now and it did amuse me. Certainly one I would recommend if this kind of warm hearted chick-lit is your thing.

Book 132

Aftermath (Star Wars: Aftermath, #1)Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part of me wanted to give this five stars just to counterbalance the homophobic trolls who had a field day giving it one stars for *gasp* having a gay character but that's just not who I am. I wanted to love this. I follow Mr. Wendig's blog and saw his excitement in writing this but even three stars is a gift.

This was...dull. Sorry but it was. First off, I will say I know franchises like this often dictate to the author what characters can/cannot be used and what needs to happen in the book but I have no way of knowing just how much of that happened here. I can't fathom why the only name characters from canon used are Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar. Was it a contest to find characters people wouldn't give a damn about because if so, this wins.

Worse, Wedge doesn't DO much. This whole story could have happened without him and for that matter Ackbar too. Yes, thanks for trying to make the Mon Calamari (Shudders, Lucas can't name for crap) have a culture but just doesn't make Ackbar interesting.

This is just a few months out from the end of Palpatine and Vader. I know it was meant to show that the New Republic didn't just take over instantly and that the war went on longer than that. Fine. What the problem was we had five main point of view characters which was too many. There is Wedge but all he does is get captured and we see him for a few torture scenes and at the end he signals the Republic to come out to Akiva, some forgotten Outer Rim planet. Whoopie. Not worth the time it took. It was a waste of character.

The real story concentrated on the other four, Norra, Rebel pilot returning to Akiva to retrieve her son, Temmin, her long abandoned son turned minor pawn artist/droid repair/street rat, who doesn't want to leave the planet with his mother, Jas, the bounty hunter there to kill/capture a high ranking Imperial and Sinjir, formal Imperial Loyalty office/burgeoning alcoholic/gay man.

By the time we get their story lines we're nearly 150 pages in before they all come together. The story is @ 360 pages so almost half way in before that happens and then the story gets more readable.

Intermixed with this are a group of Imperials whose names I'm already forgetting less than a day after finishing this but they're all high ranking and trying to hold the empire together. They're having a summit meeting that spans the book and if there's anything more boring than a real summit meeting it's a fictional one. I started skimming this.

To make matters worse every other chapter is an 'interlude' with characters you might never see again in this story (maybe in the next who honestly who the hell cares?). So you have all these wild names who show up for 4 pages and are never seen again. There are only two of them worth much, one with a character that joins the above mentioned rebels and then one that's a set up for a different book with Han and Chewie (so yeah they take up less than 5 pages in this whole book).

So those rebels/streetpunk/bounty hunter/drunk characters are the point of view characters and they're trying to basically get the imperials, signal the rebels and get off the planet.

I think one of the real problems with this is it tried to do way too much. If the summit meetings were trimmed down, and all those interludes tossed out this would have been much more readable. It was really mostly a 2 star read but I'm feeling a tad generous.

And one of the worst parts is for me, the whole gay thing was really unnecessary. Don't get me wrong. I'm fine with Sinjir being gay. The scene, however, was pointless and added absolutely nothing to the story and was slightly creepy. Jas basically decides Sinjir isn't too useless so yes he may screw her if he wants. It was put pretty much like that and it's like wow, make it sound like a prostitute picking up a john. Way to treat your kick ass bounty hunter.

I'm not sure I'll follow the rest of the series.

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