Monday, October 07, 2019

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (2016)

Thank goodness this is just a duology. I thought things ended pretty well for the good guys and not so well for the bad guys. but I did want to read it soon after the Six of Crows, as this was a complex world with a lot of characters and I was afraid to forget them, if I waited too long.

The gang, led by Caz, has returned from the Ice Palace, but were cheated out of their reward and now they are all being hunted by various factions. Things look desperate, but Caz Brekker again thinks up a most convoluted scheme with a lot of moving parts, all of which need to happen close to perfectly, for all of them to be safe and relatively undisturbed, with funds in their pockets to follow their dreams. And the bad guys, while still alive, having lost their reputations and empires, whether they be merchants or Barrel lords.

(Another abbreviated note, as I seem to not be finding the time to write these up, but at least I have a touch point to what I have read. This one was read in June, but I occasionally upload a draft as is.)

Friday, October 04, 2019

Drift by Rachel Maddow (2013)

(Written around 2014-15, so forgive the old references - but interesting to see how I thought.)

I like Rachel Maddow's news show on MSNBC, though there are times it just feels like too much, so I go back to Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert, that have a similar stance, just with more humor. I was not sure I wanted to listen to a book about our military, but I wanted to see what Maddow had to say, and was very glad that I did.

Maddow had done extensive research and then strung it together in a cohesive narrative taking us through the military history of the U.S. throughout the 20th century to today. I didn't realize that the constitution had set it up, so that the president could not declare war by himself, but this declaration had to be made by congress, so no one person could get us into war. This power has now been relinquished by slowly chipping away at the concept till today the congress is out of the loop.

Unfortunately I never finished my thoughts on this book, but since she has a new book out that I will be reading soon, thought I might as well get this up there. I will also note that I now prefer Rachel Maddow's show to the comedians, though I still watch them at times. Trevor Noah is now my favorite, as he has found a lighter touch on the disastrous news of the day.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan (2016)

I could live in these rural worlds that Colgan spins forever. No, I don't want to live there, just visit and hang out during her stories. This is about the fictional island of Mure off the northern coast of Scotland. Yes, there are plenty of islands out there and somebody lives on them and tourists go visit them.

Flora grew up in Mure, but went to live in London and works in a law firm, where she is in love with her workaholic boss Joel. But, they have a rich client Colton, who wants the law firm to help him win a case to move a wind turbine field away from the island, so it doesn't ruin the view from his new exclusive resort. 

Flora is sent up there to be a liaison with the town. She does not want to be there, as she left in less than ideal circumstances after her mother died. After failing to feed her father and brothers with fancy food from the city, she discovers her mother's cookbook and starts recreating her mom's wonderful recipes and healing herself.

When she meets Colton, he is nice enough, but he has totally ignored the town and its inhabitants and is not liked there. Flora starts mending the relationship and one example is that he owns a storefront that he has kept empty, while young islanders go off the island to find summer and permanent jobs. Flora is put in charge of opening up a cafe in the storefront, which becomes very successful with the locals and visitors. Anyway, a nice mix of people and lives. I also like that Colgan doesn't just rip her character out of the city life and plop her in the country, but she keeps contact with her city friends and keeps them involved in her life. Next book please...

Friday, September 13, 2019

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall (2018)

Had to check out the latest Caldecott Medalist. Wonderful story of a lighthouse keeper, who lives alone until his wife comes and they have a child and he is displaced by an electronic light that does not need to be maintained by a person. Gorgeous, creative illustrations - of the power of the sea, the cut away of the different floors of the lighthouse, how they all lived and worked there and obviously loved it. The inside back cover has the story of how the author became interested in light houses and all the facts she dug up to create this charming book for kids and the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (2018)

I bought this book after seeing Woodward talking to Stephen Colbert. I admired his work during Watergate, and remember reading All the President's Men and Final Days, but for some reason haven't read any of the many books he has written since. This is the only book I have read about the current president, as I feel we hear about him way too much already. Even during the election process, I kept thinking, can't the late night shows just take a break and not mention him for a week, or even just a night. But I did want to know how the insiders have been dealing with him, so I bought the book, I started it, and then it just ended up on the bottom of my pile of books to read. Then I just asked for it in audio, and taking it in bits, with other books listened to in between, I got through it.

It is pretty incredible how the staff of the White House have to work around this guy, who is not only uniformed, but not interested in learning anything - he already knows best about everything - and obviously he doesn't. There were voices of reason trying to educate, explain how the government works, smooth his ruffled feathers, and counting on him forgetting things - removing documents from his pile to sign, just to avoid some embarrassing or disastrous move. Woodward kept calling some of the meetings like Groundhog Day, where the same arguments would be made every month or so - on issues like tariffs and our presence in South Korea.

No reason to go into the range of issues Woodward covered, but I do realize this book came out in 2018, before a lot more s#&t has hit the fan, so I actually may read Woodward's next installment on this most dysfunctional of presidencies not only in my lifetime, but possibly in the history of this country.

The question I did not get an answered was - why did these people even promise to work for the guy? How did they deal with their own conscience? I get that working in the White House is one of the most prestigious positions one could have, but for him? Maybe some felt they were serving the country by trying to bring some sense and order to the White House, and true, many people resigned when they felt they could no longer work with him any more, where he was refusing to take their sound advice. But did they ever think he was a good president? I guess some of them did agree with some of his economic policies, but two phrases sent shivers down my back. One was being thankful that a wet blanket was removed from the economy. I hear that as all the deregulation that has happened that will now endanger the environment, workers, consumers and the world. The other phrase that the guy used a lot was something like - They don't understand anything, they are not business like. e.g. why don't we make the world pay for all its own protection. Well the government is not like a business. There are some business principles that are useful, but people have worked for decades to create a stable world in which all can prosper, and the richer countries have to shoulder a bit more. He also kept jeering at global thinkers - sorry bud, we live in a globally connected world, we can't disconnect. All in all, the book was not surprising, just disheartening and scary.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Great Reckoning by Luise Penny (2016)

I think that inspector Armand Gamache has become the fictional character I would most like to meet and Three Pines the village I would most like to visit, stay at the B&B, eat at the cafe, visit the bookstore, meet cranky Ruth and her duck and all the other characters, and hang in the kindness of the place and Penny's world.

If I had the time, I would go through all the Louise Penny books I have read so far and see how she weaves the major plot line of the corruption of the Surete du Quebec throughout many books. In the ninth book How the Light Gets In, it all comes to a head and Armand gets injured. He spends a couple of books recuperating. One I read a while ago about a local boy finding a gun, but the last one I read - The Long Way Home was when he helps Clara look for her estranged husband Peter. But now he is ready to take on a new project - cleaning up the Academy for the Surete, as it has been producing cruel, uncaring agents in the last years. He starts by firing half the instructors, but keeps on the second in command, Leduc, hoping to gather evidence to put him away and prevent him from harming any more cadets.

We get to see the evolution of four cadets - two in their last year of classes and two first year students, one of them, Amelia, seemingly the least likely candidate to become a Surete officer with her piercings and tattoos, but she is bright and desperate to find her way in life. They are all standing around looking at an old, strange map of Three Pines - and Gamache assigns these four figuring out the map. This seems a random assignment, but becomes the second most important thread in the book and gives the cadets experience in investigation and teamwork.

Again, many plot lines interweave:

  • Corruption in the academy
  • How do you raise effective, caring and kind officers?
  • Who is Amelia and why did Gamache approve her application to the Academy
  • Gamache's relationship with childhood friend Michelle (not sure how spelled, but a guy), but who becomes one of Gamache's biggest enemies, but why does he ask him to come back to teach?
  • Annie is pregnant and Jean Guy is just so wonderful to watch as doting husband.
  • Mystery of the map found in the walls of the Bistro
  • Who was Anthony Turcott, the great mapper of Quebec, but why did he keep Three Pines off the map
  • The story of the village Roof Trusses
  • Reine Marie working on the local archives, including the stuff found in the walls of the Bistro
  • What tale does the stained glass window of young WWI soldiers tell?
  • Clara is working on a self portrait - how will that turn out?
  • How can the people of Three Pines help the four lost cadets from the Academy.
  • Ruth - she is always a plot in and of herself.
I had to get used to the new reader, and though it was strange for a while, at some point I didn't even notice anymore.

Among the Mad by Jackquline Windspear (2009)

This must be my third Maisie Dobbs book, and for some reason I don't care if I read them in order. This one is set in 1931 and Maisie has her own investigative business with one assistant. It is at the end of December in 1931. She sees a man blow himself up on a London street. Then the Prime Minister receives a threatening letter promising loss of many lives if the soldiers of the Great War are not taken care of. The letter mentions Maisie, so she is called in to a special branch of Scotland Yard to help. She provides insights that help solve the case and stop the mad man from completing his plans.

The focus in this book is on PTSD or shell shock after the war. Not only are many of the men who served in the military affected, but almost everyone is affected, including Maisie herself. But the theme is woven through many people's stories, including her friend, who is financially sound, has a husband and kids, but still despairs at times. Her assistant's wife is unstable after the loss of one of her children, and through her experience we see some of the horrors of the way some mental patients were treated in those days. We also see the aftereffects of the chemical warfare experiments, where the researchers sometimes tested the substances on themselves and other workers. Again, more details fleshing out that time period and the continued growth of Maisie, as she forges ahead with her life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan (2016)

I've been looking at this one for a few weeks now on our graphic novel shelf. Very interesting take on the Snow White story.  Set in the first half of the 20th Century New York City, Snow White's mother dies, her father is a rich businessman, who is dazzled by an evil actress, who survives the financial crash, but is convinced to send the girl off to boarding school. When the actress finds out not from a mirror but a ticker tape, that Snow White is more beautiful, she sets out to kill her. Nice take on the 7 dwarfs and her prince.  A joy.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates (2019)

I have always admired the Gates Foundation, particularly for what they have done in Latvia, and I never have had the animosity towards Microsoft that I have seen in some of my friends. Bill Gates seems like a much more benevolent figure talking about solving world issues, though he also made a huge difference in the world by developing computer programs for us all and that I use every day.

Now I got to know Melinda Gates and fell into deep admiration for her. She shares her journey and growth throughout her life, but mostly in her work at the Gates Foundation. While trying to solve the world's health and poverty problems, they almost always returned to the issue of gender inequality and how improving the lives of women would improve the lives of everyone. This can be seen in fertility control, which makes for healthier children and fewer deaths at childbirth, in education, stopping the practice of child brides, agriculture, and unpaid work of care-giving, maintaining households, growing food and fetching water.

Melinda has visited many of the world's impoverished areas and really listened and slowly understood the issues and looked for sustainable solutions. The hardest seems to be making the cultural changes, especially where strong religious beliefs have made women second class citizens or even property. I was amazed that some men in these cultures were willing to play role reversal and see how hard their women worked and were will to start sharing household duties.

There were many heartbreaking stories, but also many hopeful ones. She not only pointed out the problems gender inequality raises in developing countries, but also our own. The "moment of lift" is when the forces pushing us up are greater than the force pushing us down. This phrase came from her childhood, as her father was an aerospace engineer and she was thrilled by the moment of liftoff at space launches. There are many moments of lift, especially when people lift each other up by sharing stories, giving others a chance to better themselves. Melinda has a thoughtful way of approaching the world, the diversity issues, by encouraging people to come stand besides her.  She is one of the few famous people I would like to meet.

The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk and Christopher Moseley (2015)

I was interested in this as it was written by a fellow Balt - an Estonian and the book was recommended by a friend. I really liked the premise - set in the 12th century, when German crusaders came into northern Europe and brought Christianity and "progress" to the local tribes. (He has them call themselves Estonians, though they did not use that terms and probably felt more of a belonging to a smaller group or tribe.) What a fascinating theme to explore - how the locals felt about it, how they were drawn into the German culture, and in this case, how they went from living in the woods and eating by hunting, to an agricultural way of life, where the main staple food is bread.

But somehow I have imagined it differently, and my understanding of our Baltic ancestors is that they had a deep spiritual connection to all of nature, had names for various natural phenomenon, and held certain places - large trees, rocks, springs as sacred. In this story, our hero can speak Snakish, which allows him to speak to snakes and most other creatures and some of them can speak back to him, especially snakes. But he disavows any sprites or sacred places and cuts down a sacred grove of trees and goes on a huge killing spree.