Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Salon: April 30, 2017

My life in books:
Now that it isn't spring break my reading has slowed down a bit again. And my daughter was here for a week so I wasn't reading as much. Yesterday I participated (badly) in the Dewey 24-hour Read-a-thon. I had high hopes of reading a bunch, but life got in the way as I had some prearranged things I had to do so I only read a graphic novel and about 50 pages of another book.
Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal is to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 20, adding 4 in the past two weeks. I have high hopes for this challenge!
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. I added Israel to my list since my last Sunday Salon. I hoped Behold the Dreamers was going to have parts in Cameroon, but it didn't.
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. This month I didn't add any new states. Why are so many set in New York?! I'm bummed that two of the books I read didn't say where in the US they took place so I couldn't add to this challenge.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--Sort of pathetic as I didn't read any for this challenge either. I only have two categories left.
My life outside books:
Living/working: Life is back into a rhythm now that spring break is over for both me and my daughter. I realize with her out of the house (mostly) I am taking on more and more "things." I've joined the (very active) Alumni Association Board for my high school; I was on the Board years ago and it feels nice to be back on it. I have taken on revamping one of our local high school's websites as well as being their tech contact for a new personalized learning program they are implementing next year. I have also joined the steering committee for Ethnic Studies Now!, a group that is working to get an ethnic studies course as part of our district's graduation requirements.

Watching: I finished watching the three available seasons of The Great British Baking Show, which I love, and of course am still liking the Amazing Race. My ex was born on Zanzibar and lived in Dar-es-Salam until he was 12 so when two episodes took place there it was fun to see the buildings, scenery, etc. My disappointing show was the HBO movie "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The book was so good, but the movie fell way short. If I hadn't read the book I would have been confused and not understood the enormity of it all. I also watched two movies: Loving and Queen of Katwe, both of which I really enjoyed.

Marching: Last weekend I marched in the March for Science in Santa Barbara; we had about 3,000 people so that's a great turnout. As with the Women's March, it was a beautiful day, the crowd behaved, and it was a really feel-good experience. This time my dad was in town so he joined me and my mom at the march (and he is a scientist so that was extra inspiration). It is wonderful to be at any event that is multi-generational, multi-ethnic, etc. It really brings a town together and I love seeing people's clever signs.

Shaking: Last Sunday we had two earthquakes just a half mile away, where my street meets the beach. They were only 3.6 and 3.1 so just created big jolts with no damage, but we haven't felt an earthquake in a long time.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

Title: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
Author: Sarah Glidden
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction (graphic novel)
Pages: 206
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Israel

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Sarah Glidden is a progressive Jewish American twenty-something who is vocal about her criticism of Israeli politics in the Holy Land. When a debate with her mother prods her to sign up for a Birthright Israel tour, Glidden expects to find objective facts to support her strong opinions. What she gets, however, is a regimented schedule meant to showcase the best of Israel: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Masada, Kinneret, the Dead Sea, and other landmarks. Worried she may be falling prey to an agenda, Glidden seizes various opportunities to discuss the fraught complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But with self-effacing humor and reflection, Glidden realizes the opinion she is most surprised by may very well be her own.

Review: Another book blogger recommended Sarah Glidden's second graphic novel, Rolling Blackouts and when I went to the store to buy it, I found this one as well so I ended up getting both (big splurge).

I do enjoy graphic novels and the artwork in this one is realistic, in color, and very effective. I had the sense that I was on the trip with Glidden and that I was seeing what she saw when she was in Israel. Another reason I like graphic novels is that they are quick reads. Today is the Dewey Read-a-thon and I did a terrible job at participating. At least with this book I read a whole book in the 24 hours!

I think Glidden's experience, and book, are interesting. I know a couple people that have gone on birthright trips to Israel, but I haven't spoken to them about their experience. I think going as Glidden did, with serious questions about Israel's responsibility in the conflict, would be difficult and challenging. She definitely had preconceived notions that colored her time in Israel and all that she saw and heard. She was ready to be "brainwashed," which means she wasn't necessarily open to hearing the information that was presented to the group.

While I liked this book I felt like there was a lot of details; too much for me in fact. But, I am still looking forward to reading her second book about journalists in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.

Challenges for which this counts:

Dewey 24-Hour Read-a-thon introduction

I am not sure how much reading I will get done today during the Dewey 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, but I haven't participated in a read-a-thon for a many years so will give it my best attempt in between the other things I need to get accomplished. Where I really want to be is up in Seattle at a memorial for the mother of one of my best friends from high school. She was an amazing woman and I wish I could be with Bruce and his family today.

What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I am reading at home in Santa Barbara, California, USA.

Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
My stack is really just my TBR shelf and there are so many from which to choose! I think it's the first book: The Baker's Secret, which I am reading for a review.

Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I think my pink lady apple and chocolate chip cookies. How's that for balance?!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a social studies coach and technology coach for my school district. But, I've also been a history teacher and a high school librarian. I have one teenage daughter and a white poodle.

What is something you'll do differently in this read-a-thon from the past?
I used to feel that I had to spend ALL day reading and read as many books as possible. This time, I want to enjoy the process, read more than I usually would, and just love the books I am reading (quality over quantity).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Title: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 382
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty--and Jende is eager to please. Clark's wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwards' summer house in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers' fa├žades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende's job--even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Review: After the 2016 US presidential election I felt a need to read the story of immigrants and I received a number of "immigrant" stories for Christmas. This book is one of them and the first one I'm reading (yes, it's April. I am a little behind).

Mbue has captured the voices of her Cameroonian immigrants well. I really felt like I was in Harlem with them, experiencing the city with them as they struggled to make ends meet, raise a family, and go to school. The contrast between Jende and Neni and their emplolyers, the extremely wealthy Edwards family was stark. The Edwards' have everything they need (but are unhappy), while Jende and Neni struggle financially, but have a wonderful family life. It's a bit stereotypical, but it played well in this novel.

Spoiler alert: I really wanted the Jonga family to have everything work out green-card-wise, but I also think if it had all gone too well it would have seemed unrealistic. So, the fact that it doesn't makes the book seem more realistic and believable. The same cannot be said for the Edwards family. I found their "happy" ending a bit too fake. I don't believe a Wall Street tycoon could change so quickly and easily.

While there are aspects of this story that seem to pat and expected, I liked the rhythm of the story and the characters' experiences. There was enough tension and happiness to give the book balance and I do feel like I got a glimpse into an immigrant experience.

Challenges for which this counts:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

Title: Rogue Lawyer
Author: John Grisham
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 388
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): On the right side of the law--sort of--Sebastian Rudd is not your typical lawyer. His office is a customized bulletproof van, complete with wi-fi, a bar, a small fridge, and fine leather chairs. He has no firm, no partners, and only one employee: his heavily armed driver, who also happens to be his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddie. Sebastian drinks small-batch bourbon and carries a gun. He defends people other lawyers won't go near: a drug-addled, tattooed kid rumored to be in a satanic cult; a vicious crime lord on death row; a homeowner arrested for shooting at a SWAT team that mistakenly invaded his house. Why these clients? Because Sebastian believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial--even if he has to bend the law to secure one.

Review: Yep. Another John Grisham novel. I know (mostly) what to expect: a good storyline; interesting characters; and fast-paced action. This book did not disappoint.

Rogue Lawyer differs from Grisham's other law stories in that it feels more like a series of stories rather than one long novel. Usually one main character has one major case that lasts the length of a Grisham novel. Rogue Layer, however, has six parts, which all have the same lawyer covering six different cases. Some elements/stories reappear later in the book, but it's nice to get multiple storylines.

As with all Grisham novels, the reader knows just what s/he is going to get: good story telling; a lawyer on the side of the defendants (not always the good guys); and a fast-paced story. Rogue Lawyer definitely has all of these. Sebastian Rudd, the lawyer, isn't exactly someone that I would want to spend time with, but if I was charged with murder he'd be my guy. He knows all the tricks, has lots of useful contacts, and isn't afraid to bend the rules a bit. One thing I wish Grisham did better was female characters. There often aren't any or very few and they are either beautiful or fat (and, therefore, unattractive) and don't have much to contribute to the story.

I will continue to read Grisham's books whenever he writes a new one.
Challenges for which this counts: