Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Between the World and Me (extra book)

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I decided to start and finish Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, a book he writes (as a letter) to his son about Coates’s experience as a black man growing up in the inner city of Baltimore within the context of “white America.”  Coates shares his fear between school, where things were taught from one context, and the streets, which taught another context of how to survive, and keep one’s body living.  The rawness of the real-life experiences of how embedded fear becomes a part of the inner city lessons for youth, join-in or try and live by evading the drugs, the gangs, the fear of living.  Coates finds repose when he gets to “the Mecca,” Howard University in DC.  A historically black college, he finds people like him, all with similar experiences, trying to survive and make meaning.    He meets his wife and another central figure in the book, Prince Carmen Jones Jr., a college friend, whom later is killed by a police officer while driving to see his girlfriend, unarmed.  Police brutality towards black American males is a continuation from the days of slavery from the beginning of this country.  Not much has changed as characterized in the book.  The lessons he presents to his son is his way of trying to keep his son alive and aware that he needs to keep his body safe.  Coates’s world is real and for anyone who has not entered his world, it may be hard to fathom, because we don’t want to experience it, it may mean looking at ourselves and question, what are we doing to make this world continue to flourish?   So is the “American Dream” accessible for all?  In his concluding paragraphs, Coates visits the mother of Jones, Jr., Dr. Mable Jones, the granddaughter of a sharecropper who rose in social standing in her life to become a doctor as a black woman, yet as Coates captures, education and financial means did not protect her own son from being saved from white America.  Gripping, powerful, sad, real, and much more.  It was hard reading so much fear from a society that is fractured and unable to recognize all humans are worthy of equality.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Finished my last book from the RA Favorite list for 2016-17, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling.  Dead body found on the city streets of London, appears to be a suicide, but wait… it is the body of a famous young model, Lula Landry, but her adopted brother, John Bristow, is not convinced that the supermodel, at the top of her career would have killed herself by jumping from the balcony of her apartment.  Bristow, three months after the final ruling by the police that it was a suicide, seeks out the help of a private investigator, Cormoran Strike, who has a strange connection to his new employer.  Strike and Bristow’s deceased brother, Charlie, who died at age ten by riding his bike off a cliff, were best friends.  Bristow hires Strike, a down on his luck investigator, to find the killer.  Strike is assisted by a temp secretary, Robin Ellacott, who ends up being a right-hand aide to the long and complicated inquiry.  There is a very long list of potential killers, including Lula’s addict boyfriend, her personal driver, her homeless friend from the outpatient clinic, her clothes designer, her model friend Ciara, her neighbor and film producer, the film producer’s wife, her personal makeup artist, her biological mother, and the list goes on.  Lots going on here and Rowling does a great job of weaving in all of the stories together very nicely.  As I read on I had a weird feeling that the ending might be convoluted.  To my worst fears, ugh, the worst possible killer was selected.  No way!   Won’t ruin it for you, but horrible ending, in my opinion.  She should have selected another ending, though I was happy that Robin would stay around working for Cormoran.  Sorry, the ending killed it for me, otherwise I would say, read the book.  I look forward to next year’s new books.  Enjoy reading, it’s so important!

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Adventures of Amir Hamza

The next to last RA favorite book for the 2016-17 year (well, we may have 1 or 2 more new ones over the next 4-5 months, but for now), The Adventures of Amir Hamza by Ghalib Lakhnavi is taken from stories dating back a thousand years, if not longer.  The setting is the Middle East and captures the adventures of the lead character Amir Hamza and his two peers.  The tales capture verbal stories passed down from the various escapades of prophet Muhammed’s uncle, Amir Hamza, who falls in love with the daughter, Mehr-Nigar, of Naushervan, a Persian emperor.  Hamza has various near death experiences, but always gets saved/saves himself on his way to find the Mehr-Higar.  He is helped along the way by his “side-kick,” Amar Ayyar (hard to keep the two apart as they are often referred to Amar and Amir - not the best aspect of naming characters).  Amar, uses trickery to help dupe others trying to kill Amir.  Magic, royal-power, and fighting to the death are all featured in this epic tale.  As with “multiple books” I only read the first book, but I got the idea that there would be ‘more of the same’ in the other three books.  In some ways I was reminded of the stories of the battles of The Game of Thrones or the on-going family strife in One Hundred Years of Solitude, though very different in writing styles and endings, as Amir Hamza always makes good, or at least in book one.  Enjoyed the book, though some of the story is repetitive in theme, though different ways of getting there.  A classic, especially in Arabic culture, so for that reason, worth reading to broaden perspective.  And yes, the heroes do end up triumphant! 

Monday, November 7, 2016


Down to my last three RA Favorite books for this year!  Enter the world of futuristic / sci-fi in the city of Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  The time period is 126 years after World War IV which devastated the world as we know it.  Linh Cinder, a cyborg and mechanic, in her mid-teens, is an orphaned young girl now living with a “wicked” step-mother and two sisters, aka Cinderella type-fame.  The Prince’s ball is only a week away, yet Cinder is having to do chores and hold a job to finance the household of wicked step-mom Ardi. One of her “sisters” comes down with the fatal disease letumosis, which kills people within a week.  Cinder being a recreated human through technology is scorned by society as a ‘second-class citizen’.  Early in the story, while working as a tech mechanic, she is visited by the noble Prince Kai, whose father, the Emperor, is fighting to save the world from the wicked Queen Levana, of the moon colony, who has designs to take over Earth.  Kai is smitten with Cinder, but doesn’t realize she is a cyborg, and keeps inviting her to the ball as his guest.  Knowing that her step-mom won’t allow her to go, coupled with the realization she is a cyborg, she repeatedly turns the Prince down.  She does however fix his personal android, a discovery she later learns was broken due to the wicked Queen.  As the story unfolds, Cinder is given to the government by her step-mom, as a means to be the guinea pig of experiments on the potential cure of the illness letumosis. The doctor, Dr. Erland, learns through experimentation, that Cinder is more than a cyborg, rather she is a Lunar (from the same original country as the wicked Queen.  Lunars have special powers on Earth and Cinder is forced to face the reality of who she is with a showdown with the Queen.  Kai becomes the Emperor when is father contracts letumisis and is asked to try and negotiate with the Queen, who plans on marrying him, with the hopes of taking over Earth, but he is attracted to Cinder.  The book comes to a climax during the grand ball when Kai discovers Cinder’s real identity, at the same time Lunar learns new revelations of Cinder and that she is really the nemesis she thought she killed.  What revelations at every turn.  The pace is quick, the story engaging, and the plot thickens. Only one problem… this is a series book!  So to find out what happens, there are more volumes to read.  Quite an idea for a plot, just wish there weren’t more books added to learn the ending. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Going after Cacciato

Sometimes traveling on a long flight allows one to start and finish a book, and it did on a trip to Austria.  A classic 1970s book by renowned author and Viet Nam war veteran, Tim O’Brien, Going after Cacciato.  The book tells the story of an Army squad during the war in Viet Nam.  The group has faced many gruesome loses of lives from members of the squad and now faces another challenge, the disappearance of one of their men, Cacciato.  The lieutenant (Corson) in charge decides that the remaining men in the squad must try and find Cacciato by following where they think he is going, from Viet Nam to Paris, through Asia.  The journey includes escaping an underground tunnel, hiding in Mandalay, and being arrested while being in Afghanistan.  The squad is joined by a young Vietnamese woman, Sarkin Aung Wan, whose oxen is shot by one of the squad members.  She helps the squad many times escape difficult situations.  Paul falls in love with her.  During the various stops on their journey, Paul Berlin almost captures Cacciato numerous times, though he always escapes.   In the end the men lose Cacciato and are back where they belong, lost in isolation and psychological trauma, war that destroys dreams and has soldiers whose life is nothing but staying alive by the fear of death. O’Brien’s skillful knowledge on the psychological damage of the psyche from war is brilliant.  There are so many levels of soul searching we, as a society, should do before ever allowing more war to happen.  Hard to read, but important.  Captures the Viet Nam era perfectly, challenging the beliefs of our country that war solves conflict.  It doesn’t for the individual, who will carry it forever.