Category Archives: Review

The Book of Joe B by Michael Winn

I just got finished watching Crip Camp on Netflix, a documentary about the disability movement that occurred in the 70’s the fight for civil rights for people who are disabled. It was moving and I highly recommend it.

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From Goodreads: Why do bad things happen to good people? Middle School gym teacher Joseph Bustamante more than reflects upon this ageless question, he demands an answer! And for good cause. There’s nobody nicer, more polite, and kind in all of Uz, yet in an unrelenting span of three weeks he loses his girlfriend, family, home, job, friends – everything – as he helplessly watches his life spiral out-of-control. Within this whimsical, darkly comic, and ultimately uplifting, modern-day retelling of The Book of Job, this gentle, big-hearted lug is forced by circumstance to stand-up and confront the universal truths that affect us all. Joe B: A Love Story starkly presents one innocent man’s rise, fall, and fall some more, as his remarkable spiritual journey leads him to not only question but challenge the core injustices of this world. Yes, Joe B is brought to the brink and he won’t take it anymore! He demands an explanation for his suffering. And, like it or not, he’s gonna get it.

So small confession: I am not religious (are you shocked?) and although I know a few biblical stories, I am a bit ignorant about the Book of Job. In fact, up until about three years ago I thought Job was pronounced job, like a job well done. I did get the general gist of Job’s story though, so once I realized that that was what The Book of Joe B was about I kind of got what the author was going for and maybe if I was more religiously educated I’d appreciate the story more…but I just didn’t enjoy it. At all. At least it was short.

I gave this a two out of five stars.

 

 

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Today I officially hit 50 books read/listened to this year. My goal is 75 books, and I am well on my way to surpass that goal.

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From Goodreads: Seeking women ages 18 – 32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

 

I listened to the audio version of this novel.

What I liked: I actually had purchased this book for my Kindle, but as this was available on Libby, I ended up listening to it. It was a good decision as I find psychological thrillers like this to be the ideal audio listen. This was an exciting story and listening to it just enhanced the experience. I found myself spending time just laying on the couch listening to this.

What I didn’t like: I found that I didn’t really like any of the characters in this, so it was a bit hard to root for Jess.

Rating: Four stars. I definitely recommend this novel and I am looking forward to reading more from this duo.

“We all have reasons for our judgments, even if those reasons are so deeply buried we don’t recognize them ourselves.”
― Greer Hendricks, An Anonymous Girl

 

World War Z by Max Brooks

Today was a beautiful day so after nap time (for toddler and Mommy), we went for a drive and stopped for ice cream. I went with a Boston Cream milkshake and it was amazing.

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From Goodreads: The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Note: Some of the numerical and factual material contained in this edition was previously published under the auspices of the United Nations Postwar Commission

This book has been out for a while and I never had much interest in reading it. Zombies aren’t really my thing, as much as I try. However, I listened to a podcast at the start of the stay at home orders about this book and the censorship it had in China. Then I saw it on Libby and well, that was enough to decide to give it a shot.
What I liked: I wasn’t expecting much but this was a fun book to read, not so much the subject matter (because a Zombie War sounds pretty gruesome actually) but Max Brooks takes the concept of collecting the history of the war in a way that makes the idea completely plausible.
What I didn’t like: At times I found the interviews to be a little too much. I would have liked there to be a balance between the interviews and a narrative.
Rating: Four stars
“Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That’s not stupidity or weakness, that’s just human nature.”
― Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Acid for the Children by Flea

My daughter turned two this past Wednesday. Tonight I spent half an hour fighting to help her get changed for bed, which didn’t go well as she was insisting that she was an independent woman who don’t need no man (or Mom).

 

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From Goodreads: The iconic bassist and co-founder of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tells his fascinating origin story, complete with all the dizzying highs and the gutter lows you’d want from an LA street rat turned world famous rock star.

Michael Peter Balzary was born in Melbourne, Australia, on October 16, 1962. His more famous stage name, Flea, and his wild ride as the renowned bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers was in a far and distant future. Little Michael from Oz moved with his very conservative, very normal family to Westchester, New York, where life as he knew it was soon turned upside down. His parents split up and he and his sister moved into the home of his mother’s free-wheeling, jazz musician boyfriend, Walt–trading in rules, stability, and barbecues for bohemian values, wildness, and Sunday afternoon jazz parties where booze, weed, and music flowed in equal measure. Michael was frightened by the lack of order in his new reality and his volatile new stepfather, but found his salvation in the world of passionate musicians the Walt exposed him to. There began his life-long journey to channel all the frustration, loneliness, love, and joy he felt into incredible rhythm.

When Michael’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1972, his home situation was rockier than ever. He sought out a sense of belonging elsewhere, spending most of his days partying, playing basketball, and committing petty crimes. At Fairfax High School, he met another social outcast, Anthony Kiedis, who quickly became his soul brother, the yin to his yang, his partner in mischief. Michael joined some bands, fell in love with performing, and honed his skills. But it wasn’t until the night when Anthony, excited after catching a Grandmaster Flash concert, suggested they start their own band that he is handed the magic key to the cosmic kingdom.

Acid for the Children is as raw, entertaining and wildly unpredictable as its author. It’s both a tenderly evocative coming of age story and a raucous love letter to the power of music and creativity.

I have been a fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers for something like twenty years old. I have hoped that Flea would one day follow in the steps of Anthony Keidis and write a memoir and finally he did.

What I liked: I loved this book. Flea could have very well slanted this memoir to make himself look like a saint, but he didn’t, he was very candid about the good parts of his life as well as the bad things. Even when he knows that he was going to come off as the biggest asshole in the world, he fully admits that he is well aware of what he was and how he is doing his best to overcome this and become a better person.

What I didn’t like: This book was entirely about the first twenty some years of Flea’s life and dude, I need more.

Rating: Four stars.

“Listen to me. Now is the time to be healthy. Treat your body and soul well. You can’t see the damage you do to yourself now, but when you get old you will suffer. Give yourself a chance to be in perfect health. Be an honest and kind person. It is the only thing.”
― Flea, Acid For The Children

 

 

Saving Grace by Jane Green

I’m writing this on the 13th, my daughter’s second birthday. It was a really great day, but now I’m feeling a little sad that tomorrow I am going back to work and have three long days where I’m only home to sleep. Still, I’m glad that I have a job and that I enjoy my job most days.

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From Goodreads: Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker.

But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.

To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.

With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

I listened to the audio version of this novel through the Libby app.

What I liked: I enjoyed the first half of this book. The build-up was good, and not knowing whether Grace is dependable or not keeps the narration flowing.

What I didn’t like: The second half of the book loses steam pretty quickly. Once the mystery is cleared up, the book turns into something much different and I didn’t find it interesting. I did finish listening to this, but I was disappointed in both the turn this story took and the way mental illness was portrayed, especially in the US. It felt ingenuine the way Jane Green explored the topic.

Rating: Three stars.

“I thought my entire life was coming apart, but I think I just realized that sometimes the thing you think is going to ruin your life is the thing that saves you.”
― Jane Green, Saving Grace

 

 

 

Fatigue by Jennifer Acker

The other day I ventured out to the drug store to pick up my medication and diapers for my daughter. I have barely gone out during this whole pandemic and I have to say that it was an unnerving experience. I was looking over at the diaper selection to try to debate whether to go with Pampers or try my luck with the store brand when an employee asks if I needed help and when I told her I was looking at the diapers she seemed annoyed so I ended up grabbing the overpriced Pampers and a pack of overpriced pull-ups (as we’re just about to start potty training). I think from now on I’m just buying everything non perishable online.

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From Goodreads: Jennifer Acker and her husband had been married for eleven years when she was blindsided by a mysterious and undiagnosed incapacitation. Accustomed to their independent routines, they will have to reform both their lives to accommodate the enervating illness. As Jennifer’s sense of self falls away, however, the couple is struck again. Her husband’s “frozen shoulder” all but locks one side of his upper body, leaving him in excruciating pain, partially immobilized, and as dependent on Jennifer as she is on him. But their needs are not in competition. In communion and reciprocal caregiving, they learn to love—and to explore—each other anew.
This was more of a long-form essay rather than a traditional memoir, and free if you have Amazon Prime.
What I liked: I have been with my husband for about ten years now and we have gone through a good amount of health issues. If we go an entire season without some kind of injury or illness it was a good season. While our relationship isn’t perfect, he is the guy to help when I am sick and vice versa. This short explores what happens when both partners are going through a health crisis at the same time.
What I didn’t like: I think this would have worked well as a more developed memoir. I would have enjoyed learning more about the author and her husbands’ relationship before and after their illnesses.
Rating: Four stars

Everyday History by Alice Archer

After a few weeks of trying out a new blogging schedule, I decided that I would rather stick to focusing on reviews. I’m actually looking forward to focusing on improving my reviewing style and adding in so many other features is becoming a bit too much. So instead, I’ll focus primarily on reviews.
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From Goodreads: Headstrong Ruben Harper has yet to meet an obstacle he can’t convert to a speed bump. He’s used to getting what he wants from girls, but when he develops a fascination for a man, his wooing skills require an upgrade. After months of persuasion, he scores a dinner date with Henry Normand that morphs into an intense weekend. The unexpected depth of their connection scares Ruben into fleeing.

Shy, cautious Henry, Ruben’s former high school history teacher, suspects he needs a wake-up call, and Ruben appears to be his siren. When Ruben bolts, Henry is left struggling to find closure. Inspired by his conversations with Ruben, Henry begins to write articles about the memories stored in everyday objects. The articles seduce Ruben, even as Henry’s snowballing fame takes him out of town and farther out of reach.

Everyday History, a romance told with Alice Archer’s unique style and lush prose, was named a Top Book of 2016 in the HEA USA Today column Rainbow Trends.

I heard of this book on Litsy and as it was a decent price I immediately bought and read this.
What I liked: When I read romance, I mostly enjoy novels that are somewhat unique. Everyday History fits this nicely. Although the general plot follows the traditional romance novel, the way the story was told gave the book enough uniqueness that I found it engaging and interesting. I loved the idea of Everyday History, and if this was a real column in a newspaper or magazine you would be sure I’d read the shit out of it. In fact, I really want this column in my life right now.
What I didn’t like: Due to the dynamic of Ruben and Henry’s relationship, I admit there was a little bit of an ick factor. I also found Ruben’s life a little confusing. There seemed to be so many people around him that I couldn’t keep track of them or how they were related.
Rating: Four stars. If the unnecessary characters were taken out, this may have been a five star read for me.
“All around me are reminders of stories about normal, everyday people who are also brave, interesting, thoughtful, kind, and amazing. Because of these things, this everyday history, I have a connection to them that I can touch.”
― Alice Archer, Everyday History

Review: Robocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

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From Goodreads: In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication.

In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans—a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a “pacification unit” go haywire—but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.

When the Robot War ignites—at a moment known later as Zero Hour—humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us … and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.

I listened to the audio version of this novel. It was a recommendation from Litsy.

What I Liked: I do not read/listen to a lot of sci-fi, and I do not watch much with the exception of Doctor Who, so my expectations going into this wasn’t very high. The story sounded exciting and an escape from the madness of Covid-19 so I gave this book a shot. It starts out strong and terrifying. I recalled that as a child I was scared of robots (which seemed like much more a thing in the 80’s) and this just cemented that fear. Although it was a violent book it was just the right amount so it wasn’t just excessive. It was just a strong start to a book and gave me hope that perhaps sci fi was a genre I’d fully imbrace afterward.

What I didn’t like: Although it started out strong, the book went on too long. By about the halfway point, I found that as much as I tried to, I just could not focus anymore. I listened to the entire book but I don’t remember much of the second part. Instead of being a two-part series, I think this would have been better off being split up even more as there was just way too much going on in the first book.

Rating: I gave this novel three stars originally. I enjoyed the first half a lot and I enjoyed how the story was told but I didn’t care much for the second half. Reflecting on it a few weeks later, I’m realizing that if I were to rate it now I’d probably only give this two stars. I’ll be generous and give this 2.5 stars.

“Memories fade but words hang around forever.”
― Daniel H. Wilson, Robopocalypse

 

 

 

Review: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

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From Goodreads: During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness.

Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up as the daughter of a dissatisfied young mother and raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.

I read the hardcover edition of this.

I found this book in one of the Little Free Libraries that one of the local library branches supports. I thought it looked interesting and then later I saw the title pop up in a list of books that President Obama recommends.

What I Liked: Sarah Smarsh’s narration is unique. Heartland is part memoir, part commentary, and part fiction. Smarsh weaves her family history in with her observations of the poor working class seamlessly, all while “writing” a letter to the daughter she never had. It sounds complicated but is presented in an approachable way.

What I didn’t like: This wasn’t a long book, just under 300 pages. However, the amount of information that was included was a lot, and took away from the memoir aspect of this book. It seemed that Smarsh had a lot of ambition going into this project, but had trouble deciding what direction she wanted to go.

Rating: I gave this four stars. While it had it’s downfalls, I thought that overall it was a strong book and I can see why President Obama recommended it.  It is one of those rare books that show the reader the parts of the population that most forget about.

“But the American Dream has a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you’re born and to whom, with what color skin and with how much money in your parents’ bank account. The poorer you are, the higher the price. You can pay an entire life in labor, it turns out, and have nothing to show for it. Less than nothing, even: debt, injury, abject need.”
― Sarah Smarsh, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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From Goodreads: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

I read the Kindle edition that I borrowed from the Libby app.
What I liked: I first became aware of this book when the movie biopic of the same name was released. Sadly I have not been able to watch it yet-but after hearing a bit about the movie I decided to read the book.
Coincidentally, I found myself listening to To Kill a Mockingbird at the same time and the two books complemented each other-in fact, Just Mercy mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird more than once. Much like Atticus Finch, Stevenson is a champion for those who society has deemed guilty before they can even come in front of a jury.
What I didn’t like: When I read non-fiction, I tend to enjoy books that use a narrative style to tell the story and at the beginning it seemed like that would be the case for this book. However, the book flipped around to various cases, though always going back to the focus subject. All the people introduced were interesting, and I would have loved to get a more in-depth look at all the people mentioned.
Rating: Four stars
“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption