Monday, July 24, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Book 33 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 25 - May 1, my husband returned it to the library before I was done, 
read and finished from June 14 - 27

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Summary (via the book jacket)
To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean's Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert farmers. His goal was to preserve this crucial part of the world's patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al-Qaeda showed up at the door.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, became one of the world's greatest and most brazen smugglers by saving the texts from sure destruction. With bravery and patience, he organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali. This real-life thriller is a reminder that ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the beauty and imagination of their culture. It is also the story of a man who, through extreme circumstances, discovered his higher calling and was changed forever by it.

My Opinion
Such dedication to preservation is inspiring to read about but ultimately, I don't have much to say about this book.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Haidara had, almost singlehandedly, transformed Timbuktu from a depressed backwater into a Mecca for researchers, diplomats, and tourists from around the world."

" 'Haidara is a man obsessed with the written word,' wrote Peter Gwin in a lengthy piece, "The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu," that appeared in National Geographic in early 2011. 'Books, he said, are ingrained in her soul, and books, he is convinced, will save Timbuktu. Words form the sinew and muscle that hold societies upright...Thousands upon thousands of words infused with the full spectrum of emotions fill in the nooks and corners of human life.' "


Private Life

Book 32 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 28 - June 12

Private Life by Jane Smiley

Summary (via the book jacket)
From the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres: the powerful and deeply affecting story of one woman's life, from post-Civil War Missouri to California in the midst of World War II.
When Margaret Mayfield marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early at the age of twenty-seven, she narrowly avoids condemning herself to life as an old maid. Instead, knowing little about marriage and even less about her husband, she moves with Andrew to his naval base in California. Margaret stands by Andrew during tragedies both historical and personal, but as World War II approaches and the secrets of her husband's scientific and academic past begin to surface, she is forced to reconsider the life she had so carefully constructed.
A riveting and nuanced novel of marriage and family, Private Life reveals the mysteries of intimacy and the anonymity that endures even in lives lived side by side.

My Opinion
The story was fine but the prologue was difficult to follow because we don't know the characters yet and there were no quotation marks and few "so-and-so said"s to indicate who was talking and when.  That particular issue didn't continue past the prologue but no chapter breaks made it feel longer than it actually was.

I loved Margaret's description of her son's birth. "Once he was in her arms, she was reminded that he had not "arrived."  Maybe to Andrew and Dr. Bernstein there was an arrival, but for her he had been here a long time.  He had now become visible, that was all."

Even though I'm not raving about this book I plan to read more from this author.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"He gave her a little smile, sighed. At this very moment, she remembered her grandfather talking about mules and horses. He had said, 'It's harder to train a mule than a horse. You know why? When a horse sighs, you know he's giving up, but when a mule sighs, you know he's coming up with another plan.' "

"Like everyone she knew or read about, she agreed with the title of one of Dora's pieces, this one sent from Cairo, "My Life Didn't Prepare Me for This." Dora was writing about the mysteries of the Khan el-Khalili bazaar. Margaret was thinking about everything in the whole world."

"No, she was almost sixty and she had not been to London or Paris or Rome, and there was no going there now. Yes, she was balanced, as she had gotten in the habit of congratulating herself for being. But, she saw, she was balanced on a very narrow perch."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Approval Junkie

Book 31 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 29 - June 6

**I received a copy of this book via Blogging for Books and I would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it**

Approval Junkie: My Heartfelt (and Occasionally Inappropriate) Quest to Please Just About Everyone, and Ultimately Myself by Faith Salie

Summary (via Goodreads)
Faith Salie - of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! and CBS News Sunday Morning - has done it all in the name of validation. Whether she's trying to impress her parents with a perfect GPA, undergoing an exorcism to save her toxic marriage, or baking a 3-D excavator cake for her son's birthday, Sale is the ultimate approval seeker - an "approval junkie," if you will.
In this collection of daring, honest essays, Salie shares stories from her lifelong quest for gold stars: recounting her strategy for winning her (very southern) high school beauty pageant; her struggle to pick the perfect outfit to wear to her divorce; and her difficulty with falling in love again, and then conceiving, in the years following her mother's death.
With thoughtful irreverence, Salie reflects on why she tries so hard to please others and herself, highlighting a phenomenon that many people - especially women - experience at home and in the workplace. Equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and poignant, Approval Junkie Is one woman's journey to realizing that seeking approval from others is more than just getting them to like you - it's challenging yourself to achieve, and survive, more than you ever thought you could.

My Opinion
Skimming the chapter titles made me laugh so I was off to a great start before the book even began.  I could understand her desire for approval even if her methods completely made me cringe at times.

The best out-of-context line: "If you're wondering how my brother taught me how to give the best hand job ever, it all began in his Stanford Law torts class."

A Few Quotes from the Book
"What high school girl doesn't think about beauty? Girls are always volunteering for beauty jury duty, judging themselves and others."

"Focus on being beautiful if you want to get something from people. Focus on being smart and/or funny if you want to give something to people."

Navel Gazing

Book 30 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 21 - 28

Navel Gazing: True Tales of Bodies, Mostly Mine (But Also My Mom's, Which I Know Sounds Weird) by Michael Ian Black

Summary (via Goodreads)
New York Times bestselling author and stand-up comedian Michael Ian Black delivers a frank and funny memoir about confronting his genetic legacy as he hits his forties.
Whether it's family history, religion, aging, or his parents, Michael Ian Black always has something to say in the dry, irreverent voice that has captured a fan base of millions. When a medical diagnosis forces him to realize he's not getting any younger, he reexamines his life as a middle-aged guy - of course, in the deadpan wit and self-deprecating vignettes that have become trademarks of his humor. 
The alt-comedy take on getting older, Navel Gazing is a funny-because-it's true memoir about looking around when you're forty and realizing that life is about more than receding hairlines and proving one's manliness on Twitter - it's about laughing at yourself.

My Opinion
This book had an easy, conversational style and was a great read.  He was very honest even as he acknowledged that his honesty might make his mom angry; although he said he tried his best to be fair, it is still his side and view of disagreements they've had.

He made a good point about forty being a good time to write a memoir because "forty is that moment most of us believe ourselves to be balanced right at the fulcrum of the life-expectancy teeterboard. On one side, we see our parents' generation starting to get old, some of them sick, some already dead. On the other, our children's generation, brimming with a vibrant joie de vivre best described as 'annoying'."

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It's hard to argue with an insurance company refusing to pay for a new navel."

"I don't consider myself a particularly vain man, but that is only because I am lying. The truth is, I am incredibly vain, even though I have very little to be vain about."

"Regardless, I know [his children] hear me. I know because I heard Mom all those years, even when I was ignoring her, even when I was giving her the metaphorical and literal finger; after all, telling a parent to fuck off is one of the great joys of adolescence. I did it a lot."

"Families are meant to take care of each other, even when it feels unfair."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Eleventh Grave in Moonlight

Book 29 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 20 - 28

Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones
Book 11 in the Charley Davidson series

Summary (via Goodreads)
A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson involves cheating husbands, missing people, errant wives, philandering business owners, and oh yeah...demons, hell hounds, evil gods and dead people. Lots and lots of dead people. As a part-time Private Investigator and full-time Grim Reaper, Charley has to balance the good, the bad, the undead, and those that want her dead. In this eleventh installment, Charley is learning to make peace with the fact that she is a goddess with all kinds of powers and that her own daughter has been born to save the world from total destruction. But the forces of hell are determined to see Charley banished forever to the darkest corners of another dimension. With the son of Satan himself as her husband and world-rocking lover, maybe Charley can find a way to have her happily ever after after all.

My Opinion
Meh, not my favorite book of the series.  It was slightly annoying that simple communication could've wrapped up some of the problems before they actually became problems.

And I don't know what was going on in the last book or this one regarding the sex scenes.  It's like either a different writer has taken over or the author felt that readers were tired of the same two people together and needed to spice things up.  No matter what the reason for the changes are, it's not working for me.  This isn't porn, stop using the 'c' word in the dirty talk.  And if you have to, don't use it that often; 4 times in a single page and twice more in the same paragraph on another page is a bit much.  Use a thesaurus.

As always, I liked the funny sayings that start each chapter such as the t-shirt slogan "My entire life can be summed up in one sentence: "Well, that didn't go as planned.""  I LOVED the E. Corona quote "She has been through hell, so believe me when I say, fear her when she looks into a fire and smiles."

Even though this was a bit of a disappointment I will continue the series.  Especially after the cliffhanger the book ended on -- the author has not lost her touch there!

A Few Quotes from the Book
""First, how did your day with Mr. Farrow go?
 "Wonderful. We went to the Sahara. And he threw me off a building. Other than the building thing, it was fab.""

"I studied the run-down hotel. "I essentially killed those men. Am I slated for hell?"
 He stepped to me. Put his fingers underneath my chin. Raised it until our gazes locked. "You're a god, Dutch. And the reaper. You don't get slated. You are the slate.""

The Boys in the Bunkhouse

Book 28 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 1 - 20

The Boys in the Bunkhouse by Dan Barry

Summary (via the book jacket)
It is a Dickensian tale from the heartland: a group of men with intellectual disability, all from Texas, living in a tired old schoolhouse in the tiny Iowa farm town of Atalissa and reporting before every dawn to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant. In return, they receive food, lodging, and sixty-five dollars a month. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, living in near servitude.
The people of Atalissa accepted and befriended the men - known as the "boys" - but failed to notice the hints of neglect, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse. It was not until a few conscientious social workers, a local journalist, a one tenacious government lawyer came to their rescue that the men, though much older and grayer, found justice at last.
New York Times journalist Dan Barry reveals how these men remained all but forgotten for more than three decades, blending into the rural rhythm as occasional complaints about their living conditions went mostly ignored. Drawing on extensive personal interviews and reams of public records, Barry delves deep into their lives, summoning their memories and suffering, their tender moments of joy and persistent hopefulness - and, most of all, their endurance. He explores why this small town missed the telltale signs of exploitation, details how those responsible for such profound indifference justified their actions, and chronicles the lasting impact of a dramatic court case that has spurred advocates to push for just pay and improved working conditions for people with disabilities.
A luminous work of social justice, told with compassion and compelling detail, The Boys in the Bunkhouse is inspired storytelling and a clarion call for vigilance - an American tale that holds lasting meaning for all of us.

My Opinion
I had no intention of reading this book when I first heard about it.  I'm from Iowa and have a personal and professional interest in people with special needs so I read everything the paper printed about Atalissa at the time it was discovered.  I didn't see what a book would tell me that I hadn't already read.  Then I heard the author Dan Barry speak at the Iowa City Book Festival and it was like he had read my mind.  He said he didn't judge the people of Atalissa for not seeing the signs and he was cognizant of the fact that he was a New Yorker talking to Iowans about Iowa -- we all laughed at the absurdity.  I also saw how emotional he was speaking about the "boys" so by the time he reached the end of his discussion and had the people involved in finally getting a little justice for them, who were sitting in the audience unbeknownst to us, stand up so we could applaud them, I was sold.  I bought the book and had him sign it.

Like I said, I knew the story before reading the book but it angered me even more to read how it unfolded over many years.  We have to care for our most vulnerable citizens and it's so frustrating when people don't do their job.  It's also troubling in light of social services being cut; when not everybody is willing to go the extra mile to help and the ones that are are overworked and stretched so thin, people fall through the cracks.

I laughed at someone in the 1950's being named the "favored sweetheart of the Future Homemakers of America".  I'm sure that was a high honor at the time!

A Few Quotes from the Book
"His shelter, his food, his paltry earnings - his every joy and sorrow - were controlled by a company whose very name invokes the damn bird that dictates his life: Henry's Turkey Service."

"The words of each witness were like paint strokes to an Iowa landscape unimaginable to Iowa itself."


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death

Book 27 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 8 - May 20

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death: Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal by Laurie Notaro

Summary (via Goodreads)
Laurie Notaro has the uncanny ability to attract insanity - and leave readers doubled over with laughter. In The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, she experiences the popular phenomenon of laser hair removal (because at least one of her chins should be stubble-free); bemoans the scourge of the Open Mouth Coughers on America's airplanes; welcomes the newest ex-con (yay, a sex offender!) to her neighborhood; and watches, against her own better judgement, every Discovery Health Channel special on parasites and tapeworms that has ever aired - resulting in an overwhelming fear that a worm the size of a python will soon come a-knocking on her back door.

My Opinion
Great title but that's the only positive thing I can say.

My review after reading another one of her books was that I didn't love it but thought it could be because I read it too quickly, so my approach to this book was to read 1-2 essays per day.  It didn't help.  I guess I just don't find her funny.

It was chugging along to be a 2 star read which for me means I personally didn't like it but think someone else might.  Two things ended up pushing me over the line to a 1 star.  First, she described people and animals as "retarded" 4 separate times in the book.  Nope.  Second, her jokes seem to come from harsh judgements, particularly focusing on weight.  I found it annoying and not funny when she was talking about herself but the cruise essay did me in when she turned the judgement onto others.  Blech.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"I felt so good.
 So naturally, I couldn't leave it at that and enjoy it. Of course I had to poke at it until it burst."

"We'd worry about hurting men's "feelings", completely forgetting that most men don't typically purchase the biological upgrade package that includes those options..."