Monday, January 30, 2017

White Rage by Carol Anderson

  • THE BOOK
    • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
    • Published May 31, 2016
    • Other works by author include: Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 and Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, writing after the Ferguson, Missouri violence, which includes the line, "With so much attention on the flames, everyone had ignored the kindling."
      • That is the premise in a nutshell.
      • The gist behind the title is that whites get angry when African Americans make any strides forward. In keeping people from getting a decent education and voting, they are kept in their place, aka not equal to whites.
    • From Reconstruction to the present the author lays out the case that African Americans have been stymied in every possible way to make progress in the same way as white people have.
      • After the passages of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments --- abolishing slavery, conferring citizenship and the right to vote --- Southern states began implementing laws and stratagems to keep African Americans from voting: poll taxes, literacy tests, etc...
      • Jim Crow laws were passed enforcing segregation in the late 1800s and won't eliminated until 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
        • Plessy v. Ferguson saw the Supreme Court make "separate but equal" facilities the law of the land even though in practice, facilities were anything but equal, especially schools.
      • The "separate but equal" fiction was especially devastating on school children as African Americans struggled to learn in substandard facilities all over the South.
        • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturned Plessy but needed to be implemented "with all deliberate speed". Thus, local governments and school boards could slow down the process indefinitely.
          • Some school districts shut down completely and set things up so that the white kids would attend private schools with government money while the black kids had no school at all.
            • Look up Prince Edward County, Virginia for an example of a school system that closed for FIVE YEARS rather than have white and black children attend school together!
      • The Great Migration of African Americans from the Southern to the Northern states occurred between 1910 and 1970 as rural workers moved to urban centers and better job possibilities.
        • They were the backbone of the Southern economy and there were measures taken in some areas to keep them in the South.
        • Things weren't much better in the North. There might have been jobs but the African Americans were confined in specific areas and not welcome in the suburbs.
          • As whites fled big cities along with industrial jobs there was no way for African Americans to support themselves. They were effectively kept in poverty and then condemned for taking advantage of social programs.
      • Obviously these are general statements not true for every African American but the book has lots of examples of the specifics that are true.
      • The book covers these and several other topics.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This book was about white rage directed against the African American community over the past 150 years. I was enraged reading it because so many terrible things happening now could have been prevented had African American people been allowed education and voting rights 150 years ago.
      • It really gives the story behind why African Americans have been so angry and frustrated themselves in recent years.
        • This isn't in the book but the same point is made in the documentary "O.J.: Made in America". African Americans were tired of the injustice of the legal system (they still are today) and this lead to O.J.'s acquittal even though he didn't have anything to do with the African American community anymore. According to the documentary, which is long but excellent, he lived "white".
    • There were some who thought education was wasted on black children (they assumed slaves were too stupid to learn anything) but education leads to better opportunities and a better nation.
      • This has been an issue ever since the end of the Civil War. Schools in poorer areas still are mostly terrible so it will take at least another generation to make a difference, assuming all lesser schools are improved right now. And they probably won't be. (This is not a partisan issue: neither Republicans nor Democrats have figured out how to fix problems in education.)
    • Anyway, I won't go on one of my extended screeds here. 
    • My one criticism would be that certain things are shown as absolute fact based on a quotation from someone but just because someone is quoted saying something doesn't make it fact. It MIGHT be but it might NOT be.
      • That said, this book has tons of footnotes in the back so you can chase down the original sources to judge for yourself.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy American history, especially as related to African American history. 
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Art of the Affair by Catherine Lacey & Forsyth Harmon

  • THE BOOK
    • The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence by Catherine Lacey. Illustrated by Forsyth Harmon.
    • Published January 3, 2017
    • Other works by author: Nobody is Ever Missing

  • THE PREMISE
    • Using watercolor illustrations and dotted lines, the book connects the various relationships of authors, artists and performers.
      • Examples: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Frida Kahlo, John Cage and many more.
      • It's sort of a "six degrees" thing.
    • It covers only from the late 19th Century through the 20th Century with a focus on the early 1900s.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I saw this book reviewed somewhere (Entertainment Weekly? Time?) and it was available at my library immediately so here we are.
    • It took me about 30 minutes to read so I finished it even though I wouldn't have if the book had been longer.
    • I like the premise but I did not know who many of the people were so I didn't care that they were involved with people I had heard of:
      • Juliet Browner, Caresse Crosby, Reynaldo Hahn, Erick Hawkins, and many others.
      • These people were all artists in one form or another so they are known to many enthusiasts but my education and interests have never led me to them before now.
    • It didn't help that the captions were kind of confusing. 
    • This book just wasn't for me but I would think it would be enjoyed by those who have studied art and artists.
    • ★ ★

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mad Men Carousel by Matt Zoller Seitz

  • THE BOOK
    • Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical Companion by Matt Zoller Seitz
    • Published November 10, 2015
    • Other works by author include The Oliver Stone Experience, TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, and The Wes Anderson Collection

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author, a TV critic who wrote recaps of episodes of "Mad Men" for the final 4 seasons, compiles them in this volume and adds essays on the first three seasons too.
    • There are essays covering every episode in all seven seasons. 

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Recaps generally recount the major plot points that happened in an episode. This isn't what the book does. It assumes you have seen the episode you're reading about and that you want some in-depth analysis of what happened. 
      • This isn't a book for those who have never watched the show.
    • I watched and enjoyed "Mad Men" when it was airing and so I knew the basic plot points as I read along.
    • There are footnotes at the bottom of the text, mostly commenting on an actor who plays a role or to which episode the essay refers. There are also end notes in the back of the book. These comment on items that would be considered spoilers for those who are reading along as they watch the series for the first time.
      • The end notes are a mess, however. Some just don't exist --- "End note 4" leads to a list of only 3 items --- or they are out of order.
      • The author comments in the preface that he got the book contract in early April for a book that was due by early June and it shows in the mess that makes up the end notes.
    • There is a LOT of repetition of certain things. 
      • For example, the character of Rachel Menken comments on the word "utopia" and how it has two meanings depending on how it's pronounced in Greek. The passage is quoted at length verbatim and the essays and footnotes refer to it several times when maybe once or twice would be plenty. 
      • The carousel slide projector episode is referenced over and over again. We get it: it's in the title of your book! It doesn't need to be referenced in dozens of essays and footnotes.
      • Again, I think this is a function of trying to get the book ready for publishing too quickly (in November, just in time for Christmas gift-giving! How "Mad Men" of the publishers!).
    • Recommended for those who've watched "Mad Men" --- or are planning to watch it --- and want some detailed explication of themes. Not recommended for those who just want a book with plot points, cast listings, and behind-the-scenes information.
    • ★ ★ ★

Friday, January 20, 2017

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

  • THE BOOK
    • Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
    • Release date May 9, 2017
      • I won an advance copy of this book through the website Library Thing so that I could review it. 
    • Other works by author: the novel California and the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story is told in alternating sections by the two main characters:
      • Lady (a nickname from childhood, we learn early on), a woman with two sons and a marriage in the middle of a trial separation, is trying to write a book about her struggles raising the oldest son from a prior relationship, 18-year-old Seth. Her younger son, toddler Devin, is the child of her current marriage with Karl. She needs a nanny while she works on her book.
      • S. (short for Esther), recently graduated from UC Berkeley and getting over a breakup with her artist boyfriend, is the new nanny. She moves into the guesthouse.
    • Lady's story encompasses her present as well as her past as she recounts her life from before Seth's birth on. She has issues with her mother.
    • S. also has mother issues and embarks on an art project that involves imitating someone else --- guess who! --- while she's working as the nanny. 
    • The two women's lives encompass both sons, Lady's estranged husband Karl and Karl's twin sister Kit, Lady's mother, S.'s mother, S.'s father and stepmother, and Marco (Seth's father).

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Since this is an advance copy of an uncorrected proof I won't criticize any editing errors. These encompass a handful of typos and a couple continuity errors. My favorite was this one:
      • Page 299: "...I put on a black skirt...and the pink top I knew Karl liked..."
      • Page 301: "I waited for him to see me...my gray top already wrinkling at the waist."
    • This book took me some time to get into. I read the first fifty or so pages and then put it down for a couple of weeks. Since I needed to write a review for Library Thing I picked it up again and finally got more interested by page 80.
    • The problem for me was that I didn't really like S.'s chapters as much as I liked Lady's chapters.
      • Lady's life made sense. You understood why she made some of the choices she did even if they were bad choices.
      • S. seems to do the things she does in order to show the her ex-boyfriend that she can be an artist too. It seems like a thin excuse for what she does which includes trying to drink until she blacks out. Let's all take a moment to remember that she is working as a nanny for a toddler. Granted, she does make a point that all her drinking is done during her time off. But who wants to take care of a child with a hangover?
    • You don't find out what "woman no. 17" refers to until page 79. Once I knew S. was imitating someone else I thought maybe she would change personas often and that the 17th iteration would be the most pertinent to the story. Nope.
      • It's not a spoiler really but I'll be vague: It refers to a woman's photograph in an art show.
    • I liked the story overall but because I didn't care for S. I just couldn't love it. The deal-breaker with the character came when she made the following comment:
      • "A classic omelet looks like a pair of Meryl Streep's underwear and tastes like eating air."
      • Someone explain to me what Meryl's underwear has to do with omelets? Why not Sally Field's? Or Bette Davis'? Or...???
      • Lines like that take me right out of a book.
    • There's also a disturbing incident of animal cruelty so be forewarned.
    • Recommended for those who like the latest in contemporary fiction.
    • ★ ★ ★

Monday, January 16, 2017

Guest Post: Watership Down by Richard Adams

My husband, known on my blogs as CPA Boy, recently read this book on my recommendation. I've loved Watership Down since I first read it in the early 1980s.

Here is CPA Boy's review:


  • THE BOOK
    • Watership Down by Richard Adams, published 1972
    • Mr. Adams passed while I was reading his seminal work, on December 24, 2016


  • THE PREMISE
    • Watership Down is a story about a subgroup* of rabbits that leave their warren, upon advice of one precognitive rabbit (Fiver) that the current warren is in danger (from Man), to search for a new home and the adventures that follow. Except for the occupants of a farm, who are not identified until the end of the book, all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, mostly rabbits.
      • * A “group” of rabbits can be called a colony, warren, bury, trace, trip, down, husk and fluffle. Only domesticated rabbit groups are “herds.”
    • The story moves quickly, with one exception. Interspersed chapters are mythological tales told by storyteller rabbits. While interesting, the myths can be skipped. In either case, the search for the perfect warren still moves faster than Ted Mosby’s search for a spouse in "How I Met Your Mother".
    • [SPOILER ALERT] The rabbits encounter two other warrens. The first seems Utopian (except to Fiver), until one rabbit is caught in a snare. The rabbits escape and find the perfect place for their own warren at Watership Down. It is at this point (nearly halfway through the book) that, except for one Utopian warren escapee, the rabbits finally realize that they are all bucks (males). This presents two problems: Does (females) usually dig the burrows that form the warren and does have the kittens (baby rabbits) that will perpetuate the warren.
    • Fortunately, some of the rabbits encounter rabbits from another warren, Efrafa, which is overcrowded. Unfortunately, the Watership Down envoy discovers that Efrafa is a police state intent on assimilation and isolation and will not release any does. The rabbits of Watership Down eventually infiltrate Efrafa, steal many does (who go willingly to escape the police state but are essentially just property) and, with the willing help of a befriended gull and the unwitting help of a farm dog, defend their warren from attack by Efrafa rabbits. Eventually, the Watership Down rabbits and progeny join with the surviving Efrafa rabbits to create a third warren and they all live happily ever after.

  • CPA BOY'S THOUGHTS
    • Watership Down is often cited (and awarded) as a children’s book. Mr. Adams said it was an improvised story told to his young daughters during long car trips. However, rabbits die (naturally, accidentally and in battle) and one rabbit tells another rabbit, in Lapine, a made-up rabbit language, to “eat shit.” Therefore, Watership Down may not be suitable for younger children.
    • Watership Down is a good, fast-paced adventure tale, which I enjoyed. I did not find any deeper meaning and Mr. Adams said that it was never intended to become some sort of allegory or parable. 
    • I would give Watership Down 3½ stars, but the publisher of this blog only allows for whole stars. Therefore, three stars for adult readers and four stars for older children readers.

Thank you, CPA Boy, for sharing your review! We look forward to more of your guest posts.

And if my readers have a book review to share (or just a good recommendation), please contact me!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury

  • THE BOOK
    • Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain's Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury
    • Published March 10, 2015
    • Other works by author include: The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers, Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space and several others.
      • With the author's last name --- Cadbury --- I'm guessing she had some inside scoop on chocolate history! And how have I missed reading a book about the history of chocolate?!

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is the history of World War II through the lives of 4 royal brothers just before and during those years:
      • Edward, former king and Duke of Edinburgh, who famously gave up the throne for the women he loved:
        • Wallis Simpson, twice-divorced American
      • Prince Albert, Duke of York, the brother who was next in line for the throne when Edward abdicated thus becoming King George VI (also the father of Queen Elizabeth II)
        •  Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York then Queen Elizabeth
      • Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, wasn't considered to be academically bright, but he rose admirably to the occasion during the war
        • Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
      • Prince George, Duke of Kent, the handsomest brother who had a playboy reputation (not undeserved) but also did his part for Great Britain
        • Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Duchess of Kent
    • Edward gives up the throne and marries Wallis in 1937. They spend the rest of their lives whining about EVERYTHING. 
      • The one thing that was especially galling to them is the refusal for Wallis to ever use HRH (Her Royal Highness) as part of her title.
    • The Windsors visited Germany after their marriage, meeting Hitler at that time.
      • The Nazis planned to re-install Edward as king if they won the war. It is unknown if Edward himself knew this --- he likely suspected --- and was angry to be exiled to the Bahamas to act as governor during the war.
        • He is definitely shown to have loose lips, sharing confidential information all over the place.
      • The Windsors ties to the Nazi regime, however tenuous or strong, were used to keep them out of England and exiled forever in France after the war.
        • It is assumed that George VI could not forgive his brother for stabbing him in the back by agreeing to take over again as king once his country was defeated by the Nazis.
    • The new king does his duty but at the expense of his own health. His cigarette smoking along with the stress of the war led to his death from lung cancer in 1952 at the age of 56.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • As the war goes on and the allies suffer defeat after defeat, you can see how hopeless it seemed to everyone in England at that point. 
      • Germany and Italy controlled or invaded Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania, Finland, Bulgaria, and more by the end of 1942.
        • With the exception of Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Southern France and Switzerland, all of Europe was in the hands of the Axis.
        • 1943 was the tipping point as the Nazis started losing their battle with the USSR while the United States helped make progress in Italy.
    • King George VI and his prime minister Winston Churchill did their best work during World War II. Each man worked tirelessly even though they both suffered from health issues. Both men appear admirable in all ways.
      • The dukes of Kent and Gloucester both do stellar work themselves, visiting camps, touring war zones, and all other missions on behalf of the king, their brother.
      • And then there's the awful, awful Duke of Windsor and his wife. Two more selfish and unaware people did not exist during the war. Worried about their homes in Paris and the South of France while they went to the Bahamas, they actually asked the Nazis to guard them during the war. And the Nazis did!
    • I really enjoyed the book but I was mystified by some odd omissions. 
      • The four brothers also had another brother, Prince John, who's mentioned a few times early on. Then he's never mentioned again. One simple line stating that he had died in 1919 at the age of 13 (from epilepsy) would have helped.
      • The five brothers had a sister, Princess Mary, who is not mentioned at all even though she was in England during the war and must have had some impact on their lives.
      • There is no epilogue on what happened to the duke and duchess of Windsor. Again, a couple of sentences in the epilogue chapter would have been enough.
    • Recommended for fans of British history, World War II history and royalty.
    • Out of 5 stars: ★★★

Thursday, January 12, 2017

America's Women by Gail Collins

  • THE BOOK
    • America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins
    • Published 2004
    • Other works include: As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present and Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is a history book from the founding of the first New World colonies through the 20th Century.
    • It is presented in chapters in chronological order and touches on pretty much every major American event and how they affected women.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This is a book of anecdotes rather than a detailed history which is to be expected when one writes about a time period of 400 years. This isn't a bad thing but it means just as you've dipped your toe into a subject, eager for more, it's already over and on to the next subject.
    • One thing that I was happy to see was the emphasis on women's clothing and how they handled hygiene issues or rather, to be blunt, their periods. Surprisingly little is known how earlier generations of women handled it because no one wrote about it in their letters or diaries.
    • I liked reading this book because I love history but it was not in depth enough for me. But even though the chapters are long, the information is in bite-size pieces which made it a perfect book to read over the Christmas holidays.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy American history and women's history and those who want an introductory book on American women's history. It's got stories of feminists in it but I would not say it is an overtly feminist book, just general history that happens to focus on women.
    • Out of 5 stars: ★★★

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern by Eleanor Cameron

  • THE BOOK
    • The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern by Eleanor Cameron
    • Published January 1988
    • The final book of the five-book Julia Redfern series

  • THE PREMISE
    • Julia is now 15 and still living with her family in Berkeley, California. Now it's 1927.
    • She is busy with school and involved in acting while continuing to write stories for publishing.
    • Her high school acting pal John is a good friend and maybe more? Spoiler: yes.
    • Meanwhile Julia's uncle is acting fishy, completely forgetting his lunch plans with Julia.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Eleanor Cameron wrote this series in reverse chronology: in book 1 Julia was 12 years old and about 5 in book 4. At that point she decided she needed to go back to the future as it were and write a final story about an almost grown-up Julia in book 5.
    • In the earlier books we have met Julia's mom's brother Hugh and his wife Alex. Aunt Alex is never anything less than subtly cruel to Julia while lauding Julia's older brother constantly. You always wonder how this pleasant man ended up with such a rich snobby woman.
      • Well, we find out when we and Julia meet his "old friend" to whom he was in love before marrying Alex.
      • Interesting that an adultery plot is part of a book ostensibly for young teens!
    • Julia's widowed mother married "Uncle" Phil three years previously and he is still a thorn in Julia's side but we never see him being anything but kind to her even if he fusses at her to turn down her record player volume in chapter 1. Julia thinks he's the devil but he is such a tiny part of the narrative (he has about one or two more lines in the entire book) that I almost wonder why it was included. Just to keep Julia extra angsty, I guess.
    • The series ends well, with Julia finding romance, her brother Greg all but engaged and even Uncle Hugh getting a happy resolution to his problems.
    • I am glad to have finished my tour of Eleanor Cameron books! They were good; she was a good writer.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy a good story about 15-year-old girls.

Monday, January 9, 2017

2016 Book Summary



I read 100 books exactly, fulfilling my Good Reads goal. This does not include DNF (did not finish) books.

Here are some random stats and lists:


  • Ratings from 1 star to 5 stars
    • 11 books earned 5 stars from me
    • 51 got 4 stars
    • 34 received 3 stars
    • 3 were allotted a mere 2
    • 1 sad book got the lowest rank with 1 star
 
  • The Five-Star Books for 2016
    • Circle of Friends (a re-read) by Maeve Binchy
    • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    • Anatomy of Evil: A Barker & Llewelyn Mystery by Will Thomas 
    • The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
    • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
    • Emma by Jane Austen
    • The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston
    • Full Dark House: A Bryant & May Mystery by Christopher Fowler
    • Shady Characters: The secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston
    • The 42nd Parallel by John dos Passos
    • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  • Some Other Good Reads from the Four-Star Books
    • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
    • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
    • The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
    • Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
    • Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard
    • Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the Court of Siam by Alfred Habegger
    • Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
    • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
    • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
    • Lexicon by Max Barry

  • The One-Star Book of 2016
    • The Girls by Emma Cline
      • This would have been a DNF (see below) had it not been set in my current home town!

  • Book Type
    • 55 Fiction
    • 45 Non-fiction
      • I used to read tons of YA (young adult) novels and I definitely pick up fewer of that genre lately. This is partly due because so many YA books are series and I try not to pick them up until all books are out.
        • YA books are generally fast reads and can up the "total books read" figures.
        • I also notice that book 1 in a new series is not always identified as such. I actually read book 1 in a new series (The Thousandth Floor) and didn't realize it was a series until it ended on a cliffhanger.
 
  • DNF - Did Not Finish
    • It's not that I think these books are bad, just that I wasn't into them enough to keep reading. So many books, so little time. If it doesn't grab me I stop reading and move on to something else.
    • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
      • I have enjoyed 3 earlier books of hers but they all start in a predictable pattern.
      • There's ALWAYS a secret alluded to in the first chapters and then it goes back in time to set up and then reveal the secret. And the men are (mostly) scum.
      • This particular book starts with one of the main women characters thinking something like, "If only we hadn't gone to the barbecue then some mysterious issue wouldn't have happened." And then we start flashing back to before the barbecue. 
        • Which is so similar to how Big Little Lies starts: someone has been murdered but who? Let's flashback and find out!
          • That said, I am DYING to see the HBO adaptation next month!
          • The author is a good writer and her books are entertaining, don't get me wrong, but I've had enough for now.
    • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
      • I read as far as the escape from the plantation by the main character and her first safe house but then decided that I'd rather read non-fiction books on the subject of race relations instead. I'm sure it's a fine book --- Oprah says so! --- but reading about fictional slaves is not as compelling as reading about actual people and their lives as slaves.
    • Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson
      • I read the first two books in the series, a tale of two young people of color during the Revolutionary War, and really liked both books but I just couldn't get into this one for whatever reason.
    • I am forgetting a few others. I will try to keep a better list going forward. 
So that wraps up 2016. Bring on 2017! I plan to read more classics this year so stay tuned!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

  • THE BOOK
    • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by Jack Thorne
      • Based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
    • Published July 31, 2016
    • Follows the chronology of the seven Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

  • THE PREMISE
    • This is the working script of a play staged in London beginning in June 2016.
    • Harry Potter's youngest son Albus is starting at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry 19 years after the conclusion of the first 7 books.
    • Albus gets sorted into Slytherin and befriends Scorpius Malfoy, a lonely boy whose mother has recently died and whom people think is Voldemort's son, not Draco's.
    • The boys each have issues with their fathers and hatch a plan to change the past and save Cedric Diggory from death. They decide that saving Cedric will make everything right for everyone.
    • Things go very, very wrong.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • It took almost 5 months to get this book from the library!
    • I believe the 7-book Harry Potter series ended perfectly with no loose ends. I was satisfied when it ended so I was leery about a new story.
    • But I enjoyed the story immensely and it added layers to the main characters we know and love from the original books.
      • Several secondary characters are missing from the story though. It doesn't hurt --- there are so many things going on already --- but I missed George and the rest of the Weasleys, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood!
    • I always thought Harry was short-sighted to rebuff Draco in the first book. 
      • Harry was not perfect and this is an early instance where he shows that.
      • The story had to go that way but it seemed there were more than a few hints throughout the books that Draco was not the bad guy he was made out to be. 
      • It was good to see them work together for the good of their sons in the play.
    • It was fun trying to imagine how they created some of the scenes on stage. I imagine it will be a while until this play comes to the United States and then even longer before it tours the country. I doubt a movie will be made unless J.K. Rowling decides there should be one.
    • Shoot, now I want to re-read the Harry Potter novels again!
    • Recommended for Harry Potter fans.

Friday, January 6, 2017

That Julia Redfern by Eleanor Cameron

  • THE BOOK
    • That Julia Redfern by Eleanor Cameron
    • Published November 1982
    • Book 3 in the Julia Redfern series

  • THE PREMISE
    • Julia Redfern, a 6-year-old girl living in Berkeley, California, circa 1918, continues her adventures in this book.
    • Her father is off to Europe as World War I rages. Spoiler: there's a reason Julia's mother is a widow in the books that take place after 1918.
    • Julia has an experience after a head injury that occurs approximately the same time as her father dies in action as a pilot. 
    • "That Julia Redfern!" is a constant comment made by Julia's friend's mother at Julia's childhood antics. The mother does not like that Julia gets her daughter into the same scrapes.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I liked this book because we get a peak at Julia's father, a dreamer who wants to be a writer and own a farm. Julia's mother is more practical.
    • Contrary to most book series, Eleanor Cameron wrote this series in reverse. The first book takes place in 1924, the second in 1923, this one in 1918. (I believe the next book takes place in 1917.)
      • In other words, going in you know Julia's father dies in the war.
      • The author said it was a fun writing challenge to fill in the blanks of Julia's history and add details to things only briefly touched on in the first volume.
    • The 4th book (Julia's Magic) takes Julia back another year and I am going to skip it. She will be 5 years old. Ugh.
    • The 5th book goes forward in time again until Julia is 15. Review coming soon!
    • Recommended for those who like stories about 6 year old girls.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith

  • THE BOOK
    • The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests by Chris Smith
    • Published November 22, 2016

  • THE PREMISE
    • Interviews with the host, cast, staff and guests of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" which ran from 1999 to 2015. The show is a satire of news programs and talk shows.
    • Behind the scenes look at how the show evolved from Craig Kilborn's time as host 1996 to 1998 and how it's overall viewpoint came about under Stewart. 

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I watched "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for the last two or three years of its run. I watched "The Colbert Report" regularly and now watch "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver", "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" and "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert". Colbert, Oliver and Bee are all former "Daily Show" correspondents.
      • Like "Saturday Night Live", "The Daily Show" features a steady stream of successful actors and comedians:
        • Steve Carrell, Larry Wilmore, Michael Che, Nate and Rob Corddry, Josh Gad, Ed Helms, Jason Jones, Wyatt Cenac, Olivia Munn, Rob Riggle, Mo Rocca, Jessica Williams, Jordan Klepper, Lewis Black, Kristen Schaal, John Hodgman, Aasif Mandvi, Al Madrigal and many more.
    • I believe most of these people were quoted in the book but the bulk is devoted to the producers and Jon Stewart himself.
    • I always have issues with oral histories: NOT my favorite style of book but they are super popular right now. I guess it is easier for people to interview a bunch of people and then just quote the relevant parts instead of writing a narrative history?
      • This isn't to say Chris Smith does a bad job. This is definitely one of the better oral histories I've read.
    • The story seems to be complete in a warts-and-all way. All the tensions are discussed and while some interview subjects disagree on a few of the details, the basic story is here.
      • The change from the Kilborn years to the Stewart years was difficult on the writing staff and some of the producers and they mostly left the show after a few years.
      • The big (verbal) fight between Stewart and correspondent Wyatt Cenac is included here too.
      • The whole Jim Cramer and "Crossfire" episodes are covered in detail as Jon Stewart became more outspoken about the media and their methods.
    • Lots of fun anecdotes.
    • Recommended for those who are "The Daily Show" fans or those who want an inside look at the running of a TV show.

Monday, January 2, 2017

TV (The Book) by Alan Sepinwall & Matt Zoller Seitz

  • THE BOOK
    • TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time by Alan Sepinwall & Matt Zoller Seitz
    • Published September 6, 2016
    • Other works by authors:
      • Sepinwall, a TV critic on Hitfix, has also written The Revolution was televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever (I read it in 2013)
      • Seitz, also a TV critic, has written Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical Companion, The Oliver Stone Experience, and The Wes Anderson Collection, among others.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The top 100 American TV shows according to the authors.
    • There are accompanying essays on each show written by one of the authors or both.
    • A long introduction has them debating which show should place at #1 position.
      • SPOILER: They decide on "The Simpsons" over "The Sopranos", "The Wire", "Cheers" and "Breaking Bad".

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Anyone's list of the best ever TV shows would naturally be subjective but these authors, TV critics for at least 20 years and TV watchers from birth, would have a leg up, having watched many more shows than the average consumer.
    • They lay out their rules: no foreign shows, no shows still currently in production (say, "Game of Thrones" or "Veep" or "Better Call Saul"), scripted shows only (but no variety or sketch shows).
    • They also had a list of several criteria, assigning each possible show a point score on each item, including innovation, cultural impact, and the like. The tabulations are included in the back of the book.
    • They also cover shows still in progress and miniseries in a section in the back of the book.
    • Here's the list:
      • The Simpsons
      • The Sopranos
      • The Wire
      • Cheers
      • Breaking Bad
      • Mad Men
      • Seinfeld
      • I Love Lucy
      • Deadwood
      • All in the Family
      • M.A.S.H.
      • Hill Street Blues
      • The Shield
      • The Twilight Zone
      • Arrested Development
      • The Larry Sanders Show
      • The Honeymooners
      • Louie
      • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
      • The X-Files
      • Curb Your Enthusiasm
      • SpongeBob SquarePants
      • Twin Peaks
      • Lost
      • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
      • Freaks and Geeks
      • My So-Called Life
      • Oz
      • The Dick Van Dyke Show
      • Friday Night Lights
      • NYPD Blue
      • Frasier
      • Homicide
      • Battlestar Galactica
      • In Treatment
      • South Park
      • The West Wing
      • Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
      • The Andy Griffith Show
      • The Cosby Show
      • Moonlighting
      • Taxi
      • East Side/West Side
      • Hannibal
      • ER
      • Parks and Recreation
      • Roseanne
      • 30 Rock
      • The Bob Newhart Show
      • Malcolm in the Middle
      • Miami Vice
      • The Office
      • St. Elsewhere
      • Community
      • The Golden Girls
      • Police Squad!
      • 24
      • The Defenders
      • Gunsmoke
      • Sex and the City
      • Star Trek
      • Firefly
      • Law & Order
      • Maude
      • The Rockford Files
      • China Beach
      • Enlightened
      • Everybody Loves Raymond
      • The Wonder Years
      • Barney Miller
      • Frank's Place
      • It's Garry Shandling's Show
      • The Jack Benny Program
      • Justified
      • The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
      • thirtysomething
      • Columbo
      • Friends
      • Futurama
      • The Outer Limits
      • Northern Exposure
      • Batman (1966 series)
      • King of the Hill
      • Veronica Mars
      • Cagney & Lacey
      • EZ Streets
      • Gilmore Girls
      • Six Feet Under
      • Sports Night
      • Wiseguy
      • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
      • Batman: The Animated Series
      • Boardwalk Empire
      • NewsRadio
      • Picket Fences
      • Scrubs
      • WKRP in Cincinnati
      • How I Met Your Mother
      • Soap
      • Terriers
        •  I have watched 46 of them and seen a handful of episodes from a few more.
    • The essays are the real meat of the book and they were interesting, especially for the shows I had watched. A few of the essays about shows I haven't watched made me want to watch them but life is short. If I get to them I will; if not, oh well.
    • About a quarter of the shows are from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
    • I had never heard of EZ Streets or Terriers. But both were one season shows of 9 and 13 episodes, respectively. There are a handful of other one season shows on the list too: 
      • The Honeymooners, East Side/West Side, Police Squad!, Freaks and Geeks, Frank's Place and My So-Called Life.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is on the list so that legitimizes it for me!
    • I enjoyed the book and it is a quick read. Recommended for those who love TV shows and lists.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Club 2017

My friend Geneva and I were talking about classic books and how "maybe it was time to tackle something by Dickens". Geneva thought she might tackle Anthony Trollope's "Barchester Chronicles" instead, a series of 6 books, while I thought I might try Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

We're going to tackle both: Trollope in January AND Stevenson in February!

Geneva, a friend of mine from high school days, and I don't have tons of overlap in our book reading tastes but we do love a good chat together over tea about books!

The book for January is The Warden, book one in the "Barchester Chronicles". The "Barchester Chronicles", according to the Wikipedia article, "concern the dealings of the clergy and the gentry, and the political, amatory, and social maneuverings that go on among and between them."
  • Here's a blurb for the first book:
    • "The Warden" centers on Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity who is nevertheless in possession of an income from a charity far in excess of the sum devoted to the purposes of the foundation. On discovering this, young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he regards as an abuse of privilege, despite the fact that he is in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor.
For some of you this screams BOREDOM, I know! For some of us, it screams CLASSIC!  

[Special message to my CPA husband: It practically sounds like a book about an audit! Read it now!]

One thing about classic novels, they are all available for free or really cheap on e-book readers. Amazon had the entire 6-book set for free for Kindle. It's also available from Project Gutenberg for free. Your local library should also have copies if you prefer physical books. 

We will intersperse the Trollope books every other month with other classics still to be determined. (Stay tuned!)

If you would like to participate in one or more of the books, please do and consider sharing your opinion about the book in the comments. Guest posts (or a guest paragraph or guest sentence or guest thumbs up or down) are most welcome!

I will write up my usual review in the usual format but I will try to get some more information on the author posted too.

It's also totally okay if you start reading one of the book club selections and then decide the book is not for you. We use the term DNF: did not finish. Life is too short to read a book you aren't enjoying! (Unless you need to read it for a class, of course. Then you're stuck.)

Join us, won't you? 

[Also posting this on my regular blog, Kelly's Channel