Tuesday, February 22, 2022

February 2022 Book Haul

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Guess what? I got new books in the last few months! The good news is that I've already read most of them. Nicely done, me. I'll share reviews for the ones I've finished (or given up on).




February 2022 Book Haul





Valley Of The Moon by Melanie Gideon

Adult Science Fiction



Lux is a single mom struggling to make her way when she discovers an idyllic community in the Sonoma Valley. It seems like a place from another time until she realizes it actually is. Lux must keep one foot in her world, raising her son as well as she can with the odds stacked against her, but every day she is more strongly drawn in by the sweet simplicity of life in Greengage, and by the irresistible connection she feels with a man born decades before her. Soon she finds herself torn between her ties to the modern world, her adored son, and the first place she has ever felt truly at home.


Why I'm excited to read it: I'm always intrigued by time-travel stories, but I usually end up disappointed by them. Time travel is weird and hard to understand. Maybe I overthink it and get bogged down in how everything works? I don't know. This time-travel book gets good reviews, so I'll give it a try.


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Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Adult Literary Fiction



When Margaret's fiancĂ©, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings—the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec—struggle along with their mother to care for Michael's increasingly troubled and precarious existence.


My review: I can see why award committees and college professors adore this book: It's pretentious literary fiction! The story examines how mental health issues ripple through a family and impact them and the community around them. The descriptions of mental illness are spot-on (based on my experience). The author really understands depression, anxiety, and obsessive thinking. It's a raw, honest book that will give you a lot to ponder.

This book reinforced the fact that I'm a cold-hearted witch. I found the characters to be exhausting and irritating. They have a lot of personal issues, but they're loving and forgiving toward each other. I felt like the author wanted the reader to be loving and forgiving, too, but . . . I wasn't. If these were my family members, I would have been a lot tougher with them.

The oldest son, Michael, develops an obsession with slavery, which leads him into stalkerish relationships with African American women. I felt bad that Michael was sick, but I couldn't stand the dude. He was too intense with women. Sometimes I felt like the author was trying to manipulate me into liking Michael. I could see the author attempting to pull my emotional strings behind the curtain. It didn't work. Joke's on the author because I don't have emotions.

Even though I didn't love everything about this book, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It's an exhausting novel to read because the characters are intensely realistic. I truly feel like I know these people. The author does an amazing job of capturing what it's like to live with (and around) mental illness. I can see why this novel ended up on so many award lists.



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No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos And Heartbreak Of Mental Health In America by Ron Powers

Adult Memoir / History Nonfiction



From the centuries of torture of "lunatiks" at Bedlam Asylum to the infamous eugenics era to the follies of the anti-psychiatry movement to the current landscape in which too many families struggle alone to manage afflicted love ones, Powers limns our fears and myths about mental illness and the fractured public policies that have resulted.

Braided with that history is the moving story of Powers's beloved son Kevin—spirited, endearing, and gifted—who triumphed even while suffering from schizophrenia until finally he did not, and the story of his courageous surviving son Dean, who is also schizophrenic.

A blend of history, biography, memoir, and current affairs ending with a consideration of where we might go from here, this is a thought-provoking look at a dreaded illness that has long been misunderstood.


My review: I have mixed feelings about this one. The historical information is great. I learned a lot, especially about the anti-psychiatry movement and how influential they were in shaping public opinion about mental health care. I appreciate the information, but I'm not a fan of the author's writing style. It's pretentious and self-indulgent. I understand that he loves his children, but do we really need deep dives into song lyrics they wrote? Or endless emails praising them for their good grades? I found myself skimming over the memoir to get back to the historical information.

I also think the book could have benefitted from interviews with other families of mentally ill children. The author (somewhat) kept his sons safe by sending them to boarding schools, buying them a house, finding them great doctors, and driving all over the country to rescue them when they got in trouble. How is the mental health care experience different for families who can't do those things?

This book is worth reading for the historical information, but I found myself getting frustrated with the author at times. I think his emotional investment in the subject prevented him from writing a balanced book about it.


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The Last Girl: My Story Of Captivity, And My Fight Against The Islamic State by Nadia Murad

Adult Memoir



Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers and shepherds in northern Iraq. A member of the Yazidi community, she and her brothers and sisters lived a quiet life. Nadia had dreams of becoming a history teacher or opening her own beauty salon.

On August 15th, 2014, when Nadia was just twenty-one years old, this life ended. Islamic State militants massacred the people of her village, executing men who refused to convert to Islam and women too old to become sex slaves. Six of Nadia's brothers were killed, and her mother soon after, their bodies swept into mass graves. Nadia was taken to Mosul and forced, along with thousands of other Yazidi girls, into the ISIS slave trade.

Nadia would be held captive by several militants and repeatedly raped and beaten. Finally, she managed a narrow escape through the streets of Mosul, finding shelter in the home of a Sunni Muslim family whose eldest son risked his life to smuggle her to safety.


My review: This memoir will make you want to punch people in the face. Seriously. Why is this stuff still happening? There's a quote on the back of the book from The Economist that says, "horrific and essential reading." I'd agree with that. Why are genocides still happening in modern times? And, why are terrorists using Facebook to sell sex slaves? (Seriously, WTF Facebook?)

For me, the most interesting part of the memoir is Nadia's observations about people who see problems and choose to ignore them. Here's a paragraph for you:

"Maybe, I thought, it was asking too much of a normal family to fight back against terrorists like the men in ISIS, men who threw people they accused of being homosexual off rooftops; men who raped young girls because they belonged to the wrong religion; men who stoned people to death. My willingness to help others had never been tested like that. But that was because Yazidis had never been shielded by their religion, only attacked. Hisham and his family had remained safe in ISIS-occupied Mosul because they were born Sunni and therefore were accepted by the militants. Until I showed up, they'd been content to wear their religion as armor. I tried not to hate them for it, because they were showing me such kindness, but I didn't love them." - The Last Girl

If I was forced to find something to complain about in the book, it would be the lack of a family tree. Nadia has a big family and a lot of friends. Sometimes I had a hard time remembering how they were all connected. That's a small complaint. This book should be required reading.



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Cursed Objects: Strange But True Stories Of The World's Most Infamous Items by J.W. Ocker

Adult History Nonfiction



They're lurking in museums, graveyards, and private homes around the world. Their stories have inspired countless horror movies, reality TV shows, campfire tales, books, and even chain emails. They're cursed objects, and in order to unleash a wave of misfortune, all they need . . . is you. As a culture, we can't seem to get enough of cursed objects. But never before have the true stories of these infamous real-life items been compiled into a fascinating and chilling volume.


My review: This was a nice change from the depressing nonfiction I usually read. The book delivers exactly what the title promises. The author travels to museums and to the depths of the Internet to find "cursed" objects that are linked to death, destruction, or misfortune. The history of each object is told in 2-4 pages, which makes the book a quick read. The writing style is upbeat, and the objects are weird and fascinating. I enjoyed it. It's obvious that the author is passionate about cursed objects and had a lot of fun researching their history. If you're shopping for holiday gifts, this book is perfect for the history lovers in your life. It's quirky and memorable. Actually, it reminds me of collections of folktales or campfire stories. The curse stories are ridiculous and easily disproven by historical research, but they're fun in a spooky way.

My biggest complaint is the lack of photographs. I know it's probably expensive or impossible to get permission from museums to publish photos, but I really wanted to see the objects. The book has illustrations, but it's not the same. I want to see the creepy junk!


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She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Adult Historical Fantasy



In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness . . .

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.


My review: I tried really hard to read this book, and I just couldn't do it. I gave up. I loved the beginning. It's about a peasant girl in 1300s China who steals her brother's identity and tricks her way into becoming a monk. I liked the scenes that are set in the girl's village and at the monastery. As the book goes on, we start getting perspectives from other characters. That's where my problems began. I didn't find the other characters interesting. Many of them are soldiers who have very few ambitions beyond wars, promotions, and military stuff. Their plotlines didn't hold my attention. Actually, I think the writing style was my biggest struggle with this novel. The reader is kept at a distance from the characters, so we never know what's going on inside their heads. I couldn't get invested in their lives because they didn't feel real to me.

That being said, this book gets excellent reviews on Goodreads, so maybe you should ignore my opinion. Historical fantasy is not a genre I typically read.


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An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle For Domination by Sheera Frenkel & Cecilia Kang

Adult Technology / Business Nonfiction



Once one of Silicon Valley’s greatest success stories, Facebook has been under constant fire for the past five years, roiled by controversies and crises. It turns out that while the tech giant was connecting the world, they were also mishandling users’ data, spreading fake news, and amplifying dangerous, polarizing hate speech.

The company, many said, had simply lost its way. But the truth is far more complex. Leadership decisions enabled, and then attempted to deflect attention from, the crises. Time after time, Facebook’s engineers were instructed to create tools that encouraged people to spend as much time on the platform as possible, even as those same tools boosted inflammatory rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and partisan filter bubbles. And while consumers and lawmakers focused their outrage on privacy breaches and misinformation, Facebook solidified its role as the world’s most voracious data-mining machine, posting record profits, and shoring up its dominance via aggressive lobbying efforts.

Drawing on their unrivaled sources, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang take readers inside the complex court politics, alliances and rivalries within the company to shine a light on the fatal cracks in the architecture of the tech behemoth.


My review: Don't read this book if you want to be happy. Facebook is an infuriating company. They spy on everything you do online and use that data to target specific ads at you. (That's how Facebook reads your mind. They know so much about you that they can predict what you need before you realize you need it.) Facebook has gotten in trouble many times for invading privacy and not keeping user data secure. They just apologize and keep misusing data, which is annoying.

The book also talks about misinformation and if Facebook has a responsibility to control it. The company is very reluctant to fact check posts or take down hateful content, which means they ignored warnings and looked the other way while Facebook misinformation fueled the mass murder of Muslims in Myanmar.

I guess I can't hate Facebook too much because they're in a no-win situation with misinformation. They're too big to check every post in every language. Then, there's the blurry lines between information and misinformation. Like, is satire misinformation because not everybody understands jokes? What about information that's true but worded in misleading ways? Should politicians be exempt from rules because it's important for voters to know what their leaders are thinking? Facebook can't win at managing misinformation, so users need be better about not sharing garbage.

For me, the most infuriating thing about Facebook is that they discovered how to create a happier, more factually accurate news feed. They chose not to use it because shock and outrage keep people on the site longer. Facebook's algorithm will keep boosting posts that make people hate each other because that's how Facebook makes money. They can serve you ads with your outrage.

I think Facebook's biggest problem is that they care about growth and money more than anything else. They'll eagerly treat Facebook users like lab rats if they can profit from it. The company is growing so fast that they can't keep up with the problems that come with rapid growth.

Okay, that's it. I'm done blathering about Facebook. Let's talk about the book for a second: If you've been following news about Facebook for years, then you probably won't learn a ton from reading An Ugly Truth. A lot of the information in the book has been reported on before. I still think you should read it, though. Clearly, I got a lot out of it. It's one of the most thought-provoking things I've read this year.



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Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Young Adult Contemporary Fiction



One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts.

The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.

Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.

Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?


My review: This is one of those young adult books that remind me I'm no longer the target audience for young adult books.

This novel is awesome for teenagers because it examines the unique ways humans respond to death. Some of the family members are forgiving, some are angry, some are stressed out, some are confused. This book is an in-depth look at grief. It would be perfect for a young person who doesn't have experience with death. I think they'd learn a lot from it.

I'm an old person who has dealt with my fair share of corpses. I got a little bored with the book and kept wishing something else would happen. It's a long, slow, character-driven story. I appreciated the loving characters and the humor, but I was tempted to skim ahead. There's not much plot.

I guess I'm conflicted about this one. When I was the age of the target audience, I would have loved the realistic characters. As an adult, I kept glancing at my bookshelf to see if I owned any books with more action.


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The Overstory by Richard Powers

Adult Literary Fiction



From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.


Why I'm excited to read it: So . . . I don't think I understand what this book is about. I know it's about trees. And history. I kept seeing it on lists of best nature writing, and then it won a Pulitzer, so I finally decided to pick it up. Let's see if it lives up to the hype.


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Unclean Jobs For Women And Girls by Alissa Nutting

Adult Short Stories



In this darkly hilarious debut collection, misfit women and girls in every strata of society are investigated through various ill-fated jobs. One is the main course of dinner, another the porn star contracted to copulate in space for a reality TV show. They become futuristic ant farms, get knocked up by the star high school quarterback and have secret abortions, use parakeets to reverse amputations, make love to garden gnomes, go into air conditioning ducts to confront their mother’s ghost, and do so in settings that range from Hell to the local white-supremacist bowling alley.


Why I'm excited to read it: I'm more nervous than excited. I don't usually like bizarre, abstract writing, but I've heard good things about this collection. According to my book blogger friends, it's supposed to be creative, funny, and relatable. I guess we'll find out.


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Have you read any of these books? What did you think?






7 comments:

  1. I have only read Goodbye Days (which I loved). The other stuff seems like the kind of weighty I avoid, but I am glad you found a few gems.

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  2. Lots of heavy reading here. "The Last Girl" is now on my tbr list (which is quite long, but her book sounds troubling and also a voice needing to be heard). "The Ugly Truth" also needs to be heard, but I hear enough about Facebook and their evil. I haven't read any of these.

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  3. You have such an interesting reading taste. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I use it solely to stay in tough with family, and friends. I've moved around a lot in my life, so I have friends and family all over the world. But, I hate them, and hate the way they spread disinformation!

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  4. Not reading any of the books you've mentioned - we have different tastes, I think, but I'm impressed with all the literary novels you've reviewed. Very well done. The one about the woman escaping from the Islamic State sounded very interesting to me. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Loved loved loved Valley of the Moon - one of my favorites from my early blogging days. The time travel aspect is definitely easy to understand in this one.

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  6. I appreciate your honesty! I tried another book by Shelly Parker-Chan and didn't vibe with it.

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