Thursday, February 16, 2017

Perfect Little World By Kevin Wilson

Isabelle (Izzy) Poole just graduated high school and is pregnant with her Art teacher’s baby. Unfortunately for her, he is unstable and selfish and he isn’t happy about the baby. He tells her that he doesn’t want her to keep the baby but even though she knows she will be raising it on her own she decides to keep it. She has no one to turn to for help, her mother died when she was 13 and her father is an alcoholic so when she is offered money from her ex’s parents to have the baby she accepts. Through her doctor she is recruited for a program led by Dr. Preston Grind called the Infinite Family Project. The opportunity to have her medical expenses covered as well as a stable and safe environment for her unborn child is a dream come true for Izzy so even though she is somewhat skeptical of Dr. Grind’s project, she accepts.

On the outside The Infinite Family project looks a lot like any typical commune community but Dr. Grind believes with his investors’ money and his rules he will be able to create the perfect utopian society. Izzy and her newborn son join 9 other families at the complex shortly after she gives birth and they begin the process of relearning everything that they had previously believed about what being a family means.

I enjoyed this book, the story was well thought out and the characters were genuine and easy to relate too. I can definitely see the appeal of being part of a utopian society especially one where money and childcare are not a constant worry. However, it was easy early on in the story to see why this idea of an Infinite Family would work better in theory then in practice. Anytime you put a group of strangers together there is bound to be some drama and adding children and marriages to the mix seems like a recipe for disaster. It took longer than I expected but things eventually started to fall apart for the family but I was pleased to see that the cast of characters were able to handle the challenges and even managed to become successful after the project ended. Wilson provided an interesting take on what it means to be a family, in this case blood did not make the family it was shared experiences and common goals that kept them together. The end of the book had a faster pace than the rest of the story and it had a somewhat romanticized ending. For some this may turn them away but I felt that the characters deserved to have happy endings so I was ultimately pleased with how it turned out. This was a quick read that I think would be interesting to anyone who enjoys reading about family dynamics and psychology. -Cassie

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

In the early 1990's, Paul Dini was a successful writer for Warner Brother's animation department, on the staff of the groundbreaking TV revival of Batman.  He had his dream job, even if he felt it wasn't important work, and an apartment full of all the toys (action figures, memorabilia, a juke box) he could want, even if his social life was lacking.  Then one night, walking home from an especially bad date, he was mugged and severely beaten, to the point that he required facial reconstruction to rebuild pieces of his skull which had been "powdered on impact."  In 2016, he and artist Eduardo Risso published this graphic novel account of the attack and Dini's physical and psychological recovery from it.

The striking aspect of this book, and a particular strength of the graphic novel/comic format in general, is how the story blends fact, commentary, and fiction together through its visuals.  Dini narrates the book to an invisible audience, which turns out to only partly be the reader, and weaves Batman's archetypal hero, villains, and set-pieces throughout as conversationalists and stand-ins for his psychological dilemmas.  Scenes involving these characters, as well as other important people and incidents, take on signature colors or surreal imagery that serve to deepen their meaning.

I do believe that, while Batman fans might get the most out of the book due to its use of that world's characters and tropes, the story itself is powerful and will speak to the non-fan.  Batman, The Joker, and his other nemeses, have become part of our pop culture language so you may understand the references even if you've never seen one of the movies or read one of the comics.  Dini's path from self-delusion and loneliness to healing and understanding, told through the prism of stories, is one that many of us have to walk in our lives, after all.   -Barb

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel

Whenever I see NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel on the Nightly News, I wonder, "How is this man still alive?"  For more than 20 years he has been reporting to us from the world's most dangerous hotspots in the Arab world.  His newest book recounts some of his most harrowing experiences while giving us insight as to why some warring factions there hate each other, as they have for centuries.

During his career, Engel has lived in Cairo, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Beirut and Istanbul, among other places.  Self-taught, he speaks fluent Arabic, which enables him to gain access to valuable news sources by befriending locals and learning whom to trust.  Over the years, he has often slept on the floor, his mattress propped in windows for a bomb shield.  In 2012 he was kidnapped by what he called a "Sunni-connected criminal gang."

His story is rich with descriptions of events as he saw them unfold, with helpful background information.  He explains not only the uprising in Egypt in 2013 that resulted in the overthrow of President Mubarek, but also what led up to it.  He says technology, the smartphone in particular, contributed to the unrest because it allowed rebels to better communicate with each other regarding the wealth disparity that was becoming increasingly evident.

In the later part of the book, Engel explains his assertion that the U.S. involvement in Iraq failed and actually contributed to the formation of ISIS.  Of that group's recruitment success, he writes, "It is a disturbing aspect of human nature that if there is a place where there are no consequences and where the most grotesque murders are tolerated in the name of a cult claiming to be a faith, a certain type of person will be attracted to it."

This book is a marvelous blend of history, current events analysis, human psychology, and adventure, all superbly written by a seasoned journalist.  -Margie

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

White Rage: The unspoken truth of our racial divide by Carol Anderson

It gets tiring to read scores of examples of how the rich and powerful interpret rules to their own benefit, but history is still bracing when it is written by less powerful people. Even in libraries, sometimes “the winners write the books.” But Carol Anderson, Professor of History at Emory in Atlanta, tells the story of American white violence against civil rights. Her scholarly history reminds us over and over that none of us is safe from the social injustice that grows from inequality. Her recital of American legal and physical backlash against civil rights is very grim.

Since all anger comes from fear, this book should be titled “White Fear.” But it feels like rage on the receiving end. I agree with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, author of eleven books including his year coaching a White Mountain Apache bball team, who wrote in a 2016 Time article that race prejudice has nothing to do with color.

It’s about power, he said-- folks fear losing whatever personal control or small advantage they have. On average, one group is spoiled by having more access to money and education, so on average, they prefer to protect their mythical privilege. Nancy Isenberg's new history titled White Trash makes the same point - prejudice is really about privilege. Steve Fraser’s The Age of Acquiescence explores how Americans of all backgrounds go through cycles of working together against abuses by organized wealth and power. Noticing social trends still depends on who's paying attention.  --Jon

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys

This is a powerful little book. 15-year-old Lina lives with her loving family in Lithuania in the volatile political climate of 1941. Unfortunately for her country, Stalin's regime is looking to take over the Baltic states, at least if Hitler doesn't prevent it, and the Germans seem to be taking over countries, too. And Lina's father is suspected of rebellion against the Stalinists, both for his gatherings of intellectual friends and the fact that his brother’s family seems to have left Lithuania behind. As a result, their whole family is rounded up for deportation. Lina, with her mother and younger brother, is sent to labor on a potato & beet farm collective in Siberia. Lina fights for her life, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by using her artistic talents to document their story whenever she can. Lina comes of age in a situation of scrabbling to survive, to maintain memories of better times, and to establish a community of support among their fellow deportees.

This heart-rending novel really illuminates an episode of history that I knew very little about. Author Ruta Septys penned this award-winning debut novel with inspiration from her own extended family's history in Lithuania. This is a crossover book, equally appealing to teens and adults.  -Dee Ann

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Child by Mei Fong

After more than 30 years, China recently ended its infamous one-child policy.  Implemented in order to curb population growth and improve the country's economic future, the controversial project had unintended consequences that will affect the Chinese for decades to come.

With far fewer young adults entering the workforce now, the aging population depends heavily on its youth to support the elderly.  The skewed generational numbers and China's cultural imperative for adult children to care for their elders have put immense pressure on 20- and 30-somethings.  They lack siblings to help out as they start their own careers and families, and have more difficulty dating and marrying due to a serious shortage of Chinese females.

Males far outnumber females now and the reasons are disturbing.  In a country with a historical preference for boys, girl babies were often abandoned, adopted out, or aborted so that parents could try again for a boy.

Author Mei Fong traveled extensively in China, interviewing those affected by the policy in myriad ways.  She documents ruthless government enforcement of the one-child limit.  In some provinces, forced late-term abortions were not uncommon, and an unregulated adoption industry contributed to tragic instances of baby-selling for profit.

Fong's crisp, concise writing, thorough research, and powerful material make this book well worth reading.  It asks important questions about social engineering and government control over people's private lives.   -Margie

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wolf, No Wolf (Gabriel Du Pre #3) by Peter Bowen

Goodreads summary:  Du Pre remembers when you could send animal skins to Sears Roebuck and get merchandise in return. Now the wolves are gone from the mountains, and outsiders want them back. The trouble is, a tussle over wildlife is getting people killed.

First, two activists die by a sniper's rifle. Then four more lives are snuffed out as a brutal winter storm barrels down on a carnival of Feds, reporters, and protestors. Du Pre knows one of his own people must be behind the bloodletting, and that in this rugged land, you don't quit hunting until you're dead.

My review:  This is another fun addition to Bowen's series of Eastern Montana mysteries.  Gabriel Du Pré, the sleuth, is Métis fiddle player and brand inspector on the high plains, who gets called in to help the county sheriff solve problems.  The problem this time is people who are cutting fences and killing cattle, who are themselves killed by somebody.  Gabriel and his friends, including the new sheriff, have to solve the murders while rescuing hapless visitors who venture out in the worst winter storm in years and get stuck in the howling blizzard, among other problems.  

Bowen has a feel for the land and a sense of humor that come through in his books.  His characters are entertaining.  In this book, the clash between city folk and country folk is central to the problem and its solving.  I enjoyed it quite a lot.  If you like snarky dialogue, different points of view, and a good convoluted problem with no clear solutions, you'll like this book.  -Lynne

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