Posted in Reviewed

“Hope and Other Superpowers” by John Pavlovitz

The full title of the book I’m here to review today is…ย Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto. John Pavlovitz wrote this book and, presumably, picked the title. It is possibly the longest title I’ve ever seen but the book is absolutely worth ever hyphen in the title.

A few things, first.

When I requested the ARC of this nonfiction book from NetGalley (thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the chance to read it and offer my thoughts!), I picked it because the title seemed ambitious and I was trying to pick outside my genre-comfort zone, so I picked self-help. I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is a pastor, I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is considered one of the more liberal prominent pastors in the country, and I did not realize that the ‘superpower’ part of the title meant I’d need a working knowledge of comic book heroes to get the analogies made in this book.

When I realized these three things, as I started the book, I was quickly wary because I am agnostic, I’m generally skeptical of the motives of megachurch pastors, and I’ve never seen a comic book movie (Marvel or DC or whatever else there is, it’s all very confusing).

However, and this is an important part,ย Hope and Other Superpowersย is not about why I should go to church and give myself up to Jesus, let him take the wheel as Carrie Underwood sings. Pavlovitz mentions being a pastor but I had the sense that he was not writing as pastor to his flock, but as a human being to other human beings. And, possibly less important but very surprising, I really want to watch all the comic book movies!

I was going to say I didn’t expect this book to be what it was but I don’t know what I expected it to be so I will say this…

I didn’t know I needed to read this book, but I did.

It’s in part a call to larger action, in that it’s fairly obvious how Pavlovitz feels about the current president, but it’s also a call to any action at all. A reminder that every single action we undertake has a ripple effect on both our own lives and the wider world. The underlying theme is that we all have the power to be the superheroes we see in movies and comic books, even when the simplest task seems so impossible. It’s about the fact that when we take care of ourselves, we can also make our world better for it. It’s a guide that asks me to take stock of myself, to take better care of myself, and take better care of the world.

I’m going to read this book again, and again. I needed this book, at this moment in my life, and I know I’ll need it again.

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Posted in Books

Keeping myself honest… plans for a newer, more consistent bookblog

๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™So… I do this a lot, try to figure out just how to do something better. Eventually, maybe, I’ll hit on something that keeps me happy and that I do with some consistency. Perhaps?

Perhaps not. ๐Ÿ˜‚

Nonetheless, it’s time to figure out how to do something better and newer and all that jazz. So, the keep myself honest, without any threat of punishment whatsoever (because let’s be real, I’ll be figuring it all out again in three months), I’m making my plans public.

You’re probably bored, or gone, already so this is mostly for me. In which case, time to stop rambling and get this done.

***How My Book Reviews Should Look***

DETAILS:ย  title / author / publication date / publisher / source / tags

RATING SYSTEM:

๐Ÿ’™ – did not finish / would not recommend

๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™ – did not finishย orย finished but would not recommend

๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™ – read / no rush to re-read or recommend

๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™ – read / liked / would recommend to fans of similar books

๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’™ – read / loved / New Favorite status / begging people to read it

STRUCTURE OF THE REVIEW

The first paragraph will be a summary of the story.

The second and third paragraphs will be my thoughts on plot, characters, and setting of the story.

The fourth paragraph will be my final thoughts on the book.

The fifth paragraph will be any extra details or recs of similar books.

The final paragraph will be answers to three questions I asked myself before starting the book.

………

Will any of this work out? Stick around to find out… I know I will!

Posted in Catching Up On My ARCs (sorry I'm late!), Reviewed

“The Sisters of Blue Mountain” by Karen Katchur

I expected this book to be more… intense. It kind of fizzled thanks to the bulk of the motivating factors (i.e. random dead animals) being unrelated to the actual plot of the story. The plot itself was relatable, in that I have a sister and we don’t always communicate well but we love each other more deeply than can be defined with words, but these sisters had questionable morals and ethics and a shared secret that threatens to pull them apart.

I received a copy ofย The Sisters of Blue Mountainย through NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in Reviewed

I read (and liked!) the same book as Barack Obama!

And that book would beย Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. (At least, I assume he liked it. But he definitely bought it. See?)

Anyway, I liked it.

It’s been awhile since I read it (I am so behind on my reviews and my ARCs, humblest apologies to all authors and publishers and firmest promises to catch up… eventually.) but I did keep a log-journal type thing while I was reading it so this, belated, review won’t be totally worthless.

So this book, that I am super proud to have in common with Barack Obama, is my first Salman Rushdie book and I was very excited to get an early copy (through NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest and original review).

Having been lately fascinated with fairy tales, folklore, and all things supernatural, this was probably the very best book I could have started with. It begins with the story of Dunia the jinnia and the ‘love’ she shared with Ibn Rushd (who was a real philosopher in 12th century Morocco and Spain, and is more commonly known as Averroes). The story then switches to Mr. Geronimo in present day, post-apocalyptic New York City. Mr. Geronimo the gardener is a descendant of Dunia, though I can’t remember if it’s of her and Ibn Rushd, but I think so.

According to my notes, things got a little bit confusing then. Dunia is seen as the jinn/Mother, therefore the mother of all jinn? There seemed to be a war coming between the ever available adversaries of Good vs. Evil. Mr. Geronimo started to float. In a way, I had the sense that there was some prequel story that I should have known first, some research that I should have done to prepare myself for this book. Needless to say, in terms of jinn lore and Ibn Rushd versus Al-Ghazali in terms of philosophy sent me to Google many times.

And then things started to make sense, and I started to love the book. I’d just readย American Gods by Neil Gaiman and I started to think of it as comparable to that. The battle of Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Dark is defined by humanity’s lore and history, and we are sometimes oblivious to the things that can change us. But those are lessons that we need to learn for ourselves, maybe without hiding in lore and stories and giving up control to things we can’t control, that might not exist. That seemed to be the message Dunia was trying to craft, though I could be very wrong about it.

The story faltered slightly when, nearly three-quarters of the way through, the two main antagonists were introduced. Zummurad and Zabardast are fine as adversaries, but they lost something in showing up so late. They ended up less three-dimensional, less motivated to fight so hard in the war against Dunia and her father. She and her father, with their kingdom at Qaf Mountain, also ended up seemingly a little abrupt because if how late in the story it became important.

The ending, my notes say, is something I found kind of anti-climactic. I didn’t see the point of it, exactly, and I wondered if I should have readย One Thousand and One Nights before I read this. To it’s credit, I feel like I understand something of Arabian folklore now and I do want to learn more. I do want to re-read it, and since I had to rely so heavily on my notes and not my memories of the story, I think I might do it soon.

For the richness of the story, for what I learned from it, I do very much like this book.

Posted in book reviews, Reviewed

spoiler alert: The Founding Fathers hated each other…

So… “Hamilton” is a thing. You can’t get much more all-American than George Washington. Jefferson created the basis for the laws we still follow today. And there are a handful of other Founding Fathers we learn about in elementary school, and then probably forget unless somebody asks us “who is on the $1 bill?” or their birthday means we get a day off from work or school.

But do you know what we don’t learn about the Founding Fathers in elementary school?

That they kinda hated each other with an awesome sort of passion.

I sort of knew this, especially since Alexander Hamilton was the sort of guy who would duel and be killed by Aaron Burr, the Vice President!

There is so much more to the feuds of the Founding Fathers, though. So very much more. And Paul Aron lays it all out brilliantly in FOUNDING FEUDS.

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If you ever need a good, old-timey insult to fling at somebody during a political debate (and who doesn’t need an insult in a political debate?), look no further than the Founding Fathers. After all, Aron cites William Cobbett saying of Thomas Paine (English and European, but also greatly influencing the creation of America was we know it):

How Tom gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not. Whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is of very little consequence… Like Judas he will be remembered by posterity; men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural and blasphemous, by the singly monosyllable, Paine.

And they were friends! (Sometimes.)

But that’s just a taste.

It’s really not surprising that they showed and shared such a deep-rooted dislike for and distrust of one another. Their egos and senses of self had to be huge to think they could start a revolution and found a country. No way they could all peacefully co-exist without proverbial, and sometimes literal, bloodshed.

So if you need a break from the political bickering that’s currently and always ongoing, I could not recommend something more than I can recommend this book. The vaunted Founding Fathers argued in a much classier way, and they weren’t afraid to mince their words. It’s great!

(I received a copy of FOUNDING FEUDS through NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Posted in Reviewed

“Future Leaders of Nowhere” by Emily O’Beirne

Want to know the surefire sign of a good book? Finding yourself confronted with the promise of a sequel, given a vague date (Autumn 2017, in this case), and saying to yourself (possibly aloud, since you stayed up until nearly one in the morning devouring said book) “ooh, I gotta get that book!”

This is what happened when I finished Emily O’Beirne’s FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE last night, this morning… however you want to look at it.

I requested the book from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest and original review) because it seemed different (being listed as LGBTQIA and Teen/YA), got it (thanks Ylva Publishing!), briefly forgot about it, then read it. And I love it!

I really cannot emphasize how much I love this book!

Set in Australia (thereby ticking the box of being set somewhere I don’t usually read about), FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is set in a month-long retreat-style camp where a variety of high schools send teams of seven high-achieving students (who are “future leaders”) to compete in a nation-building game. Having been through American high school (public and poor, truth be told), I really, really, really wish this sort “game” existed for us. It sounds incredibly fun, challenging, and important. And maybe ritzier, better funded, private schools here do have things like this. Who knows. Maybe I’d rather not know.

Anyway…

The first half of the book is told from Finn’s perspective. She is “captain” of her co-ed high school (this idea of school captains is also mildly foreign to me) and her team quickly elects her their leader in the game. She does not particularly want the job and, honestly, she’s not that great at it when the game starts. She tries to please all of the people all of the time. Even in the democracy that her team is assigned, that is a doomed leadership style.

But Finn meets Willa, the leader of the team from a fancy all-girls school.

And Willa, who tells the second half of the story, meets Finn.

Both girls are coming off having been burned in relationships that they were more invested in than their partners but they move forward together, wary of history and the looming specter of the game. Finn becomes a better leader because Willa gives her confidence and Willa opens up to her classmates, thereby becoming a better leader as well, because Finn helps her see that she won’t always be hurt if she shares who she is with someone else.

Beyond Finn and Willa there is an amazing, relatable, fun cast of supporting characters that I want to know more about.

FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is sweet, heartfelt, touching, funny, sad, honest, and generally lovely.

I am so glad I requested an ARC of this book, more glad that I got an ARC, and the most glad that there is more of this story to look forward to!

Posted in Books, Reviewed

“After the Parade” by Lori Ostlund

23492669It’s some kind of masterful when you spend the first quarter of a book thinking that the main character is a self-absorbed, ambivalent, almost blissfully ignorant fool but then you read the middle half of the book, getting ever more caught up in his story, and the final quarter of the book realizing that none of those things that made him unlikable and unrelatable at first were his fault and he did grow from them, whether by choice or by force. Sometimes life isn’t anyone’s fault. To alter the title a bit, sometimes life is just a parade it’s hard to see the end of.

AFTER THE PARADE is Lori Ostlund’s tale of a forty-one year old man name Aaron Englund. An ESL teacher, the story begins with him packing up a U-Haul in Albuquerque and leaving for San Francisco. He’s leaving behind eighty-two year old Walter, the man he’s been with for twenty-three years – and known a few years longer. The math works out to mean that Aaron was eighteen and Walter thirty-six when they first became a couple. That fact lands somewhere between unnerving and sad. As a reader, it’s easy to feel bad for Walter at the start. The man he loves leaves on Christmas Eve after nearly a quarter century. He’s elderly.

But then it becomes so much more complicated than that.

As Aaron travels – literally to San Francisco and figuratively to figuring out who he is – his story is told. His memories of an abusive father and a distant mother, who was more distant because of her abusive husband. His memories of never quite fitting in to normal groups at school. His tendency to gravitate toward the outcasts of society, almost as though he is searching for himself in them more than he is searching for a true friend. And so it comes that by the time he meets Walter as a teenager, his father is dead and his mother is gone.

Aaron is inherently a boy in need of something he never had. That he would find comfort in a stable older man when most boys his age would be doing anything but settling down, makes perfect sense. As in all things, defining love and the existence of love is tricky and almost impossible.

In time, woven into a rich story with so many threads, it becomes clear that Aaron teaches English to immigrants because he sees himself as one of them, in a way. He is an observer too, trying to figure out just how to make it through an uncomfortable, unfamiliar world without getting hurt. And maybe get through it with someone to love. The questions his students ask, the stories they tell him… they help Aaron to find himself.

Ostlund’s novel is harsh and sometimes breathtaking in it’s sadness but it is beautiful. Everything makes sense in the end, especially the most perfect of endings.

(I received a copy of AFTER THE PARADE through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)