A Hope More Powerful than the Sea (CBR10 #6)

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When I didn’t manage to read a book I had selected for 2017’s Read Harder Challenge I left the library request in as these were books that I had put onto the list for several reasons. Following ElCicco’s detailed and extensive review of A Hope More Powerful than the Sea I knew I needed to read this book in order to bear witness to one woman’s experience as a refugee from the Syrian war as it is one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of my life, and with this being Melissa Fleming’s debut I had an excuse to move it up the list.

I am always stunned when I come across people who seem to think refugees are to blame for their circumstances. There seems to be a prevailing response in the United States (and parts of Europe) to blame the individual for the crimes of the masses and government. Perhaps I am so far in the other direction because I grew up in South Florida during the Haitian and Cuban refugee crises of the early 1990s. Dry foot laws and quotas, detention centers, and seemingly racist choices about who to send home to death and who to allow in permeated the nightly news as well as my classrooms and friends’ families were a part of my daily reality and directly impacted my view on what it costs for someone to leave their only home with nothing but the clothes on their back and no guarantee that they will survive the trip. Twenty years later we’re watching it happen again, on a much larger scale.

Because the suffering and despair that push refugees to flee their homes and risk their lives can only be tremendous, it is expected that a book memorializing the story of one such woman must be harrowing. Doaa Al Zamel’s is exactly that, but it is also an incredibly accessible primer on what life was like in part of Syria before the war started, the excitement that the Arab Spring brought, and the realities of suffering that families and communities have been made to endure both in the war zone but also in the places they have run to for safety. Melissa Fleming takes dozens of hours of interviews a well as other primary resources surrounding Doaa’s life and her ordeal in the Mediterranean Sea in order to make the point that not only is this suffering happening, that we are all criminally negligent (my wording) in our overall lack of response and follow through to this humanitarian need. It has become to easy to get caught up in to what the war has metastasized into; and not look into the great crevasse of need it has created.

While I wish this story was more directly from Doaa, I understand intuitively why it would have been to hard, to emotionally taxing, for her to have attempted it alone. Instead she turned to Melissa Fleming and the other UNHCR staff and humanitarians to tell her story and to help reunite her remaining family. Doaa’s story is important, and Ms. Fleming has done a respectable job in crafting a streamlined, accessible, and easily read accounting. There is no excuse to not read this book.

A Hope More Powerful than the Sea was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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Romancing the Werewolf (CBR10 #5)

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In some ways my CBR history is the history of my reading Gail Carriger books. The third book I ever reviewed for Cannonball was Carriger’s Soulless book. Heck it and the next three books in the Parasol Protectorate series make four of my first 10 reviews. Carriger showed back up in my reading in CBR6 as I started her Finishing School books (a prequel series) which spread out over Cannonballs 7 & 8. I am a big Carriger fan; I enjoy her online presence, and find the tempo of her writing fun and soothing. When last year I saw that her second novella in this universe was going to focus on the love story of two of my favorite supporting characters from the Parasol Protectorate books, Professor Lyall and Biffy, I pre-ordered it to read at the end of CBR9. Of course, it ended up in the beginning of CBR10 instead because that’s just how I roll.

While this is a perfectly serviceable romance novella and an interesting piece of Carriger’s Steampunk Universe I made a mistake. In the Note on Chronology Carriger tells us readers that her Supernatural Society novellas can be read in any order, and that this book takes place chronologically after the events of Imprudence (in 1895), and ties romantically to events in Timeless. I focused on the Timeless portion of that sentence but I should have paid closer heed to the Imprudence part as I have read a sum total of zero of the Custard Protocol books which follow the Soulless books in chronological order.  I should have just gone and spoiled myself so the setup made more sense.

That said, this novella still has all the things I love about Carriger’s writing: her brand of humor, werewolves, vampires, fancy dress and hats, intrigue, and a quick little mystery to solve, and a peak into an alternate Victorian England. It also is a sweet romance between two characters who have been separated for a long time and aren’t sure what they are to each other anymore. Any time spent with Biffy and Lyall is time well spent. I wish there was a little more ahem, romance, in this novella, but I’ll take what I can get.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Born a Crime (CBR10 #4)

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Last year there were several glowing reviews of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime at Cannonball Read. Based on positive word of mouth I had already picked up the audio version which Noah narrates himself. I was intrigued by Noah – we’re the same age (well, I’m almost exactly a year older) but our lives couldn’t be more different, and I love a good memoir.

For the many reasons life throws your way I did not manage to listen to Born a Crime in 2017. However, fast forward to New Year’s where I am terribly sick, it was ridiculously cold, and the friends I was staying with decided to stay in and do nothing but watch Netflix and read books (there are many reasons why these women are some of my favorite humans on the planet) and we ended up watching several of Trevor Noah’s specials, and a documentary called You Laugh But It’s True which features a baby-faced 25 year old Noah breaking into the comedy scene and putting on his first one man show, The Daywalker. I was immediately mesmerized by the trajectory of this man’s career. In less than 10 years he went from comedian to respected host of The Daily Show.  (Full Disclosure, I have never watched The Daily Show with either Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah as host outside clips here and there.)

The documentary hit on some of the same stories he revisited in the book, giving a careful overview of what is was like to grow up in South Africa. In Born a Crime Noah stops being careful and instead explains in detail the realities of his life, the lives of his friends, and his mother. Noah’s mom Patricia plays a large part of his life and it is reflected in the book. I feel as though I know as much about Patricia Noah as I do about Trevor at the end of the book. She is simply amazing. Read this book, go to Netflix and find You Laugh But It’s True so that you can but faces and voices to names and see the world that Noah so lovingly recreates in his writing. The book has some pacing issues, but this is a great memoir and a fascinating look at an interesting life.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail (CBR10 #3)

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Sometimes it pays to remember the good ideas cannonballers and friends have so you can steal them outright to suit your purposes. You all should go back and read denesteak’s brilliant review from last January, she unpacks the world through her powerful viewpoint and it is more than worth your time. When I had a few hours to myself on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the States I remembered Dene’s review and the fact that I’m supposed to be finding a single sitting book for the Read Harder Challenge and off to the internet I went.

I am ashamed to admit that I had previously never read Dr. King’s full letter.  Unfortunately this work is as prescient as it was nearly 55 years ago when Dr. King was imprisoned in the jail in Bombingham. As I mentioned, I intentionally read it all in one go for the Read Harder Challenge and it felt like being hit repeatedly by waves. My favorite thing to do at the beach (besides read under an umbrella) is to jump waves. Sometimes they lift you up, if you time your jump just right you feel as if you are flying. However, if you mistime your jump, or if the wave is too large, you are slammed by the force of nature and sent sputtering towards shore, spitting water as you resurface.

What Dr. King was saying in this supremely eloquent letter gave much the same feeling. I was lifted by his resilience, by his steadfast knowledge of the rightness of his actions. I was also slammed back towards shore with how little has really been accomplished. It has been swirling around me for quite a while, all that remains undone and all those who could and should be doing more. Moderate whites (whom Dr. King calls out in some of the most stirring language in the letter) still do not pull their weight. I hope that you will take the time and read the full work. It is tempting to feel as though you know what Dr. King has said because so many famous quotes are pulled from this piece of writing. But Dr. King was a titan of oratory and this letter builds and builds and builds to a crescendo of meaning, and as Dene points out, supreme amounts of shade.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend. Join us, won’t you?

 

An Age of License: a Travelogue (CBR10 #2)

After not completing last year’s Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I am back at it again for 2018 with a new set of challenges. My first stop was seeing if any of the books I did not manage in 2017 would suit a 2018 challenge, and low and behold the book I had picked out for last year’s task 8: Read a Travel Memoir would suit this year’s task 4: Read a Comic Written and Drawn by the Same Person.

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A couple of years ago I read and enjoyed Relish and was looking forward to another visit with Lucy Knisley. An Age of License chronicles approximately a month of Knisley’s life in the fall of 2011 when she cobbled together a few segments of travel to allow herself time to roam around Europe (specifically Norway, Sweden, Germany, and France). It is also a look at a woman in her mid-twenties flailing about a bit, if you’ll forgive the less than complementary descriptor.

Knisley through her own eyes is finding her footing professionally, mourning the end of a relationship, settling herself into a new city, and taking off to see a bit of the world and a boy she met. We join her as she files away a variety of new peple, new experiences, and ruminates on how to settle into her adulthood. My experience with Knisley’s art is rather limited, but one of the issues I had with Relish was that the panels were so tightly drawn, with so much happening in each panel. In An Age of License Knisley spreads out a bit, using the white space to help foster the feeling of floating in the ether that she is experiencing in her month of travel. I prefer this visual style, but the narrative is thinner than I would have hoped.

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A good, quick read, but not too much more.

I’ll Give You the Sun (CBR10 #1)

I start all of my review drafts with the Cannonball Read number because that used to be how we formatted our titles way back in Cannonball Read Four. So, Holy motherforking shirtballs everyone, I just typed CBR10 for the first time as relates to a review. Let’s do this!

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I try to select my books carefully for the “big” reviews of the year, so while packing for holiday travel I grabbed my copy of I’ll Give You the Sun from my bedside table and tucked it into my backpack. The time was now: this book had been on my to read list for a couple years following an enthusiastic review from scootsa1000. Scoots’ review had stayed with me so well that a little less than a year ago I snagged myself a paperback copy at an independent bookstore I was killing time at because I knew, knew, knew that I was going to read it and want a copy to have. I rarely let myself buy books, but this one made the cut sight unseen. If you follow that link you’ll see that review is from 2015 and I said in my comment that it would be a few months before I read it… well it has been three years and I don’t know what took me so long, I could have fallen in love with these characters so much sooner

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This is a lot of preamble to get to the point: if you like YA at all and haven’t read this book you should rectify that pretty quickly.  Jandy Nelson has a way with world building and character development that insidiously sinks into you. During the first half of the novel I was thinking it was quite good and I would probably end up rating it 3.5-4 stars and have some really nice things to say about the characters and the plot, and the easy but satisfying mystery of the missing in-between years (our narrators trade off from either side of a two year gap where we know what happened, but we don’t know what really happened). Then, somewhere around page 200 I fell ecstatically in love with the characters, their ways of expressing themselves, the realness of their lived experience, and the sorrows they carried with them, both before and after the big tragedies.

Jandy Nelson describes her work as a story about artistic passion and pleasure, about the ecstatic impulse, and about split-aparts. It is also a work about self, and being firmly in this life, and also not. Its about solving big puzzles and putting the pieces back together. For me, it is also a fantastic look at family, siblings, and grief and what you use to pull yourself out of the darkness and find your authentic voice.

May we all be like Grandma Sweetwine: have our own bible of wisdom we have gathered and a relationship with the universe so personal that we feel comfortable calling god Clark Gable. Make a wish, take a chance, remake the world.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, now in our 10th year. At Cannonball Read we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society. You can join us, registration is open through January. 

Read Harder Challenge 2017

This year I did not complete the 2017 Read Harder Challenge within the calendar year. I have marked the books that I read in 2018 as such. I completed the challenge in August 2018.

These challenges continue to push me, and I’ll be trying again with 2018’s challenges.

Read Harder Challenge 2017

  1. Read a book about sports.
    1. Making Up by Lucy Parker (2018)
  2. Read a debut novel.
    1. Trainwreck by Sady Doyle
    2. The Devourers by Indra Das
    3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    4. If Our Bodies Could Talk by James Hamblin
    5. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  3. Read a book about books.
    1. Saga Volumes 1-8 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (artist) (2018)
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author
    1. August by Romina Paula
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration theme
    1. The Devourers by Indra Das
  6. Read an all-ages comic
    1. Lobster is the Best Medicine by Liz Climo
    2. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
    3. March: Books One, Two, Three by John Lewis
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
    1. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Wolf
    2. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (John Slattery, narrator)
  8. Read travel memoir.
    1. An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley (2018)
  9. Read a book you’ve read before.
    1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
    7. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
    8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
    1. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
    1. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
    2. In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa
  12. Read a fantasy novel.
    1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
    2. The Devourers by Indra Das
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
    1. Grunt by Mary Roach
    2. If Our Bodies Could Talk by James Hamblin
  14. Read a book about war.
    1. Grunt by Mary Roach
    2. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, John Slattery (narrator)
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
    1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
    1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
  17. Read a classic by an author of color.
    1. Kindred by Octavia Butler (2018)
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
    1. Mockingbird: Volumes 1 I Can Explain & 2 My Feminist Agenda
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper)
    1. The Devourers by Indra Das
    2. March: Books One through Three by John Lewis
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels)
    1. The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay)
    1. No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Key (Write Bloody Publishing) (2018, owned)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng)
    1. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
    2. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
    3. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen
    4. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series)
    1. Odes to Opposites by Pablo Neruda
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension)
    1. In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa