Reviews

Good Time Coming, Review

Good Time Coming by C. S. Harris

4 stars out of 5

I was enchanted by this book from start to finish; the author’s melodious prose captivated me from the first page to the last, the lyricism of which gave this book a mesmerizing effect. The language is amazingly beautiful throughout and has a uniquely haunting quality that sets the tone for the entire story. I fell in love with the book after the first three paragraphs and just couldn’t put it down.

Set during the Civil War this book takes a hard look at what it means to be a woman during that time. As the Federal troops advance through the South things grow increasingly difficult for those left behind, the women, the people of color (both free and slave), the immigrants and the elderly.

Written in believable and natural dialect this book tells the story of a young teen who is coming of age as the war ravages her homeland. The author is careful and detailed in her writing, she doesn’t preach about how right the South was, or how slavery was actually beneficial to those who were enslaved. She does, however, write about the people, and what it was like to live among them, and what they did to stay strong as the war raged about them. She populates her world with a wide variety of people and gives the reader a hint at what the antebellum South might have actually been like. Communities weren’t separated into oppressive plantation owners and oppressed slaves, there was a lot more nuance than that, and the author draws out the nuance beautifully.

I only have a few qualms about this book, there are a couple of plot points that are mentioned late in the game but left unresolved in the end. It seems, too, that the author was trying very hard to establish the main white characters as non-racist and pro abolition, to the point that it seemed like she tried a little too hard. What’s more is that even though there are several black characters in the story, they are all free, all of the people who are enslaved are so minor as to be virtually nonexistent, and I think this is an oversight that robs the narrative of its depth.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The writing is superb and the perspective is fresh for the most part. It’s nice to see a story that focuses on the women and their lives, instead of on the generals and the wars. I think the author did a great job with this book and look forward to reading more of her.

Reviews

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Review

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

4 stars out of 5

This is an intriguing book no matter which way you slice it. 377,000 medieval manuscripts in danger from being destroyed barbaric zealots who have the city of Timbuktu under their sway, and the only people who can save the day are the librarians and archivists who collected and curated the tomes in the first place. This book promised a lot, and somehow it delivered.

The book starts with the collection of the manuscripts and the history of the city of Timbuktu. It talks about the immense intellectual tradition of the ancient city, and how over the years the city has perpetually been in the midst of a tug-of-war between reactionary conservatism and loose liberalism. The author then details the latest wave of dogmatic conservatism to sweep Timbuktu, Al-Qaeda. With the manuscripts under threat by the foreigners, the librarians of Timbuktu undertake a daring evacuation of all 377,000 books to safety in Mali’s capital, Bamako. In the end the books were smuggled to safety not a moment too soon as the invaders destroyed what books they could find before fleeing ahead of the French army before they were finally routed from the country.

This book is a riveting read. The author uses his best journalistic skills to put all the pieces together so that the story is complete. He gives the reader an understanding of the people of Timbuktu and Mali, the history of the city and the region, the social and political climate of the area, past and present, and the rich heritage that Malians have kept hidden for decades. It’s a stunning work that gives the reader everything they need to know to truly understand what is happening and why it is happening.

On that note, some may not like it very much because it does digress from the main keep-the-books-safe narrative. It talks about the different members of Al-Qaeda and their individual histories, it talks about the legacy of French colonialism on the region, and the ever-simmering tensions between the Malians and the nomadic Tuareg people. He gives the readers all the parts of the story, but some may find the extra detail boring. Personally, I found it fascinating to read, I really felt like a had a handle on Mali’s story instead of just a partial picture. The author did well and the book was enjoyable throughout.

The only caveat I have for the story are the parts where it seems like previous articles the author has written slip into the larger narrative. This usually involves a sudden shift in tense and perspective and while it is not bad writing, it does take the reader out of the story somewhat when the point of view suddenly shifts from third person the first, or vice-versa. Other than that, it was a well written and smooth narrative with a voice that suited the subject matter.

I listened to this book as an audiobook and while the performance was adequate that was all I could say about it. The author’s accent seemed a strange choice for a story set in Africa, and there were a number of times when the narration itself felt choppy. I almost had the impression that the narrator had recorded some of the more difficult to pronounce words separately and they were later inserted into the appropriate place which made the cadence of the reading somewhat odd. I think this audiobook can be skipped.

Reviews

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin, Review

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin by Charles Soule

3 out of 5 stars

Set between Episode I and II, this book compiles issues 1-5 of the Obi-Wan & Anakin comic, and, for only being five issues long it tells not only one, but two stories using an interwoven timeline format. The main story is a straightforward adventure story. Anakin and Obi-Wan are stranded on a dsytopian planet engulfed in civil war. They have to keep their wits about them to stay alive, but also stay true to the Jedi code and try attempt to create a peace. The other story, the one that is the emotional centre of the story, is one where Anakin contemplates leaving the Jedi order, and his struggles to come to terms with what he wants, and what he thinks is expected of him.

This books is written with typical comic book style. It’s slick and goes over well. Obi-Wan and Anakin are more or less in character. The author does a particularly good job on depicting Anakin as a young teen who is beginning to question his life. The early teen years can be ones of great confusion and change for many adolescents, and the author conveys those feelings with believable care. Additionally, the author portrays Palpatine beginning to groom Anakin for the Dark Side in a careful and somewhat frightening way. This book does a lot of good for Anakin’s story, and fills in the inter-movie years quite well.

Obi-Wan is actually much more of a secondary character here, so if he’s the main attraction to reading this book, you may be disappointed. He plays a reasonable and sympathetic supporting role in driving the story along, but, like the movies, this is really Anakin’s story.

Finally, the art. The art throughout this book is excellent, absolutely no complaints here. It is a comic book, so the art is stylized to advance the story (and make the characters look cool) but everyone looks quite like themselves. I especially like how Anakin looks, it’s a good blend of child and teen. The action too is easy to follow and visually spectacular. Overall, this is a fun read.

As far as things I didn’t like, the main story leaves something to be desired. It’s a fairly dull story, there isn’t a lot of interest, and outside of Anakin being kidnapped, it has very little to keep the reader engaged. The secondary flashback storyline is far more intriguing making the primary story feel that much more bland.

Reviews

Girls & Sex, Review

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

4 stars out of 5

Peggy Orenstein is a journalist, and as such she seeks to not only tell a story, but also tell the reader why the story is important. She is not an academic, a researcher, or a scientist. This is important to bear in mind as you read this book. Orenstein is telling a story and she backs up her findings with both data and anecdote. She uses good journalism to get to the heart of the issue and talk to the people who are affected, and that is really the strength of this book.

Orenstein carefully guides the reader through the stories of various people that all have the common thread of the sexual lives of young adult women in high school and college. She talks about why they decide to become sexually active and how ideas about virginity and “sluttyness” shape how girls and women think about sexuality. She talks about American sexual culture and how media representations shape our ideas without us even really noticing. Orenstein is thorough and reasonable in her approach and her assessments. Anyone at all would benefit from reading this book which, at the very least, acts as a thought-provoking conversation starter.

I do wish, however, that Orenstein might have cast a bot of a wider net when conducting her interviews. After a few chapters it seems like the story is the same for the rest of the book: middle-class white girls and the college party/hook-up scene. She didn’t really touch on experiences outside of that rather narrow focus. As far as what she did cover, she did an excellent job. I look forward to reading more from Peggy Orenstein.

I listened to this book as an audiobook and it was read by the author. I much enjoyed hearing the author’s own voice putting inflection and emphasis on her own words. It all worked together seamlessly and I rather enjoyed the listen.

Reviews

Fangirl, Review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

3 out of 5 stars

I really liked some parts of Fangirl. It was engaging through most of the book, and I was truly interested in the characters and what was going to happen to them. The cast is vivid and relatable through most of the story, so it was easy to keep going and finish this book. However, there were a lot of things that bugged me in this story too, leaving me with a very conflicted mixed reaction.

What I liked about Fangirl was the relationships. I liked Cath having difficulty navigating the social landscape of college. I like Wren wanting her independence and being afraid of only ever being known as one of the twins. I liked their dad being a constant worry in Cath’s life, and part of the reason she’s so anxious. I liked Levi being cute and charming. I liked Reagan being down to earth and in-your-face. I liked all of those things and how they interacted to create a fully developed social life in the story. The conflicts were believable, and kudos to Rowell for getting me invested.

What I didn’t like, primarily, was the seeming absence of a plot. Cath’s relationship with her mother goes nowhere, not even to say that it’s never resolved. It just…stops. Her relationship with her sister is conveniently wrapped up so that Wren is a completely different person in the last few chapters of the book. Levi and Cath are together for no real reason, and Levi puts up with Cath for no real reason. Cath’s probable social anxiety is never dealt with, and even the smaller plot points of Cath’s short story and her fanfiction just kind of go away never to be mentioned again. For a coming of age story it left a lot of ends loose, and many of those things would have been just fine if they were excised from the story altogether.

My second issue was that a lot of the description felt overwritten. After all the ways Rowell described eyes and hands and hair and stomachs it was beginning to get annoying.

One final bother was the fanfiction and story snippets in between the chapters. I like the concept, and even some of the shorter snippets, but overall they were a drag. Some went on way too long and I just didn’t enjoy them at all. Nor did I enjoy having to listen to Cath read an entire fanfiction in real time in the book, it was just too boring. Part of the reason people like fanfiction is because it gives them more with characters they already love. But, I have no reason to love Baz or Simon, so being forced to sit through an entire fanfic about them was almost insufferable.

Overall, Fangirl has some great parts. The characters are generally interesting and fresh, and the book moves along at a good pace. The author even had some really great lines and thoughts. It wasn’t a waste of time, but I certainly won’t be re-reading this, or generally recommending it either.

I listened to this story as an audiobook, and while it was generally good there were more than a few points where the narrator was not able to distinguish the characters from each other very well. Other than that it was an enjoyable listen. I especially liked how they used a different reader for the inter-chapter snippets.

Reviews

Why?, Review

Why? Explaining the Holocaust by Peter Hayes

4 out of 5 stars

Peter Hayes brings a lucid and thoughtful voice to the discussion of Holocaust history and the events surrounding it. He writes his book with an eye at explaining the complicated and difficult parts with simplicity and nuance, and he does so with astonishing grace. His writing is beautiful, thoughtful and concise.

The book is designed to answer some of the biggest questions that people have about the Holocaust. Each chapter is a major question, and the rest of the chapter is the answer. The answers are never simplistic, but nor are they so complex as to be inscrutable. Hayes connects the dots and gives the reader all the relevant backstory in order to fill in the picture of what happened.

This book is a welcome addition to the history of the Holocaust, and it gives the reader a full understanding of how it happened, why it happened, and why no one stopped it from happening. Anyone at all will benefit from reading this book now, and for many years to come. His detailed account brings solemnity and truth to an often fraught and emotional topic.

The only complaint I have about this book is the author’s tendency to throw around a lot of names. There were many, many different Nazi leaders mentioned once or twice in one chapter, and then they would be referenced again fifty pages later. Many times it was hard to keep track of who was responsible for what. Outside of this one detail, though, it was a compelling and interesting read that was both educational and necessary.

Reviews

Star Wars: A New Dawn, Review

Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

4 stars out of 5

John Jackson Miller may be new to writing for Star Wars, but his writing doesn’t show it. A New Dawn is a great adventure featuring Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla from the show Star Wars: Rebels. This story takes place years before the show begins, and it only features Kanan and Hera, so, if you’re a big Ezra or Sabine fan, you’ll be disappointed. If, like me, you are a fan of Kanan and Hera and their relationship, then this book is worth checking out.

The story is a straightforward adventure story. The Empire is evil, people are oppressed and exploited, Kanan and Hera join together to save the day. Miller does a great job writing the characters we know from the show, and he also introduces the reader to new and likable characters in story. Miller did a good job crafting a fun adventure story and bringing together Kanan and Hera for the first time.

The only real caveat I have about this story is that it goes better with the show. It can stand alone, but part of what makes it so enjoyable to read is knowing where these characters end up by the time the show starts. This book fits in smoothly with the show and the NewEU, so if you are interested in learning more about Kanan and Hera from Star Wars: Rebels, pick this book up.

I also listened to this book as an audiobook, and I have to say it’s excellent. The narrator, Marc Thompson, is the same one who does Scoundrels and he deftly handles the reading of this book. This is a top notch audio performance and certainly worth looking into.