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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Title: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Authors: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: September 8, 2009
Source: Knopf

What's the Story?:

From "From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty."

My Two Cents: 

"Half the Sky" is an important look at how what policies and aid we provide other countries as a government can help women. In many countries, women still struggle more than their male counterparts. Their choices are limited and the roads to advancing their lives and the lives of their family are limited. This is a huge humanitarian issue and I appreciated the light that the authors were able to shed on this very important subject!

Drawing largely on anecdotes from many different countries, this book seeks to give a human face to the things that way too many women face in the world. Some of the stories are quite hard to read as it hurts to imagine humans having to live the way that many in this book live. It is one thing to think about the foreign aid that the U.S. government gives to other countries as money that goes into a black hole and is merely being taken away from Americans. It is a very different thing to understand what individuals are facing and how lending a hand can make them so much better off. What we do abroad doesn't only have an impact on other countries but on our own country as well. Goodwill pays dividends.

This book is a call to action. You may ask why we should help others abroad when Americans are hurting. First off, foreign aid is a very, very small percentage of the overall U.S. budget but as this book goes, this little bit of money can make a HUGE impact. And yes, it helps people abroad but our world is more stable when we pull up those at the bottom and with all that is going on in the world, stability is not a bad thing. This is a great pick for those wanting to understand more about why continuing to help others outside of our country is so important!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz

Title: Strange Contagion
Author: Lee Daniel Kravetz
Format: ARC
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publish Date: June 27, 2017 (Today)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:
Synopsis: "Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.
In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.
A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?
The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a “strange contagion:” a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.

My Two Cents:

 "Strange Contagion" is a look at how ideas, thoughts, and emotions can be passed between different people. When I hear the word contagion, I think about things like communicable diseases. They are passed from person to person because of people being in close proximity to others. In this book, Kravetz explores how this same sort of passing from person to person can happen with a whole array of things to include thoughts even when the person being passed the thoughts had never had that particular thought before.

I thought it was interesting that Kravetz was drawn to this subject after a rash of teenage suicides plagued his town. Now he happens to live in Palo Alto, California, one of the most affluent areas. It has good schools and the families that live there have the resources to be able to take care of whatever is illing them so the rash of suicides is puzzling. Kravetz wonders what is going on.

Looking at theories and data, he starts drawing connections between how our feelings can pass to each other and what is to be done about it. It is fascinating and something that I hadn't really thought about before but when you start parsing it out, it makes sense. If someone around me is sad or scared, I can feel myself picking up on that feeling.  Kravetz also explores how these catching feelings can also mean something good like innovation.

This would be a good read for those who enjoyed books like "The Tipping Point" or other books about things that on their face don't seem to have a real connection to each other but you find the connections when you're willing to dig a bit and consider the unexpected.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

Title: The Midnight Rose
Author: Lucinda Riley 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: March 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of Indian royalty. As the princess's official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of World War I. There, she meets young Donald Astbury—reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate—and his scheming mother.

Ninety years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she's relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to a distant corner of the English countryside. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita's great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family's past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . ."

My Two Cents:

"The Midnight Rose" is the story of Anahita, a young girl who has the fortune of being taken in under the wing of Princess Indira, a daughter of Indian royalty. Even thought Anahita is not a princess, she goes where the Princess goes, which means her life is open to many more possibilities than other girls of her time and social stature. Almost 100 years later, film star Rebecca is filming in an old English manor. The residents of the manor seem to be hiding a secret that Rebecca will unravel before she leaves. Told in two different times, this book is filled with twists, turns, and family secrets.

Historical fiction books set in two times are often a mixed bag for me. Typically, I end up liking the story set in the past but not the one set in the present because so much of the present story falls back on the past story and would seem rather flat without it. This book is definitely not that way. The present story still has a lot of twists and turns that have very little to do with the story set in the past. This made the present day story feel much more exciting to me. It also made the story feel more balanced.

The book is set between India and England, two places that I love to read about. The author gives really good descriptions of both places - this is the kind of book that you get lost in. I especially loved the description of Anahita growing up in India. There are so many good descriptions of the court and what it was like to live at court. Anahita follows the princess to school in England and I loved the descriptions of how different both of them find England and how both of them deal with the differences. In the present day, the descriptions of the manor and the secret that it hides are fantastic. Anahita has a love affair with an English gentleman in the past story that will drive the mystery at hand in the present day story.

This book kept me on my toes and I love the way the author was able to bring everything together in a nice, neat way by the end of the book. This is a solid choice for historical fiction lovers!


Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Title: Brooklyn
Author: Colm Tóibín
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: April 29, 2009

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future."

My Two Cents:

"Brooklyn" is a book that I started a couple years ago and couldn't finish. I don't exactly remember why I didn't finish it but initially but I couldn't quite get into the book. I picked it up again after having seen the movie about a year ago. This time I enjoyed the story a little bit more.

In this book, Eilis is a young woman who leaves behind everything she knows in Ireland to go to New York City in the 1950s. She leaves her tightknit family behind and isn't sure how long she'll be able to connect with them after she leaves. Most of the book is involved with Eilis learning to be by herself and to come into her own.

She has to navigate her new country and brand-new city and make several stumbles along the way. She has dreams of doing something more than working in the store where she works and isn't sure she'll be able to find anything better in America. She ends up falling in love with an Italian and is torn between her old world and her new world. You feel for her plight throughout the book.

I think one of the things about this book that may have turned me off the first time is that even with all that happens in the book, it's still a relatively quiet book and a bit predictable. There are some turns and we do get to see how Eilis changes and grows throughout her journey. The changing definitely kept me a little bit more engaged. Overall, this was nice take on an immigrant story.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

Title: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Author: Scott Stambach
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: August 6, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives. 

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her. 

She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live."

My Two Cents:

"The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko" is the story of Ivan, a teen born with physical disabilities and in Belarus, physical disabilities often force parents to give up their children so his home is the hospital he has lived in long term. He's bored. He's angry. He hates the hospital and wants to leave until he meets Polina, a gravely ill teen who changes Ivan's outlook and gives him something to hope and live for. This book is along the same lines as "The Fault in Our Stars" but is more stark and harsh. 

Both the characters of Ivan and Polina are what really make this book. Even though Ivan spends most of his time causing chaos in the beginning of the book before Polina makes her appearance, you fall for him. The author is able to easily elicit feelings of wanting something better for Ivan, for his circumstances to be different. Polina is a bright light that seems to take her diagnosis in stride. Ivan is the natural king of the hospital but Polina isn't afraid to challenge him and shake his world up. 

I love reading books set in places that I don't know a lot about. This book gives us an introduction to Belarus. Ivan has physical disabilities caused by his parents being exposed to the Chernobyl explosion. Although that explosion happened in Ukraine, much of the toxic air blew into Belarus and affected many people there. This book gives readers a look into how that country is coping with the people affected as well as the sad situation of many of the hospitals there.

I enjoyed this book. Although parts of it are dark, the main message seems to be to look for the beauty even in dark times and even if it is fleeting. Not a bad message!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book to Movie: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

There are some books that you recommend over and over and over again. A couple years, that book for me was "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." It's a great non-fiction book about the woman behind the infamous HeLa cells, which have helped scientists do everything from create vaccines to create new treatments. It was the first immortal human cell line, developed way back in the 1950s. It is used worldwide still to this day. Now because cells come from humans, HeLa had to come from somewhere and it came from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks, who had no idea that her story would live on this way as the cells may have been taken without her permission

It is a fantastic story and it has been turned into a movie by HBO. I am so happy that I got the chance to watch it!

The movie stars Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta Lacks' daughter who is still not sure what her mother's legacy really means. It also stars Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot, the author who wrote "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The book does focus on Lacks' family but it really doesn't focus on Skloot and how she wrote the book. The movie does focus on the making of the book, which I really enjoyed. 

Skloot has to go through a lot to gain the trust of the Lacks family. They are very distrustful of anyone that comes around asking about there mother. Rightfully so as any time anyone comes around, they seem to be interested in making a buck off the family. They still feel that they are owed something as their mother's cells are still being used so widely.

The movie explores the complicated relationship between science and race and between people being uneducated about certain subjects and how others take advantage of that when they should know better. I loved the movie's treatment of all of that! 

The acting in the movie is really good. Although Skloot does talk about what Henrietta was like, you get a much better sense of who she was as a person through the movie, which I loved. Throughout the movie, there are flashbacks to when Henrietta was alive and when she got diagnosed with cancer. We also get a good sense of who her family is and what her family has been through. I loved the intersection between science and the personal way that it can affect people. 

This was a great movie and I fully recommend it! Thanks to ThinkJam and HBO for a copy in exchange for my honest review!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TLC Book Tours: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Title: News of the World


Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself."

My Two Cents:

In "News of the World," Captain Kidd is a news reader. He brings the news of the world to the people of Texas who otherwise may never know what is going on in the world. To some degree, he enjoys his solitude as he travels from place to place. His world is up-ended when he is asked to return a young girl, Joanna, to her family many years after she was stolen away from members of the Kiowa tribe.

The relationship between Captain Kidd and Joanna is at the center of this book. They develop a really amazing friendship that illustrates why our connections to other people are so important as we make our way in the world. No man is an island and we get so much out of interacting with others as the Captain and Joanna show in this book. Joanna doesn't speak much English at all so Captain Kidd dedicates himself to trying to teach her all sorts of different words so she will be ready to go back to her family. While teaching her words, he teaches her a lot about the way the world works and she becomes fascinated with his work and gives him the support that he didn't realize he was missing.

This is a very quietly written story that packs a big punch. For history and historical fiction lovers, it gives a lot of insight into the time period in the United States just after the Civil War. The country is still trying to rebuild as it expands westward. Texas is the proverbial "wild west" with outlaws and bandits and very few restrictions as we see with some of the things that happen to Joanna and Captain Kidd throughout the book. This is a great historical fiction!

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