Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

37781Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. Things Fall Apart is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.

Review:

Things Fall Apart has been on my gotta-someday list, and recently someone pushed me to read it.  I’m glad he did –  this book a classic for a reason and makes for great discussion.

The story isn’t happy but it’s beautifully told.  In short: Okonkwo is a strong man with a nasty streak fueled by fear.  He’s become a powerful figure in his own village but a series of events, both of his own doing and not, lead to…. things falling apart.  (I couldn’t resist.)

There are all kinds of themes that can be examined endlessly but here are some that resonated with me:

  • the friction between African and Western cultures meeting, not only in the story but in the form of the novel.  For example, the title is taken from a Yeats poem, and Igbo proverbs and storytelling feature throughout.
  • sons who are determined not to become their father and take it too far
  • how women are treated and viewed in society
  • justice – how it is meted out and by whom

Just as good as I hoped it would be, with lots to think about.

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The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (Fox and O’Hare #1)

Synopsis:

16169737FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare is known for her fierce dedication and discipline on the job, chasing down the world’s most wanted criminals and putting them behind bars. And while Kate has made quite a name for herself for the past five years, the only name she’s cared about is Nicolas Fox—an international crook she wants in more ways than one.

Audacious, handsome, and dangerously charming, Nicolas Fox is a natural con man, notorious for running elaborate scams on very high-profile people. At first he did it for the money. Now he does it for the thrill. He knows that the FBI has been hot on his trail—particularly Kate O’Hare, who has been watching his every move. For Nick, there’s no greater rush than being pursued by a beautiful woman . . . even one who aims to lock him up. But just when it seems that Nicolas Fox has been captured for good, he pulls off his greatest con of all: he convinces the FBI to offer him a job, working side by side with Special Agent Kate O’Hare.

Review:

What we have here is a typical heist novel set out in the way you would expect. We meet the characters, see a previous con to see what the baddie can do, set up the Big One, put together a crew, then pull off the whole shebang in spite of complications. While the tried and true formula is a little worn in spots Evanovich and Goldberg handle it well enough.

Early on I got the feeling that they’re building a world for a long series. Kate and Nick can do all kinds of different heists, characters’ back stories can be explored, new crew members can be brought in… in other words, infinite combinations of the same thing. And isn’t that what a mystery series is about? All the setting up left some characters a little flat (a moment here for poor movie effect/blood splatter dude) but I’m sure they’ll get their due in upcoming books.

I love witty banter and Evanovich and Goldberg deliver. Some bits made me laugh out loud, like when Kate’s sister Megan asks what her dream is. Kate replies,

“Daniel Craig, a tropical island, a quart of Oreo cookie ice cream, and a pair of handcuffs.”
“Who’s wearing the cuffs?” Megan asked.

Gender is handled well throughout, which makes sense as the novel was written by a male/female team. Kate, an ex-Navy SEAL, is more likely to come up with ideas using brute force while Nick, the con man, is more likely to come up with a sneaky plan. Both use sex and charm to get their marks. Willie, who can drive anything with a motor, is female. Good signs all.

A couple things did bother me, though. Kate is described early on as someone whose stomach is “flat and toned despite her terrible eating habits”. A girl who has her cake and eats it too, grah!

The cast also contains two potential deus ex machina – Nick, with his smarts and incredible list of contacts, and Kate’s father, with a somewhat different set of smarts and an even more incredible list of contacts. I can forgive one know-it-all but two is a bit much. As a result I didn’t feel much stress as the big heist goes awry at the end of the book – someone was sure to fix everything somehow.

The Heist was a fun escapist read but if you like real thinking mysteries you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #3)

30179647Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

Review:

This book got a lot of buzz when it was announced because Gabriel is the son of Evie and Sebastian, the couple from Kleypas’ amazing Devil in Winter.  Is this one on the same level?  Not quite, but I still think it’s the best Ravenel book so far.

The good:

  • The first half of the story, our couple’s meet cute and courtship, is awesome.  I was getting ready to give the book four stars, I love it so much.
  • The whole ‘thou shalt have kids because we need an heir/it’s the thing to do/you’re a woman’ thing doesn’t even come up. Heck, Pandora doesn’t even want to get married, to start.

    She didn’t want to belong to anyone, and she especially didn’t want anyone to belong to her… she knew she would never be happy in a conventional life.

    Unconventional women for the win.

  • Prior characters are woven into the story in a way that doesn’t distract or detract from the main storyline.  Evie and Sebastian are as wonderful as I remembered, and having a department story magnate in the family proves as helpful as one would imagine.
  • Related – some minor characters reappeared, and it looks like one may get her happily ever after in the next book.  Oo.
  • Overall the book is a fast, fun read, busting me out of a reading slump.  Woot.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • Pandora is an ‘artsy’ imaginative type, not well suited to strict rules or remembering where she left things.  She strikes me as a (loose) Anne of Green Gables type – prone to flights of fancy with strong underpinnings of smarts.  It doesn’t bother me but if you don’t like that sort of thing you’re warned.
  • Hmmm, now to think of it Gabriel is kind of a Gilbert type in a roundabout way… time to reread Anne of Green Gables!

The not-so-good:

  • Kleypas does this thing in a lot of her books where the couple gets married or is otherwise together before the 70% mark of the book, so she puts one or the other in mortal danger.  Railway accidents, attacks, it could be anything, but someone is going to have a brush with death before the end.  I have to admit, after half a dozen books I’m sick of it.  Sometimes it’s worked into the story well but here it’s more random and annoying.  Gah.
  • The cameos and throwbacks mean that characterization is a bit thin for minor characters, and I’m not sure how the book would read as a stand-alone.
  • Drago(n), who I think is a new character for this book?, is grossly underdeveloped.  His relationship with Pandora could be amazingly nuanced and deep, but instead we watch his opinion of her change after a conversation and a half.  I wanted more.

After being somewhat disappointed with the first two books in this series Devil in Spring is a nice pick me up, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville #3)

7084361Celebrity werewolf and late-night radio host Kitty Norville prefers to be heard and not seen. So when she’s invited to testify at a Senate hearing on behalf of supernaturals, and her face gets plastered on national TV, she inherits a new set of friends, and enemies, including the vampire mistress of the city; an über-hot Brazilian were-jaguar; and a Bible-thumping senator who wants to expose Kitty as a monster. Kitty quickly learns that in this city of dirty politicians and backstabbing pundits, everyone’s itching for a fight.

Review:

A nice continuation of the unconventional urban fantasy started in Kitty and the Midnight Hour. A non-dominant werewolf without a pack, Kitty gets called to testify in Congressional hearings regarding the recently outed supernatural community.

The good:

  • Kitty’s one-on-one conversations with anyone. Vaughn does an amazing job writing exchanges that are believable and thought provoking and oh-so-real. From weirdos that call into to her radio show to Congressional testimony, I loved every dialog.
  • Sex-positivity. Kitty has a lover in this book, someone who she’ll keep as a fond memory but won’t become a regular in the series. There’s no angst about having sex with an incredibly hot guy, no hard feelings about the fling, and most importantly zero guilt about the entire situation. This is normal for guys in urban fantasy but far few women get the same chance. You go, girl!
  • Everyone is well characterized and interesting. I look forward to meeting even the most minor characters in future books.
  • I’ve watched more Congressional hearings than I would care to recently, so it’s obvious to see that Vaughn has done her research. She even touched on a nitpicky point I thought would get trampled. Nice.

The not-so-good:

  • As good as Vaughn is at characterization and dialog, “big bad” fight scenes are thin and short.

A solid series that I’m looking forward to continuing… but my library doesn’t have book three! Noooooo……

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

24399756On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes.

But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift.

Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder—a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another—and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.

Review:

I’ve made the mistake of not writing this review right away so particulars have flown out of my brain, gah. Check out Doing Dewey’s review for a more proper look but let me give you my overall impression – wow.

Leovy’s writing is outstanding and is just as amazing on audiobook as I imagine it is on the page. She weaves background and context into the story of a single murder so that we understand not just what happened in one case, but in South Central LA over the course of decades.

The only thing that gives me pause is there is a whiff of white savior narrative going on, though Leovy does her best to squash the impression. And looking at Goodreads there isn’t a single person of color (as gleaned from avatars) in the top page of reviews, which makes me wonder what I’m missing. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is going on my TBR to make sure I get another perspective.

Even so, this book – part police procedural, part court drama, part whodunit – is narrative nonfiction at its best.

Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards and Bondage #1)

34745311City girl Claudia Cade’s carefree life is plunged into chaos when a camping trip with her brother in the national forests of Northern California turns into a deadly dash for her survival. Nature photographer Shepard Olsen has resigned himself to a quiet existence, with only his dog by his side, until a woman in need of his protection shows up on his doorstep and throws his universe into disarray.

Claudia is desperate to heal from her traumatic loss, but can’t stop thinking about her run-in with evil….or the grizzled mountain man whose quick thinking and good aim saved her life. When she shows up on Shep’s doorstep again, she finds she isn’t the only one who can’t move on.

The two begin an intense, passionate relationship of Dominance and submission, pleasure and pain, but with dark memories haunting them and decisions about the future rapidly approaching, Claudia can’t help but wonder…how long can they be each other’s haven?

Review:

There is so much to love here.

  • Representation and diversity done well, written by a woman of color. I am and will forever be here for this.
  • Also – interracial romance! Huzzah!
  • While having a dominant man employing blindfolds and floggers may be a fantasy the characters are wholly based in reality. Check out our hero:

My dick isn’t a magic wand. I wasn’t going to save her. I wasn’t going to heal her with my kisses… and I sure as fuck wasn’t going to fix myself.

And some girl talk:

“I know you probably had a carrot and some champagne today and I know there’s an image [to maintain], but we are both thick women and we are beautiful that way.”

“Amen,” I say. “Extra pepperoni, please.”

  • The hero and heroine have their head on their shoulders and know what they want, even if they’re not sure how to go about getting it. Misunderstandings are one of my biggest romance pet peeves and there’s not even a whiff of a Big Mis here.
  • People have problems – you could probably say they’re “damaged” – but there’s no wallowing. It’s refreshing.
  • The story itself moves along nicely and kept my interest.

This was my first book by Weatherspoon and I’m thoroughly impressed. A recommend for erotic romance fans, even if a side of bondage isn’t usually your thing.

How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (Love at Stake #1)

Synopsis:

263179Roman Draganesti is charming, handsome, rich…he’s also a vampire. But this vampire just lost one of his fangs sinking his teeth into something he shouldn’t have. Now he has one night to find a dentist before his natural healing abilities close the wound, leaving him a lop-sided eater for all eternity.

Things aren’t going well for Shanna Whelan, either. After witnessing a gruesome murder, she’s next on the mob’s hit list. And her career as a dentist appears to be on a downward spiral, because she’s afraid of blood. When Roman rescues her from an assassination attempt, she wonders if she’s found the one man who can keep her alive. Though the attraction between them is immediate and hot, can Shanna conquer her fear of blood to fix Roman’s fang? And if she does, what will prevent Roman from using his fangs on her?

Review:

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend who said it was better than the synopsis. Said synopsis: vampire loses a fang and rings up an all night dentist to have it fixed asap. When he arrives at the office the lady dentist is being shot at. He saves her, of course, and vows to protect her as the Russian vampire mafia closes in.

It was just as bad as it sounds. Continue reading “How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (Love at Stake #1)”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Synopsis:

14891The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

Review:

Oh man, I loved this book. It is quiet and wonderful, following the life of Francie, a poor girl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her story is both individual and universal, as all good stories should be.

Continue reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith”