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review 2018-04-19 20:51
Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu
Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve - Lenora Chu

This is a really interesting book that offers a firsthand view of the Chinese school system from a mostly-American perspective. Lenora Chu is a daughter of Chinese immigrants who was raised in the U.S., her husband a white American who volunteered in China with the Peace Corps. After moving to Shanghai for work, they enroll their son in a prestigious Chinese preschool. Concerning incidents at the school spark the author’s journey to learn more about the Chinese school system: she observes classrooms in China and the U.S., talks to experts, and gets to know Chinese high schoolers and parents.

So the book is part memoir, part nonfiction. From an American perspective it’s a fascinating comparison; so much of what I tend to view as going wrong in current American ideas of education and child-rearing seems to be heightened in China, from overscheduled kids (in China it’s usually tutoring or extracurricular classes rather than swimming, gymnastics etc.), to an unwillingness to let kids play freely and explore because they might hurt themselves (other parents judge Chu for letting her son run around the living room jumping off chairs, etc., and the school states that kids aren’t allowed to talk during lunch because they might choke), to a heavy emphasis on testing. Regarding that last one, pressure for the high school and college entrance exams in China is so intense that in one town a crackdown on cheating resulted in parents and students rioting.

Which actually leads to one of the positive features of the Chinese system: Chinese families tend to treat academics the way American families treat sports, to the point of huge crowds of people gathering outside exam sites to see their kids off and shout well-wishes. While Americans face a social penalty for being “nerds” and tend to view academic success as a matter of inborn talent (so if you don’t have it, why bother to try), the Chinese have valued brains – and judged people by their test scores – for centuries, and believe that success is largely a matter of effort. They aren’t afraid to demand work from kids or to ask them to memorize. This is especially noticeable in math: while American schools tend to wrap up simple math in verbally complicated “word problems” in an attempt to make the work “relevant” to kids who won’t have a professional job for a decade or more anyway, Chinese schools forge ahead and have young kids doing more advanced problems. This is helped by the fact that Chinese teachers specialize in their subject matter from the first grade, while American elementary school teachers are generalists (who by and large don’t like math and weren’t good at it themselves). Of course it’s also helped by Chinese schools’ making no attempt to integrate kids with special needs into regular classrooms, which American schools must do.

It’s evident from Chu’s writing that all of these issues are complicated: each school system has its advantages and disadvantages, but many of the advantages come with their own negatives or are bound up with the culture and therefore hard to replicate, while the disadvantages can also have silver linings. And of course no huge country has a uniform school system: just as the U.S. has both great and failing schools, China too has huge disparities, with many rural schools being shafted.

There's a lot in the book that I haven't even discussed here: politics in the classroom, the social position of teachers, the encouragement of creativity or lack thereof, and how all this affects students in the long run. But the book isn’t a treatise. Chu keeps it lively and interesting with accounts of her own family’s experiences, and with a clear, journalistic writing style. I imagine some readers might criticize her parenting decisions – at times it felt as if she were trying to claim a high-minded rationale for a choice of school that ultimately came down to cost, while she and her husband seemed willing to accept (if unhappily) a certain amount of what many Americans would consider abusive treatment of preschool kids (such as forcefeeding, or threatening to call the police on them when they misbehave) in the interests of having a disciplined and well-behaved child. But for the American reader it’s a fascinating window into a very different school system, and into Chinese culture as a whole. It is balanced and thoughtful, and the author comes across as open-minded, curious and willing to adapt rather than pushing an agenda. I do wish it had endnotes rather than a chapter-by-chapter bibliography, for readers to follow up and learn more. But I learned a lot from this book, enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it.

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review 2018-04-19 03:21
Wingmen (Audiobook)
Wingmen - Ensan Case

First thing's first: this is NOT a romance, so anyone reading this as a romance is going to be very disappointed. This is a war story with some romantic elements, but those elements make up a very small percentage of page time. Really, it's more  a story of a squadron of pilots, focusing on three of the men, two of whom just happen to be gay and start a relationship with each other, but for the most part that relationship is between the lines. 

 

HOWEVER, all that said, I still really enjoyed the story. I could tell that a lot of research went into this. The lingo, the fight scenes, the war diary, the protocols - I can't attest to how accurate anything is but it sure sounds legit. (Though the military lingo was a little too much at times. I even had to go back and relisten to the first few chapters because I was losing the thread of the story. Once I got used to it though, the story flowed well.) I thought many times while watching that this would make a great war movie, perhaps directed by Ron Howard, and I would've liked for the story to keep going after

Fred gets hurt and discharged

(spoiler show)

since I wasn't invested in the relationship as much as I was the squadron as a whole. So the ending felt a little anti-climatic. The epilogue covered about twenty-five years after the war's end, highlighting the major events in Fred and Jack's lives together. But even though this isn't a romance,

I was still disappointed this wasn't an HEA for them, since it ends with Jack's death by heart attack.

(spoiler show)

 

Keeping in mind this was originally written in 1979, it's no surprise then that this is not the gay-ok revisionist history that you get in too many m/m romances today. I get why people want their protags to be happy, but I always feel like it disrespects the men (and women) who had to live through those times. I really did like that aspect of it, and just the fact that this was published when it was is an example of all those little steps over the decades that brought us to where we are today. 

 

The narrator does a good job, though I wished he'd made the voices a little more distinctive. My issues with the audiobook isn't because of him though. The editing was less than stellar. I lost track of how many times sentences were repeated, but it was easily over a dozen. This should've been caught before it was released and since I've had experience with this from Audible before, I doubt it's going to be fixed any time soon.

 

I do recommend this one if you're a WWII buff and enjoy action/adventure stories, but readers wanting Romance (™) should look elsewhere.

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review 2018-04-18 06:04
Review: The Duke Who Ravished Me (Rebellious Brides #4) by Diana Quincy
The Duke Who Ravished Me - Diana Quincy

This was an wonderful, well-written, heart-melting story from start to finish. With one of the best introductory scenes I might have ever read, this is one book I definitely recommend to anyone that loves fresh stories, unique twists, the right amount of drama, and characters full of emotions and wit. 

So, that scene; we are introduced to the Duke of Sunderford, or Sinful Sunny, in the most decadent and naughty way, giving us glimpse of what was yet to come * yum *
I love dukes. I don’t care how many fictitious dukes there are, I’ve read lots of them and I’ll probably continue reading them for the rest of my life. However, Sunny is by far the most deliciously wicked, cynical, charming duke I have ever read. He was the epitome of the perfect all-rounded scoundrel there could possibly exist, and yet in spite of all the flaws the haughty man might have had, he never lied! 

The plot itself was so much fun to read. One of the reasons my favorite trope is enemies to lovers is because of the verbal sparring, and this story satisfied my needs for it Every.Single.Time. The chemistry between Sunny and Isabel, the governess, simmered slowly until it burned a raging blaze at a perfect pace. Their love was believable and honest, just as the emotional attachment Sunny developed for his wards. Throughout the book we learn of Sunny and Isabel’s painful past, yet the story doesn’t dwell on it and instead it moves forward because of it. In truth, I think my only cavil is that as we neared the end I felt the scenes were being rushed. I’m not talking about the ending itself but the scenes that preluded the climax. Even so, the story delivered in every other way so I'm willing to overlook whatever faults I thought there were. 

** I received this book at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher.**

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review 2018-04-18 03:34
Eighty Stars from Tyutchev's Galaxy - Fyodor Tyutchev

Some of the best lyrical poetry to come from Russia during the late 19th century. Though he wrote occasional pieces and political poems which constitute nearly half his output, 200 of his lyric pieces make up the core of his output. They are at once metaphysical and concrete, much like Donne, though much less "esoteric," more accessible. His meanings are always specific always relatable to the human.

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review 2018-04-15 20:34
A Lucky Child (A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy)
A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy - Thomas Buergenthal,Elie Wiesel

For being about the horrors of Nazi occupation of Europe and the Holocaust, this wasn't a difficult  read. The author, Thomas Buergenthal, writes about his childhood in an approachable manner. It probably helps that he's writing it several decades after the fact - the pain and anger he would have felt during and immediately after the events have had time to heal. It's light on details of the day-to-day activities of those years, as he and his family were first on the run from Germans, then living in the Jewish ghetto in Poland, then the various concentration camps he was imprisoned in. As a result, it glosses over a lot of the horrors, focusing instead on events that stick out to him most - but those events are rather harrowing in themselves. He doesn't linger on them though. Some might find this lack of detail frustrating, others may be relieved. I've read other accounts of the Holocaust, most memorably Elie Wiesel's Night, so I was able to fill in what wasn't there. 

 

This felt like a very honest and intimate account of his days surviving WWII and the Holocaust. His writing here is flowing and stark, and he doesn't get bogged down with unnecessary repetition like last few autobiographies I've read. He was indeed a "lucky" child to survive Dr. Mengele and Auschwitz. Speaking of Night, they were both clearly in Auschwitz at the same time, as they both describe the Death March with the same sort of dreadful resignation. He was lucky many other times in order to survive, and that continues even after his liberation as he details how he was eventually reunited with his mother.

 

One cannot stress enough how important this time period was to the shaping of the world as it is today and why it's necessary that it continue to be taught in our schools. Buergenthal's work in international humanitarian law is inspirational and reminds us that, no matter how bleak things can still appear, there is hope for improvement and that things already have improved in many places. We can make the world a better place, but we can only do that by remembering the atrocities that came before and striving not to repeat them.

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