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review 2018-02-22 21:57
How would you live your life if you knew when you were going to die?
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, author; Maggie Hoffman, narrator
When the book begins, in 1969, the Gold children decide to visit a fortune teller named Bruna Costello, a Romani gypsy who could tell those who consulted her the date of their deaths. At the time, Varya was 13, Daniel was 11, Klara was 9 and Simon was 7. The lives of the four would be forever impacted by this knowledge and experience. Three were told they would die young, while the fourth would live deep into her eighties. Each of the siblings pretended that the knowledge was ridiculous, when confronted, but as they grew up, they began to think more and more about their impending demise, and they made decisions based on that knowledge, thinking it just might be true. Would their choices propel them in the direction of their deaths, or would they die at the predicted time, regardless?
The book covers almost half a century as it travels down the lives of each of the children, ending with the explanation of Varya’s ongoing life in 2010. The characters are well developed with all of the idiosyncrasies “that flesh is heir to”. Each of them suffered from some disability or deviance which caused a problem during the time in which they grew up. Simon was gay, Varya had OCD, Daniel was overly regimented and organized, and Klara saw the world as her play gym. Their mother was portrayed as a typically complaining, stereotypical Jewish mother who instilled guilt at every opportunity. The father, a tailor, was the more stable, emotionally, and the more accepting of the pair. Both had suffered a huge loss of family members during the Holocaust and were grateful for being in America.
As the three generations of Golds were explored, through their relationships or lack thereof, some of the major issues of the times were also introduced through them. With the parents it was the Holocaust, with the children it was homosexuality and civil rights, with the grandchildren it was environmental issues and women’s rights. The book introduced racism and anti-Semitism, mental illness and environmental issues with animal cruelty taking the center stage. The Castro in San Francisco, which was a well known gay area, coupled with the murder of Harvey Milk, became almost a character in the book as homosexuality was explored in great detail. Because of several interracial couplings, the issues of racism and civil rights were also featured. Mental illness and anti-Semitism were far less developed, but family dynamics was explored fairly well. Overall, did the idea of their deaths hanging over them affect the choices they made, bringing about a self-fulfilling prophecy, or did everything simply go according to plan.
I was not that pleased with the portrayal of the Jewish family and was not quite sure why a Jewish family was chosen to display so many negative aspects of life, unless it was simply because it began on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which was largely populated by Jews at one time, mostly early in the first half of the century. Each of the characters introduced seemed to be selfish and was negatively described until almost the end when some redeeming features were reviewed. Some of the more negative characteristics were selfishness, alcohol consumption, suicide, murder, mental illness, single motherhood, sexual deviance, racism, coldness, a lack of compassion, abortion, and generally cruel or nasty behavior toward one another, making sure to point out their faults rather than their positive qualities, discouraging their efforts rather than praising them.
In some ways I feel as if the publishing industry is pushing the agenda of the far left in most of the books chosen recently, and I found the issues somewhat contrived.

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quote 2018-02-18 23:08
"Peacocks seem to have been designed by a flamboyant madman, probably of Indian extraction given the fine detailing, though with more than a nod toward the tastes of Liberace."

"When the second ostensibly healthy testicle clanged into the metal dish, it was a poignant moment, and every man present felt something, though exactly what, it was hard to pin down. Mainly, probably, never to let the medical profession anywhere near your gonads."
We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever - Benjamin Mee

"We bought a Zoo" by Benjamin Mees

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review 2018-02-18 22:47
Rare Glimpse into Zoo Life
We Bought A Zoo - Benjamin Mee
I have seen the ending of the movie several times and have laughed at some of the things said in the movie, so I was curious about the book. I borrowed the book in audio and Kindle format (listening while in the car, reading when sitting somewhere quiet, like a library). I enjoyed the book very much and noticed that while I thought (based on the bits of the movie I saw) that it was in the USA, not Great Britain, as the book shows. I thought the wife was deceased before they bought the zoo, but she died during the fixing the zoo. 

On the whole, the book was a very good story showing how much goes into making the zoo and getting it so that it would open. I truly enjoyed the look into zoo life and felt sorry for the family when they lost their Catherine, but laughed at the moments where it was made funny, like the lion and trying to stand his ground when the lion attacked and roared. Rare glimpses of life in a zoo. I do recommend the book.


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review 2018-02-18 02:03
The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy
The Dark Net - Benjamin Percy

I knew nothing about this book when a friend recommended it.  In fact, when I opened to the first page, I expected a story steeped in the technological complexities of the dark web with some subtle social commentary on the value of anonymity on the internet and a cyberpunk vibe.  In fact, based on the synopsis, I first tagged it as a “sci fi” read on Goodreads.


Instead, I found a creepy horror story set in Portland, Oregon that uses technology as a backdrop for demons who want to open a portal to hell.  Not that technology and the dark web don’t play a part in the story because they do, particularly in the final third of the book.  I can’t imagine anything more ominous than demons who are technologically savvy!


Interestingly however, the main character is completely technologically challenged.  A journalist who lives for the story, I found Lela a slightly unlikeable character.  Although I loved her “sidekick” - her dog, Hemingway.  The cast of characters is rounded out with Lela’s blind niece Hannah who is outfitted with a prothesis called “Mirage” that allows her to see in a unique way, a formerly-corrupt televangelist now going by the name of Juniper and a mysterious woman who may (or may not) be immortal.


I really enjoyed the first part of the book as we meet all of the characters and start to get a glimpse of the horror to come.  The epilogue is fantastic - I love where the author took the characters.  I also really enjoyed the setting - I’ve had the pleasure of spending enough time in Portland on business that I recognize many of the landmarks, streets and of course, the truly amazing bookstore, Powell’s.  If I have a criticism, it’s that there are a lot of characters to keep up with in a relatively short book (my edition is 253 pages including epilogue).


If you enjoyed Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist or Joe Hill’s NOS4R2, you should consider picking this one up.  It has the same creepy flavour and end of the world overtones, but be prepared for a faster pace and less character development.

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review 2018-02-17 04:13
Helen Keller
Young Helen Keller: Woman of Courage (First-Start Biographies) - Benjamin

AR: 3.1

Grade Level: K-2

Summary: This book describes the life of Helen Keller, in a friendly way. This book is great for younger students who may not understand the concept of one being blind or deaf. 

Idea: I would use this book in my classroom to teach students more about diversity. I would make sure they learn that not everybody is made the same. An activity that I probably will allow my students to take part all school year is sign language. I feel like sign language is a very useful tool. You never know when you may encounter someone who cannot speak with their mouth. I want to make sure that all of my students get a taste of as much diversity as possible. 


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