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review 2019-01-16 02:06
Josephine Baker's Last Dance - Sherry Jones

Josephine Baker is someone I had known about since my elementary school days in the mid-1970s, when I first saw her profile in a calendar celebrating what was then Black History Month. I was fascinated to learn that she had gone to Paris in 1925 and made herself into a superstar in France and across the world. 

"JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" was given to me last month as a Christmas gift. The essence of the novel has as a centerpiece, what was Josephine Baker's last great stage performance in Paris in April 1975. The author uses it as a springboard to take the reader back to Josephine's early years in St. Louis, where she was born in poverty in 1906. I very much enjoyed seeing Josephine as she grew and matured. Hers was not an easy life. There is much in the novel that conveys the struggles and abuse that she endured. America was then an unwelcoming and at times, brutal and dispiriting place for its black citizens. Baker gets into vaudeville as a dancer in her mid-teens and eventually, the gateway to stardom opens and Josephine arrives in Paris with La Revue Nègre . 

The only part of the novel I found fault was its description of Josephine Baker's service in World War II as an intelligence agent and member of the French Resistance. The time sequences which covered the early war years seemed at times nebulous and compressed. If the reader had little or no knowledge of how the French defeat to Nazi Germany impacted the country in June 1940, he/she would be led to think that the resistance movement to the Germans developed overnight. That was not true at all. There was, initially disillusionment and fear when the Germans entered Paris - which had been declared an open city by the French government - on June 14, 1940 - and compelled the French to sign an armistice 8 days later. It would be several months to a year before an incipient resistance movement began to take shape in France as the Germans solidified their power and authority there. 

There was also a mention in the novel which indicated that Josephine Baker made the acquaintance of the courageous British spy Krystna Skarbek, a Pole (aka 'Christine Granville') during the early days of the German Occupation. That is simply untrue. (I read a book in 2015 about Krystyna Skabek's wartime service --- 'Christine: SOE Agent & Churchill's Favourite Spy'. Krystyna Shabek did not get to France until the summer of 1944. Earlier, she had been engaged in espionage work since late 1939 in German-occupied Poland, the Balkans, and Egypt.) That is why I am taking away 1 star and giving "JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" 3 stars.  Outside of that glaring, historical inaccuracy, it is a very good novel which brought out the real Josephine Baker in so many interesting ways.

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review 2019-01-15 20:55
The Princess of Baker Street
The Princess of Baker Street - Mia Kerick
The kids of Baker Street grew up playing together to the fanciful games thought up by Joey Kinkaid.  Joey was called the Princess of Baker Street since his games often included Joey in a princess dress being rescued by his best friend, Eric Sinclair.  Now, the kids of Baker Street are in Eighth grade and things have changed, the four friends have found themselves in separate cliques.  Eric has opted for the route of survival, especially since is mom isn't often around.  Eric hangs around with his friends on the soccer team.  Joey doesn't exactly fit in anywhere, he would much rather wear his mother's dresses to school than the button up shirts and slacks that his father insists on.  When Eric and Joey are paired as study buddies, their friendship rekindles.  However, when Joey begins to show up to school in girl's clothing, Eric's allegiance is divided between his friends and his need to fly under the radar.
Timely and relevant, The Princess of Baker Street reaches into the awkward, transitional years of middle school for a group of students, including the Joey who is realizing that he has always been a girl.  Told through Eric's point of view, the voices are sincere and realistic for eighth graders.  Everyone seems very self-concerned and are worried about where they will fit in.  Eric's journey is just as important as Joey's.  I felt for Joey as he dealt with an absent mother and the decision to be Joey's friend even if it would cost his popularity.  Eric's struggle with his feelings for Joey as he slowly comprehends that not only is Joey a girl, but that he has always seen Joey as a girl as well- a girl that he likes.  With these understandings comes big changes and responsibilities.  Not all of the changes are handled very well by everyone and reinforces that none of these issues should be handled by the kids by themselves.  Insightful and pertinent, The Princess of Baker Street is an important and heartfelt read that can be enjoyed by middle grade through adult readers. 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 
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review 2018-12-21 03:46
A Look at Life through the Eyes of a 9-year-old Girl
The Everlasting Story of Nory - Nicholson Baker
Sometimes the problem with telling someone about a book was that the description you could make of it could just as easily be a description of a boring book. There's no proof that you can give the person that it's a really good book, unless they read it. But how are you going to convince them that they should read it unless they have a glint of what's so great about it by reading a little of it?

When I read these musings of a little nine-year-old girl, all I could think was, "Welcome to my world, kid." Seriously, what book blogger hasn't had that thought at least once a week? If this hadn't been set in the mid-90's, Baker might have been tempted to have his protagonist take to blogspot to talk about her favorite books (which I absolutely would have read).


Nory, her parents and her two-year old brother have moved to England from Palo Alto, CA, where she attended a Chinese Montessori School. She's now attending a Roman Catholic school with grades and a structured curriculum. Which isn't an easy transition for her (as you'd expect). As she's an "Americayan" with a strange accent and difficulty understanding British phrases, she's on the outside of her school's social structure.


This is rough for her, but I think it'd be rougher for other kids. Nory has an incredibly vivid imagination and tells herself stories (some of which she writes down, some she enacts with dolls and toys, some of which she just says to anyone who might be around). They are intricate, inventive, and as entertaining as the parts of the book that are about Nory (arguably more so). When times are tough, when she's bored, when she needs to entertain her brother, when she has trouble sleeping -- these stories are there for her. The reader gets to go along for the ride with her -- which is a nice bonus.


When she's not making up stories (or opining on the construction of them), she's struggling through school and through the mine field that is making friends, and searching for a best friend. There's a girl who frequently seems to like Nory, but would appreciate it if Nory would change a few things. There's another girl who is bullied, teased, and generally disparaged by the rest of her class. Nory very unsuccessfully tries to defend her, but mostly just tries to be friendly to her.


And that's the bulk of the book -- there's some "slice of life" stuff with her family, some parts where Nory remembers Palo Alto and the Chinese Montessori school -- that kind of thing. But mostly it's the tale of a few months of a 9 year-old looking for a friend, trying to stay out of trouble in a school she doesn't understand and playing with her dolls.


Nory is a girl of opinions -- some of them very strong. She has very definite ideas about storytelling, and what's necessary to a successful story or book. Ironically, this book fails Nory's own tests due to its lack of plot, and relatively small stakes. That's probably an intended irony, and Baker's really saying that people like me that want plots like Nory insists on have child-like tastes. I don't know that to be the case, but I'd be willing to put money on it.


It's told in third-person, but the narration is very stream of consciousness, very nine-year-old stream of consciousness -- bouncing all over the place with a short attention span, and nine-year old misunderstandings of life around her. It's delightful to read, and only a little annoying when you pause to reflect on what's happening (or better, what's not happening). In the moment, it's just fun to surround yourself with Nory's thoughts.


I won't say this is a must-read, but if you give it a shot, I can't help but think you'll be rewarded. It's perfectly safe for anyone Nory's age or older to read, but I can't imagine many people Nory's age will appreciate it (but I could be wrong). It's better appreciated by those of us who can remember some of what it's like to be her age. I liked it, am glad I tried it and I expect you will be, too.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2018/12/20/the-everlasting-story-of-nory-by-nicholson-baker-a-look-at-life-through-the-eyes-of-a-9-year-old-girl
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review 2018-12-12 00:51
Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Tales from the Eternal Archives #2
Earth, Air, Fire, Water (Tales from the Eternal Archives, #2) - Jane Lindskold,Linda P. Baker,Tanya Huff,Margaret Weis,Carrie Channell,Edward Carmien,Mark Garland,Nancy Varian Berberick,Robyn McGrew,Janet Pack,Jean-Francois Podevin,Bruce Holland Rogers,Nina Kiriki Hoffman,Donald J. Bingle,Kristine Kathryn Rusch,Lawren

The short story anthology Earth, Air, Fire, Water edited by Margaret Weis, the second and last collection of the Tales from the Eternal Archives, contains thirteen stories of varying quality loosely connected to one another through the titular mystical library.  But unlike the first collection all thirteen stories were all fantasy genre.


The best story of the collection was “Strange Creatures” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which followed Chief Dan Retsler investigating the latest in a series of animal mutilations but suddenly finds out that the latest animal might be linked to mythical “selkies”.  The next two best stories were “How Golf Shaped Scotland” by Bruce Holland Rogers, a fun and good natured short story about how a game of golf created Scotland’s iconic coastline, and “An Elemental Conversation” by Donald J. Bingle, a conversation between a Reverend and his friend during their weekly chess game about how the news of non-human intelligent life affects religion with a twist ending.


The two worst stories of the collection were “Water Baby” by Michelle West, which followed the life of a young woman who is emotionally connected to the ocean and how it affects her and others, and “Sons of Thunder” by Edward Carmien, in which a djinn recounts his time as a follower of Jehua and how his brother and his tribe converted to the new faith leaving him alone.  These were the two “worst” examples of six stories that were not really good even though they had interesting concept, but just bad execution ruined them.  An interesting facet was the unevenness of the number of stories for each element covered in the book, with Air only have one while Earth had five and Water had four and Fire starting off the book with three.


The thirteen stories that make up Earth, Air, Fire, Water were a mixed bag of quality from the excellent to downright disappoint, just like every other anthology collection that has been published.  However I will be honest in how well I rated this book given how poorly it began and ended.


Individual Story Ratings

Burning Bright by Tanya Huff (2/5)

The Fire of the Found Heart by Linda P. Baker (2/5)

The Forge of Creation by Carrie Channell (2/5)

How Golf Shaped Scotland by Bruce Holland Rogers (4/5)

The Giant’s Love by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (3/5)

Family Secrets by Robyn McGrew (3.5/5)

Dvergertal by Nancy Vivian Berberick (2/5)

An Elemental Conversation by Donald J. Bingle (4/5)

Water Baby by Michelle West (1/5)

Only As Safe by Mark A. Garland and Lawrence Schimel (3/5)

Out of Hot Water by Jane Lindskold (3.5/5)

Strange Creatures by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (5/5)

Sons of Thunder by Edward Carmien (1/5)

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text 2018-11-26 07:33
24 Festive Tasks: Thanksgiving, Tasks #1-4
The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher
File on Fenton & Farr - Q. Patrick
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails - Sarah Bakewell

Task 1:  List the 3 books you’ve read this year you’re most “thankful” for (your favs) or the one book you’ve ever read that changed your life for the better.


The books above aren't necessarily ones I'm thankful for in any obvious way, but they're all 5 star reads and will leave an indelible mark in my memory.  They all brought me joy in one form or another too, so I suppose that's reason enough to be thankful.


The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher:  This book just hit me in all the feels.  It was a serendipitous find for me, as I'd never heard of the title, or really, the author, before.  It's a story about people who love Holmes, it had cryptic codes, and it was a little bit slapstick.  This book represents the hidden easter egg of my reading year.


File on Fenton & Farr - Q. Patrick:  This is a book I first discovered by reading The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards, and I fell in love with the idea of an adult forerunner to Encyclopedia Brown; nothing but the clues and testimony and the reader tries to solve the crime, with the answer in the back of the book.  This book represented my childhood, revisited and all grown up.


At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails - Sarah Bakewell:  This book is the one that keeps on giving.  Its philanthropy began by being a great, engaging read.  I listened on audio and the narrator was fantastic.  It kept on giving by engendering great conversations between myself, BrokenTune and Lillelara, and it keeps on giving because I'm still thinking about it and chewing over the concepts that Bakewell discussed, and will for the foreseeable future.



Task 2:  Describe your perfect meal.  What would you cook for the perfect celebration, or, what would you have your imaginary personal chef cook for you?


I have no idea.  Isn't that terrible?  My knee-jerk reaction is the traditional turkey/ham Christmas dinner, but honestly, none of those foods would actually make my top 10 favorites.   If I ignore the "meal" part of the question and stick to foods that make me roll my eyes heavenward and thank all that's holy, then the task becomes more manageable. These foods include, in no particular order:


Hush puppies:  deep fried balls of cornmeal with onions and green peppers. Because I'm a Southerner.  Also, cornbread.


Stone Crab Claws:  This is a species of crab native to Florida.  Its name comes from the extraordinarily thick shells that require hammers to break.  The meat is sweet and absolutely delicious.  But what I like even better than the taste is the fact that only their claws are harvested; the crab is never killed, and it's released back into the waters, where it regenerates new claws.  


One of the few things Florida has done right environmentally is strictly policing the harvesting of these crabs' claws; you must have a license, only a very limited number of licenses are released, and there are strict rules on the size of the claws that can be taken.  Loads of research was done to determine if one or both claws could be taken (both; as it turns out they use them only for show, not defence or hunting).  Ripping claws off a crab is still distasteful, but it's loads better than wiping out a population through over-harvesting.


Corn in pretty much any guise makes me happy.  On the cob, off the cob, creamed, grilled, buttered, whatever.  It's all corn.


Dessert-wise, if it involves vanilla custard I'm probably swooning.  Creme Brûlée, Portuguese custard tarts, vanilla custard slice, custard filled donuts (MT made a 'cake' for my birthday one year by piling custard filled donuts into a pyramid and sticking a candle on the top), whatever - it's all custard.  Last year I had a bowl of ice cream just so I'd have something to pour my sister-in-law's homemade vanilla custard (still warm) over.  The exception is flan - flan wobbles and it puts me off my custard love.  I do not like my food to jiggle.



Task 3:  Name a book you’ve read this year that you thought was full of “stuffing”.


The Name of the Rose - Umberto EcoI'm cheating here because it's not a book from this year.  

I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco  in 2017, and I know I'll not be popular for this choice, but nothing on my shelves - nothing - comes as close to being as full of stuffing as this book was (for me).  The story was great but, oh my god, it never freaking ended.  The theologising just went on and on and on, until sometimes I'd forget what the chapter started out being about.  Again, brilliant story - just ... stuffed.  



Task 4:  Show us your 2018 book “harvest” – the books you newly acquired this year, regardless whether bought, received as gift or in whichever other way.


Really?  It's not that I'm unwilling to fulfil this task, but I'm pretty sure it's not possible in any practical way; not without putting myself in the doghouse with my husband for the foreseeable future for the mess and chaos it would create.


Instead,  I took the number of books added to my BL shelves in 2018 and subtracted the books on my To-Buy list, since theoretically I own all the rest. There are some audiobooks I checked out of the library that I didn't subtract because I didn't feel like trolling through my shelves to find them, and there won't be enough of them to make a difference.  Ditto a couple of borrowed books that I read for real life book club.


So, roughly speaking, my haul for 2018 was 357 books.  


Gracious, I outdid myself this year.  50+ of those were the bargain box of Agatha Christies, but that whole lunatic book buying spree through Florida accounts for most of it.  So, that's the pic I'll post, though you've all seen it now at least once.


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