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review 2017-12-31 15:40
16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square #2 - Guy Fawkes Day
Blind Ambition: The White House Years - John W. Dean

A book about political treason.


I've had the paperback edition of John Dean's book for a bazillion years, started it several times, never got very far.  Then it showed up as Kindle bargain -- either free or 99 cents or something, so I grabbed it with the intention of reading bits and pieces when I had the chance.  I take the Kindle with me when I run errands because I never know when I'll get stuck in a line.


I had such a line at the post office a week or so before Christmas.  I always use the self-service kiosk when I can, and that particular day there were three people ahead of me, none of whom had ever used the kiosk.  By the time they had finished and it was my turn, I was completely engrossed in Blind Ambition.


The events were fairly familiar.  The rise and fall of Richard Nixon occurred during my adult lifetime, so there were no real surprises here.  But I have to say I found Dean's writing much more engaging than Woodward and Bernstein in All the President's Men, which I'm reading more or less concurrently.  As one of the actual participants in the Watergate cover-up, Dean doesn't spare himself, and certainly isn't particular kind to most of the others in the Nixon White House.


For inside background information on Watergate, Dean's account is probably one of the best and earliest.  Very much recommended.

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text 2017-12-26 03:48
Reading progress update: I've read 96 out of 454 pages.
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right - Arlie Russell Hochschild

This is a very distressing and disturbing book, but it's not giving me any new insights.


The first part, which I've now completed, is mostly about the people who live around Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Louisiana is one of the poorest, least educated, least healthy, and most polluted states in the country.  Yet the voters remain staunchly right wing, conservative, anti-regulation, anti-government, and pro-petrochemical industry which is the source of the highly toxic pollution that has virtually killed their environment and is slowly killing most of them.


They want jobs, even if those jobs are in industries that will kill them.


They are anti-abortion, even if the babies born will be poor and have few opportunities.


I really want to feel sorry for them, but somehow I just can't.


I know that it has long been a policy for companies to take dangerous operations into communities that are least prepared to defend themselves.  It wasn't news to me that the petrochemical companies of the Lake Charles area exploited a population that was poor and under-educated and desperate. 


But by exploiting these communities, the corporations have turned the victims into supporters, and now the rest of us are suffering.


I know I should feel sorry for them, but . . . . . . .

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text 2017-12-24 04:37
Reading progress update: I've read (approx) 20 out of 288 pages.
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right - Arlie Russell Hochschild

I found this in the pubic library's digital collection, which appears to have been expanded recently.


I've read Hochschild before and have at least one of her books in my personal collection, but I've never had any personal contact with her.


The beginning of the book is disturbing to me, and maybe it's meant to be.  The author, a noted liberal/progressive, takes her research skills to Louisiana to try to find out why Tea Partiers feel the way they do, with the strongest possible emphasis on feel.  And then she intends to use that understanding of their feelings to find ways to find common ground with them.


And yes, I know I used the word "find" many times in that paragraph.


The reason the beginning was so disturbing was that Hochschild acknowledges that the divide between right and left has widened over the years because the right has moved further right but the left has not moved further left.

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review 2016-10-22 18:33
A slightly atypical fantasy quest
The Hero and the Crown - David M. Johnston,Robin McKinley

Disclosure:  I obtained my copy of this book at a Friends of the Library sale; it's a library overstock discard.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author.


Trigger warning - animals:

None of the named/main animals are harmed.  Well, except for the dragons.

(spoiler show)


I chose this for the Supernatural square on the Halloween Bingo because it's a more or less standalone fantasy.  It's described as a "prequel" to The Blue Sword series, which I know absolutely nothing about.


The story revolves around Aerin, the young daughter of Arlbeth, the king of Damar.  Her mother was his second wife, and since Aerin is a girl, she is not eligible to inherit the kingdom.  Tor, who is a cousin or something, is considered the heir.  But her mother was also a foreigner and accused of being a witch, and Aerin has inherited some of those witchy qualities, so she never feels as if she belongs.  What she hasn't inherited, however, is any Gift, or magic ability.  Members of the royal family all exhibit tiny amounts of it, but Aerin has none.  This makes her even more despondent.


The first half of the novel details Aerin's efforts to find a way to make herself feel worthwhile.  She comes across as a dedicated, determined, and compassionate person.  (Frankly, after Jamaica Inn and Mary Yellan, Aerin was so welcome!)  Some of the action here kind of drags as it goes into maybe too much detail, too many trials and errors, but Aerin learns and grows through it all.


The second half deals with her ultimate quest.  Here there's much more action and angst, though I have to say there were a lot of resemblances to the final action of The Lord of the Rings, especially the tower.  What made the confrontation in this book different was twofold:



First, it was very short, just a few pages.  Aerin has only been aware of her enemy's existence since late in the book, and their final meeting is brief.  Tolkien built up the existence of Sauron and the other enemies from the beginning, as did J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series.  In The Hero and the Crown, however, McKinley doesn't reveal even the existence of Agsded until page 164 or so.


Second, Aerin has no idea what weapons she has against Agsded or what they can or can't do.  Her victory is achieved more through blind luck than either strategy or skill.  This ignorance on her part shows up again when she returns to Damar and no one, including Aerin, seems to know that there is a magical talisman working against her people in their war. 


(spoiler show)


There were some very interesting twists to the story, especially the one at the end regarding the passage of time.  I have a feeling that may have played out further in the subsequent books after this prequel. 


I left off the final half-star on this rating for a couple of reasons.  The writing was great and there were some really wonderful details to the story that raised it above the ordinary.  I loved the purple grass, for instance.  What bothered me, however, were the few bits of invented language for ordinary things that came with no explanation.  There were castes of people that I never really quite understood.  Sol and sola (princess and prince, respectively, I think) seemed unnecessary when king and queen were used without invented substitutions. 


But the main reason the book fell shy of the full five stars was that Aerin's victories came too easily.  She struggled and suffered, yes, but all of her actual confrontations with the enemy were over quickly.  She didn't triumph without effort, but her opponents fell so quickly that they hardly seemed worthy of her.


Of course, the very fact that, ahem, she's a GIRL hero . . . . .

and she apparently has two lovers???!!!

(spoiler show)


All in all, an excellent read.  Recommended.

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text 2016-10-19 19:15
Reading progress update: I've read 37 out of 263 pages.
The Making of Donald Trump - David Cay Johnston

Well, this book contains a lot -- A LOT -- of interesting material.  But the text itself is only 210 pages, which means each little nugget gets very little attention.  I would have liked to know more about . . . all of them.


I've listened to and watched David Cay Johnston on NPR and TV, and I greatly respect his knowledge and expertise.  Sadly, I have to admit he's not the greatest writer in the world.  The prose is kinda flat, especially given the material he has to work with.


At the same time, I'm reading Kurt Eichenwald's Newsweek portrait of the businessman (?) Trump, which probably contains some of the same information, but Eichenwald's style is far less dry.

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