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review 2018-04-20 04:06
Red Dirt Heart (Red Dirt Heart #1)
Red Dirt Heart - N.R. Walker

I like this! It was standard, as far as M/M goes, but has the distinction of being set in the Outback. Charlie and Travis were fun, and it was nice to see Travis pull Charles out of his shell and self-loathing. I really liked Ma and George, too. (Though I did get a little annoyed with the chapter headers, gotta be honest.)

 

This is a short read though, barely longer than novella length, so we don't get to see much of the other workers on the ranch, who are basically just there as set dressing. A lot of the relationship development between Charlie and Travis was set in the bedroom too, and after one-and-a-half standard sex scenes, I just started skipping them altogether. There was still enough development outside the bedroom for me to appreciate why they're clearly good together, so that was good.

 

The next one looks longer, so hopefully it'll have more meat on its bones. And be better formatted. The formatting for this book was all over the place. It though Ch 6 was Ch 8, for instance, and thought the book was complete when I was still at 70%. 

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review 2018-04-19 21:31
Marshall Islands Legends and Stories by Daniel Kelin
Marshall Islands Legends and Stories - Daniel A. Kelin

It’s hard to rate books of folklore; it seems odd to judge another culture’s traditional stories on my standards for literature or entertainment. But I can only rate from my own perspective, which is affected by factors out of the author’s control. One, I’ve read several books of folklore lately, and may have begun to tire of it a bit; I can say this is neither the best nor the worst such book I’ve recently encountered. Perhaps I imbibed too many somewhat similar, very short stories in too little time, and my interest has waned. Two, I had this through Interlibrary Loan on a tight schedule, which left me feeling obligated to pick it up at times I would otherwise have chosen something else.

That said, this is a perfectly readable collection of folklore that made sense to me as a foreign reader. Which makes sense, because the stories were told to a foreign (Hawai’i-based) author/dramaturge who collected them. The book is sized to fit in with textbooks, and has ultra-wide margins in which definitions and pronunciations are sometimes included. But with large font and illustrations, it is still a quick read. It includes brief biographical sketches (and sometimes photographs) of the storytellers, but to me these were too brief: the barest of bare-bones, without room to for the storytellers’ personalities or life experiences to come alive. 

Overall, there’s nothing here that would make me hesitate to recommend the book to those who enjoy folklore. But I prefer books from which I can learn more directly about what people’s lives are like.

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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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