Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Reading Updates!

Hey there, readers!  As you can probably tell, I've felt rather uninspired on the blogging front lately.  Not many (or any?) reviews churning out these days.  However, rest assured that I have been reading vigorously!  And I'll be honest, it's been rather refreshing to read without the need for reviewing afterwards.

Even though I'm not blogging about my books as much, I still have big plans for reading in 2017!
First and foremost, I am working my way through the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 challenge.   If you haven't heard of the challenge, there are 24 different types of books that you're supposed to try to read throughout the year.  The categories are meant to push you outside of your usual reading comfort zone. I was fortunate to connect with Sarah over at Sarah Says Read, who is also a book blogger from Rochester (Western NY represent!).  She and some other local readers have created a Rochester-based book-club-type-group (it's all rather fluid right now) based around the challenge. Sarah & co have split the 24 categories into 2 per month, and we are getting together monthly to discuss.  Our first meetup was a lovely 2-hour brunch in January, and we had a bookish good time.  :)  Looking forward to more of this throughout the year!

Second, I am really hoping to read off my shelves...again.  You know, because I say that every single year, and somehow it never happens?  I'm off to a rollicking start, as I've already read 3 library books this year, and have another 3 books out from the library as we speak.  SUPER.  This resolution is full of good intentions but sure to fail, let's just be honest.

Third, I want to attack some of the books on my 30 Before 35 list--no, I haven't forgotten about it!  How is it that I am only like 1.5 years from the deadline for this?  TIME FREAKIN' FLIES.

Fourth, I am making an attempt to read more books about social justice and the political process.  For obvious reasons that we will not discuss in this sunshine-and-rainbows space.  So please, send me all the recommendations you have.  I most recently enjoyed The Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I am on the waiting list for Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit.  Must arm my brain with knowledge in order to do battle for the next 4 years.  RAWR.
Oh, and fifth: more running books.  YES!  This will be the year of my first marathon (it will not escape me this time), and I am reading books to match it.  I already devoured How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald, which totally amped me up for marathon training.  I can't wait to delve into more reads like that one.

Wow, 5 very big reading goals makes 365 days feel like no time at all.  Ah well...if you're gonna do it, overdo it.  Right?

What are you reading so far this year??  Get me up to date, reader friends!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Again and Again by Ellen Bravo

Title:   Again and Again
Author: Ellen Bravo
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

If sexual shenanigans disqualified candidates for Congress, the U.S. would have no government. But what if the candidate was a pro-choice Republican supported by feminist groups—and a college rapist whose secret could be exposed by a leading women’s rights advocate? 

Again and Again  tells the story of Deborah Borenstein—as an established women’s rights leader in 2010 Washington, DC, and as a college student, thirty years earlier, whose roommate is raped by a fellow student. The perpetrator is now a Senate candidate who has the backing of major feminist groups . . . which puts Deborah in a difficult position. Torn between her past and present, as the race goes on, Deborah finds herself tested as a wife, a mother, a feminist, and a friend

My Review:

After reading several books lately, both fiction and nonfiction, that address the crime of sexual assault, I was intrigued by the release of Ellen Bravo's first novel, Again and Again.  Bravo has other nonfiction works in her repertoire, but this is her first foray into fiction, and with her background in feminism, work/family balance, and other women's issues, I figured this would make for a unique take on the topic.

As expected, Bravo really nailed the handling of date rape as a societal problem.  While her description of the actual rape is harrowing to say the least, I was left especially frustrated while I read about the disciplinary case that the victim brought forth afterwards.  Bravo expertly expresses the despair, grief, and fear of rape victims in the aftermath of an attack, and the many roadblocks they often encounter from the judicial system.  A lot of important points are made about the right and wrong ways to help a victim.  Overall, I think there are few fiction novels that handle this issue in such a realistic and detailed way.

That said, where I feel the novel was lacking is in the relationships between the characters.  While a lot of care was taken in the handling of the rape issue, less meticulous crafting is seen in the development of the bonds between the central characters.  For example, many of them jump wildly between emotions of love/happiness and anger/sadness within a single scene.  This happens a lot between Deborah and her daughter Becca, as well as Deborah and her husband Aaron.  A conversation that begins with hugs and kisses and laughter devolves quickly into screams and slammed doors, often without a provocation that is jarring enough to warrant it.  While the issues these people are grappling with are indeed sensitive, I just didn't always find their reactions to be wholly believable, or to have the level of subtlety that I'd expect in a real-life interaction.

Where this became a real sticking point for me was in Deborah's martial issues with Aaron.  I won't give any spoilers here, but I was left very frustrated by Deborah's inability to accept any blame for their problems.  All of their issues were placed squarely on Aaron's shoulders, and as a result, it seems as if Deborah does not grow at all as a character throughout the book.  She is in the right, always.  Without getting into the details, I thought Aaron's character was certainly wrong on many points, but Deborah was not always completely blameless--and those flaws are never addressed.  This feels like a significant oversight in character development.

I'd say my overall reaction is rather middle-of-the-road.  While I love how Bravo has addressed the personal. societal, and political implications of sexual assault in this novel, I am less impressed by how the characters interacted and changed.  I still think this is an important read if you're interested in the subject matter--you may just need to adjust your expectations of the protagonists.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Ellen Bravo on Twitter and her website.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The White House + Downton Abbey = The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower

Title:   The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House
Author: Kate Andersen Brower
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family. 

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.

Combining incredible first-person anecdotes from extensive interviews with scores of White House staff members—many speaking for the first time—with archival research, Kate Andersen Brower tells their story. She reveals the intimacy between the First Family and the people who serve them, as well as tension that has shaken the staff over the decades. From the housekeeper and engineer who fell in love while serving President Reagan to Jackie Kennedy’s private moment of grief with a beloved staffer after her husband’s assassination to the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment battle, The Residence is full of surprising and moving details that illuminate day-to-day life at the White House.

My Review:

I have such a fascination with life in the White House.  It started with a conference I attended in Washington DC as a junior in high school (any other NYLC alumni out there??), and then was fully exacerbated by my love for one of the all-time best shows on television...that's right, WEST WING!!
How I adore a good West Wing walk-and-talk.
I am happy to say that The Residence definitely gave me my White-House-insider fix.  I've read my fair share of political biographies/autobiographies that give the nitty-gritty on the political work that occurs within those walls.  But this is a completely different side of White House life.  Brower interviewed many of the butlers, maids, chefs, etc. that worked for first families from the Kennedys to the present day.  I was afraid that the narrative could fall too far into the category of tabloid fodder--digging up dirt on the first families for the sake of entertainment.  (You may remember that this is exactly how I felt about Ronald Kessler's In The President's Secret Service .)  However, I was delighted to find that that was not the case.

The interviewees in Brower's research did reveal some personal stories about the first families, but nothing particularly shocking or damning.  In most cases, these stories just lent a bit of emotion and intimacy to the descriptions of the workers' everyday responsibilities.  Instead, the employees focused much more on revealing the hidden machine behind what makes the White House tick--the hard work of the White House staffers that keep the lives of the first families moving along, even at the most chaotic of times.

The dedication of these staffers amazed me.  Many of them spent decades at their White House jobs, often to the detriment of their family lives, but always with the best interests of the first family in mind.  Brower delves into not only the way these employees felt about their jobs, but also how they interacted with the first families, how they dealt with the racial issues within the White House, and how they handled their work in the midst of chaotic international events (9/11, the Kennedy assassination, etc).

I did feel that some of the chapters bounced around too much--the gathering of information from so many different sources seemed to create many points in the book where random anecdotes would be plunked in among other stories that were only tangentially related.  While this did distract from my reading of the book at times, it wasn't a huge detractor from my enjoyment of it as a whole.

The Residence is an excellent Downton-Abbey-esque view of life at the White House.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, then this is the nonfiction for you.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Kate Andersen Brower on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ask The Expert...Nonfiction November Style!

Hello, Nonfiction November-ites!  We are in Week 2 of the event, and it's going well for me so far.  I finished At The Mercy of The Mountains last week, and have moved on to 1776 by David McCullough.  It's been a long time since I delved into historical nonfiction, and I'm enjoying the change of pace.  This is definitely a great event for me!  Nonfiction has been woefully absent from my life in the last year or two.

For week 2, we are tasked with any one of three options...

" Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:  Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert)."

With that in mind, I am choosing to "Ask The Expert".  Specifically, I'm looking for recommendations on nonfiction regarding American politics.  Let me explain, because that's a pretty broad category!  I enjoy books that provide an inside view into American politics.  I've tried autobiographies (My Life by Bill Clinton, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, etc), bipartisan reports (The 9/11 Commission Report), heavily biased political analyses (The Assault on Reason by Al Gore), and books that trended more towards peeping-Tom-expose than behind-the-scenes-informative ( In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler).  The list goes on, but that at least illustrates some of the breadth of what I've attempted.

In all that reading, I've realized that I have several desires when I step into this genre.

-Smartly written, analytical writing.  I loved the heavily detailed account of Clinton's presidency in his autobiography; I hated the obviously-pandering-to-the-lowest-common-denominator expose style of Kessler's book.
-Not too dry.  Clinton's book had a lot of detail, but also a human element that kept my interest up (not just Lewinsky, ha).  On the other hand, the 9/11 Report was impressive, but also put me to sleep on several occasions.  It's all detail, no emotion.  Not a bad thing (I mean, consider its purpose), but just not tops on my list of reading options.
-Too heavily partisan.  This is a big one.  It's very hard to write about politics without any sort of partisan bias--I get that.  I'm not asking for every political book to be nonpartisan/bipartisan.  However, I think you can write from a political stance in a way that isn't hateful to the other side.  If you've ever read Gore's Assault on Reason, you know that that is an example of a HEAVILY partisan book...annoyingly so.  And that's coming from a Democrat.  (And since I've mentioned that--yes, I welcome books written from the right as well!  But again, as long as they are not overly hateful to the other side.  Rush Limbaugh suggestions, I can safely assume, will be left at the door.)

Just to give you an idea...without knowing much about them, a few books that have been on my TBR for a while are Pennsylvania Avenue by John Harwood, What Happened by Scott McClellan, and The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi (okay, I admit the title of that one is not promising given the above requirements, but reactions from those who have read it are welcomed!).  Autobiographies and biographies also seem to have worked well for me in the past.

So there it is, experts!  I know I gave you a tough assignment, but give it a try.  Lay it on me.  What political nonfiction should I read next?
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