Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Salt God's Daughter

The Salt God's Daughter by Ilie Ruby
Soft Skull Press,  9/4/2012
Hardcover, 352  pages
ISBN-13: 9781619020023

The Salt God’s Daughter is set in Long Beach, California, beginning in the 1970s, and follows three generations of extraordinary women who share something unique—something magical and untamed that makes them unmistakably different from others. Theirs is a world teeming with ancestral stories, exotic folklore, inherited memory, and meteoric myths.
Meet Diana Gold, who raises her two daughters on the road, charting their course according to an imagined map of secrets drawn from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Meet her daughters—Ruthie and Dolly—who are raised in the back of their mother’s station wagon and then later in an old motel turned retirement home on the ocean, a place where the residents run with half-packed suitcases into the ocean at night, where lipstick kisses are left on handkerchiefs and buried in empty bottles, and where love comes in the most unlikely and mysterious of places—perhaps it even walks right out of the ocean in the form of a man.
Ruthie and Dolly are caught in the wilds of this enchanted landscape, fiercely protective of each other and unaware of how far they have drifted from traditional society. But when they are suddenly forced to strike out on their own, they are caught in the riptide of a culture that both demonizes and glorifies female sexuality. It is within this conflicted landscape that tragedy strikes. Years later, Ruthie’s daughter is born with a secret that will challenge her ties to the women in her family, and to the ocean.

My Thoughts:

The Salt God's Daughter by Ilie Ruby follows three generations of women in California. Set mainly in Long Beach, the novel opens in 2001 with Ruthie's daughter, Naida, and then jumps back to 1972 and follows Naida's grandmother, Diana Gold and her two daughters, Ruthie and Dolly, to the present. Diana raises her daughters on the road, living out of her station wagon, based on what she sees in the Old Farmer's Almanac and the phase of the moon. Many of her inventive names for the moon's phases are tailored to fit their situation. The women keep returning to Dr. Brownstein's beach hotel, which later becomes a retirement home, in Long Beach.

The Salt God's Daughter is an atmospheric novel that explores the complex relationship and love between mothers and daughters while portraying the female experience. It is also about being different, a non-conformist to the world and how violence and bullies can influence a person's self esteem. Always present is a tantalizing pull toward the sea or  repulsion from it, depending upon the character. There are also several heartbreaking passages where the characters bear painful, life changing experiences.

The Salt God's Daughter is not a light read. This is a multi-layered novel with many complexities woven into the plot. Folklore, magic realism, mysticism, and mythology infuse the whole novel with a dream-like quality. Certainly having a character named Diana following the phases of the moon so closely is no coincidence. (Diana, a huntress, is the Roman goddess of the moon, nature, fertility and childbirth.) And, while the women are Jewish, that fact was simply another tradition that was ultimately tied into all sorts of other belief systems, including Celtic lore. 

Ultimately, this is a beautifully written novel that will have many readers turning back to relish a sentence or paragraph again. While admittedly I also had to turn back a few times because I got lost in the mythology (magic realism can trip me up), that didn't deter me from the pure joy I felt in reading such a finely crafted novel. Even though I normally try to avoid magic realism, this novel was the exception to my rule as I enjoyed it immensely. 

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

It is very evident that Ilie Ruby is a painter, as well as an author, in her descriptions of Ruthie painting. She is also the author of the critically-acclaimed novel, The Language of Trees, which debuted in 2010 and was selected as a Target Emerging Author’s Pick and a First Magazine for Women Reader’s Choice.

Disclosure: My copy was courtesy of Spark Point Studio for review purposes.

People had been calling me the Frog Witch for as long as I could remember. My mother, Ruthie, lied and told me it was because they envied the long wavy locks of jet-black hair that fell across my back, which I inherited from my father. opening

My father needed to know me, and I to know him. I didn't have a name for what I was and what I could do. But I needed to save myself. There were things I needed to discover - about who I was, my mother's past, and even the woman who came before.
The attack on me would happen first, though. I could feel it coming. pg. 5

We ran wild at night, effortless, boundless, under a blood-red sky - to where and to what we couldn't have known. We craved it, that someplace. We were two little girls, sisters, daughters with no mother, distrustful of the freedom we were given, knowing she shouldn't have left. We tore across the dirt campgrounds where we slept, naked but for our mud boots, letting the wind shiver up across our bare chests. pg. 9

If I told you that I ached for a different mother, I'd be lying. I ached for my own, every minute. As motherless daughters do.
She was our child. We didn't know any different. Everyone knew a mother was a daughter's first love. pg. 10

"Who else watches the full moon like we do?" Dolly once asked my mother.
"Farmers do. Sailors and fishermen who need to rely on the ocean," said my mother. She said that you had to know that which could save you, for it could probably also kill you. You had to know it better than anyone else, every inch of it. pg. 16-17

Since we were all made from he same material, I imagined there was a piece of moon and earth in us. Everything was, in effect, connected to everything else. It followed, then, that men and women, adults and children, were more connected than we realized. I didn't understand why there was always so much distance. pg. 38

It was easy to become night pirates, casing the streets in the rich section of town. The waning moon, which rose like a great orange ball in the sky, would bring us a productive and protected night of trash picking. pg. 51

I still cried, but my tears lessened with time, as things do. pg. 104

Happiness was like an escaped wheelbarrow rolling down a hill. You needed to control it, to tie it with a rope and to pull it along with you. It was the one thing I knew how to do well, hold on to that rope for people who'd lost their grip. I'd had enough practice. pg. 130

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Penguin Group; copyright 2009
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780452296725


A voyage of discovery, two remarkable women, and an extraordinary time and place enrich bestselling author Tracy Chevalier's new novel.
On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.
Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.

My Thoughts:

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a historical fiction novel based on the life of female fossil hunters Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. Mary Anning was a working class young girl when she started finding fossils or "curies" (curiosities) with her father on the beaches at Lyme Regis, England, in the 19th century. Her father died and she continued to collect curies in order to sell them to support her family. Elizabeth Philpot, twenty years Mary's senior, was an unmarried gentlewoman who moved to Lyme Regis with two of her sisters. They were to "retire" there and live out their lives as spinsters. Mary and Elizabeth met and became friends because of their love of fossils.

When Mary uncovered the first complete skeleton of an ichthyosaurus she originally thought it was some kind of crocodile - but this error was understandable. At this time most women had few rights and certainly a working class woman would never be educated or given credit for the practical, working knowledge she had - knowledge that surpassed that of many men who claimed to be experts at the time. Elizabeth helped to educate Mary and taught her how to label her fossils using Linnaean classification.

Mary went on to discover another ancient marine reptile called a plesiosaur. All of this was before Darwin, so the idea of finding the remains of creatures that no longer existed in the world was a radical idea and not readily accepted by everyone. 

While fighting to make the male dominated paleontologists of the day recognize Mary's contributions to the field,  Elizabeth says, "So be it. A woman's life is always a compromise. (pg. 26)" And while acknowledging that this is a work of fiction, Chevalier writes: "Remarkable Creatures is a work of fiction, but many of the people existed, and events such as Colonel Birch's auction and the Geological Society meeting where Coneybeare talked about the plesiosaur did take place.( pg 309, postscript)"

Mary Anning was the inspiration for the tongue-twister "She sells seashells by the seashore."

In Remarkable Creatures both characters voice in alternating chapters a first person account of their friendship and how their lives intertwined. Chevalier gives Elizabeth and Mary unique voices so it is immediately apparent who is talking in each chapter. It is a beautifully written account of two remarkable women and made for a compelling novel.

See Tracy Chevalier's website for examples of the fossils.

Highly Recommended


Lightning has struck me all my life. Just once was it real. I shouldn't remember it, for I was little more than a baby. But I do remember. I was in a field, where there were horses and riders performing tricks. Then a storm blew in, and a woman — not Mam — picked me up and brought me under a tree. As she held me tight I looked up and saw the pattern of black leaves against a white sky. opening

I feel an echo of the lightning each time I find a fossil, a little jolt that says, "Yes, Mary Anning, you are different from all the rocks on the beach." That is why I am a hunter: to feel that bolt of lightning, and that difference, every day. pg. 4

Mary Anning leads with her eyes. That was clear even the first time we met, when she was but a girl. Her eyes are button brown and bright, and she has a fossil hunter's tendency always to be looking for something, even when on the street or in a house where there is no possibility of finding anything of interest. It makes her appear vigorous, even when she is still. I have been told by my sisters that I too glance about rather than hold a steady gaze, yet they do not mean it as a compliment as I do with Mary. pg. 7

I met Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, where she has lived all her life. It was certainly not where I expected to live. London was, of course, specifically Red Lion Square, where we Philpots grew up.  pg. 8

Bath and Brighton are beautiful despite their surroundings, the even buildings with their smooth stone creating an artifice that pleases the eye. Lyme is beautiful because of its surroundings, and despite its indifferent houses. It appealed to me immediately. pg. 13

At the end of Monmouth Beach, just before Seven Rocks Point, where the shoreline turned out of sight, we found the Snakes' Graveyard. It was a smooth ledge of limestone in which there were spiral impressions, white lines against the gray stone, of hundreds of creatures like that which I held, except that they were enormous, each the size of a dinner plate. It was such a strange, bleak sight that we all stared in silence.
"Those must be boa constrictors, don't you think?" Margaret said. "They're enormous!"
"But boa constrictors don't live in England," Miss Durham said. "How did they get here?"
"Perhaps they did live here, a few hundred years ago," Mrs. Durham suggested.
"Or even a thousand years ago, or five thousand," Mr. Durham ventured. "They could be that old. Perhaps the boa constrictors then migrated to other parts."
They did not look like snakes to me, or any other animal I knew of. I walked out onto the ledge, stepping with care so as not to tread on the creatures, even if they were clearly long dead and not so much corporeal bodies but sketches in the rock. It was difficult to imagine them as alive once. They looked permanent, as if they'd always been in the stone.
If we lived here, I could come and see this whenever I liked, I thought. And find smaller snakestones, and other fossils as well, on the beach. It was something. It was enough, for me. pg. 15-16

It was fossils that first brought me in contact with Mary Anning and her family. pg. 19

But there was something else about married women that I noticed, their solid smugness at not having to worry about the course of their future. Married women were set like jelly in a mold, whereas spinsters like me were formless and unpredictable. pg. 20

The beach then curves gently around to the right before straightening out towards Charmouth. High above the beach past the curve hangs Black Ven, an enormous landslip that has created a slant layer of mudstone from the cliffs down to the shore. Both Church Cliffs and Black Ven hold many fossils, gradually releasing them over time onto the shoreline below. That was where Mary found many of her finest specimens. It was also where we experienced some of our greatest dramas. pg. 30

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Whipping Club

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry
T.S. Poetry Press, 2012
Trade Paperback, 312 pages
ISBN-13: 9780984553174

The Whipping Club explores the sacrificial secrets we keep to protect our loved ones and the impact that uncovered secrets have on marriage, family and society. Both a wrenching family drama and a harrowing suspense story, it chronicles an interfaith couple's attempt in 1960's Ireland to save their son from corrupt institutions.

My Thoughts:

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry follows Ben and Marian, a mixed couple of Jewish and Catholic backgrounds, their daughter Johanna, and their son, Adrian, who Marian gave up for adoption ten years earlier. Set in Ireland, the first chapter opens in 1957, but the novel is primarily set ten years later, 1967 and on. Finding herself pregnant before they married, Marian gives up Adrian, the couples first child, after staying in a Catholic home for unwed mothers. She and Ben marry later, and have their daughter, Johanna, but Marian is rife with guilt over giving up their son. Then she learns that Adrian was never adopted but was, instead, given over to an orphanage.
Marian tells Ben her secret, discovering that he already knew it, and the couple set out to find and then add their son back into their family. This struggle then illuminates the injustice and abuse orphans and unwanted children suffered at the hands of the Catholic run system in Ireland. At the same time their daughter Johanna is also facing religious intolerance based on her parentage.
The Whipping Club is a melancholy, bleak page turner. We experience Marian's (unnamed) depression, the brutality in the orphanages, the uncertainty that there is a satisfactory conclusion to the myriad of hopeless situations present. Henry is an adept writer and she does a good job with character development, even when several major characters were not very appealing. The story did keep my interest right up to the end. The description of the brutal treatment of the children at the orphanage is horrific.
I did have a few qualms about the novel. First, while The Whipping Club is well written, the actual dialogue didn't fully convey the emotional upheavals the characters are experiencing. My biggest hesitation about the novel was that, as I was reading, the first part of the novel seemingly was heading one way and then diverged to another direction. While this could be describing an intriguing plot development shift, unfortunately in this case it feels more like the intent became obscured by a switch of focus and some clarity of purpose was lost.
Perhaps my reservations about the novel could be answered by integrating all the characters right from the beginning and weaving their stories together toward a final conclusion. That might have required rewriting the entire novel, a daunting prospect for a novel that really is not badly written to begin with.
So, in the end, I enjoyed reading The Whipping Club but I am feeling a dichotomy over rating it.  It is a very well written novel and I've been known to rate based on writing ability. I've also been known to rate based on exciting plots in spite of the writing. Here we have skillful writing but the main storyline of the novel felt like it loss it's original focus and changed direction to a different focus - but different isn't always bad.
I've decided to Highly Recommended The Whipping Club, for a first novel, and watch for promising future novels by Henry.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and TLC for review purposes. 

Marian spent the morning in Dr. O'Connell's office. opening
"I know this sounds rosy, but let me tell you, he'll resent you. And he'll resent the baby, as well. Further, whatever love's between you will be lost."
She could feel the drumming of blood in her chest.
"Because sometimes love is not enough, Marian. That's the truth."
"You don't know us, Father."
"Ah! But I do, Marian. I've seen it over and over. You think this baby will bind you together, but it won't. It'll burden you. I don't want to scare you, Marian, but I want you to fully understand your predicament." pg. 11
But where are you going?"
"It's a rest I'm going for. A lovely rest."
She laid her head on his shoulder. She would do the right thing, she thought. She'd not force him into it; she'd not rush him." pg. 24
"Da, today my teacher asked me if I was Jewish."
Ben looked at Marian. They had prepared their answer long ago. "I'm Jewish. Ma is Catholic. And people say you are what your mother is, so you're Catholic. Technically. If someone asks. But really you're a blend of me and your ma." pg. 31
She'd been a bad girl with unbridled thoughts and actions. She had not been able to control her desires and now she was paying. They would all pay, and she felt real fear course through her body. Had she really thought she could keep her secret forever? pg. 39
Whatever it was that Nurse thought was important, it wasn't worth allowing he past to spread like syphilis onto Johanna and Ben. Nurse could never come back. Sister Paulinas shall never come back. None of them from the underworld would corrupt her and her family now. Marian felt an inescapable heat rising in her stomach. There would be punishing repercussions for Nurse, she must know that, if anyone were to find out that she'd paid them a visit. pg. 41
Welcome to the Whipping Club." pg. 213
Deborah Henry attended American College in Paris and graduated cum laude from Boston University with a minor in French language and literature. She received her MFA at Fairfield University. She is an active member of The Academy of American Poets, a Board member of Cavankerry Press and a patron of the Irish Arts Center in New York.
Curious about the duality of her own Jewish/Irish heritage, Henry was inspired to examine the territory of interfaith marriage and in so doing was led to the subject of the Irish Industrial School system.
The Whipping Club is her first novel. She lives in Fairfield, Connecticut with her husband and their three children. She is currently at work on her next book.

Deborah Henry's Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 4th: The Lost Entwife
Wednesday, September 5th: Reading Lark
Thursday, September 6th: Life in Review
Tuesday, September 11th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, September 12th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, September 13th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Sunday, September 16th: An Unconventional Librarian
Monday, September 17th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Tuesday, September 18th: A Soul Unsung
Wednesday, September 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, September 20th: missris
Friday, September 21st: Peppermint PhD
Monday, September 24th: she treads softly
Tuesday, September 25th: A Book Geek
Thursday, September 27th: Book Addiction

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Planet Taco

Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food by Jeffrey M. Pilcher
Oxford University Press, 10/1/2012
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780199740062

As late as the 1960s, tacos were virtually unknown outside Mexico and the American Southwest. Within fifty years the United States had shipped taco shells everywhere from Alaska to Australia, Morocco to Mongolia. But how did this tasty hand-held food--and Mexican food more broadly--become so ubiquitous?
In Planet Taco, Jeffrey Pilcher traces the historical origins and evolution of Mexico's national cuisine, explores its incarnation as a Mexican American fast-food, shows how surfers became global pioneers of Mexican food, and how Corona beer conquered the world. Pilcher is particularly enlightening on what the history of Mexican food reveals about the uneasy relationship between globalization and authenticity. The burritos and taco shells that many people think of as Mexican were actually created in the United States. But Pilcher argues that the contemporary struggle between globalization and national sovereignty to determine the authenticity of Mexican food goes back hundreds of years. During the nineteenth century, Mexicans searching for a national cuisine were torn between nostalgic "Creole" Hispanic dishes of the past and French haute cuisine, the global food of the day. Indigenous foods were scorned as unfit for civilized tables. Only when Mexican American dishes were appropriated by the fast food industry and carried around the world did Mexican elites rediscover the foods of the ancient Maya and Aztecs and embrace the indigenous roots of their national cuisine.
From a taco cart in Hermosillo, Mexico to the "Chili Queens" of San Antonio and tamale vendors in L.A., Jeffrey Pilcher follows this highly adaptable cuisine, paying special attention to the people too often overlooked in the battle to define authentic Mexican food: Indigenous Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

My Thoughts:
In Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food author Jeffrey M. Pilcher shows beyond a doubt that: "The history of tacos, like eating tacos, is a messy business."  (Location 373) He researches the question: what is authentic Mexican food? What is mainly viewed as Mexican fare globally is actually an Americanized version of the cuisine - and beyond that authentic food is difficult to precisely locate because there are a variety of  dishes that all vary by region.
Pilcher researches the globalization of Mexican food, as most of us know it today. Along the way he also shares many interesting stories and historical notes in this very interesting, accessible account. Much of what is viewed as Mexican food is really Tex-Mex. For example, Pilcher shows that:
"Following the movement of three basic ingredients from the Mesoamerican kitchen, corn, chilies, and chocolate, can help to reveal the emergence of material and cultural patterns that later contributed to the global reputation of Mexican food. Already in the early modern era, these foods acquired vastly different images among elite and popular sectors. The importance of social distinctions can readily be seen in the case of yet another New World plant, the tomato." (Location 635-638)
For those interested in the history of a cuisine and how trade influenced the spread of it, Pilcher is thorough. He exams the history of Mexican food and follows it to today. Along the way he discusses how the cuisine was changed and how it spread world wide.
For all the nonfiction fans out there who appreciate documentation and sources as much as I do, Pilcher includes 46 photos as well as a glossary, select bibliography, notes, and an index. (Yes!)
Warning: you will be craving Mexican/ Tex-Mex food while reading. (Thankfully the weather changed here and with a Fall chill in the air, I made a big pot of chili. I had been eyeing Taco Bell after work.)

Very Highly Recommended, especially for foodies who love history.
Jeffrey M. Pilcher is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity; The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City; and Food in World History. He also edited the Oxford Handbook of Food History.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Oxford University Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

What is authentic Mexican food? Surveys show that Mexican is one of the top three ethnic foods in the United States, along with Chinese and Italian. But just as chop suey and pepperoni pizza are not typical of the foods of China and Italy, few people in Mexico actually eat the burritos (made with wheat flour tortillas) and taco shells (pre-fried corn tortillas) that often pass for Mexican in the United States. Of course, there are growing numbers of cookbooks and websites, celebrity chefs and migrant restaurants, all claiming to offer “authentic” Mexican, as opposed to Americanized food. Still, when traveling across the country—or around the world—burritos and taco shells predominate.
The global presence of Americanized tacos has provoked outrage from many Mexicans, who take patriotic pride in their national cuisine. But beyond a common distaste for “gloopy” North American versions, there is surprisingly little consensus about what is properly Mexican, even in Mexico. Every region and virtually every town has its own distinct specialties, which are regarded with deep affection by the local inhabitants. Preface,  Location 20
The search for authentic Mexican food—or rather, the struggle to define what that meant—has been going on for two hundred years, and some of the most important battles have been fought outside of Mexico. Notions of authenticity have been contested through interactions between insiders and outsiders, they have changed over time, and they have contributed to broader power relations. Location 41 
 With the U.S. rise to global power in the twentieth century, this Tex-Mex cooking was industrialized and carried around the world. Mexican elites, confronted with the potential loss of their culinary identity to this powerful neighbor, then sought to ground their national cuisine in the pre-Hispanic past. This book tells the story of how a particular idea of authentic Mexican food was invented in the global marketplace by promoters of culinary tourism in order to compete against industrial foods from the United States. Location 47

Planet Taco examines this conflict between globalization and the nation as a battle of images between how foreigners think about Mexican food and how Mexicans understand their own national cuisine. In particular, it seeks to show how Mexicans imagined a version of pre-Hispanic authenticity in order to heighten the contrast with globalized industrial dishes from the United States. Location 182-185
To understand how a Spanish word, newly used for a generic snack, became associated with a particular form of rolled tortilla, requires a shift to the silver mines that connected colonial Mexico with the global economy. Location 215-217
Meanwhile, a parallel history of early globalization, the travels of maize and other indigenous crops around the world, further muddled the image of Mexican food. Location 244-245
But is authenticity obligatory? Are ethnic entrepreneurs “selling out” if they change the recipe to market their food to a wider audience? And can ethnicity be acquired second-hand? After all, the postwar travels of Mexican food around the world offer a classic immigrant story. The cooks just happened not to be, for the most part, Mexican. To answer these questions, one must first remember that iconic recipes exist only on the pages of cookbooks; in practice, they are adapted constantly to suit available ingredients. What cultural groups share is a general idea of the appropriate flavors, proportions, and combinations that belong in any particular dish, say, the traditional spices in a recado negro (Yucatecan spice mixture), or the proper balance of meat to tortilla for tacos al pastor, or the right variety of cheese for marketplace enchiladas.25 These opinions vary between regions, social classes, families, and even with the particular saz√≥n or taste of the individual cook. One woman’s secret ingredient is another’s outrage. Working-class Mexican and Mexican American women are often uninterested in notions of authenticity. That concept is more useful for claiming social distinction or for marketing restaurants and cookbooks than for getting dinner on the table.26 Location 349-358
The Mexican poet Octavio Paz famously declared, “the melting pot is a social idea that, when applied to culinary art, produces abominations.”27 Location 358-360
In the days of the Aztecs, the Taco Bell dog would have been in the gorditas.13 Location 480
Literally meaning the “little donkey,” the burrito’s origins are as obscure as those of the taco. Location 792

Monday, September 17, 2012

Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
HarperCollins, 9/11/2012
Advanced Readers Edition, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061493348

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there — longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed, between them, more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland Records.
When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in the United States, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

My Thoughts:

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon follows two couples: Archy Stallings and Gwen Shanks, and Nat Jaffes and Aviva Roth-Jaffe. Archy and Nat run Brokeland Records, a vintage record store, while Gwen and Aviva are the Berkeley Birth Partners, and work together as midwives. Archy and Gwen are black, in the mostly black neighborhood, while Nat and Aviva are white and Jewish. Telegraph Avenue is set in Berkeley, California, and is named after the road that divides Oakland and Berkeley. 

While there are several things taking place all at once in the plot of Telegraph Avenue,  one event is that former quarterback-turned-entrepreneur Gibson “G Bad” Goode is planning to open a mega-mall called a Dogpile “Thang” emporium in the neighborhood, which would put Brokeland Records out of business. At the same time the existence of Berkeley Birth Partners is being threatened by legal problems as a result of a difficult delivery being moved to the hospital.  Additionally, adding to this already stressful mixture is Gwen's impending birth, Luther Stallings (Archie's father, a former blaxploitation movie star) conniving plans, the arrival of Titus (a teenage son Archy didn't know he had), and several other supporting characters in the various plot threads.

Telegraph Avenue is about fathers and sons, families, partners, mentors, race, class, love, friendship, commitment, marriage, medicine. All of this is accompanied by the backbeat of a substantial musical soundtrack and bountiful cultural references, resulting in a vibrant, satisfying and richly layered novel. It is profound and witty, serious and humorous. It is a completely enjoyable novel. I found two drawbacks in Telegraph Avenue: there are several sexual encounters that were unappealing and the amount of swearing seemed excessive - but that is likely because it would not be a normal choice of language for me. 

Any review of a novel by Chabon should probably include at least a mention of his love of language and the virtuosity of his writing. Almost every sentence he writes is a labor of love - lyrical, complete, and totally remarkable. Perhaps the best example of this is the one sentence that went on for almost 12 pages. (I will admit that once I realized the sentence was still ongoing, after several pages, then this became distracting until I looked ahead to find the end of the sentence before going back and actually finishing reading it.)

When asked about the construction of his sentences in an NPR interview Chabon said:

"Sentences are the purest, simplest, most pleasurable part of writing for me. And it's the part that comes the easiest to me. It is frequently the case that I, as I am sitting and writing ... the harbinger of the sentence kind of begins to occur to me in a sort of empty, rhythmic form that has no real meaning yet ... And, you know, instantaneously afterwords, the sense of the sentence fills in that empty vessel and I'm just struggling to kind of keep up with it and get it down. But there are plenty of other times where I am just really working and working and working and working and ... I trample on that initial, beautiful, mystical sentence that emerged ... and I have to try to keep fixing it and tinkering with it. And, you know, I love that aspect of it: the shaping of sentences, the crafting of sentences, that's the fun part of writing for me."

I Very Highly Recommend Telegraph Avenue.

 Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Summerland (a novel for children), The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and Gentlemen of the Road; as well as the short story collections A Model World and Werewolves in Their Youth; and the essay collections Maps and Legends and Manhood for Amateurs. He is the Chairman of the Board of the MacDowell Colony. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.


Michael’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 11th: Layers of Thought
Wednesday, September 12th: The Year in Books
Thursday, September 13th: Book Him Danno!
Friday, September 14th: The Scarlet Letter
Monday, September 17th: she treads softly
Tuesday, September 18th: Book Addict Katie
Wednesday, September 19th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Thursday, September 20th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, September 24th: Dreaming in Books
Tuesday, September 25th: The Written World
Wednesday, September 26th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, September 27th: An Unconventional Librarian
Monday, October 1st: The Book Garden
Tuesday, October 2nd: Man of La Book
Wednesday, October 3rd: The Well-Read Wife
Thursday, October 4th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 5th: Book Club Classics!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The River

The River by Michael Neale
Thomas Nelson, 9/18/2012
Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781401688486

“You were made for The River . . .”
Gabriel Clarke is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The rushing waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventure.
But something holds him back—the memory of the terrible event he witnessed on The River when he was just five years old—something no child should ever see.
Chains of fear and resentment imprison Gabriel, keeping him from discovering the treasures of The River. He remains trapped, afraid to take hold of the life awaiting him.
When he returns to The River after years away, his heart knows he is finally home. His destiny is within reach. Claiming that destiny will be the hardest—and bravest—thing he has ever done.

My Thoughts:
The River by Michael Neale recounts the story of Gabriel Clarke, the son of a Colorado whitewater rapids guide, John. When Gabriel's father dies saving the life of a careless young man, Gabriel goes to live with his mother in Kansas and tries to avoid any thoughts of The River. But, after years pass, Gabriel hears the call of The River in his life again and eventually returns to The River in Colorado.
The River is a novel of timeless themes: love, loss, sacrifice, family, beauty, and, ultimately, forgiveness and redemption. In this inspirational narrative, The River is symbolic of God's call on a Christian's life to forgive and step forward with courage and conviction, as well as other metaphorical significance. This is a book you can read quickly and it will keep your interest.
Be sure to check out Neale's website for the book trailer and a short clip showcasing the live event. Neale is an award-winning musician and performer who composed the score for the HD film footage in the live show. After watching the clip, I have a feeling the live show would be a great multi-media experience.
I also have a feeling that the whole multi-media experience might be, in totality, more moving and riveting than the book. While the book was heartening and certainly affirmed enduring lessons, the constant references to "The River" always capitalized and named only in that way became a bit distracting. I think a case could still be made to compare God to an unnamed river without making it The River.
Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Thomas Nelson, the publisher, and Netgalley for review purposes.


From an entry in a Journal:
I love coming to The River. The River is magical. It's full of wonder and mystery. For thousands of years, The River has been carving its way through the Earth. As the water pours over the landscape, crashes against the banks, and cascades over the rocks, everything changes in its path. The terrain, the trees, even the wildlife-everything is shaped by The River. Everything in the canyon is at the mercy of The River. The River is wild, free, and untamable. It's foaming, twisting, and thundering. Location 49-53

Every now and then, you have an encounter with someone who simply changes your life. A conversation or interaction so profound, it seems otherworldly. You can’t get his (or her) story out of your head and heart. It’s hard to explain how powerful stories can resonate within us on many levels, but it’s often because of the way they speak with passion, heartache, or even joy. Maybe it’s the way they unknowingly reach into our heart of hearts with their words. I don’t think these encounters happen by chance. I think there is a reason, although we will never understand the full weaving of life’s tapestry of events this side of the eternal. I have had such an encounter with someone. It moved me to my core, so much so that I had to share it with you. I’ll keep sharing it as long as I have breath. For the next few pages, I’d like you to grab a cup of coffee—or a root beer float—and sit down and let me tell you about a conversation I had with a man named Gabriel Clarke. Location 76-83

“Daddy! They made it out! You can come back now!” He shifted his focus downstream, where the man was caring for the kayaker. Maybe his father was swimming and would show up down there. But he never did. His dad never came back. His father was gone. His hero just disappeared. No more games of marbles. No goodbyes. No hugs. Just gone. Location 248-251

 “We’re okay,” Maggie replied. “Thank you, though.”
There was a bit of an awkward pause until Miss Vonda asked tenderly, “Is he in his secret place today?”
Maggie couldn’t hold it in any longer and began to weep. “I don’t know what to do! I just want my boy to get better, you know? He’s having those terrible dreams again. He barely says two words on the hard days. I just want him to be a regular boy. I want him to live! I’m not sure I can take much more.”
“There, there, Maggie. Tomorrow will be a better day. Let me help you with your dishes.” Location 282-286

He’d been living with his mother for almost four years since The River took his dad. Before the accident, Maggie only saw him at holiday times when John brought him to see her. Location 292-293

“Are you an idiot?” Dickie asked. “You almost killed him! Why are you even here?” As Dickie turned and started walking away, he mumbled to J.J., “That kid is worthless.”
 “Shut up, Dickie!” General J.J. growled at him. He turned to Gabriel and patted his shoulder. “It’s okay, man. It wasn’t your fault.”
Gabriel knew otherwise. Henry had almost died trying to help him, and Gabriel was filled with shame. His first real effort to conquer his fear and connect with the boys of Cairo was a disaster. They wouldn’t be seeing him again at the pond. It was safer to stick close to home— in his secret place. There was no way he could take a chance on hurting anyone else. He was angry at the water. He was angry with himself. Better, though, to keep everything to himself. Risk was not an option anymore. Location 422-427

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Guest Post: Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know

My Question to Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson, authors of Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know: Eleven Courageous Canines Tell All:
Not to start a breed war or anything, but do you have a favorite breed of dog?


People ask us all the time if we have a favorite breed of dog.  We have many.

And that’s why we included stories from 11 different dogs in our book – representing 11 different breeds.  From the hard-working German Shepherd to the bossy Border Collie.

Part of the fun of writing a humor book about dogs is the ability to play with the various breed-related stereotypes.  Chihuahuas, people tell us, are fussy and yappy and sometimes live in a purse.  Yellow Labs, other people tell us, are fun-loving but have a hard time figuring out complex realities like elevators.

We do have, we must admit, a special affinity for Miniature Schnauzers, having owned them for over 25 years.  I imagine many people are like us in this respect.  One gets used to a certain look and personality and that becomes your breed.  Whether real, or simply imagined by their owners, different breeds have distinctly different characteristics.

The art director of the book (Dean Stefanides) approaches the breed issue quite differently.  Rather than sticking to one breed at a time, Dean has several.  Right now, Dean owns 2 Greyhounds, a Rottweiler, an Irish Wolfhound mix, a Pointer, a Cocker Spaniel and a Mini-Pincher.  (All living with Dean and his wife in a New York City apartment).

Writing “Things Your Dog Doesn’t Want You to Know” was great fun, but when it came to creating the cover, well, that was a challenge.

We went through dozens of different designs before settling on the one everyone loved -- a Boston Terrier puppy sharing a secret with its mom.  This was especially meaningful to Hy, since his first dog as a kid was a Boston Terrier.

After much deliberation, Hy and his sister named him Buster Brown after the shoes, which featured a boy named Buster and his dog Tighe.  It wasn’t until later that they realized that Tighe was a pit bull puppy, not a Boston.  In hindsight, it really didn’t matter, since they had actually (and inadvertently) named the dog after the boy and not his dog, anyway.

You can get a good sense of the book and all 11 different breeds by going to our website,, where you can also post your own questions about dog behavior and one of our eleven dogs will answer it for you (humorously, we hope).

Here is one of our 115 stories, this one by our Miniature Schnauzer, Charlie.  Charlie lives in a foster home with six other dogs.  And in this story, he explains the rules of dog-walking to their newly hired dog-walker.

By Charlie, the Miniature Schnauzer

We were very excited when you first showed up. To tell the truth, days do get a little long. And even though we have dog doors and doghouses and a whole big backyard, everyone can use an afternoon walk. We're just sorry that things got off to a rocky start. Maybe if I give you a few pointers...

First off, you can't walk all seven of us together. I think you learned that lesson. But it's also very important who you take with whom and when and where. It's simple.

Chloe has to be first, since she hates us and won't pee if we've been out there before her. But you can't walk her alone because that would upset Snowball, who gets jealous. I would recommend walking the girls together but keeping them twenty or thirty feet apart for safety. Except, of course, if it's swel­tering hot (Snowball faints easily) or if one of them has a urinary tract infection. Then you should leave Snowball behind and walk Chloe with a male of a similar temper, usually me or Jake unless we're not in the mood to deal with Chloe.

Duke must be in the second group, or else he'll fall behind and bite at your heels. No one knows why. Jake can be in this group too, unless he's with Chloe in the first group. And Buster has to be with Jake, unless there are more than three dogs in this group, which I wouldn't recommend.

During the winter, Miley can be in group three, except if there's snow. Then she goes in a special group four, with snow booties. Duke is also in the snow booties group, although you have to make sure you have the right size, since he's old and his feet swell. But don't try booties on Buster. Buster's paranoid about his feet.

Group three also has the dogs who like to run. That can be me or Jake or Buster if we're not in a previous group. If Miley is here, then you have to carry her for part of the run since she's not much into exercise.

If rain is involved, you need to do exactly the opposite of the above advice. This is essential. Sleet rules are the same as snow rules plus rain rules but minus the booties rule. Very cold weather means jackets, but only for the girls, unless there's wind. Then everyone gets a jacket, except Buster, who still thinks you're too close to his feet. I hope this explains it.

I couldn't help but notice that you haven't been around for a few days. I assume this is just because of your injuries and has noth­ing to do with anything we might have accidentally said or done. Please hurry back.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know

Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know: Eleven Courageous Canines Tell All by Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson
Sourcebooks, 2012
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781402263286

Dear Human:
Your dog probably puzzles you. Most of us do that. And most of us would like to keep things as they are: humans in the dark, dogs with the upper hand.
But we dogs are about to let you in a little secret. Okay, a lot of secrets.
We graduated first in our obedience class three times. This should tell you something.
Puppies know that they're being cute. They're using you.
We don't sound anything like those silly voices you use to imitate us.
We hate those ridiculous names you give some of us. Moonbeam is not a dignified name for a mutt.
You might want to check your herb garden for fertilizer.
We are only wearing this stupid birthday hat so we can get some cake. No self-respecting dog cares about his birthday.
We are not spoiled, certainly not in comparison to teenage girls.
We are in charge of the house. We let you pretend that you are.
We'd be lost without you. We love you.
It's all in our new book, Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You To Know, as told to humans Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson. Even Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin) raves about us! Inside you'll find revelations such as the reason we at the sofa (leather tastes very similar to rawhide), and what we really think of the costumes you dress us up in.
I'm not alone. Ten other courageous canines have stepped forward to tell you what your dog won't – every last dirty, hairy bit of it. If you have dogs, love dogs, or have ever been baffled by a dog, this book is a must-have.
My Thoughts:
Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You to Know: Eleven Courageous Canines Tell All by Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson is a charming, entertaining collection of essays written from the point of view of eleven different dogs, both male and female. The dogs contributing to this collection are:
Axelrod: Yellow Lab
Lives in the suburbs with his family and a yard with an impossibly high fence. Graduated first in his private obedience class three times.
Bandana: Border Collie
Bossy, with his opinions about everything. He runs the household. It couldn't go on without him.
Dimples: Boxer
Recently gave birth to Mutt Junior and Runt, who are both still living at home. Disagrees with humans about parenting.
Tinkerbell: Chihuahua
Lives in a mansion with the alpha human Margo and he equally human daughter Brianna. Can shed but prefers not to.
Orson: Bulldog
A foodie. Has two working mommies who reluctantly indulge his obsession. Lives in a small apartment that seems to be getting smaller.
Sophie: Cocker Spaniel
Mother of 18. Grandmother of 168. Great-grandmother of...? Living out her twilight years with her original humans - and a cat.
Sarge: German Shepherd
A working dog who has spent his life going from one dead-end job to another. Will work for scraps.
Charlie: Miniature Schnauzer
Found on the street with no memory of his past. Adopted by a shelter employee. Lives with six other dogs and considers his current situation foster care.
Moonbeam: Mixed Breed
Found stranded on a roof after a flood. Adopted by a New Age follower. Hates her name.
Gabby: Long-Haired Dachshund
Girlie and smart. She's at that awkward age when she's just starting to notice boys.
Rufus T.: Bloodhound
A country dog who feels a little out of place. His best friend is Toby, a boy he's known almost from birth.

All the essays are two pages and presented like a journal entry from each individual dog point of view. Each dog's pages are different and reflect their unique personality and voice. The topics are wide ranging and include subjects like : "The Reason I Ate the Sofa"; "Why Am I Barking"; "I'm not a Strict Vegan"; "Speed Dating"; "No Dog Costumes!"; "The Art of the Growl"; and "My Time in the Pen" to name a few.
I really loved this book and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite dog. I will admit a fondness for Axelrod the Yellow Lab. (I still miss my big, rather dim witted, but entirely loveable big dog who was a Yellow Lab/Great Pyrenees mix.) Moonbeam was very enjoyable too. (I also have a fondness for shelter mixed breed dogs) Tinkerbell was a funny, fierce little diva and Rufus T. was an actor with unfulfilled dreams. Dimples had some great training advice - now that the humans have taken over puppy rearing. Some selections were hilarious and I was laughing and snorting. Other selections made me pause and think. Some were poignant and touching - like Sophie's selections
This would be a great gift for the dog lovers in your life! 
Very Highly Recommended
Be sure to stop by and read the guest post tomorrow by the authors Hy Conrad and Jeff Johnson.

Hy Conrad has spent his career writing for television -- he's one of the original writers for Monk, the USA series, and he was nominated three times for the Edgar Award for best TV Mystery episode. he has written a mystery series published by Sterling. Currently he is a writer and consulting producer on the TV show "White Collar."

Jeff Johnson spent most of his life working in advertising, for giants such as JWT and DWB&B and prestigious creative shops, and he has created successful campaigns in nearly every consumer category. He wrote THE HOURGLASS SOLUTION: A BOOMER'S GUIDE TO THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. 
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.    
For centuries, dogs have kept their secrets to themselves, refusing to share them with even their best human friends. There are many reasons for this. First, dogs are typically shy. And humans don't always ask the right questions. Both species have a natural desire to maintain privacy. And last, but not least, dogs can't talk.
At least, that's what we thought. But with persistence and patience and half a ton of treats, we have managed to convince eleven dogs from all walkies of life to come forward. This is finally their chance to tell us the things that other dogs can't - or won't: their hopes and dreams, their grudges and pleasures, and what they really think about you. opening.
That chew is made out of rawhide. And rawhide is like leather. And the sofa was made out of leather - or something kind of like leather. I thought you wanted me to go for it.
Honest mistake. Won't do it again. I guess the rule is, if you guys sit on it, it's not a chew. Axelrod, pg. 33
I would like to point out hat this isn't my fault. I had a tail once but it disappeared, like the balls between my legs - also not my fault. I do have a little stub and, you know me, I wag it when I'm happy - or after a bath when I'm wagging everything else. Charlie, pg. 64
I hate it when you pose me with all your stuffed animals and take pictures and then ask strangers which animal is real.
I don't think I'm big so stop saying it. "See how fierce Tink is? She thinks she's a big dog." I'm not an idiot, okay? I know I'm tiny. The only reason I go after big dogs is so that they won't want to go after me. Kind of like you and boys.
I am not a kitten, so stop putting me on the piano and taking videos. Tinkerbell, pg. 70

Friday, September 7, 2012


Sulan, Episode 1: the League by Camille Picott
Pixiu Press, 2012
Paperback, 296 pages
ISBN-13: 9781477631072

Sixteen-year-old Sulan Hom can’t remember life before the Default—the day the United States government declared bankruptcy. As a math prodigy, she leads a protected life, kept safe from the hunger and crime plaguing the streets of America. She attends the corporate-sponsored Virtual High School, an academy in Vex (Virtual Experience) for gifted children.
Beyond the security of Sulan’s high-tech world, the Anti-American League wages a guerrilla war against the United States. Their leader, Imugi, is dedicated to undermining the nation’s reconstruction attempts. He attacks anything considered a national resource, including corporations, food storage facilities—and schools. When Sulan witnesses the public execution of a teenage student and the bombing of a college dorm, she panics.
Her mother, a retired mercenary, refuses to teach her how to defend herself. Sulan takes matters into her own hands. With the help of her hacker best friend, Hank, Sulan acquires Touch—an illegal Vex technology that allows her to share the physical experience of her avatar. With Touch, Sulan defies her mother and trains herself to fight.
When Imugi unleashes a new attack on the United States, Sulan finds herself caught in his net. Will her Vex training be enough to help her survive and escape?

My Thoughts:

Sulan, Episode 1: the League by Camille Picott is the first book in a new YA dystopian/cyberpunk/dystopunk series. It follows sixteen year old Sulan Hom and her friends. While Sulan is sheltered and protected to some extent, there is still the real possibility that the Anti-American League will attack. Sulan and her friends use "virtual experience" or Vex to attend a corporate sponsored high school for gifted children and to interact with each other socially. In fact, a large part of the action occurs in Vex.

Sulan, who is the narrator, really feels like a teen in this series. Like most teens, she resents her mother's expectations for her future and thinks she should be able to make her own decisions. While gifted in mathematics like her famous father, she really wants to learn to fight like her mother, a former mercenary. Her mother refuses to teach her to fight - so Sulan finds a way to learn using Vex.

Since this is just the first book in a forthcoming series there are questions left unanswered; and even though Picott has a great start on her world building, there is more information needed to fill in gaps. The great news is that it is a fast paced novel. Sulan is extremely entertaining with an exceptionally captivating storyline. I'll admit I was immersed in Sulan's world and upset when this first novel ended. I wish I had the second novel around because I would have started it immediately.

I suppose the big question is: How does Sulan compare to The Hunger Games? I think it's a favorable comparison. Certainly YA fans of The Hunger Games will likely enjoy Sulan. While I felt there was less violence in Sulan, there is some.

Very Highly Recommended for people looking for an additional YA dystopian fiction series

Camille Picott has been writing books since the age of twelve. She specializes in science fiction and fantasy stories with Asian-inspired settings and Asian main characters. She is the author of two middle grade fantasy books, Raggedy Chan and Nine-Tail Fox.
In her spare time, Camille loves to read books and write reviews. Her reviews are written from a writer’s perspective, highlighting various aspects of craft found in the books she reads.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for review purposes.    


“Mom!” I throw open my bedroom door and race down the hallway of our San Francisco apartment. Riska, my genetically engineered pet, flicks my cheek with a leathery black wing as he streaks past my head. “Mom!” I burst into the living room, waving a computer tablet in one hand. Riska growls in response to my agitation, hovering in the middle of the room.
“What is it, Sulan?” Mom looks up from the couch, where she folds laundry. Her elegantly slanted eyes widen at the panic in my voice. She wears her customary black pants and tank top. The light creeping through the bulletproof window shutters illuminates the scars that crisscross her arms.
“A bomb was just detonated at Stanford University. Look.” I shove the tablet into her hands, pausing only to turn up the volume. Riska alights on my shoulder, still growling. I rest one hand on his black-and-white-striped fur, leaning over the tablet with Mom. The screen displays a female news reporter in front of a collapsed building, black smoke billowing behind her. Yellow-gold media drones zip through the disaster area, capturing footage. The flying disks blink with red and blue lights.
“I’m reporting live from Stanford University in Stanford, California,” says the reporter. “Thirty minutes ago, a bomb was detonated in a resident dorm. Initial reports confirm that over five hundred students live in this building.” opening
Scattered among the Global mercs are a dozen other mercs in light blue, the United States flag embroidered on the right breast of their uniforms. The government usually finds a handful of soldiers to spare for occasions like this, though it’s just for show. Ever since the Default—the day our country declared bankruptcy—people have looked to corporations like Global Arms for protection and security. Location 69-72

Imugi’s face is concealed by his signature shiny white SmartPlastic mask, its only adornment a blue sea serpent that twines up his right cheek and across his forehead. As the leader of the Anti-American League, a Pacific Rim terrorist organization, he always makes an appearance after a strike. Location 80-82

Mom ignores this. “You also have Riska.” We both glance at my furry, winged miniature tiger—also known as a Risk Alleviator, a biological personal security device. A gift made by Dad for my sixteenth birthday. Riska returns to his perch on my shoulder, fur fluffed along his spine and tail; Dad designed him to pick up my emotions. And to defend me, should I need defending. Location 111-115

“It’s too dangerous,” I say, mimicking Mom’s words in a high-pitched voice. “Leave the fighting to others, Sulan. Concentrate on your schoolwork.” How am I supposed to concentrate on anything when I’m worried about getting blown up or shot in the head? Whatever. I don’t need her. I’ll figure this out on my own, and she can’t stop me. I am not going to get cornered like those kids at Stanford.  Location 135-139

Some refugees are victims of the Default, but others are victims of the Shift—the permanent climate change that turned most of Middle America into a baking wasteland. With Global patrolling the I-580 Corridor and San Francisco, this is one of the most popular areas for refugees; there’s relative safety on our streets. Location 162-164

“State your first and last name,” says the androgynous voice of Global’s firewall.
“Sulan Hom.”
“Retinal authentication commencing.” The Vex set projects a thin beam of blue light into the left goggle and scans my eye. I am careful not to blink. “Retina verified,” it says. “Welcome to Global Arms Virtual High School.” Location 184-188

I’ve heard Mom and Dad talk about the Default. In a single day, thousands of pink slips were issued to public employees. Schools and colleges across the nation closed. Social and public service programs ground to a halt. Courthouses locked their doors. Bad checks were issued to military personnel, which led to a mass exodus of soldiers and the founding of some of the earliest mercenary companies. Location 322-325