5 stars · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Iraq · war

There are books that stay with you for days after you finish reading them. Take What You Can Carry by Gian Sardar is one of those books.

Wow. Man. Take What You Can Carry was good. Like GOOD good. Like as good as The Kite Runner w/o the emotional trauma good. The Kite Runner fucked me up for weeks after reading. It left a dark pit in my heart that had to heal slowly. Take What You Can Carry gives you the heartache without the trauma and like it’s name, you only take what you can carry.

Built around an American secretary, Olivia, desperate to be taken seriously as a photojournalist and her laid-back, easy going but heavily traumatized Kurdish boyfriend, Delan, Take What You Can Carry hits many major hot topics: interracial relationships, immigration, trauma, love, war, fear, loss, understanding and the complexity of humanity.

Sardar does an excellent job jumping between cultures and bridging gaps in the parallel realities existing between 1979 Los Angeles and 1979 northern Iraq. Her characters are incredibly well done and you can’t help but feel that these are real people you’re reading about. In the afterward, Sardar states that the characters were compilations of various family members and it’s obvious that she writes these characters and this story with a profound sense of love and duty.

The way Sardar is able to show the extreme contrast between the reality of living in LA and the reality of living in Iraq just through the eyes of the main character, Olivia, is nothing short of masterful. Very well done and a book I spent weeks talking about.

5 stars · African American Lit · American Tall Tale · Fantasy · Favorite Books · Magic

A world I didn’t want to leave…Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

Holy shit. There are books and then there are BOOKS. Bacchanal was fucking fantastic. Set in the deep south and traveling through the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, Bacchanal is the story of Eliza Meeks, a black girl who joins the Bacchanal Carnival to escape her life as an odd and desperate orphan.

Henry expertly delivers the desperation of the 1930’s, the sense of belonging and loyalty carnies have to one another, the racial tensions and an incredibly well done dose of magic. Unlike most authors who use magic to write themselves out of a corner in their plot, Henry wields her character’s magic in a way that makes it believable. Probably one of my favorite books of the year, I would highly recommend Bacchanal. This was a fantastic book to follow up West with Giraffes.

5 stars · American Tall Tale · Book Review · Favorite Books · Historical Fiction

West with Giraffes…a satisfying American tall tale

If you loved the movie Big Fish, you’ll love West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge. A historical fiction that holds its own in the American tall tale tradition, West with Giraffes holds the fine balance between just enough truth and just enough tall tale to be believable. I had a blast reading this book and actually just purchased a copy for my dad, who shares my love of Westerns and tall tales.

West with Giraffes follows the strange-but-true story of a pair of giraffes as they endure a wild boat trip across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, barely surviving a hurricane, before embarking on an epic road trip across the United States from New York to the San Diego zoon in California.

Rutledge skillfully navigates her way through the time period, folding her readers into the gritty reality of 1938; an America beaten, bruised and slowly recovering from the back to back travesties of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the fear and trepidation of Hitler’s rise to power, the palpable tension between black and white Americans, the wide open spaces between abandoned towns and the unreliable dirt roads that passed for highways.

Against this dark and dreary back drop, Rutledge gifts us with a strong cast of unlikely heroes: two awe inspiring giraffes, a beautiful and impulsive photographer, a grumpy but wise Old Man who keeps our heroes moving ever forward, and young man to rival any of the great American tall tale heroes, Woody Nickel. Through a series of wild happenstance, the inexperienced but determined Woody becomes the giraffes chauffer, embarking on the ride of life time.

If there is one thread that Rutledge weaves flawlessly through West with Giraffes, it’s the tiny spark of hope that people in hard times cherish and stoke so desperately. The giraffes, which were extremely rare in the US at that time, due to their delicate nature and the long distances required to acquire them, provide that hopeful beacon. Rutledge does a fantastic job reproducing the wonder, awe and excitement of folks seeing a giraffe for the very first time, particularly for an audience accustomed to feeding giraffes at their local zoo on any given weekday. I found myself enamored with giraffes and inspired to look a little deeper at this modern day staple of zoo creatures.

This was a fantastic read and a great way to break out of the mid-winter pandemic blues. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more by this author.

Happy reading friends! Until next time, cheers!

-R

1938: Lofty and Patches loaded into their caravan for their cross country journey to the San Diego zoo. https://library.sandiegozoo.org/sdzg-history-timeline/#1930
5 stars · Book Review · Sci-Fi · Science · series books · thoughts

The Last Dance is an accessible and entertaining intro for Sci-Fi newbies and hits the spot for nostalgic Sci-Fi readers

41LvyukIvVLIf you love the old Star Treks, Star Gate and anything 80’s sci-fi, The Last Dance by Martin L. Shoemaker is a must read.  This was one of my favorite Kindle reads of the year.  It was well written, fun and incredibly intelligent.  You can tell Shoemaker loves space and the book maintains a good grasp on the science involved with space travel as well as the complexity of human behavior and emotions when millions of miles away from home.  There’s nothing I hate more than a book that glosses over science completely (unless it’s magic..of course!) so I really appreciated Shoemaker’s approach in The Last Dance.  The true emotion elicited by this book was reminiscent of reading “The War of the Worlds”…i.e..it totally could happen.

Set on the Aldrin, a space craft that shuttles people from Earth to the Mars colonies in 2083, The Last Dance untangles the very complicated story of Captain Nicolau Aames who is accused of treason and his loyal crew, accused of mutiny.

As Inspector General Park boards the Aldrin and conducts her investigation into Aames and his crew, she encounters the true complexity of space travel, the nuances of human interactions and the explosive political tensions between the Mars/Earth and Civilian/Military bureaucracy. 

Aames, by all accounts is an asshole.  But he is consistent, incredibly competent and exceptionally fair.  He’s also stubborn, arrogant and routinely pushes people to their breaking points.  His list of political enemies reaches from Earth to Mars.  His crew, however, is unswervingly loyal and exceptionally competent themselves, leaving Inspector General Park to dig for an unbiased truth from the testimonies of a crew who respects their captain and stands by him, even against accusations of mutiny and treason.  

The Last Dance was so much fun to read and I cannot wait book two: The Last Campaign.

5 Stars because I love retro sci-fi.  🙂

Until next time, happy reading friends.

-R