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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

Juanita McMahon, Sarah Waters
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
Jeff Guinn
Progress: 34 %
A Golden Age
Tahmima Anam
Progress: 77/276 pages
Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Progress: 249/311 pages
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson, Bernadette Dunne
Progress: 16 %

Battle Bunny ★★★★★ (edited)

Battle Bunny - Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Matthew Myers

I don’t remember where I saw the recommendation for this book, but thank you, unknown book reviewer, for introducing me to this stinkin’ adorable, yet subversive, little children’s book.


The book is presented as a sickly sweet kiddie book about a birthday bunny who wanders sadly around the forest, meeting various friends who don’t seem to care that it’s his birthday, until *surprise* they have a party for him and HEA. Except that Alex has no use for this gift book from Grandma, and he “improves” it with his own story, turning Birthday Bunny into Battle Bunny and his birthday quest into an evil plan for world destruction that must be foiled by… superhero Alex!


I so want to get this for my little great-nephew, but am unsure when it would be age-appropriate for him, as it clearly requires a kid old enough to get the joke. The cover indicates ages 5-9 and he just started kindergarten, so... maybe for his next birthday?


EDIT: It was Kaethe who introduced me to this wonderful book, as she has so many others that I've added to my great-nephew (and now great-niece)'s library. Thank you!

The Road to Jonestown: 34%

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple - Jeff Guinn

Jones still believed in the virtues of Socialism and was dedicated to lifting up the oppressed, but he would no longer have the capacity to learn from mistakes, because he didn't believe that, as a superior incarnation, he could make any. In the future, anything that didn't work exactly according to Jones' desires would be the fault of flawed followers or implacable enemies, and with each passing day, Jones became more convinced that he had enemies everywhere.


And here's where he tips over the edge, from simply building an empire in service of his ideological goals, to becoming God himself. And while many of his closest followers don't believe in his divinity, they are still willing to look the other way, because they have completely bought into situational ethics, where the ends justify the means. Who cares if their leader is an amoral lunatic who is presenting himself as infallible God and sees enemies everywhere, if he can help achieve your ideological goals? 


The Road to Jonestown 21%

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple - Jeff Guinn

At this point, Jones couldn't name specific opponents, because as yet, he had none besides America's capitalist economy and general social system. No organizations in Indianapolis, or anywhere else, had attacked Jones and People's Temple. They weren't yet prominent enough. But, while he waited for Father Divine to die, Jim Jones changed that, taking steps to raise his public profile in ways that were bound to attract strenuous opposition. He'd learned well from Father Divine that having enemies, real or imagined, was invaluable in recruiting and retaining followers. 


Just imagine what Jim Jones could have become in the era of Twitter and other social media platforms. 

The Dead Zone ★★★★☆

The Dead Zone - Stephen King

Random thoughts about this book:

  • It’s very dated, but in a way that’s amusing and a little thought-provoking. The inner thoughts of a man on hold, at a time when the telephone “hold” function was new and before the now-ubiquitous hold music or recorded messages, when being put on hold was like a little death: “The line was darkly, smoothly, blank. You were nowhere. Why didn’t they just say, ‘Will you hold on while I bury you alive for a little while?’”
  • As per King’s usual, the romantic relationship with the main character is awkward and unconvincing, as was their weird little sexual interlude.
  • But his portrayal of religious fanaticism *is* convincing, especially in this book, where he treats it with some sympathy rather than just as a motivation for evil deeds and rude behavior. He is savage with those who exploit the believers’ needs for relief of pain and grief, all for a price, of course.
  • Oh, and Greg Stillson. Chilling description of a power-hungry sociopath who wears the mask of respectability and presents himself as a hard-hatted, patriotically flag-draped champion of the working class, promising jobs and security, while employing thugs as “security” and “campaign managers” to pave the way forward through nefarious means. King seems to have been prescient. For who would have seriously thought that a populist buffoon like that could actually rise to national power in a democratic America?


Overall, it’s not the great book that I remember reading as a young teen, but it’s entertaining and it still has some very relevant things to say about the danger of allowing our pain and fear and need cloud our judgement so much that we make ourselves vulnerable to those who would use us to enrich or empower themselves.


Audiobook, via Audible. James Franco’s performance grew on me a little, but not all talented actors make great audiobook narrators. Few characters had a distinct voice, and his New England Yankee characters had oddly Southern accents.  


Previous Updates:

5/7/17 5%  http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1560788/the-dead-zone-progress-5


The Road to Jonestown: 20%

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple - Jeff Guinn

But now there were occasional healings during community services. These were less flamboyant than those that Jones performed at revivals. No one lame was commanded to walk, but there was a new type of drama. Jones began miraculously removing cancers. A strict protocol was observed. Jones would name the afflicted person, then designate someone else to escort him or her to the bathroom. Both were in on the act. When they were in the restroom, Jones promised, he'd invoke his power from the pulpit. The afflicted one would "pass" the cancerous mass, which was retrieved by the other person. After a few minutes, they would return to the main room, with the assistant Jones had designated brandishing a bloody, foul smelling lump clutched in a white cloth or napkin. Jones would declare that here was the cancer, look at it, but not too closely, because it was terribly infectious.


I just cannot conceive how any adult could be so gullible as to fall for this. Guinn explicitly states that a number of Jones' followers were perfectly aware that these were faked, but were willing to look the other way, because they felt their ideologies of racial equality or socialism could be realized with Jones as leader, so a little scamming and lying were acceptable in the service of the end goal. Obviously, he had to have followers who were complicit, as they assisted in the show. But many others actually believed that Jones was actually using the power of God to heal the sick. 

A Golden Age: 77/276 pages

A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam

Rehana often wondered if she could help loving one child better. She had a blunt, tired love for her daughter. It was full of effort. Sohail was her first-born, and so tender, and Maya was so hard, all sympathy worked out of her by the throaty chants of the street march, the pitch of the slogan. 


The Road to Jonestown: 16%.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple - Jeff Guinn

Marceline Jones was the first, but far from the last, person to decide that Jim Jones' programs and goals more than compensated for his personal flaws. 


It's a dangerous road to compromise your ethics when you decide that the ends will justify the means. It starts with looking the other way on shady behavior, but it may end with literally drinking the Kool Aid. 

A Golden Age: 34/276 pages

A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam

Sohail loved Bengal. He may have inherited his mother's love of Urdu poetry, but it was nothing to the love he had for all things Bengali: the swimming mud of the delta; the translucent, bony river fish; the shocking green palette of the paddy and the open, aching blue of the sky over flat land. 



Reading progress update: I've read 6%.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple - Jeff Guinn

Jimmy's two earliest and most enduring lessons from his mother were these: There was always some "them" out to get you, and "reality" was whatever you believed. 


Well. That sounds an awful lot like a current cult-like leader and his rabid followers. 

A Golden Age - progress 17/276 pg

A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam

They were not children anymore. She had to keep reminding herself of this fact. At nineteen and seventeen, they were almost grown up. She clung greedily to this almost, but she knew it would not last long, this hovering, flirting with adulthood. Already they were beings apart, fast on their way to shedding the fierce hungry mother-need. 


I'm glad I'm reading this in a bound version, because there are some descriptions that I'm already stopping to savor, but also because there is so much that I don't understand. I actually stopped reading for a bit while I did some internet searching on the Bangladesh War of Independence and on East Pakistan, of which I knew nothing whatsoever. So now I think I know enough to at least get a sense of the historical, political, and social issues that affect the human story, although I'm sure most of it will still go over my head.


This book is beginning as a sweet, sad story of a widowed mother who lost and recovered her children, but clearly it's about to descend into some real horrors. 


The Devil in Spring ★★★☆☆

Devil in Spring (Kleypas) - Lisa Kleypas

This book was a little disappointing, relative to the others in the series. I’m not sure why. The heroine was both strong and adorable, the hero was both strong and sensitive, and I was pleased that the story didn’t stop at the wedding, as so many stories do.




The heroine’s quirkiness seemed a little cloying. The hero’s willingness to adapt and accept strained my ability to suspend disbelief, even knowing that I have to exercise more determination in this area when I read in this genre. Maybe I’ve just had my fill of Romance (capital R) for now and need to spend some time away from the genre.


Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Once again, Mary Jane Wells provides an excellent performance.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer ★★★☆☆

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella - Fredrik Backman

What must it be like inside the mind of a person suffering from progressive dementia? We experience this from the MC’s POV, living and reliving his best memories as the space around him shrinks. Events and timelines are fluid. We see, only dimly, the real people in his life react as he mixes them up with one another and with their past selves.


Although this was a very short book, it was a little difficult for me to stick with. I think it might have been better in a bound version rather than audio, although David Morse’s performance was really very good. It’s just that, with such a confusion of events and people and timelines, I didn’t have the ability to stop and ponder and try to make sense of things as we progressed through the story, so my mind tended to wander. I hope that isn’t a preview to my own aging experience.

A Golden Age - progress 7/276 pg

A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam

Dear Husband,

I lost our children today.


I really love a good opening sentence that grabs your attention and makes you want to find out more. 


HP's BL-opoly - 3rd Dice Roll; book choice

After giving it some thought, I decided to do a random number generator on my list of possible books for Adventureland 24 and pick the book with the lowest number. I came up with A Golden Age, which I picked up at a Friends of the Library sale and has been gathering dust on my bookshelf ever since. It looks interesting, but the reviews of it seem mixed. Fingers crossed!

A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam 

HP's BL-opoly - 3rd Dice Roll

This has been a very slow game for me! Partly because I'm determined to whittle down my physical TBR, which is mostly bound books, and partly because the start of baseball season has seriously cut into my reading time, even though my team unexpectedly sucks this year and is a real beating to watch.


So I'm just now on my third round of BL-opoly, and I have a lot of books to choose from off my physical TBR on this round.


Round 3 (May 11-?, 2017)

Dice Roll: 10

Square: Adventureland 24: Take the Jungle Cruise. Read a book set in Africa or Asia, or that has an exotic animal on the cover. 

Which book to choose? Hmmmm:


Exotic animals on the cover: (my copies do, anyway)


Congo - Michael Crichton  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum   In the Flesh - Clive Barker  


Set in Asia or Africa: 

Long for This World: A Novel - Sonya Chung  The Bookseller of Kabul - Åsne Seierstad,Ingrid Christopherson   Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri   A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam   Secret Daughter - Shilpi Somaya Gowda   Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary - Joseph Conrad   The Book of Salt - Monique Truong   Soul Flame - Barbara Wood   I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai   The Bonesetter's Daughter - Amy Tan   The Red Pyramid - Rick Riordan  



Round 2 (April 19-May 11, 2017)

Dice Roll: 7

Square: Additional Task 15: Read a book where someone gets married, with jewelry on the cover, or where any character is a millionaire/billionaire!


Book Read: The Shuttle

Pages: 512

Payout: $5


Bank 5/11/17: $26


Round 1 (April 17, 2017)

Dice Roll: 9

Square: Fantasyland 9 King Arthur’s Carrousel

(Read a book that is tagged Genre: Fantasy or Fairy Tale on GR


Book Read: Dream Weaver

Pages: 80

Payout: $1


Bank 4/17/17: $21



Bank 4/17/17:  $20




The Shuttle ★★★★☆

The Shuttle - Frances Hodgson Burnett

The best part of this book was the story of a smart and determined young woman who travels overseas to rescue her sister from the husband who broke her spirit with deliberate, methodical cruelty. The best (and most surprising) writing in this book is the examination of his cruelty and exposure of the methods of psychological warfare that are used to subjugate one’s partner. It was surprising, because this novel was written in the first decade of the 20th century, long before terms such as “gaslighting” were in common use. I believe the author was exorcising some demons from her own life, as it was written during her turbulent second marriage, to a man who reportedly was very controlling and attempted to wrest control of her own independent wealth.


I enjoyed the writing. It is endlessly quotable. 


But this novel is not perfect. It has all the challenges of reading 100+ year old literature, the narrative wanders all over the place, it contains some very odd themes with its love-fest of capitalism and comparisons of American industrialist energy to waning English aristocracy, and the last quarter of the story devolves into standard bullshit Romance tropes.


Nevertheless, I enjoyed it very much.


I read this for the 2017 Booklikes-opoly game, for square 15: “Additional Task: Read a book where someone gets married, with jewelry on the cover, or where any character is a millionaire/billionaire!” The story, on its surface, is of multimillionaire American heiresses of a business empire who marry into impoverished English aristocracy.


Previous Updates:

4/19/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1554280/hp-s-bl-opoly-2nd-dice-roll

4/21/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1554882/the-shuttle-progress-41-512-pg

4/21/17 - page 53 10.35% "It just occurred to me that the author started work on this book during her very short and apparently turbulent second marriage, to a man who reportedly was very controlling and attempted to take her money, which she had earned with her writing."

4/21/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1554986/the-shuttle-progress-53-512-pg

4/22/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1555085/the-shuttle-progress-99-512-pg

4/28/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1558460/the-shuttle-progress-176-512-pg

4/29/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1558785/the-shuttle-progress-242-512-pg

4/30/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1558977/the-shuttle-progress-272-512-pg

4/30/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1558994/the-shuttle-progress-277-512-pg

4/30/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1559001/the-shuttle-progress-280-512-pg

5/8/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1561332/the-shuttle-progress-298-512-pg

5/9/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1561502/the-shuttle-progress-303-512-pg

5/9/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1561506/the-shuttle-progress-304-512-pg

5/9/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1561566/the-shuttle-progress-350-512-pg

5/11/17 - http://sheric.booklikes.com/post/1561965/the-shuttle-progress-433-512-pg