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Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

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With a very important U.S. Presidential election on the horizon, I decided to read this book to give me some insight on a man of which I really had no opinion four years ago when he was elected to the Office of The President of the United States of America. Shame on me for not taking the time to learn as much as I could about him then. I will not make that mistake twice! It is a privilege to vote for the leader of the most powerful country in the world and those who have earned that right (either through reaching the legal age or through acquiring legal U.S. Citizenship) should never make excuses to not spend some time learning as much as possible about both candidates, not just blindly following the one they “think” feels the same way they do about issues. I personally know many voters of all ages who derive their entire political belief system based on bumper stickers, slogans and by surrounding themselves with people who believe the same as they do, which is at the very least, irresponsible.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is fairly well-written (though a sometimes the author would seem to drift off in to explaining in minute detail of something fairly insignificant or replaying a long conversation word-for-word which became a bit tedious for me). The story he is telling is an interesting story and it is easy to feel the emotions he is trying to convey.

I do need to point out that this book was originally published in 1995 and that was the version I read. It has been noted that the updated 2004 version has some key differences and I will point those differences out in this review. They are important because they are very telling when trying to understand why the author does what he does when dealing with conflict. A note to those planning on reading this book: the 1995 version is the original version with the bio stating that the author, Barack H. Obama, being born in Kenya and has some shocking observations by the author. The 2004 version has removed those statements and parts of the book and made the story more “politically correct”. So take care in choosing the edition, there is a difference.

The story is an autobiography about an (at the time) unknown man who was born to an interracial couple in 1960. His father was an African national, from a village in Kenya, his mother a career college student from the midwestern U.S. Autobiographies are very useful means to learn from the author’s experiences. Autobiographies by authors that were highly successful in their lives, or had a major impact on history, can provide information revealing as many of the valuable lessons the author has learned and recorded for the benefit of the reader. Autobiographies also reveal how authors think and this was the part of the book that took it from a story about a boy growing up in the 60’s who is struggling with himself on how to “fit in” as a biracial person to a fervent advocate for the real and perceived injustices suffered by blacks in that era.

The author interprets every experience and thing he knows of in terms of liberal sociological and psychological teachings. It comes through, often seemingly illogically, in his interpretation of every experience and thing he acquires knowledge of on almost every page of the book.

At the end of his Columbia University days, he decided to become a community organizer (or social activist). The author had previously transferred from Occidental College (Oxy) to Columbia University in New York city since most blacks at Oxy wanted to get along with and be successful in the mainstream and were not interested in social activism. He viewed Columbia as being “in heart of a true city, with black neighborhoods in close proximity.” Oxy is located near Pasadena, a highly enviable and pristine town near Los Angeles, noted for its prosperity and resistance to crack-pot ideas and politics (from what this reviewer knows of that town). The author describes the Oxy environment as being similar to Hawaii, “The students were friendly, the teachers encouraging,” and the author labels any such behaving blacks as “compromise.”

While at Oxy, he preferred to associate with: “The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.” And the author appeared to be diligent about being as alien and uncivil in society as he could be with this group of clones of his maternal grandfather.

The harsh and bleak realities of portions of New York City that he stayed in and visited while at Columbia compel the author to cease using drugs and practicing other related dissipations that he indulged in while at Oxy. In other words, he fits very comfortably into the harsh and bleak areas of the NYC environment, but could not tolerate the relatively plush, prosperous, and pristine Pasadena environment. This attitude appears to this reviewer as being a very familiar symptom of firm blessed-be-the-poor type beliefs, whose roots comes from the Roman Catholic Church, which is the mother of socialism (minus the church’s assorted deities).

The author has little else to say about his Junior and Senior years at Columbia. The highlight of his stay at Columbia is a visit from his mother and his sister, to check up on him and to show her daughter all the sights to see in the city as well as other locations in the continental US.

After college, he became a research assistant in a consulting house to multinational corporations — with the intent of staying only long enough to pay off his college expenses. He described himself as “spy behind enemy lines,” still in the mind-set of an hostile alien. He was the envy of the other black employees at that firm and they were proud of him but disparaged of his plans to become a community organizer. After he was promoted to financial writer, he left the company (and it leaves him in excellent financial condition) to pursue his community organizer interests. His initial community organizer work proves to be unprofitable (and leaves him in poor financial condition).

Then he interviewed with a Chicago based community organizer (highlighting that he looked very out-of-shape and unkempt, and was Jewish). The community organizer asked him, “Hmmph.”…”You must be angry about something.” The author replied: “What do you mean by that?” The community organizer answered: “I don’t know what exactly. But something. Don’t get me wrong — anger’s a requirement for the job. The only reason anybody decides to become an organizer. Well adjusted people find more relaxing work.” So this preferred career choice showed that the author had developed a large measure of anger about race.

(For those who might not know, a community organizer is a person who basically goes into a community of lower income people and points out problems that they should be angry about and incites them to do something about it. At the same time, he lamented that Africans didn’t know they were poor until “whites” arrived and showed them all of the things they were missing out on.)

His dad (Barack Obama, Sr.) was from Kenya. His dad was resourceful and intelligent enough to get a scholarship to attend college in Hawaii. That is where he met Obama Jr.’s white mother (Ann Dunham). He digressed to describe her parents (Stanley (family familiar: “Gramps”) and Madelyn (family familiar: “Toot”) Dunham) and their backgrounds. It is his white grandparents who perform a major portion of the author’s upbringing (the cover photographs show that author bears a striking resemblance to his white maternal grandfather – the text makes no mention of this). His white grandfather always preferred the company of blacks as he was something of a wild rebel and simply did not fit into main (white) society. This likely influenced his daughter’s decision to marry Barack Obama Sr.. His daughter’s marriage only lasted a short while. Barack Obama Sr. Received a scholarship to do graduate work at Harvard, so he left the his son at about age two and his mother in Hawaii with the grandparents and went to Harvard. He turned downed a more generous financial offer from another university in New York city that would have allowed the entire family to go there but he preferred the prestige of Harvard – despite its less generous financial offer. So he went to Harvard by himself.

Meanwhile, Stanley Dunham received a long and harsh letter from Obama Sr.’s severe father (Hussein Onyango) denouncing the marriage and it became apparent to her from the other contents of the letter that Barack Obama Sr. was still legally (or by local tradition) married to his first Kenyan wife and so she divorced him since she did not approve of polygamy. Before the marriage, Barack Obama Sr. had told Ann Dunham that he had separated from his first Kenyan wife that he had been married in a traditional village marriage. The narrative later explains that polygamy is a Kenyan tradition (ditto the rest of sub Saharan Africa) and when a Kenyan marriage ends, the children go to the father, if he wants them. African traditions are like laws and are treated as having more authority than civil laws (the book does not discuss this matter but you cannot miss it if you know any Africans or have visited the continent). Hussein Onyango was vehemently opposed to that marriage since he had become very familiar with western culture (he had immersed himself in it when the British showed up in order to learn their ways and to learn how to defeat them) and knew that no white woman would put up with a polygamous African husband. His long and harsh letter to Stanley Dunham effectively torpedoed his daughter’s marriage to Barack Obama Sr. once she had read it.

After Harvard, Barack Obama Sr. went back to Kenya with his next American white wife (Ruth, 2 children) while still married to the first Kenyan wife (2 children). He worked for the local Shell oil division and then used his connections to get a government job in the Ministry of Tourism. It lasted until his well known imperious manner got him into trouble with Jomo Kenyatta himself. He had to scrape by on handouts until Kenyatta died and then he got another government job in the Ministry of Finance. Meanwhile, he routinely became drunk so that his third wife Ruth left him after his first DUI car accident that killed the other driver (a white farmer). The author only saw him for a few days while he was living in Hawaii (when his dad came to stay to recover from his first major auto wreck). He then had a young fourth wife (1 child). Later his dad got killed in his final auto wreck.

This missing dad later motivates the author to search out information about him since he was never really raised by him at all and only sent him a number of short general type letters. His dad was spread too thin from one continent to another, one wife and the children by her (not “her children” according to Kenyan tradition), and with other wives and the children by them. Therefore, he ended up not being an effective real-time dad to any of the children he fathered. Only one of the author’s male Kenyan relatives realizes that polygamy simply does not work. The author was somewhat shattered by what he found out from his relatives in Kenya about his father.

The author’s mother married an Indonesian student (Lolo) after divorcing Barack Obama, Sr. and moved to Indonesia with the author. His step-father fathered his half-sister Maya. The author’s step-father took a genuine interest in his development and upbringing, teaching him how to survive and cope in a hazardous, corrupt, and wretched society. This training appears to be the basis of the author’s unrivalled political skills. This marriage lasts until the author’s mother decided that this husband was too cooperative with that country’s corrupting practices to get by (her impractical idealism clashed badly with his practical reality methods) and did not like how the author was being treated in the local schools (since Asians are intolerant of racial differences). The author’s step-father tried hard to provide for and shelter his family — at a level far above the norm for Indonesian society, but the author’s mother resented it all since none of this conformed to her ideals of absolute ideological perfection. One can afford to have these ideas, courtesy of a rule-of-law society, such as in the US, whether these impractical ideas work or not, anywhere at all — but not in a social Darwinist type society, such as Indonesia, where no one can survive on the ideals of absolute ideological perfection. So in the end, ideological incorrectness ended the marriage. The author labels his step father as a compromiser, despite all the survival skills he taught him that he very effectively uses for politics.

On the other hand, the author’s mother was, to some degree, justified to object to the corrupt practices present in Indonesian society since that is what make a third world country a third world country. This reviewer has encountered a number of people from the third world who were raised on social Darwinist principles. They always look only after themselves, they will take advantage of you every time you have to work with them, they take credit for your work, they hide information you need – even if you have requested it, they walk all over you, they make you appear to be useless, and in the end – they cause you to be booted out.

Obama’s mother then took her children back to Hawaii (when he was about 10 years old) to have their grandparents raise them while she was working on yet another degree and then divorced Lolo. That’s right, her work as a perpetual student was more important than than raising her children. Sound familiar? The Dunhams seem to have been already immersed in the lower end of the self-serving, self-righteous, and all about-me social behavior.

Back in Hawaii, his maternal grandfather’s boss used his alumni connections to get the author admitted to Punahou, an expensive private secondary school in Hawaii. Obama completed grades 5 to 12 at Punahou. A notable incident there was a white high-school friend’s discomfort at an all-black party that made the author feel as if he was regarded as societal alien by all whites and this angered him very intensely. This incident appears to stir up his festering anger about race.

Later, his grandmother insists on being driven to work on a day following an incident where a black man had harassed her at the bus stop. This incident cements his anger about race.

The book even explains how he developed his renown smooth-saying abilities (from pages 94-95 of the 1995 Three Rivers Press and Crown Publishers paperback versions):

“…and one day she” (referring to his mother) “had marched into my room, wanting to know the details of Pablo’s arrest. I had given her a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry, I wouldn’t do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied, they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”

So there lies the explanation for Obama’s smooth-saying: an effective tactic, that uses a courteous demeanor and reassuring smile to beguile people into being satisfied with whatever he was saying (while hiding his anger). Moreover, he explains that is also an effective means to deceive (trick) people. This also explains why he manages the amazing feat of continuing to maintain his associations with radicals of all types while maintaining his popular appeal to the mainstream (it looks like the step-father Lolo taught survival skills very well).

Those two pages of the 1995 autobiography grabbed this reviewer’s attention more than any other portion of the book since they explain so very much about this author.

As for rating the book, it is fairly well written and detailed, and provides excellent insights into the author’s thinking and experiences (a 5 rating). However, what it reveals is very negative and the book drones on and on throughout with the author preaching his dogmas and all of this makes the book a very unpleasant read, but it was a valuable experience (a 1 to 2 rating). So I gave it an average 3 rating overall. The narrative does not flow chronologically and the account needs to be pieced together as in the manner of solving a puzzle. That is a common literary style and I did not use that for the rating. Anyone that carried out their “civic duty to vote” in November 2008 ar any other time in the future should read or have read this book beforehand no matter how pleasant or unpleasant they may find it to read. It will be a basis for a much more informed experience than all of the useless noise emanating from all of the political campaigns.

 

 

 

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The Amateur by Edward Klein

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Think you know the real Barack Obama? You don’t—not until you’ve read The Amateur

In this stunning exposé, bestselling author Edward Klein—a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, former foreign editor of Newsweek, and former editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine—pulls back the curtain on one of the most secretive White Houses in history. He reveals a callow, thin-skinned, arrogant president with messianic dreams of grandeur supported by a cast of true-believers, all of them united by leftist politics and an amateurish understanding of executive leadership.

In The Amateur you’ll discover:

  • Why the so-called “centrist” Obama is actually in revolt against the values of the society he was elected to lead
  • Why Bill Clinton loathes Barack Obama and tried to get Hillary to run against him in 2012
  • The spiteful rivalry between Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey
  • How Obama split the Kennedy family
  • How Obama has taken more of a personal role in making foreign policy than any president since Richard Nixon—with disastrous results
  • How Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett are the real powers behind the White House throne

The Amateur is a reporter’s book, buttressed by nearly 200 interviews, many of them with the insiders who know Obama best. The result is the most important political book of the year. You will never look at Barack Obama the same way again.

From a booklover, those who think Obama walks on water and have their minds made up will not like this book. Those who think Obama is the devil will love it, but have probably heard all the stories already anyway. For those who fall in between, I think the book is worth reading. Yes, it’s slanted, but if you read beyond that you’ll come away with some insights into this president and his administration. The first chapters are the most incendiary and the least informative since they rehash old stuff. But the second half gets into some behind the scenes stuff that’s worth knowing. What disturbs me most is how far in over his head Obama is and how he surrounds himself with people who feed his ego and/or protect him rather than providing him with a broad understanding of the issues. He is a politician not a leader and I find that both sad and frightening.

The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis by Elle Thorton

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 The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. The author writes with such a tranquil voice, even when discussing the difficult subject of racism and civil rights in the south in 1957.

Gabriella Winter, the daughter of a U.S. Marine general and a mentally ill and absent mother, is 12 years old in the summer of 1957. One day, she spies a young black man behind the river of her house. When he appears later in her house, she is shocked to learn that her father has hired him to be the steward of their household. Hawkins is his name and they become fast friends. Hawkins, in his gentle and respectful way, teaches Gabriella how to swim, how to be brave and eventually, how to love.

Written in the voice of a 12 year old southern girl, the words flow beautifully across the pages, painting a picture that feels hazy and soft and a bit sad. Thought Gabriella is a strong, sweet girl, it is easy to feel her confusion over racial tensions and her mother’s absence while she is trying to grow from a girl into a young woman.

This is a wonderful book for ages 9 and up and I would highly recommend it as a gentle way of teaching civil rights history from the viewpoint of a young girl.

 

 

 

Wool by Hugh Howey

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I stumbled across this strange tale on Amazon a few months ago.  Though I’ve never considered myself a “sci-fi” fan, I’ve always enjoyed well-told tales.  So, I thought I’d give this short story with the strange name “Wool” a shot.  What did I have to lose?

Apparently a lot!  That is, if I hadn’t decided to read it.  I honestly think that Wool will undoubtably be one of those books that become a science fiction classic.  Not only is the story excellent, it’s one of those rare self-published books that aren’t full of spelling and grammatical errors, which I find hugely distracting.

“Wool is an ongoing series of science fiction novels by novelist Hugh Howey. Howey began the series in 2011, initially as a stand-alone short story. Released through his own self-publishing efforts, Wool rapidly began to develop a passionate following of fans eager for the next chapter in the saga and as of April 8th, 2012 rates #1 in Amazon.com‘s Kindle Science Fiction & Fantasy Anthologies and High Tech[1]. The series now consists of six novellas:

  • Wool (Jul 30, 2011)
  • Wool 2 – Proper Gauge (Nov 30, 2011)
  • Wool 3 – Casting off (Dec 11, 2011)
  • Wool 4 – The Unraveling (Dec 26, 2011)
  • Wool 5 – The Stranded (Jan 25, 2012)
  • Wool 6 – First shift (Apr 14, 2012)

The series was also released as “Wool Omibus” which includes all 6 novellas in the series.

The story of Wool takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Humanity clings to survival in the Silo, a subterranean city extending hundreds of stories beneath the surface. There is one paramount law within the Silo: never say you want to go outside, for if you do, you will get your wish.  To go outside is a death wish; anyone who has left the silo has never returned.

It all started one hundred and fifty years ago when there was an uprising.  The survivors now live their lives in the silos and have only heard stories passed down through generations about life outside, where the sky is rumored to be blue, not gray; the grass is rumored to be green, not brown. The only way to see the outside is through cameras that have been placed all around the exterior of the silo over a hundred years ago.  The cameras project real-time images onto screens inside and are very much valued by the silo citizens. The world they show is one of destruction and despair – brown, dusty, ruined, colorless and lifeless but everyone wants to see just the same.

The trouble with the cameras comes with the air outside which toxic and filthy that over the course of several months, the lenses become dirtier and dirtier until the view is completely obscured.  Someone has to clean the lenses for the good of everyone.  But who will do it?

After losing his wife Allison to cleaning three years before, Sheriff Holston has uttered the fateful phase “I want to go outside” thus “volunteering” to leave the safety of the silo and go outside to clean the lenses.  Since Allison died, Holston has been tormented with the unanswered question:  Why motivates the condemned to follow through with the cleaning?  Why don’t they just run away or refuse to clean the lenses?  What makes them want to help the very people who sent them to their death?

Hugh C. Howey spent 8 years working as a yacht captain. When he was pulled away from the sea by the love of his life, he turned to his childhood dream of becoming an author. His Molly Fyde series has won praise from reviewers, and now his Wool series has become a #1 bestseller, with Random House publishing in the UK and Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian securing the film rights. He lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Amber and their dog Bella.

2012, USA, Broad Reach Publishing ISBN 1469984202, Pub date 25 January 2012, paperback and ebook, 548 pages.  Kindle Edition, 1st Edition, 70 pages.

 

 

 

The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt

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“The jogger ran north along the water’s edge, the sand heavy underfoot after the night’s rain. At the promontory he turned and headed back down the beach. In the distance he saw a figure walking towards him. Suddenly the person stumbled and fell, then just lay there not moving. Feeling uneasy, he ran forward.

‘Are you all right?’

The face that turned towards him was expressionless, the eyes cold.

For the jogger, time seemed to stand still. Deep down inside him something came alive, something he had tried to bury for years.

Then he saw the muzzle of the gun. It was pointed straight at him. He sank to his knees; everything in his mind went still.”

When I read this paragraph from the The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt,  I immediately began to picture myself on the Swedish island of Gotska Sandön, the most isolated island in the Baltic sea.  It is impossible not to be immediately drawn in to the story and while it is not  fast-paced, it is alive with suspense and mystery.  Jungstedt takes time to develop the relationships between the characters and is descriptive without being too wordy.  This is important to those who may be reading this book out of sequence as it is easy to catch up on the earlier back-stories of the characters so the story makes more sense.

The story starts off with carpenter, Peter Bovide, who is camping with his wife and two young children, taking a run along the beach in the early morning fog.  In the distance, he sees a stranger who appears to be in need of help, but when Peter approaches, he is shot in the head and several times in the stomach.  Anders Knutas, the Detective Superintendent of the local police department is on vacation so the crime scene is secured by his deputy, Karin Jacobsson.  Jacobsson is new to the position and is excited to lead such an important investigation but her joy is short-lived as Knutas abruptly cuts short his vacation and returns to the island.

The investigators, along with news reporter, Johan Berg, slowly begin to work their way through interview after interview of the victims family, friends and co-workers and it isn’t until another murder takes place that the motives begin to become clear.

While the book is well-written, some of the clues to solving the crime were a bit too obvious, however the plot was tight, flowed well and was logical.  Sometimes, the characters behaved a bit unprofessionally and maybe a bit unbelievable.  For example, I cannot imagine a detective going to confront a murder suspect without a weapon AND turning his cell phone off (or alone, for that matter).  I’ve noticed the lack of carrying a service weapon quite often in Scandinavian crime novels and I’m not certain if this is, in fact, the case or if the writers haven’t researched the actual police procedures.  It just comes across as a bit strange to readers in countries where the police are well-trained, well-armed and have strict investigation techniques.

There was an interesting (but timely) side story that touch lightly on the issue of foreign workers in Sweden.  Some of the attitudes sounded familiar and I found it interesting how many similarities between two seemingly very different cultures.  It also paints a very different side of Sweden, one that might be shocking to people who have not visited or are not knowledgeable about the Swedish culture.

The translation from Swedish to English was very good, though a lot of British-English phrases were used despite the translator being American.  Translated books often have a special charm and sometimes the sentences may come across as child-like and the sentence structure a bit awkward at times.  This doesn’t deter from the story itself, but is something to be aware of if the reader does not often read books translated from another language.

Swedish crime thriller author Mari Junstedt is is the author of the exciting & suspenseful  crime series featuring police detective Anders Knutas.  Since the 2003 release of Unseen (Den du inte ser), the first novel in the series, she has been recognized as part of the élite group of Swedish crime writers.  The Dead of Summer is the fifth book in Jungstedt’s Gotland crime series.

Translated by: Tiina Nunnally

Published by: Stockholm Text Publishing AB

Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 9789187173202

Imprint: Stockholm Tex Publishing AB

 

The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

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The Gingerbread House

 The Gingerbread House 


by Carin Gerhardsen and Stockholm Text

If you like thrillers, mystery and being completely surprised at the end of the story, I think you will love The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen.  Gerhardsen skillfully crafted a thriller with a bizarre lot,a dark & dreary setting, with interesting and likable characters and managed to carry over the suspense when her book Pepparkakshuset (in Swedish) was skillfully translated by Paul Norlen into English.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it.  Gerhardsen  has a writing style similar to some of my other favorite Scandinavian writers, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbø and Åsa Larsson  I read The Gingerbread House while on vacation at the beach, a setting that couldn’t be further from the cold, dark Stockholm in winter, where this story takes place, but it was easy for me to immediately become absorbed in the story.

The Gingerbread House is the first in a series called The Hammarby Series, based around Detective Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his team solving cruel and brutal murders in the southern parts of Stockholm.   This evocative story explores schoolyard bullying among young children and the effect it has on them when people look the other way. Many of the scenes in this book are based on Gerhardsen’s own childhood, it is obvious with the depth & range of emotions and attention to detail.  She paints a picture in an urban setting with strong portraits of authentic characters crafted in-depth and detail, ensuring the books will linger in the reader’s mind long after they finish reading it.  I found this true!  My Swedish isn’t good enough to read the rest of the books in this series, so I will be waiting (im)patiently for the English translations.

The story starts out with a fairy-tale like description of a preschool just south of Stockholm. A stately building surrounded by tall pines, round corners and white posts making it sound like a wonderful place for young children to spend their days.  Gerhardsen goes on to describe a lively group of children bursting out of the doors, all bundled up in colorful winter gear, full of energy after a day of preschool and now on their way home.  Most of the children go running off to their homes. A few, however, linger behind, one of them being 6-year-old Thomas Karlsson, who quickly becomes the target for a brutal beating, even by preschooler-aged children standards and so begins the story.

40-ish years later, a chance encounter on a train brings Thomas Karlsson face-to-face with the lead bully all those years ago, “King Hans” as the children used to call him.  While Thomas lives in a dim, cramped room, all alone with no family, no friends, he can see that Hans appears to be healthy, strong and happy.  On a whim and without really even knowing why, Thomas decides to secretly follow Hans home. The next day, Hans is found murdered, head bashed in and his life over in a matter of minutes. Then follows a string of what seems to be unrelated murders of people in their forties.

The book switches between a number of characters: the murderer, the chief inspector, a detective, and at times, we are given an insight into the victims but it wasn’t at all confusing. I really understood the different perspectives of each character.  Each character has their own storyline going, but each story blends in to the main storyline quite well.  The book was exciting, just when I thought I had it figured out – I’d turn the page and couldn’t be more wrong!

I’ve been a huge fan of “Nordic Noir” as it’s been called since long before the whole “Stieg Larsson” craze (which I loved, by the way).  The Gingerbread House, is in fact, published by the same publisher & edited by the same team that produced “The Millenium Trilogy” with the wonderful Lisbeth Salander.  There’s just something about the Swedish culture that lends itself to taking what could be your run-of-the-mill mystery/thriller and turning it into something dark, mysterious and thrilling.  If you’re like me, a fan of mystery, thrillers and intrigue but like that little “extra something Scandinavian” thrown in, I think you will really enjoy this book.  Put it on your “must read” list, you won’t regret it!

Thanks to Netgalley and Stockholm Text for sharing the galley with me to read.

The Academie by Amy Joy

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The Academie – Amy Joy

Remember that dream you had about suddenly finding yourself back in high school? All the tests you have to take that you didn’t get a chance to study for, not knowing where any of your classes are or any of your classmates? Welcome to The Academie, your nightmare has become your reality. In a near-future world, all people under the age of 23 are required by law to enter The Academie – A prison-like facility that claims to educate the nation’s youth and turn them into responsible, compliant, upstanding citizens. This change makes high schools (and their teachers) obsolete. Universities and their professors are quickly following, their students forced into The Academie. Allie Thompson was a happy sophomore in college when she found herself back in her old high school, living in a dorm room with a girl she didn’t know (and who apparently didn’t like her), in classes far below her level and knowing that she was stuck there for the next three years. She had seen the change her younger brother had gone through a year before when he entered, going from a normal high school student to an unfeeling, seemingly brainwashed model Academie student.

Slowly, she begins to see the cracks in The Academie walls and tries to share her bizarre experiences with her new circle of friends, her brother and her boyfriend, who all slowly admit similar observations. Suddenly, her life turned upside down as the horrifying truth revealed. The truth of what The Academie really is and what its plans for their future.

Learn more about the Academie Series and author Amy Joy at: The Academie Series

The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos

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The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos.  Published by Grove/Atlantic and The Mysterious Press.

Imagine a group of best friends planning a yearly get-together to play golf, hang-out, no wives, no kids.  Just old friends from college, each going their own way after graduation but finding their way back to each other once a year to reconnect.

Evan is a successful lawyer.  Will a struggling music producer.  Jeffrey is a dot.com millionaire and Nolan is an up and coming state Senator.  Things are looking up for all four:  Will and Jeffrey are married and expecting their first children, Evan is on the verge of a huge promotion and Nolan is working his way from state Senator to Washington D.C.  Good, stable men with degrees from an Ivy League school, making their dent in the world.

Now imagine stopping at a convenience store to grab a quick snack.  Jeffrey goes inside while two wait in the car.  A few minutes later, he comes out pulling a girl by the arm and pushing her into the car.  They’ve all just unwittingly become involved in a kidnapping and robbery.  Suddenly that dent has become a crater and no-one knows why.  Not even the Jeffrey who seemingly has no reason to rob a convenience store, let alone kidnap someone.

As this suspenseful story unfolds, secrets revealed, past betrayals come to surface and lives are irrevocably changed.  This much-anticipated, fun, casual “guys weekend” has turned into a nightmare than none of them could have ever imagined.

Or, could they?  Jeffrey seems confused, dazed and completely unclear on what made him commit such a horrible crime.  As each hour passes, the group knows they are digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole they may never climb out of.  They see their futures crumbling in front of their eyes and feel helpless to stop it.

As the story winds its way through fond memories of their Princeton days to the casual drifting apart that comes with growing up to horror at what their friend has done, both to them and to the girl he kidnapped, the reader slowly realizes that nothing is as it seems.  Does the girl escape and turn them into the police?  Do they kill her to hide the crime?  Or does something happen that is so unexpected that takes the story from a good crime/thriller to one that will leave you shocked and strangely satisfied at the end?

I really enjoy thrillers and this one didn’t disappoint.  The characters were all believable, the plot solid and the ending definitely unexpected.  I’m always delighted to find new authors (or new-to-me) to read and Michael Kardos is definitely being added to my list.

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

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This Perfect Day – Ira Levin

   Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei

Led us to this perfect day.

      Marx, Wei, Wood and Christ,

   All but Wei were sacrificed.

       Wood, Wei, Christ and Marx,

              Gave us lovely schools and parks.

      Wei, Christ, Marx and Wood,

                                                          Made us humble, made us good.

This amazing book starts off with this eerie chant, which is taught to very young children in school.  The story is set in a seemingly perfect global society whose genesis is fuzzy.  The story is a strong character-driven one, a glimpse into the future of what could be if the government could “create” Utopia.  Uniformity is the defining feature; there is only one language and all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family”

The world is run by a super computer called UniComp, or Uni.  Uni is a metaphor for God (or a god-like being) and controls everything, perfectly.  Uni is the one who knows you best.  Uni knows what job you will be good at, if you’ll be married, if you’ll have children, how long you will live, where you will live, what you’ll eat, drink, do, think.  Uni takes care of everyone and everything.  Since Uni is father, the Members are all brothers and sisters and refer to one another in that way.  No decision is left up to you, no worries, no concerns.  And if you do question anything, you’ll soon forget your concerns as you will be given an extra “treatment” (which, unknown to the Members is some sort of transdermal injection that is a mix of tranquilizers, birth control, hormones, etc) and you will become satisfied and compliant immediately.  Every member on the planet is controlled by a combination of “treatments”, advisors, self-reporting or reporting of other Members and a silver bracelet every Member must wear and scan periodically throughout the day, so that Uni knows where you are at all times.  You eat at scheduled times (totalcakes and cokes, everyday, every meal).  You sleep when you’re told, watch TV when you’re told – in short, not a second of your day is left up to you.  If you display any deviant behavior, like going for a walk, another Member will report you, not out of malice, but concern and you will be drugged back into compliance.

Except ….. there are some Members who are immune to the “treatments”.  Their minds are not deadened.  These people are called “The Incurables” and are a source of mystery and fear by Members.  They live somewhere “over there” and are thought to be miserable creatures, animals almost.  It is told that they murder, steal, get sick, die, starve, etc.  They are portrayed in such a horrible way so that no-one will become too curious about them or their lifestyle (I feel a little North Korea vs The Rest of The World here).  But sometimes, these incurables live among The Family and slowly plot against Uni as is evidenced by the “Fight Uni” graffiti found sprinkled throughout the public places.

I found this book incredibly fascinating.  I know a few people to whom the idea of the government taking care of EVERYTHING sounds wonderful.  No worries!  No need for money because everything is given to you!  No issue of having to make a decision or choose, it’s already been done!  While that may sound nice, most haven’t thought of the consequences of such a world.  Everything must be balanced, where there is good, there must be bad, otherwise the good loses its meaning.  When all decisions are made for someone, without their input, that someone has lost all freedom.  Freedom to think, choose, plan.  And in the case of Uni and The Family, you have no choice at all.  When/where you’ll sleep, when/where you’ll play, when/what you’ll eat, when you’ll watch TV, when and if you will be allowed take part in any creative activities (art, music, writing, photography, etc), when you’ll have sex (once a week according to Uni).  If you’re permitted to have children, you’ll only be able to choose on of four names for a girl (Anna, Mary, Peace and Yin) or from four boys names (Bob, Jesus, Karl or Li).  Instead of a surname, Members are distinguished by a “nameber”, a neologism from “name” and “number”.

This book left me feeling a bit unnerved but well entertained.  This Perfect Day will definitely be one of those books I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, techno-thrillers, adventure, post-apocalyptic worlds and suspense.  Don’t let the sci-fi definition scare you off, this is not about aliens and intergalactic wars.  The characters are people living in a future society, an alternative history that might result from a combination of Marxism and a single World Government and possibly serving as a warning to anyone who would push for this type of society.  While promoting equality, plenty for all, peace and well-being, all socialistic/communistic societies have a nearly invisible, sometimes secret group who practice meritocracy.  This secret group enjoys luxuries far beyond what most of the common people could ever imagine.  In This Perfect Day, that group is called the programmers and you’ll have to read the book to find out where they fit in!

This Perfect Day is a heroic science fiction novel of a technocratic false-utopia.  Written by author Ira Levin and published by Open Road Media partnered with Pegasus Books.

Review for “The Last Free Cat” by Jon Blake

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The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake.  Published by    Albert Whitman   & Company

The Last Free cat is one of those books that once you start, you can’t put it down.  The story begins with a mother and  her teen daughter, Jade, arguing over a cat that Jade found in their back yard.  Seems innocent enough, right?  After all, how many parents around the world have at one time argued with their child over adding a pet to the family?  But this is where the “normal” part of the story ends and the book dives head-first into a bizarre world where cats are no longer a cute & cuddly house pet, but instead are desired by many but only owned by the very wealthy or are feared as vectors of the deadly cat-flu.  Because Jade and her mom are not wealthy, they are suddenly targets of everyone:  the government who regulates cat ownership and their neighbors and friends who are terrified of contracting cat-flu.  Suddenly, mom and daughter find themselves in hiding in their own home.  They know that one wrong move and their house will be invaded by Comprot, short for “Community Protection”.  Because, you see, in Jades world, owning a cat is very, very expensive.  And illegal, you can count on 10 years in prison for owning a non-registered cat.  And no-one questions this, it’s just the way it is.  The government has convinced its people that an unregistered cat will be diseased and give anyone who is near one the deadly cat-flu.   And if you, like Jade,  come across a cat with no collar and decide to keep it, your life suddenly becomes very, very difficult.

Your story might go something like this:  First, you meet a new friend, a homeless  kid named Kris that you don’t particularly like, but your mom seems to like him, so the next thing you know, he has a key to your house.  “For emergencies” you mom tells you.  You also have a a new cat, whom you name Feela and you have to trust that Kris is not going to turn you in.  And even more annoying, Feela seems to be totally at ease with Kris when it took you weeks of hard work just to get her to sit on your lap.  Then an unexpected tragedy hit and the next place you find yourself is on the run.  With a cat….and Kris.

There are tons of unexpected situations in this book, which made me enjoy it even more.   The ending was good, it tied things up without being too neat and perfect, maybe even leaving room for a sequel.  The characters in the book all have their own distinct personalities without sounding fake or “too much”.  And as you start on the journey with this little group, you’ll start to notice that while it seems like everything is normal, something feels a little “off”.  First the strange cat law.  Then the odd types of transportation, some of it familiar, some of it definitely not.  And gadgets that are far from what we’re used to but can imagine being commonplace in the future.

The author makes it work.  He really works hard at creating believable dialogue between Jane and Kris and then, later, Amelie and Raff.  He writes  in plenty of breathless adventurous, that aren’t too far-fetched to believe, these kids are pretty resourceful.  And they are determined to do what they feel is right, even if it means they work outside of the law enforcement who are on their tail for the second half of the book.

I think this is a story about a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, one I hope I never have to live in.  It’s about breaking rules when someone (or something) needs help, no matter what sacrifice you have to make,  It’s about being rebellious to get what you think is right.  It’s about discovering the truth for yourself, rather than having the government tell you what you should be doing/thinking/living, etc.  About how, if you have enough people who are strong in their beliefs and willing to carry them out, that good things can happen.

This book falls into the Young Adult category.  As a discerning parent, I would be comfortable recommending it to children ages 11 and up.  I have two sons who are young teens and they liked it very much and asked me to find more books by this author.

To find more of this outstanding author’s work, check out Jon Blake on Goodreads.  To find more exciting books published by Albert Whitman & Company, follow this link.