The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson; 2013; $26.00; 346 pages; Bloomsbury, New York; Fiction; 978-1-62040-028-9; purchased from Multnomah County Library Title Wave Used Bookstore; 12/11/14-12/15/14

Two people, two stories that interlock.  The story of Champ a young African American man in Northeast Portland and his mother,Grace.  Champ is going to Portland State University, dealing, trying to take care of his family and start his own family.  His mother is trying to stay clean, take care of her sons, do it on her own and deal with her ex who is attempting to gain sole custody of their sons.  Each chapter is a monologue from either Champ or Grace about what they are going through.


Did I enjoy it?  I was a little reluctant reading the first chapter but the story is so engaging and the characters are so well written that I was really drawn into the story.  The story is told in a vernacular that I was not familiar with but it was very easy to understand after a chapter or so.  This is a really engaging set in an area of the city that I am familiar with.  I will be strongly promoting this book next year when it is the Multnomah County Everybody Reads book.

What is with the title of the review?  Once I got into the story I was absolutely blown away by the story and totally engaged in the story.

it’s like going through the looking glass north of the 38th parallel

Somewhere Inside, One Sister’s Capti1vity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling; 2010; $26.99;322 pages; William Morrow, New York, NY; 978-0-06-20067-5; borrowed from Kirsten Leonard; 12/9/14-12/11/14

Laura Ling was shooting a documentary in Southern China about defectors from North Korea when she crossed a few feet into North Korea and was chased back into China by North Korean guards who arrested her and her translator and took them back to North Korea.  They were taken and held in custody in the capitol, where they were interrogated at length and it was strongly suggested by the interrogators what they say.  They were ultimately tried by the North Korean Supreme Court and sentenced to twelve years hard labor.  While Laura and Euna were being held as bargaining chips by the North Koreans Lisa Ling, Laura’s big sister and Laura’s husband were working furiously behind the scenes to get them released.  Lisa was using her contacts as a journalist and former panelist on The View to contact anyone she thought could help.  Laura’s boss, former Vice President Al Gore, was ready to go to North Korea to meet with the Great Leader to affect Laura and Euna’s release but the Koreans had another person in mind.  They hinted and hinted and beat around the bush until it became clear to Laura that the only emissary that the Koreans would accept was former President Bill Clinton.  Strangely enough, President Clinton is thought highly of by the North Korean government and people.  With the way cleared for President Clinton to travel to Korea and bring the women home only one obstacle remained.  That was Chelsea and Hilary Clinton helping learn to not smile and appear stoic anytime a camera was pointed his way while meeting with the Great Leader.


Did I enjoy it?  Yes, the sisters wrote alternating chapters detailing what they were doing at the same time on opposite sides of the world.  As both of them are journalist they are very talented writers.

What is with the title of the review?   After reading The Orphan Master’s Son and Nothing to Envy and this book I have become even more convinced that the Mad Hatter is really the Great Leader


Against Football, One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond; 2014; $22.95; 178 pages; Melville House, Brooklyn, NY; 796.332 A452a; 978-1-61219-415-8; Checked out from Multnomah County Library, Central; 12/9/14-12/9/14

Steve Almond, author of Rock and Roll Will Save Your Lifehas written a good argument about why football is not good for our society.  He points out the damage that is done to the brains of many young men from conclusion.  He also points out how the game subtly and not so subtly condones racism, homophobia and encourages dreams that will never come true.  He does not do so from a lofty perch as one who has always hated the game, he played as a young person, he was a sportswriter and he is a lifelong OAKLAND Raider fan.   He brings up many good points and shows how we have turned a child’s game into indentured servitude in college and a tax exempt business enterprise in the NFL.


Did I learn from it?  I definitely did, I learned even more about the damage done by concussions and some of the ways the game encourages bad behavior amongst all sections of society.

What is with the title of the review?  The book ALMOST convinced me to give up watching football, but I still enjoy watching the Beavers, Ducks and Chargers and the fun we have every year at our annual Super Bowl party.

Not unlike the Emperors New Clothes

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson; 2012; $26.00; 443 pages; Ra ndom House, New York, NY; 978-0-8129-9279-3; Fiction; purchased from Multnomah County Library Title Wave Used Bookstore; 12/4/14-12/9/14

Jun Pak Do is the son of a man who runs an orphanage in North Korea, his name as well as Dithe orphans are taken from the stories of North Korean martyrs.  He works in a unit that works on tunnels that run under the DMZ and head towards South Korea.  Then he gives involved in some illegal activity and sent to a prison camp and disappears as Jun Pak Do.  He resurfaces as another person and even though he looks nothing like that person they all accept him because the Great Leader as said that is who he is.  He and his wife grow close together, he once again runs afoul of the Great Leader and that changes his life once again.


Did I enjoy it?  Once I was able to place myself in a life that seems completely implausible to me I was able to get into the story.  Like Stephen King has said sometimes you have to suspend disbelief to get into a story.

What is with the title of the story?  In Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale where only the wise can see the Emperor’s clothes, everyone accepts the new person because they don’t want to run afoul of the Benevolent Leader.



A sense of deja vu

falling from horse

Falling From Horses by Molly Gloss; 2014; $25.00; 330 pages; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA; 978-0-544-27929-2; Fiction; Checked out from Multnomah County Library, Library Outreach; 11/26/14-12/4/14

This is the story of Bud Frazier from Eastern Oregon who takes a bus ride to California to break into movies as a cowboy.  Along the way he meets a young woman who goes on to become a legendary screen writer.  They become life long friends but never break out of the friend zone for several reasons which are articulated.  The story is told from Bud’s point of view and we learn what leads him to move to Hollywood and how he goes on to become an artist after his year in movies.  He tells of his upbringing in Eastern Oregon and his family, the good times and the tragedies.


Did I enjoy it?  Yes, Molly Gloss has a knack for creating characters that it is easy and rewarding to invest in.  She writes of a time that not many of us know the backstage working of and brings it to life.

What is with the title of the review?  As I was reading the story certain elements of Bud’s life seemed somewhat familiar.  As I read further I found out that he is the son of the main character in Molly Gloss’ book The Heart of Horses.  It was fun to find out what had happened to Martha and Henry.

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