Friday, January 29, 2016

Book review: "Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide" by Eric Bogosian

This was the first book that I checked out of the library in 2016. It took me awhile to actually get finished (no lunch breaks at work for almost a week because of pure insanity time? Yes, that cuts down on the reading time.) But it's finally finished and I'm happy to be sitting here reviewing this little piece of history that I'm shocked doesn't get more "press".

The first thing we need to do is talk about the two major players in our story. The countries of Armenia and Turkey. Let's take a gander at the map, shall we?

You could fill books (and people have) about  the relationship between Armenia and Turkey. The things they have in common and the things that are dramatically different. Since this post would have to be incredibly long let's just say that relations between these two countries were bad. Again, we don't have the time (and I don't have the knowledge) to tell you all the history of the Ottoman Empire.(#oversimplificationalert,) And then the Armenian genocide happened.

There will never be a for-sure-officially verified number, but it is believed that 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923. Most of it is stomach churningly violent a gruesome. In many cases, some variety of this this scenario happened. The Turks would come into a village and tell the occupants that they were being resettled and that they had a short amount of time to gather their things and get into a caravan. The caravans would go for miles, without food or water being given, many people would die on the way. At some point the men would be separated from the women and children. The men would all be killed. Then the captors would tell the women and children that they could go back to their village. The women and children would start to head back (after they had been relieved of all of their possessions. One of the captains in this killing brigade said "If we had killed the women and children in the cities, then we wouldn't have known where the valuables were being kept...for this reason we "allowed" them to take all the jewelry with them.") and their captors would ride ahead to the villages they would be passing and encouraged the locals to attack the group. This was only one scenario. Other times some tactics are grossly familiar to people who are familiar with the Nazi killings that happened outside of concentration camps. The worst thing, I think I read in the book was that a group of women were made to strip naked, and then forced to lay on top of each other in pairs, and then beheaded. One swing of a weapon, 2 murders.

Sigh. The ugly, terrifying things and events in history are important to remember. Even if makes you feel sick.

Armenians had been scattered, literally around the world during this time and almost all wanted vengeance. And that's where Operation Nemesis (and one "lone wolf") came in. A group of Armenians (some in America, some still in Europe) organized in a clandestine group to hunt down the leaders of the Armenian genocide and kill them. (As an aside, you might be wondering about what other nations thought of what was happening. There was no one who was like "Don't worry Armenia, we will come to your rescue." So if the Armenians wanted justice they probably weren't going to get their version of the Nuremberg trials, at least not in the same way. Though afterward there was a lot of movies made and stories written about it).

I don't want to give too much away, but Operation Nemesis had success. Was it nearly enough to avenge 1.5 million people? No, but would that ever be possible?

This was not always an easy read but I learned SO much (maybe not surprising since my knowledge base was pretty small) and the book was written in an approachable easy to understand way. Also, that is a powerful cover it grabbed me practically from the other side of the library! I will give it 3.75 stars out of 5!


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why harsh winters especially suck if you're a lady...

Non book related rant ahead....

We're finally in full fledged winter in Wisconsin, which means snow, ice and wind chills with some regularity into the double digits below freezing. While talking with my female friends and coworkers we came up with a rather long reason why winter is worse for women than it is for men:

Earrings: No matter if you're wearing studs or big old chandeliers the same thing always happens. They get stuck in your scarf. I've almost ripped my earrings out enough times that when I take my scarf off it's like sloooooowly unwrapping a bow.

Headwear: I have given up on trying to find a hat that is cute AND professionalish AND warm. I have several hats and none of them cover all of the bases. If it's seriously cold, I don't care if it's cute or professional looking so I wear my hat that looks something like this:

(Though weirdly enough I get compliments on it all the time. Which, I don't understand but I will take). And then no matter headwear you wear your hair is either smooshed to oblivion or as staticky as all get out. Or if you are a lady with particularly voluminous hair and you can't find a hat that will cover all of your hair and stay on your head then you have to do the wrap around ear muffs and those just aren't as warm.

Makeup: When the wind really get's blowing and it's freezing and it makes your eyes water and your mascara streaks and everything thinks you were crying. Or when your make up rubs off on your coat collar and scarf and hat because you are trying to bundle everything in to cover your face.

Coordination: Most people don't care, but I have been conditioned to never simultaneously wear anything black and brown at the same time (khaki is fine). And so I have a pile of brown hands and gloves and scarves and a pile of black ones, so I don't mix.

How I cope: I stop caring how my makeup looks and if my hat and gloves coordinate. I do care about ripping out my earrings because ooooooooooooouch. I know that everyone else is dealing with mostly the same issues so I shrug my shoulders and say "Meh, all of us are cold and yet kinda sweaty and have frozen boogers. So what can you do?"

One perk: You can get away with wearing a bra a little less. Little miracles.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book review (kinda): "Mr Splitfoot" by Samantha Hunt

As I was sitting down to write this review I had a revelation about the title and almost spit out my Special K Cinnamon and Pecans. This is one of those books, it just sneaks up on you when you're sitting in your bathrobe just trying to be productive before work.

Mr Splitfoot is a book I picked up thanks to dear Andi giving it the gushing treatment on Twitter. I immediately got on the list for it for the library. For the record, here is Andi's review.

This is a book that as soon as you read it you want to read it again, because now with the information/answers you (think) you have you want to let it wash over you again with new eyes.What I think I like most about this book is that I kind of thought that I had an idea where this book was going. I was wrong. I love being proved wrong.

We've got two storylines going at the same time here.

In the past time line we find out about some poor children living in Christ's Love! foster home. Foster home is putting it in an unjustly nice light. It's a cult that is populated by poor children who are in the foster system who have been hand selected by "Father". Ruth and Nat are two of these children. They help protect each other and are inseparable, thinking of each other as siblings. Nat, and later Ruth, develop an ability to talk to the dead which ends up being their ticket out of Christ's Love! Nat, Ruth and Mr Bell, the one who helps them escape, start traveling around and putting on sΓ©ance type readings for grieving people. This doesn't always end well. One time it ends really, really scarily, because there's a guy with no nose. ICK.

In the present time line, Ruth's niece Cora is finding herself in a weird crossroads of her life. She is newly pregnant (by a PSYCHO) when Ruth shows up at her house one day. Cora remembers seeing Ruth as a young girl, and Cora thought she was vivacious and full of light. Now when Cora sees her she seems deflated and sad and Ruth wordlessly begs Cora to come with her. What follow is a long, on foot journey where Ruth never says a word.

This book gets 4 out of 5 stars from me. I love the weirdness. I love the option of magical realism. I like that despite the totally horrible things that happen in this book there is some hope at the end. I love, for some reason, when the Devil shows up in books (or does he?!), see this post. Not that I would have done it anyway but I will now NEVER snort home cleaning products.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Instagram accounts that I love

I thoroughly enjoy Instagram. Between Instagram and Twitter I am on Facebook less and less. And it feels kind of good. So I wanted to share some Instagrams that I enjoy...(Also, apologies in advance for the weird spacing)

So so many are dog related. Be ready.

Whoa Wait Walmart: Two ladies find good deals on surprisingly cute things at Walmart!

Corgli: A cartoon corgi who is full of confidence and misadventure!

A photo posted by Corgli (@corgli) on

I Have This Thing With Floors: Pretty floors from around the world! (I've been known to take pictures of floors, so I have love for my fellow floor fans).

A photo posted by I Have This Thing With Floors (@ihavethisthingwithfloors) on

Daphne the Adventure Dog: So cute I want to die corgi goes on adventures with her parents.

Paris in Four Months: If you love Paris, this is where you need to be!

A photo posted by Carin Olsson (@parisinfourmonths) on

Cheska Short Stuff: A cute little corgi/pom (?) mix who is just too cute and super fuzzy.

A photo posted by @cheska_shortstuff on

TSA: Yes, that TSA. They take pictures of the things people try to take through security and it's hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Also, puppies.

Tibby the Corgi: Tibby is a big favorite in my house. A super fluffy corgi who has adorable little videos!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book review: "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear" by Margee Kerr

I don't think Margee Kerr and I would spend a lot of time together. She seeks out scary places, and I spend most of the time (on the rare occasions) that I watch scary movies between my fingers and very tense.

Our author studies fear, and so in the book she experiences old haunted prisons, haunted houses all over the place, a forest where people go to commit suicide in Japan, and more places that I will spend the rest of my life avoiding. (Though, the suicide forest in Japan is super interesting, I'd read a book about that. At home. With people. With lights on. Because duh.)

So here's some interesting facts from the book to intrigue you:

-When she visits the suicide forest place in Japan she discusses the country's curiously high suicide rate. It's "consistently ranked among the ten counties with the highest suicide rates in the world". Which is interesting because it has a really low death rate. Suicide is the number one cause of death death for men between the ages of twenty and forty four. (In the US, it's "unintentional injuries" which means accidents, which I bet includes a lot of motorcycle accidents, but that's just me editorializing.)

-This is just a random fact I thought was interesting - "Over 300,000 people were killed by big cats through the 1800s on the Indian subcontinent alone - and they had guns!" (Meaning people had guns, not the big cats. The number would have been higher then!)

- She talks about "dark tourism", which is something that I'd vaguely hear of before. It's discussed by The Atlantic here and it's ick and interesting and all kinds of things that I don't know what to make of it.

- Also, this is totally conjecture on my part, but if you read between the lined in the book and in the acknowledgments I feel like she fell in love with someone that she was talking to at one of the places she investigated.

In general I found the book fine, it scratched an itch I needed for a super specific work of nonfiction (because you guys know, that's my jam) but I don't think it's something I'd read over and over. So I guess a 3 out of 5!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Movie and Book Matchup: "Aftermath" directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski and "Neighbors" by Jan T Gross

If you've been around the blog long enough (actually, literally no time at all) you will have noticed that I read a lot of WWII books, and am a bit of a Europhile. This movie showed up in the recommendations in my Netflix queue and since I am the household gatekeeper of the netflix it showed up in my mailbox not long after.

So here's the story - Franciszek has lived in Chicago for 20 years, but has come back to the small Polish village where he grew up to see his brother Jozef. Jozef's wife has recently divorced him and fled with his children all the way to the United States. Things are already a little bit tense with their reunion, but then Jozef brings up how his brother didn't come back to Poland for the funerals of either of their parents.

It doesn't take long for Francizek to realize that there is also some weird tension between his brother and the other villagers, people they've both known their whole lives. Finally it comes out that Jozef has destoryed a road on the outskirts of town, which confuses the hell out of Francizek until he realizes what the road was made out of: tombstones that had been taken from the Jewish cemetery and used to pave the roads during WWII. Jozef has dug them out of the road, and set them up in one of his farm's fields.(There is a very beautiful, sad shot of all of these old headstones set up in this high grass field.) A very loud argument ensues. Things get more dangerous for both of the brothers as Francizek struggles to figure out what is going on in his brother's head AND the head's of the other villagers.


My take- By the end of the movie I realized why I had been drawn to it in the first place. The movie was inspired by a real life event that was also recounted in the book "Neighbors" by Jan T Gross. The book, like this movie, was sad and compelling and made you question humanity and why we as humans have an equally deep capacity for treating each other terribly and with great love. 

It's also pretty ballsy for this to be a Polish movie because it does not paint the Poles in the best light. A lot of terrible things happened to the Poles in WWII, but they also perpetrated some terror as well.

Head's up: It's in Polish, you gottsta read the subtitles.

It's not a movie that I will watch again and again and again but it's something I'm very glad I saw.

Aftermath USA Poster.jpg

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book review: "Hunters in the Dark" by Lawrence Osborne

If I tried to guess at what this book was going for I'd say it's basically an homage to Talented Mr Ripley in an Apocalypse Now setting. Except not quite as good as it sounds.

The star of the show of this book is a 28 year old English man named Robert. Robert is having a bit of a quarter life crisis. His whole life is just blah. He lives in a blah little village and teaches at a blah little school and nothing in his life is really exciting. So he saves up and decides to go to Asia for his whole summer break to try to reevaluate his life. After almost coming to the end of his vacation he goes to a casino with this last little bit of money and makes a bit of a windfall. Which would be enough to get him settled comfortably in this exotic and exciting part of this world, leaving all of the blahs behind...

So he decides to do it. But then there's complications. Corrupt policemen, drugs, murder most foul, the ghosts of the Khmer Rogue, disgusting sounding hotels, a beautiful woman, a mysterious American and a tailor who probably should have been a detective.

One of my disappointments in this book was that the most interesting characters were not explored like they could have been. The Scottish ex-soldier with shrapnel in his brain who set up a B&B in a minefield surrounded by his multiple bastard children? Yes, more than 12 pages of him would have been appreciated.

Also, I must confess that I had a small bias. I flipped the back of the book open and saw that this author had written a nonfiction book that I had read and , honestly, kind of detested.  I tried to keep an open mind while reading the rest of the book but in my head I was kind of like "oh THIS jerk...grrr".

It was mildly entertaining. It was better then his terrible nonfiction book. It plays out exactly the way you think it will, so they kind of oversell the "Hitchcockian twists and turns".

Blogging for Books provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book review: "Pearl Buck in China" by Hilary Spurling

This is not our usual expat/fish out of water story. But it's probably better because you actually get two stories in one!

Pearl Buck grew up in China, the daughter of a long suffering mother and a religious zealot of a missionary father. (When I say zealous I mean crazy. Like he was pretty convinced that women didn't have a soul. And all the other missionaries hates him. And he was named Absalom, which if you're familiar with the Bible, you know that's not someone you'd want to be named after. Not that you can help what your parents name you, but still...)

Early 1900s China was a very isolated place to be, especially the very rural places where Pearl grew up. Her blonde hair and "wild animal" eyes made her the subject of much scorn and finger pointing. However, she didn't keep to herself, she mingled among the Chinese and picked up a very "common" dialect of Chinese.

Pearl's father would be gone for long periods of time, much to the relief of her mother and siblings. She would spend much of her time reading and re-reading the few books in the family library. It was plain to see that Pearl was smart and yearned for more education, so her mother pleaded her father down until she was allowed to go to school back in the United States. Her first two years in college were, unshockingly, awkward and confusing. But by the end she was the class president!

As a side note- there were a lot of opportunities to for the family to go back and forth from wherever they were living in China back to the family roots in West Virginia.  (I felt like they went back and forth between the states and China a LOT considering the time it would take and the transportation options). One time they were even home for a few years because of the extreme violence against foreigners and missionaries because of the Boxer's Rebellion.

Pearl bounced back and forth between China and America her whole life, though after college she thought she'd never go back again, but it wasn't to be.

She was finally driven to write about China out of the desire for financial stability for her daughter, who was born with some kind of developmental delay. (We, nor Pearl, never got a diagnosis). Her first book "The Good Earth" was successful enough that her daughter's needs were taken care of for the rest of her life. Though Pearl continued to write prodigiously. The Chinese were scandalized by all of Pearl's books because they talked unflinchingly about the Chinese people and their struggles. She also wrote a book (thinly veiled fiction) about her mother's life, and another about her father's. The book about her dad was NOT complimentary in anyway.

Real Talk: I've not read any of her books, and frankly this book didn't make me want to pick any of them up. I like that she chose to write about people how they really are and not some weird sanitized version of themselves. (Like some Communist propaganda about how peasants love toiling constantly day and night for Mother Russia or whatever.)


Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: "The Lazarus Project" by Aleksander Hemon

The Lazarus Project is part fiction, part nonfiction, a dash of violence, and a sprinkle of lies that we tell ourselves for unexpected reasons. Knead with anti-immigration, season with a ridiculous amount of relevance, bake until done.

(PS There is also a movie with Paul Walker with the same name. The movie is not based on the book. It got 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's my warning. Do with it what you will).

In 1908 a teenager knocked on the door of the house of the Chicago's Chief of Police. We don't know what Lazarus' intentions were but it ended with the Chief shooting him multiple times, fearing he was an anarchist assassin. Though there was no evidence that pointed to that conclusion. (Paranoia about immigrants? Police violence against unarmed persons? We've come a long way....not really.)

In current times, Brik is intrigued by Lazarus' story. Brik lives in Chicago, and is an Eastern European immigrant himself. He's a writer married to an American woman; having one foot in his current country and one in his old. At a Bosnian independence day party he is reunited with a childhood friends named Rora. To put it simply, Rora is super super shady, since like the 4th grade. Brik gets a grant to go back to Europe to research Lazarus for a book he's writing and he asks Rora to accompany him. Here's a hint - very little research gets done but lots of other less savory things happen.

This book flashes back and forth from Brik and Rora's European adventure and the aftermath of Lazarus' shooting. Lazarus' sister is left to wonder why he was at that house, since she can't believe that he could ever be an assassin. Birk spends his time in Europe contemplating his life in Bosnia, his tension filled marriage, and a lot of narrow scrapes with Rora.

I honestly don't know how I feel about this book. I was looking forward to finding out more about Lazarus and that didn't happen. But I liked the Eastern Europe setting, which had a similar feel as "Girl at War". I don't know. It's kind of  meh. 2.5 stars? Interesting cover though!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Book review: "A Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks

I have a conflicted track record with Ms Brooks. I did not like "March" (you now, that she won a major award for) but I did like "People of the Book". So I appreciate that when I pick up one of her books I never know if it's going to be a hit or a miss. Though I always appreciate that she writes on such a wide variety of times and places. You're going to get something different from her every time and I like her range.

So I picked up this book because it's about the plague. Whenever the 4 hour special on the plague is on the History channel I just understand that the next 4 hours of my life are gone in front of the telly. So, this was in my wheelhouse.

It basically is set in a tiny town in the sticks of England in 1666 and how the people of the village when the plague sweeps into their town. Our main character is Anna, a woman who had a crummy childhood but then makes a tidy, nice life for least for a little while. Despite suffering a lot herself, she becomes a source of strength in the village, but there are people, especially from her past who are not content to let the past go...or not be terrible people. Because at least two of these people were terrible before the plague came through.

Here is my qualm with the book: at the very end of the book there is a big plot twist that involves  (what I would call) a rather large personality twist that I didn't find believable. Everyone in the book suffers a lot because, you know, plague, and that would account for a lot of personality changes but this one I just didn't buy.

Despite the weird plot twist that I just talked about at the end of the book, this was a hit for me. So Ms Brooks is batting over 500 with me, I'm sure she will rest easier at night knowing this :) .  3.5 out of 5 for me!


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Movies with Brian - Fantastic Mr Fox (and a guest post at Book Blogger's International!)

Before we start movies with Brian, you might want to pop over to Book Bloggers International where I will be talking about the famous Golem of Prague. A creature that has a special place in my literary and travel heart.

Hi everyone! Today is the first day that Brian joins us to talk about movies! Soon I will have a tab at the top of my home page where I will collect Brian's musings for easy finding. Enjoy!
Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox:

Well, I thought it might be nice to ease into Library Educated by starting off with a film adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s beloved books: The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Dahl being famous for other works such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, BFG, and The Witches to name a few. If you have read (or seen any of these movies) you know to expect a great deal of quirk, and that kind of makes Anderson the perfect director to adapt this tale.
The film itself is shot with stop motion puppetry (think Wallace and Gromit) which creates this beautiful, if not affectatious, movement and a not-quite-animated feel that places it perfectly between cinema for grownups and children. As is typical with any Anderson movie the film is set to a very retro coloring theme in which characters, sets, and props are all different but coordinated in color and pattern. Visuals are not the only retro choice, but a soundtrack filled with the Beach Boys, the Stones, and the theme song to the Davy Crockett TV show (Yes – the king of the wild frontier). To round out the movie is a an incredible cast that includes George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep (Mrs. Fox), Jason Schwartzman (Ash – the Fox’s child), Bill Murray (Badger), Michael Gambon (Bean), and the list goes on (even into the bit parts).

The basics of the story are this: Mr. Fox is hitting a midlife (possibly end of life as he mentions that he is nearing the age his father died) crisis and wants bigger and better for himself and his family. Now, quick background on the Fox family: When Mrs. Fox discloses she is pregnant with Ash she demands that Mr. Fox reform from his days as a thief; so he complies and begins writing for the local newspaper. Stage one of his mid-life crises is buying a bigger and better house. The fox family moves (much to the chagrin of his lawyer, Badger) from their foxhole into a tree. This tree just happens to be across the field of three of the biggest farms in the English countryside: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean.
Phase II of mid-life crisis: revert to thieving ways with “one last big heist”. Mr. Fox begins with quite a bit of success, but what he doesn’t recon is that Boggis, Bunce, and Bean will plot their own revenge, leading to a majority of the forest creatures to becoming trapped underground and rather disgruntled with Mr. Fox. Now Mr. Fox is left to figure out if his wits are going to get them all out of the trouble he got them into.
The movie is amusing, and thoughtful. If you want to watch something just to be entertained this movie works. If you want to watch something and reflect on existential dilemmas this movie works. It offers so much to a wide audience, and it might make you (or at least make you feel like) a better person – I know that’s a tall order for a movie to fill, but I think it does, and that is why I am giving it 5 out of 5 stars.
So, gather the whole family, or steal a couple hours to yourself and enjoy the folksy and quirky Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Happy viewing,

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rapid Fire Book Review #8

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky - Man, okay. This book is sad, but interesting and I sped through it so I could find out what would happen next.Short, compelling, sad, hopeful.

The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr Weigel: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis- So typhus is gross and terrible. 2 different doctors worked on a vaccine. One saved as many Jews as he could by employing them and using them as (humane) guinea pigs for the developing vaccine. The other doctor was Jewish, imprisoned in a concentration camp and forced to try to recreate the vaccine under those deplorable and terrifying conditions.

Vampires in the Grove - Another great story collection from Karen Russell. I liked that none of these stories were set in her usual "Swamplandia" type setting. I like that setting but variety is good! My favorite stories were the very first one and the horse presidents!

Under Major Domo Minor - I was intrigued by the summary, weird happenings in an old castle. Yes. In. And the story was fine, not extraordinary but not bad. And then surprise orgy. Which didn't necessarily improve the book, which I think says something about it.

Hiroshima Maidens - After the atomic bombings of Japan in WWII, several young women who were severely disfigured came to the United States for treatment. It was really interesting to hear about how incredibly different the cultures were even in the 50s. Like, how running water and electricity in Japan were kind of rare unless you were in a big city.

The Violinists Thumb - Oh glory, this is a great book. Maybe Sean Kean is just incredibly special and makes all kinds of science easily understood and easily digestible. Here's a fun fact: Rachmaninoff had HUMUNGOUS hands that stretched to an octave and a half. That's freakish. And probably makes his stuff incredibly hard to play.


Friday, January 1, 2016

What to expect from the blog this year

Hope that everyone is safe and happy after their New Year's Eve debauchery (or not).

There's a couple of things that I've been trying to work into the blog, but with the switching of the New Year, and it being the classic time to promise changes, I figure I might as well make it official.

Once a month on the blog you'll get:

-Expat/Fish out of water stories: People who pick up and  move to a drastically new country or place have my respect. That's a hard thing to do. I like to hear about the things that they found the hardest to adapt to, or what things are the same everywhere. We've got a couple lined up already that sound good!

-Graphic novels: I've been trying to do this already. Though it is proving harder than I thought because I wanted to focus on stand alones, or small series. So if anyone has any suggestions, throw them my way!

-Movie talk: Through serendipitous and wonderful circumstances my friend Brian will be stopping by the blog once a month and talk movies. I have known Brian for quite some time, and we've recently become neighbors! Here's some quick info about Brian, you will see him soon!

Brian Cooper is a film junkie and bibliophile, a wannabe novelist (who isn't these days), husband, and father. You can see some of his other musings on film at, or his personal blog at

There's the plan for the new year! Hope I'll see you around!


One thing that will NOT change will be that I will take every opportunity to use GIFS from my favorite movies. So, sorry if you're not a Tarantino fan.