Julia’s #CBRV Review #21: Tanzania: My Country As I See It by Peter E. Temu

400000000000000408209_s4Tanzania: My Country As I See It was a disappointment. Peter E. Temu had a chance to shed light on the hardships and triumphs of his country and he instead gives the reader a book that was not much more informative than Tanzania’s Wikipedia page. The problems with this book can be partially attributed to its format. Tanzania: My Country As I See It originated as a series of articles written for a Tanzanian publication, so each “chapter” is limited by length, and I would imagine, content. If Tanzania: My Country As I See It had been published as an independent work, I imagine that Temu would have taken a more critical, developed approach to his subject. Instead, this work is mediocre at best.

The book suffered from an overabundance of simplicity. Is corruption a problem? Stop being corrupt. Is poverty a problem? Make more jobs. Is hunger a problem? Grow more food. Temu is a good writer, but his simplistic solutions leave a lot  to be desired.

It has been a while since I’ve written a review. I began my Peace Corps Training in July, and was sworn in on September 12th. As a now-resident of Tanzania, I feel like I can review Peter E. Temu’s work with a more critical eye. And unfortunately, it is still not very good. Temu does a solid job of identifying Tanzania’s problems, unfortunately his solutions are not up to snuff. With my now limited internet access, publishing reviews has become more difficult. My life has become more hectic, and I’ve had less time for reading. But I’m enjoying learning about Tanzania for myself, and being here is far more revealing than Temu’s book. This unfortunately may be my last review, since reliable internet service is a rarity in Tanzania (one problem Temu never identified in Tanzania: My Country As I See It). However, I look forward to completing a full Cannonball in 2016, upon my return to the States.

Julia’s #CBRV Review #20: Tanzania – Culture Smart!: the essential guide to customs & culture by Quintin Winks

tanzania-3dI’ll make this a simple review for a simple book. I wasn’t expecting much from Tanzania – Culture Smart! by Quintin Winks, however, I ended up pleasantly surprised by its content. While this guide book doesn’t break any new ground, it serves its purpose and doesn’t include any extraneous information. While I can’t vouch for the rest of the Culture Smart! series, I would be confident in saying that they are a good place to start.

The book is divided into eight different chapters, covering everything from historical background to business transactions. Winks even delves into the different types of common handshakes that Tanzanians use. While the guide gives a basic introduction to the country, it is not a guide to the country. There is very little in terms of things to do and see while in Tanzania, this is only covered when there is some convincing overlap with Tanzania as a country. However, this book is a very helpful guide to customs and culture (as it says on the cover), so there is plenty of information on how to be polite and respectful while visiting Tanzania. I trust that the information is correct, since the author was commissioned to write this book after a lengthy stay in Tanzania. I believe that the content could only be improved by having a native’s take on a guide to his or her own country. However, since the reader will theoretically be exploring the country as an outsider, it’s not the worst thing to have an outsider’s perspective.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #19: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

tumblr_inline_mfd6zzj8Sd1qfex7sSo this book was a bad decision. I’ve had nothing but love for F. Scott Fitzgerald ever since reading The Great Gatsby in high school. After reading This Side of Paradise, that love has all but dried up. Yes, I’m as fickle as Amory Blaine’s lovers, I’m bored with Fitzgerald and we need to go on a little break. Or maybe I need to reread The Great Gatsby to get the bitter taste of disappointment out of my mouth. Fitzgerald’s redeeming factor is always his quality of writing, he knows how to make words work on a piece of paper, but if you don’t have a story to match, should you really put them down to begin with?

Unfortunately, This Side of Paradise was, for lack of a better term, boring. I read this book one week ago, ONE WEEK, and I had forgotten that I had read it until I saw it sitting on my chair. If this has been required reading in high school, I would have been pissed. I’m a lady of action, and unfortunately, that’s what was missing in this book. Instead we have our protagonist, Amory, go on holiday with his mother, fall in love, go to college, fall in love again, lose his fortune due to bad investments, blah blah blah kill me already.


I feel you, sighing Cillian Murphy, I FEEL YOU.

I spent the whole novel waiting for something interesting to happen and when it didn’t I just wanted my time back.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #18: Tomcat in Love by Tim O’Brien

200px-TomcatinLoveTomcat in Love is a great book because Tim O’Brien is a great author. He can pull off just about anything, and here he’s pulling off a romantic comedy. I say, “pulling off,” because creating a legitimately funny romance is hard to do, we haven’t made much progress since Shakespeare. The pursuer is Thomas H. Chippering, an Abe Lincoln look-a-like who has convinced himself that he is God’s gift to women. His ex-wife, Lorna Sue, is the pursued. To Thomas, she is female perfection, and he has to win her back while enacting revenge on the man who stole her away, “the tycoon.” He is assisted by Mrs. Robert Kooshof (her husband is in prison), who finds him crying in her backyard one afternoon, and decides to take him in.

What makes this novel great is O’Brien’s style. He creates a novel that theoretically could happen, there are no fantastical creatures or alien overlords, but it’s a story that would never happen. O’Brien’s novels are hyperrealistic, everything seems real until you look a little closer and you realize the details are exaggerated and what’s there is just representative of something real. O’Brien could write the same story about love and passion as an ordinary drama, but what makes Tomcat in Love so enjoyable to read is that it’s so darn strange. When characters are punished, it’s an event. When revenge is carried out, it’s war. When a character falls in love they’re in it for good.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #17: The Sons of Macha by John Lenahan

9780007517770_p0_v2_s260x420I had been looking forward to the release of this book for months. Then I was looking forward to it coming in the mail, then reading it, and now I’m looking forward to reviewing it. The Sons of Macha by John Lenahan is the third and final book in his Shadowmagic trilogy. As I feel it’s always important to share by own bias, I was introduced to this series by way of the 2011 Red Dwarf Convention (Red Dwarf is a British sci-fi show, it’s great, check it out.) John Lenahan once played the voice of a talking toaster on said show, so he was invited to make an appearance at the convention. I soon learned that John Lenahan is also an author and magician. I bought book one of the series, Shadowmagic, at that convention and I’ve been hooked ever since. It didn’t hurt that John Lenahan is a charming human being and a seemingly, all-around great guy. He also performed actual, live magic! He was even good enough to pose for the below picture.

Pictured: bias.

Pictured: bias.

So will this review be fair and even? No, probably not. But I hope it at least encourages some of you to check out the Shadowmagic series (books one and two are available as free  audiobooks here: http://podiobooks.com/contributor/john-lenahan/), because now all I have to look forward to is whatever Mr. Lenahan decides to write next.

Onto the book itself, unfortunately, I’m beginning at the end. The Sons of Macha concludes the story of Conor O’Neil, a wise-cracking, smart-aleck teenager who has discovered that his father is not in simply a professor of ancient languages, but also the rightful ruler of the magical kingdom of Tir Na Nog. In book two of the series Conor discovers that his Uncle is actively attempting to launch a military assault against Castle Duir.  Conor is joined by his friends, Araf and Tuan, a pair of girls, Essa and Graysea, who may be fighting for his attention (he’s not quite sure), and his extended family. The actions of the characters are shadowed by the prophecies of Ona, a powerful witch who once predicted the fate of the kingdom. Sons of Macha tells the tale of the return of Macha, Conor’s Grandmother and mother to Conor’s Uncle and Father. Unfortunately, not all family reunions are joyous ones, and Macha ends up playing an unexpected role in the fight for Tir Na Nog.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #16: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

blue3_220 I was lucky enough to receive The Banks of Certain Rivers through a free book promotion for Cannonball Read. So I’ll start off with a big thank you to the author! It was a great read, and I’m thrilled that I’m going to be able to recommend the book.

The Banks of Certain Rivers  is the story of Neil Kazenzakis. Neil’s wife, Wendy, fell into a permanent vegetative state after a devastating swimming pool accident. Neil and his son Chris have slowly been piecing their lives back together, only to have them shatter again via an social media scandal. When Neil, a physics teacher, attempts to break up an after school fight, footage of the event is caught on tape, however, this footage is doctored to make Neil appear as the aggressor. The fake video is soon uploaded to Youtube where the school district and local tabloids begin to take notice. Pretty soon national media outlets are knocking at Neil’s door; he’s being harassed in his home and labeled a child-beater. Only those closest to Neil, his next-door neighbor, Alan, his knocked-up girlfriend, Lauren, and his son, maintain his innocence.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #15: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

the-light-fantastic-1I feel guilty for disliking The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.  I feel guilty because I was in the audience of one of Terry Pratchett’s panels at The NY Comic Con this year, and Pratchett seemed incredibly sweet and highly intelligent. Sean Astin was the main feature of the panel and he was hugely enthusiastic about Pratchett’s work. Everyone in the audience seemed to be in the Pratchett fandom. So I gave The Color of Magic a try, and now I’ve given it’s sequel, The Light Fantastic a try, and all I’m walking away with is a resounding shrug. The Discworld series is a fantasy answer to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (which, for the record, I adore), yet somehow, for me, it didn’t quite work. And I feel awful about that.

I don’t idly mention Adams’ work. Both stories have similar construction, there’s the bumbling straight man who has been thrown into a world he knows nothing about (Adams’ Arthur Dent vs. Pratchett’s Twoflower), his narcissistic friend (Zaphod Beeblebrox vs. Rincewind), and the important item he must travel with (a towel vs. the luggage). Both books have the same dry British wit. Both books poke fun and the silliness of their genre while celebrating it. So many similarities, yet I found myself struggling to maintain interest in The Light Fantastic, which was never a problem for any of the Hitchhiker books.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #14: When the Women Come Out to Dance by Elmore Leonard

9780060586164I decided to take some time off from reviewing, so it’s time to catch back up. Happily, I’m getting back into the race with a good one, When the Women Come Out to Dance by Elmore Leonard. I’m a huge fan of the FX series Justified, so I finally decided to give the source material a try. I almost changed my mind when I saw the cover (legs do not looks like that), however, my love for U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens eventually won out. When the Women Come Out to Dance is a collection of straightforward, well-written, interesting short stories bound together vaguely with the theme of “crime.” From the first story in the book, Sparks, it’s apparent that Leonard has a knack for writing people. The stories are often no longer than 20 pages, but in that time you know the people in them, you know what motivates them, what troubles them, and their history. It takes a special kind of author to condense such impressive character development into a measly 20 pages. Leonard’s characters often find themselves on the wrong side of the law, but they are not wholly unsympathetic, they are people, they have flaws but they also have goodness.

I won’t discuss every story in the book, however, I will discuss the one that motivated me to read it, Fire in the Hole. Raylan Givens is a Deputy U. S. Marshal. He wears a ten gallon hat and cowboy boots. He looks like this:


Somehow, he was less attractive in my imagination.

Raylan is stationed in Miami when he warns a mob-connected gun-thug, Tommy Bucks, to get out of town within 24 hours. Bucks does not comply, Bucks is shot down. With the Federal Marshal Service fearing the ensuing bad press, Raylan is sent back to his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky. It’s there that he rekindles an old flame, finds an old friend heading a neo-Nazi organization, and tries to live in a place he thought he would never have to return to.

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #13: The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

509784I’m a big fan of used book stores. Shelves of dirty, old, used up books. My copy of The End of Eternity came from an even grimier origin, the “free bin” at the library. Yes, books so used up that the library doesn’t even want to keep them anymore. This particular book had a big circular indent on the back cover, perhaps somebody used it as a pot rest at some point? I will never know. What I do know is that I have no regrets about holding onto this book, despite the smell. It’s not a book that gets regular mention in the Asimov cannon, but it’s certainly not one to be dismissed. Clocking in at 192 pages it’s a book you can get into and out of in a few hours, but those hours will feel entirely worth it.

The book is set in Eternity, a location outside of time where time travel has been perfected. The men trained in the use of time travel are known as Eternals; they travel “upwhen” and “downwhen” in history, performing little changes that serve to better the human race. Eternals fall into different classes, there are “Computers” who calculate what changes should be made and “Observers” who amass data from different time periods. Andrew Harlan is a “Technician,” he is responsible for carrying out reality changes. Harlan travels to various points in time in “Kettles” and makes minute changes that will eventually prevent a war from being fought, or a plague from spreading, or a totalitarian government from rising. Harlan is doing good work, or so he thinks…

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Julia’s #CBRV Review #12: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

damned-us-1Chuck Palahniuk is weird. He wrote a Tarantino-esque revenge epic for chubby 13-year-old girls that 13-year-old girls should never be allowed to read. Damned is Judy Blume meets Dante Alighieri meets The Breakfast Club, and it is delightful.

Madison Spencer was the daughter of a movie star mother and producer father. She was never quite skinny enough or perfect enough for them to take her to award shows. But Madison was never bitter, she loved her parents. Even when they started adopting disadvantaged children for the  media attention, even when her mother would tell the tabloids she still 8 years old, Madison remained positive, she is nothing if not an optimist. Madison Spencer died at the age of 13 from a marijuana overdose. It is only then that Madison starts to enjoy her life, even if she is in hell.

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