Sunday 27 March 2016

This Is Why

Finished March 27
This Is Why by Leland Spencer, interior drawings by Mackenzie Hidalgo

This humorous memoir of growing up on a farm in Idaho had a similar feel to listening to my dad tell stories of his childhood. Leland had a friend Smitty who grew up on the next farm over, and an older brother. Smitty had a younger sister. Leland's neighbour on the other side was a hard-working bachelor who lived in an army tent and his brother who lived in the house on the property.
Leland's stories are about getting into trouble with his friend, the crazy things they thought up to do like tying strings to the legs of birds to have live kites, and throwing eggs, fruit, dirt clods or other things.
He obviously likes to tell a good story, even at his own expense and has a optimistic nature about the way things are going to turnout. From fishing to learning how to drive, Leland entertains his readers.

The Girls in the Garden

Finished March 26
The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

This novel follows eleven-year-old Pip as she and her older sister Grace and mother Clare move into a terrace house in a new neighbourhood of London. The family is still in shock after Pip and Grace's dad had a mental health breakdown that resulted in him burning down their home. He is in hospital getting the help he needs, and they must start over with everything gone. Pip is steadfast in missing her father, writing him letters about their lives and new home, and observing the world around her. Grace is angry and scared and at the age where she is looking for her own identity. Clare is fearful of what lies ahead, afraid of what she saw in her husband in his mental breakdown, and worried about managing everything.
Their new home backs onto a large communal park and the girls soon find their way among the other residents. Grace begins hanging out with 5 other kids around the same age: three sisters Catkin, Fern and Willow, another girl Tyler, and a boy Dylan. She hangs out a lot at the sisters' house, liking their parents, Leo and Adele. Adele home schools the girls. As the action begins, the sisters grandfather has come to visit from Africa as his diabetes now requires amputation of one of his feet.
Pip is more of a loner, not feeling comfortable with the other kids, or their parents. Something about Leo doesn't feel right to her. She befriends and older woman with a pet rabbit, and from her learns the history behind the girl memorialized on a nearby bench, Phoebe. Pip is a quiet girl, watchful and sensitive, an important role in this story.
At the annual part party, there is much going on, music, face painting, a barbeque, and as it is also Grace's thirteenth birthday, Clare has let her have more freedom than normal. When the day grows later, Pip searches for her sister, finding her unconscious and bloody in discomforting circumstances. What happened to Grace and who is responsible is the focus of the story.
We see the interaction of both the adults, teens, and preteens here, and how relationships change and develop with the arrival of this new family in the neighbourhood. I liked the way the characters were each so different. None of them perfect.

Saturday 26 March 2016


Finished March 24
Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen

This children's novel is aimed at the 10-14 age group. As the book begins, Peter is travelling in the car with his father and his pet fox Pax. Peter found the fox near death when he was a very young kit, and has had him for five years. But things are changing rapidly in Peter's life, with his father going off to war and leaving Peter with his grandfather, and when his father tells him he must release Pax to the wild, he doesn't believe he has a choice. It is an act that he regrets quickly, and that he is determined to make right.
Pax is bewildered by his situation. Why did Peter leave him, when will he return? As darkness falls and he still waits for Peter to return, he feels afraid in the large world that he is in. When hunger also begins to come for him, he doesn't know how to find food. As Pax comes across others of his kind, he must figure out how to act and what he must do to survive.
This book follows Pax and Peter in alternating chapters. The two feel a strong connection to each other and yearn for each other. As Peter moves forward, he meets a woman, Vola, who has her own story of war and its costs. Peter has not had a female figure in his life since his mother died before he found Pax, and Vola has not had anyone in her life for a long time. As the two get to know each other, they also learn the truth about themselves.
Pax is also forced to learn, from the world around him, from the wild foxes he meets who've had bad experiences with humans, from the men he sees working nearby.
This is a story about the costs of war, costs seen in many different guises. The illustrations are wonderful and evocative, a good fit for the story.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Chasing Chaos

Finished March 20
Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid by Jessica Alexander

This memoir covers the years 2000 to 2010, with an epilogue in 2013. Jessica started her career in advertising but found that unsatisfying and switched to work in the humanitarian aid arena in her mid-twenties. It took her some time to find her way in this world, choosing the educational route that provided a base of knowledge that would take her to the senior role she is in by 2013 with the U.N. Her first field job was in Rwanda in 2003, following which she returned to New York. Again back in the field in 2005, she was first in West Darfur in a role involving children and then in North Darfur where she was coordinating a refugee camp. Her next field job, also in 2005, took her to Sri Lanka and Indonesia following the tsunami relief work and evaluating the success of projects. She again returned to New York and then a Fulbright scholarship took her to Sierra Leone in 2006-2007 to study the reintegration into society of the child soldiers there. Back home in New York by 2008, she took a desk job and resumed a more normal life until the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 took her there for six months to monitor the aid there. By 2013 she was still in New York working for the U.N., and teaching at three institutions while pursuing her Ph.D.
Her experiences in each of the countries she worked in was different, depending on her experience, her role, and the state of the country itself. She is very open about her experiences, discussing frustrations, culture shock, and burnout issues. Everyone she meets is human, with skills and flaws. She has changed people's names and identifying information to protect their privacy, which I think makes her more able to discuss the realities of the situations.
This book was enlightening on this field of work, making real the environments, human reactions, and politics involved.

Tell Everyone

Finished March 19
Tell Everyone: Why We Share & Why It Matters by Alfred Hermida

This book looks at the phenomenon of sharing information online. UBC professor Alfred Hermida looks at social media, digital journalism, and online storytelling in this interesting analysis on how we are social creatures in this new environment.
Chapter one looks at news sharing. Hermida looks at instances where this was done well, like the movie theatre shooting in Colorado, and instances where misinformation had the upper hand like the Boston Marathon bombing. He puts this in the historical context of news dissemination from newsboys hawking on street corners to the mix of comedy and journalism in venues such as The Daily Show. He looks at how ordinary people now have the ability to refute "official" versions of a news event. He examines issues such as context loss and the illusion of privacy.
The second chapter looks at the psychology behind the urge to share. From social capital to bonding, personal expression as a means of defining ourselves, to the kinds of relationships we develop online, this looks at sharing more closely. Hermida looks at what benefits we get from sharing including self-fulfillment to helpfulness to a feeling of connection.
Chapter three looks at what kinds of information we share. Most of it aligns with the kinds of things we share when we socialize in person: what we are doing, gossip, updates on news, and the kind of "wow" stories that often lean toward urban legend. Emotional impact of a story drives us to share more widely. Interestingly, social media tends toward sharing positive news, the opposite of traditional media, although sad can be appealing to share if it is framed in a hopeful way. Fear is not a driving force in sharing, but anger can be, especially if it offers a connection to a personal experience. Disgust is also a strong driver.
Chapter four looks at how connections play a role. Celebrities sharing everyday experiences, people sharing reactions to news events in a "where were you when" sort of way, How the news reaches us rather than us going looking for it. Hermida looks at this in historical and cultural context as well as the algorithms present in social media and how they influence what we see. He shows that the common idea that social media causes us to be in "filter bubbles" where we only see news with the same view that we have personally is not actually true. The way that information moves in social media can counter this selective lean and bring us broader viewpoints. One of the most interesting historical tidbits in the book came in this chapter. Early newspapers offered blank space for people to add their own news and comments before sending the newspaper on from the city to rural friends and family. Some even were designed to be folded up with a space to put an address for mailing on. Historical instances of this use have proved quite interesting from a social history viewpoint.
The fifth chapter looks at who has risen from the ranks in terms of social news sharing to be more well known, whether it is as a trusted source that others find and build up through referrals, or through mass appeal. This type of influence tends to be more ephemeral in nature in social media than it has been traditionally.
Chapter six looks at the role of dissemination of information in crisis situations. Hermida looks at sharing of information from the Japanese earthquake of 2011 and compares it to how information was shared about the Portuguese earthquake of 1755. The dissemination was slower, naturally, in 1755, but the pattern was similar. He shows how the collective sharing of this type of information can even beat official channels in terms of how fast a warning can get out to those who need to know. Other events he looks at are the Haiti earthquake of 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Queensland flooding in 2011. He also talks about the disaster myth. This is the idea that people who are most affected by a natural disaster are stunned by the situation and unable to help themselves. In reality, victims are often the most likely to step in and help others around them.
Chapter seven looks a consumer power in this information context. Social media gives individuals the voice to speak out against companies and governments to tell their side of the story when traditional media doesn't give them a voice. Hermida looks at how companies have handled this, both well and badly. He discusses how early social media reaction to products or services can be good forecasting tools for the success of such offerings. Fans can become ambassadors for a brand if handled well.
Chapter eight looks at the darker side of online information sharing, when lies and rumours take on a life of their own and spread, affecting reputations and situations in a negative and damaging way. He discusses what signs we can look for to determine with such information is true or false, sometimes looking at the nuances of language or details and sometimes stepping back and looking at the bigger picture of data around a situation or new event.
The last chapter is on the politics of online information. From the Arab Spring to Idle No More, individual voices have made a difference to outcomes despite political pressure and mainstream media to silence those voices.
This was a very interesting look at social media and its role in our lives.

Future Crimes

Finished March 17
Future Crimes by Mark Goodman

This book covers a lot of issues around internet security and privacy, and I liked the apt quotes drawn from entertainers, writers, politicians, scientists, and other sources.
The author uses examples to illustrate many of the concepts given here, and that really shows the effect on real people of some of these vulnerabilities.
The book is divided into three sections.
The first section sets the stage by introducing the vulnerabilities, with aforementioned examples. The concepts here include cybercrime as it first appeared, malware, and security vulnerabilities. Goodman shows how the global connectivity we now enjoy is also a weakness. He discusses how Moore's law, which is about exponential growth in technological change also applies to criminal technology. He looks at many of the "free" sites and programs we use, such as social media and discusses the realities of "terms and conditions" we accept and how we and our information are really products to the companies that run them, rather than customers. He looks at how all the data we have out there about ourselves is used and how the data, while seemingly benign by individual piece, adds up to big vulnerabilities for us. He also refutes the notion that not creating online profiles is a protection. He takes a close look at apps and the information they gather about us from contacts to GPS location. He reveals the industry of "friends" in social media and just how many don't exist will likely surprise you. He talks about the manipulation of data and how this can plant false information about you from location to actions.
The second section of the book takes a closer look at the criminal world that exists in the online world, something he refers to as Crime, Inc. He reveals the cutting edge nature of the technologies involved and how criminals are often in the group of early adopters of new technology. He discusses the various criminal roles that exist in the hierarchy of organized crime in this world. He talks about the nature of funding and how money gets moved around. He discusses hacking, both software and hardware and how the growth in Internet of Things, technologically-tied home access and controls, medical technology devices, robots and drones all open us up to being left vulnerable in ways we never dreamed of. He includes a section on biotech and its vulnerabilities to our safety.
The third section is more hopeful. Entitled Surviving Progress, it looks at ways to mitigate the vulnerabilities discussed in the earlier sections, things the industry should be doing, things we can do as individuals, and suggestions for how we can come together to tackle these issues in a way where more heads mean more protection.
I found this book fascinating, the first couple sections stomach-churning at times, but the last section giving some positive thoughts about how we can overcome the vulnerabilities.

Sunday 20 March 2016

The Lake House

Finished March 13
The Lake House by Kate Morton

This novel, like many of Morton's others has linked stories from the past and present. Here, the link is the house of the title. In the present, London police officer DC Sadie Sparrow is on a leave from her job, visiting her grandfather at his home in Cornwall. Her grandfather moved here recently, after the death of her grandmother, and therefore Sadie hasn't been here before. She is a very driven woman, with good instincts about her cases. A recent case on a missing woman has got her in trouble as she was sure the woman did not leave of her own accord, despite a note, and Sadie grew frustrated when others on the force dismissed her opinion. She made an anonymous comment to the press that has her superiors unhappy and is taking some time for things to die down.
She isn't a woman who can sit still however, and as she does one of her runs around the area she finds a large estate where the grounds and house show signs of abandonment. Her curiosity piqued, she puts her energies into this new mystery. Once she finds that the family more or less left the house unlived in after the disappearance of the young son of the family in 1933, she wants to unravel the mystery of his disappearance. Working with the local librarian, and an elderly man who was a young policeman on the case, she continues her research, asking the surviving owner for a meeting and permission to access the house.
When eighty-six year old Alice Edevane gets Sadie's letter, she is brought back to that summer when she was sixteen and the events that transpired. She is now a well-known mystery writer, with a young assistant Peter who helps her organize her work and obligations. At first, she finds the reminder upsetting, but gradually realizes that these events have haunted her life and influences her personal relationships.
As the past and the present come together, secrets of many kinds are revealed.
I really enjoyed this book, and the mysteries of the plot. Sadie and Alice are both strong women, with hidden secrets that they must deal with to move forward positively.

Sunday 13 March 2016

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

Finished March 13
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang, translated by Chi-Young Kim

This short novel tells the story of Sprout, a hen who was kept caged as a layer, unable to even sit on her own eggs as she laid them. She watched the farmyard as she saw other animals moving about, wishing she could as well, wishing that she could hatch an egg, wishing she could be closer to the acacia tree she could see from her cage. She constantly stuck her neck through the wire, causing it to be always scraped free of feathers. She stopped eating.
As the farmers noticed, they determined she was ill and gathered her and others similarly diagnosed and disposing of them. Buried in a pile of other chickens, Sprout was awakened by an encouraging voice, a voice that drew her up and caused her to make her escape from a determined weasel. Her life as a free chicken had finally begun. It wasn't an easy life, struggling for food, living a lonely existence on the edge of the yard. But then something unexpected happened that made her believe her dreams really could come true. As a reader, seeing her determination and her will to survive, I was cheering for her to live her dreams despite the odds.
This is a tale of hope, although I didn't think much of the farmers, and the way they treated their chickens.

Saturday 12 March 2016


Finished March 12
Anomaly by Krista McGee

This novel is a meld of science fiction and Christian fiction. Thalli is the third generation of humans born after a nuclear war in an underground bunker community. She is part of a group her own age, and has been bred to have a role, that of Musician. She has trained from her first memories to learn music to entertain her peers to motivate them as they work. She has seen what happens when someone has a physical weakness, but she is aware that she has a mental weakness and must be careful to control her curiosity and thwarting of rules to guard against being removed.
When she is tested with a piece of music and cannot control her emotions, her worst fears seem to be realized. When she awakens, a elderly man, John, is with her and she begins a friendship, one that teaches her about the world before and about faith. As she is tested further, she also has the time to learn more about Christian faith from John, and prepare herself for what awaits her.
This is a novel of science versus hope, about the stifling of feelings, and about the reemergence of faith despite the controls.
An interesting premise on a dystopian future.

The Maid's Version

Finished March 12
The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell

The summer he was twelve, Alek Dunahew lived with his grandmother Alma at the house she worked at in West Table, Missouri. She poured out to him the story she was haunted by, the story that never got resolved, the story of the explosion at the local dance hall in 1929 in which her sister Ruby died. Forty-two people were killed that night and many more injured. The investigation never found the culprits behind the tragedy, but Alma never let it go and she gains some peace in telling Alek.
This book tells of Alma and Ruby's life before the tragedy. We see Alma's husband and learn his fate. We see Ruby's love of life and how one man drew her like no other. We see Alma's three young boys and learn their fates: Sidney, who was sickly, and died young; James, who tried to take revenge, but fled instead; and Jean Paul, Alek's father, who supported his mother as he was able, who found parental figures in others, and who, after years after closing his ears to his mother, finally allows his son to tell the story.
Interspersed with the story of the Dunahews is the story of other people who died or whose lives were changed that night, from young couples to reformed men trying to live an honest life. This is a story of images, of passion and betrayal, of love and of loss.

For another, very different, story of justice denied, see Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus.

Friday 11 March 2016

This One Summer

Finished March 9
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

This graphic novel tells the story of one summer at the cottage at Awago Beach. The central character is Rose, who is around twelve. She and her parents have been going to the cottage for years, since she was a little girl. She spends most of her time with a slightly younger girl, Windy, who stays at a nearby cottage with her mother and, for part of the time, her grandmother.
Rose's mother seems distant and possibly depressed, and her parents fight a lot. She responds by withdrawing, yet also trying to eavesdrop on conversations between the various adults.
The two girls note the young man at the counter of the nearby convenience store, and the drama surrounding him and his friends. Rose is particularly drawn to this. They also spend time surreptitiously watching classic horror movies, until Windy finally has enough.
This is a summer with a lot happening. Despite the lazy days, the time spent lying on the beach, tubing, or swimming, people's lives are changing.
This book has been the subject of protest in some jurisdictions, so I chose it to see what the objections were about. Aimed at a teen audience, I see nothing here to warrant any concerns. All the issues present are ones that teenagers would expect to encounter in real life. I also chose it because the authors are Canadian.

Pinocchio Vampire Slayer

Finished March 9
Pinocchio Vampire Slayer written by Van Jensen, created and drawn by Dusty Higgins

This graphic novel imagines a new ending for the classic Pinocchio. People keep disappearing in their village, and Gepetto is worried. Pinocchio is dismissive, but when Gepetto himself is attacked and disappears, Pinocchio and his friends Master Cherry and the Blue Fairy spring into action. The cricket also plays a role, but a less central one than the original.
As Pinocchio discovers that the wood from his nose, which he quickly snaps off when it grows after telling a lie, is a powerful weapon against the forces that are besieging their village. Together the small group goes up against the enemy despite being outnumbered.
Another example in the growing oeuvre of classics with a vampire twist, this is one in a series featuring Pinocchio in a new role.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

The War That Saved My Life

Finished March 8
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This children's novel tells the story of Ada Smith and her younger brother Jamie. Ada lives in the East End in London with her mother and younger brother. Her mother does not let her out of the apartment, threatening her with the loss of looking out the window for every small infraction. Ada has always looked after Jamie that she can remember, but now he has started school and she resents him getting to go out. She decides to teach herself how to walk, despite her malformed foot, and practices when no one is home, but nothing she can do will please her mother.
When the war starts and Jamie comes home announcing that they are evacuating children to the country, Ada is determined to go. Using all her physical strength, she hobbles and drags herself to the school, and manages to get on a train with Jamie.
They end up living with a sad woman, who at first resents being asked to take them. But Ada is used to looking after herself and Jamie and gradually everyone adjusts to their new environment.
The way that Ada was treated made me angry, and fueled my reading. Ada's story is one of luck and determination, and despite her traumas, she proved a resilient young girl. She is opinionated and observant, and every success increased her confidence.
This is a book that would be good to read with a parent, to promote discussion of some of the difficult situations that arise in the plot.

The Guest Room

Finished March 8
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian, read by Mozhan Marno and Grace Experience

Bohjalian's books are always thought-provoking and surprising, and this is no exception. Here, Richard Chapman has done his younger brother a favour and hosted his bachelor party at his home in Bronxville. Richard's wife Kristin and 9 -year-old daughter Melissa are staying at Kristin's mother's apartment in Manhattan for the weekend. Richard figured that having the party at the house would tone it down in nature, although he did expect his brother's best friend Spencer, who did a lot of the planning, would likely hire a stripper.
What he didn't expect was that there would be two strippers, or that they openly offered a lot more than stripping, or that they would come with large Russian men to mind them. He drank more than he should and went to the guest room with one of the girls, Alexandra, but he could have done worse than he did. What no one expected was that one of the girls would take a knife to one of the Russians, or that the other Russian would be shot and the two girls would take off into the night in the SUV they came in.
Richard is in shock when he calls Kristin from the police station in the middle of the night to outline what has happened. Their house is a crime scene, and he has betrayed her trust. Their relationship is in a place he never imagined it would be. Richard's employer, a conservative investment bank, wants to distance themselves from the scandal, and just when Richard thinks it can't get worse, it does.
Alexandra too is in shock, She had no idea the night would end this way, and the girls have no real plan. Now they are desperately trying to stay out of the attention of both the police and the Russians. As she tells her story of being brought into the world of human trafficking, the methods used to manage her and her fellow captives, and her complicated naivity and knowledge, you will likely get as angry as I did.
One of the two narrators tells Alexandra's story. The other tells the story from Richard, Kristin, and Melissa's point of view.
With the increased attention on human trafficking in the news, this book is timely. The emotional reality of the book is strong and well done.

For a look at human trafficking in real life, read Invisible Chains by Benjamin Perrin.
For other novels with human trafficking as part of the plot, see here.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Drink Dirt Eat Stone

Finished March 6
Drink Dirt Eat Stone by Kyle Fleishman

This novel is a dark thriller. As the book opens, Tristan Stonehouse is walking out of Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba after fourteen years in prison. We learn that Tristan was formerly a hitman for the Northern Syndicate and a hero in the Gulf War, but don't know the details. These are gradually revealed to the reader as the book unfolds. Most of the action takes place in Manitoba and B.C., but there are flashbacks to earlier times in Tristan's life, and actions that take place between these two main locations.
Tristan is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but as attempts are made on his life, he has to take matters into his own hands just to stay alive. There is a fair bit of violence here, both against Tristan and committed by him, but as we learn more about him, and his past and his motivations, we become more and more on his side. Tristan is a man that doesn't talk a lot, but has a presence. He is as his daughter says, a man born a century and a half later than he should have been.
Tristan was a victim of residential school abuse, and this past has shaped him and his life in ways that those of us who haven't experienced it can't really know. There is a larger story here that is gradually revealed. The author provides a brief background piece at the end of the novel that is very helpful.
My reaction to reading this book grew as I read, leading me to "Wow." A wonderful debut novel by a new Canadian writer.

The Northern Queen

Finished March 3
The Northern Queen by Kelly Evans

This historical novel follows the life of Aelfgifu, a highborn woman of northern England. When Aethelred gained the throne, he took his revenge against Aelfgifu's family, creating in her a strong antipathy for her new ruler. The Danish king, Sweyn, is determined to dethrone Aethelred for his actions on St. Brice's Day in 1002 when Aethelred murdered thousands of Danish immigrants and their families with little warning. As Sweyn looks for allies within England, Aelfgifu is approached. Not only does she ally with Sweyn, but she soon marries his son Canute.
Thus begins the battle for England, that has Aethelred's wife Emma proving a strong force to maintain control of the land, and creating a personal rivalry between these two strong-willed women that will last throughout their lives.
Aelfgifu is a very interesting women, taught to read and write and do figures by her father who saw her potential, and an able ruler in her own right. She understands how to not only run a household, but an estate, a region, and possibly a kingdom. She doesn't abide fools however, and her disdain for those that don't see the logic of her actions can lead to the making of new enemies. She has a real love for Canute that is mutual, but their relationship also has political implications that sometimes forces them apart.
This novel brings Aelfgifu to life, letting the reader inside her experiences, her emotions, and her thoughts. The battle scenes are detailed, and the day-to-day activities drawn in a natural way that shows the real people. A great read.
This is a excellent first novel by a Canadian historian, and more is planned for this time period.

For another view on this time in history try Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriet O'Brien.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Little Green

Finished March 1
Little Green by Walter Mosley, read by Michael Boatman

I had read a few novels by Walter Mosley before this, but never one featuring Easy Rawlins. This is the 12th book in the series.
The year is 1967, and Rawlins is recovering from an near fatal car accident. As he gradually regains consciousness, his close friend Mouse comes to him for help. A young man, Evander Noon, nicknamed Little Green by Mouse, has gone missing after a trip up to Sunset Strip. The case brings Rawlins out of his own issues, but he must go to Mama Jo for help in gaining the energy to pursue the case. Mama Jo provides him with an energizing and healing elixir she calls Gator's Blood that he is careful to use as directed. Rawlins search for Evander takes him to the other world that is the Sunset Strip. The world of hippies, free love, and racial bridges, but also the world of conmen, drug dealers, and those who take advantage of the innocent. He meets the hippie flower selling young woman Ruby who put Evander on an acid trip that took him on a dangerous adventure that Rawlins must get him out of.
There are other side plots here as well, such as the attempted blackmail of Rawlins' highly placed insurance industry friend Jackson Blue, the squatter who has taken over Rawlins' house while he was incapacitated, and the windows into Rawlins' personal life through his adopted children and love interest.
This book evokes a particular time period, but certain insights, particularly around racism, still read true today. Rawlins is a man who is capable of violence, but also one who will always choose another way if her can. The writing is absolutely wonderful, something I've found in every Walter Mosley book I've read. He has an extensive vocabulary, choosing the right word for each situation and character, and the story just flows.
Here, the narrator brings that all to life, as we see the various friends that Rawlins can rely on, each with their own particular personality. I will have to read more in this series.