Review: Has China Won? by Kishore Mahbubani

51720954._SX318_SY475_Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy by Kishore Mahbubani

Published: March 31, 2020 by Public Affairs

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: The defining geopolitical contest of the twenty-first century is between China and the US. But is it avoidable? And if it happens, is the outcome already inevitable?
China and America are world powers without serious rivals. They eye each other warily across the Pacific; they communicate poorly; there seems little natural empathy. A massive geopolitical contest has begun.
America prizes freedom; China values freedom from chaos. America values strategic decisiveness; China values patience. America is becoming society of lasting inequality; China a meritocracy. America has abandoned multi-lateralism; China welcomes it.
Kishore Mahbubani, a diplomat and scholar with unrivaled access to policymakers in Beijing and Washington, has written the definitive guide to the deep fault lines in the relationship, a clear-eyed assessment of the risk of any confrontation, and a bracingly honest appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses, and superpower eccentricities, of the US and China.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Public Affairs!***

I stopped reading this book about 150 pages in, roughly halfway. I make an effort to not put down a book less than halfway through in order to be fair. Sometimes things start to look up after a rocky beginning. To be clear, I did not put this book away because it was poorly written. Indeed, it was excellently written. But I felt like the author has gotten it wrong when it came to his starting thesis. And unfortunately, if your starting thesis is incorrect, then some or all of your conclusions probably will be too.

The author has a very big bias in favor of China. This was evident throughout the Introduction when he basically said that China is the victim of cultural misunderstanding and that America was mostly afraid of powerful “yellow” people (his words, not mine) and mistakenly thinks that all Communism is the same as the Soviet Union was. But I carried on in spite of this obvious bias because the next two chapters were about the biggest mistakes so far that each of the world superpowers has made. I thought, maybe here is where we get a more evenhanded approach.

Unfortunately we did not. According to the author, China’s biggest mistake is that it gives too much power to local governments and Beijing is largely powerless to control them. For example, the author mentions that businesses are very wary of working in China because they feel that China takes advantage of them and threatens them with access to the Chinese market if they don’t comply to outrageous. His example is a business that states they had a contract with a Chinese company that they would utilize their services for a set number of years and then buy the company outright for X price at the end of that period. When that date came the company refused to sell. The business petitioned to the courts in Beijing and were told “well pay them more money then and buy the business”. The author attributes this to a lack of centralized leadership. That is blatantly false and biased. That is called extortion. If the courts had said “Sorry, this is an issue with the local jurisdiction” that would prove the author’s point. But they acted like a mob enforcer “Pay more money, then they’ll sell.” The author gives this kind of leniency to the Chinese government over and over again.

And still, I continued. I thought that perhaps when the author was describing the largest mistake by America that we would see the same leniency. We did not. The author spends the entire chapter demonizing President Trump and demonizing businesses for blaming it on American war culture. And then throwing in some demonization of America’s lack of social justice for good measure. Americans just want to believe that all Communism is bad, so that’s why we demonize China. Again, this is a flawed premise. The Chinese Communist Party is bad. They have upwards of 1.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps, another half million in re-education centers. Stories abound from survivors of these camps of the rampant abuse and rape that goes on. Defectors from the CCP are executed silently and immediately, potentially thousands of people per year. The CCP has  launched genocidal massacres on Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims within the past decade. Don’t try and blow that particular sunshine about good Communism up my behind, thanks all the same!

In the end, this author thinks China is a great place and America is inherently racist with a psycho for a President. To me, that indicates that all conclusions that he draws will be flawed. So while the author asks a lot of interesting questions, the answers will likely be unsatisfying.

Review: Day Zero by Kelly deVos

9781335008480.inddDay Zero by Kelly deVos

Published on November 1st, 2019 by Harlequin Teen

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: If you’re going through hell…keep going.

Seventeen-year-old coder Jinx Marshall grew up spending weekends drilling with her paranoid dad for a doomsday she’s sure will never come. She’s an expert on self-heating meal rations, Krav Maga and extracting water from a barrel cactus. Now that her parents are divorced, she’s ready to relax. Her big plans include making it to level 99 in her favorite MMORPG and spending the weekend with her new hunky stepbrother, Toby.

But all that disaster training comes in handy when an explosion traps her in a burning building. Stuck leading her headstrong stepsister, MacKenna, and her precocious little brother, Charles, to safety, Jinx gets them out alive only to discover the explosion is part of a pattern of violence erupting all over the country. Even worse, Jinx’s dad stands accused of triggering the chaos.

In a desperate attempt to evade paramilitary forces and vigilantes, Jinx and her siblings find Toby and make a break for Mexico. With seemingly the whole world working against them, they’ve got to get along and search for the truth about the attacks—and about each other. But if they can survive, will there be anything left worth surviving for?

Rating: 2 star

Review: To sum it up in one sentence, this book wasn’t very good but wasn’t completely without redeeming qualities. The writing was solid. A bit too much tell versus show at times but the narrative was engaging enough that it didn’t bother me. I liked the introductions to all the characters and felt that those early chapters gave me a really good handle on who everyone was. Except Toby, for the first few chapters I kept forgetting who he was and I am still not sure why I couldn’t remember him.

Jinx was a terrible main character. I could tell that she’s supposed to be smart but she really enjoyed acting like she wasn’t. Her father prepared her for the apocalypse for years, she knows what she should do in the situations presented in the book. She just decides not to do it. And then regrets it once everything goes horribly wrong. Just once I wanted her to follow the lessons of her father and go along with the disaster plan. But, alas, she did not. I tried really hard to like her as a character but I just couldn’t do it.

Charles was an absolutely delight as a character, which was completely unexpected for me. I did not expect to like him but he stole my heart. I wanted to protect him in his anxiety and fear. And to quite frank, he was a lot smarter than his older sister too.

My biggest problem with this book however was the political overtones. I don’t mind books that are commentaries on the current political climate. But, is it really so hard to disguise that a tiny bit? Somehow the current political parties have been replaced by The Spark and The Opposition. I have no idea how that happened because the author didn’t bother to tell me. The Spark is basically the Democrat party. Socialist, popular with “educated” folks who majored in political science, and the goal is take rich people’s money and spread it around so that everyone has a mediocre existence. They have been in power for about 10 years according to the book. Their leader is Rosenthal. Everyone in the book repeats the party catch phrase ad nauseum “Everyone’s for Rosenthal.” And if anyone in the book even hints that they might not be for Rosenthal they are immediately attacked with “so you just hate people? you just want to hoard your stuff instead of take care of people?!” Yawn. Boring. The Opposition is the Republicans, allegedly. Led by Ammon Carver, an enigmatic billionaire who owns the largest bank in the country and since “Everyone’s for Rosenthal” he obviously cheated in order to win. Is this sounding familiar at all? Oh yes, everyone in The Opposition wears red hats, carries shotguns, has a poor command of the English language, has a pickup truck, and obviously wants the world to descend into anarchy so they can keep all their stuff. Oh and every other character immediately labels them a Neo-Nazi seemingly without any evidence of that at all. Is this sounding familiar now?

I didn’t mind the political themes at first because after the first 20 pages or so they seemed to largely move on to other things. But then it comes back at the end in such a heavy handed way that I wanted to scream. It felt like the author was beating me over the head with a MAGA hat screaming “I’m talking about Trump and 2016!!!” I get it. Okay? Honestly. I get it. I am not so stupid that I didn’t see your glaringly obvious theme. I was so tired of it by the time we got to the big twist at the end that I mostly just wanted the book to end. I don’t mind politics in my books, but please refrain from beating me over the head with your own opinions. I don’t need the brain damage.

And then we come to the twist. It wasn’t that good either. I started figuring it out about halfway through the book. I was completely sure that I knew what was going on shortly after. It was so blatantly obvious that even another character basically says to Jinx, “Hey isn’t all this stuff weird and suspicious? Do you think there might be something odd going on here?” And Jinx just laughs and says “Of course not!”. Then she is oh so shocked when the traitor is revealed. Um, that other character literally told you all that stuff about 40 pages ago. Are you really that dense?

Overall, not a good book. I won’t be reading the next book but it gets some credit for the exciting middle portion and for Charles.

Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

dueledDualed by Elsie Chapmen

Published February 26th 2013 by Random House

Buy this book at: B&N / Amazon / Book Depository / Books A Million

 

Synopsis:

Two of you exist.

Only one will survive.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

 

Rating: 4 star

 

Review:

This has to be one of my most highly anticipated book in months. I fell in love with the cover, I’m still in love with the cover. It is spectacular. I also loved the synopsis. The idea behind this book is one that I recognized could be either amazing or terrible, it all depended on execution. This was executed well. Some things probably could have been better but overall as a story I loved it.

The good:

West- She was a fantastic heroine. I found her to be smart, brave, loving, and normal. Unlike a lot of YA heroines, she believes herself to be subpar but isn’t perfect at everything in reality. We all know the heroines I meant. “Man I suck so bad, except for my perfect looks, perfect boyfriend, perfect hair, and inability to do anything that isn’t perfect.” West doubts herself but she’s reasonable in her doubt. She is a normal girl, good at some things and not so good at others. She neither believes she’s amazing or believes she’s terrible at everything. I found her very likely for that reason. I didn’t always understand her motivations but she always made me believe that she was a very girl who was trying her best to do the right thing.

Ending- I will be the first to admit it, I didn’t see the ending coming. Not even a little bit. Of course most of these kinds of books end in one way. The hero/heroine realized how wrong the system is and tries to subvert it in any way possible. That is what I was expecting but it’s not what I got. At this point I am at a loss for how the series will progress but I will be thrilled to find out. I am in for the long haul on this series and I think the ending played a large part in that. Best of all, the ending could serve as the perfect ending for a stand alone story. It was a satisfying end to that story that I wouldn’t mind if it ended right here but there’s still enough of a story to keep going with it too.

Narrative/World Building- West was a good narrator for the book, I liked her thoughts and didn’t mind being inside her head. Sometimes I thought she was being something of an idiot, but still didn’t mind her narration. The world building was good enough that I didn’t have any trouble at all picturing it in my head. I couldn’t quite get a grasp on the rules for the world but it was well put together for the purposes of the book.

 

The not so good:

Alts- Obviously the Alts were being presented as the protagonists of the book, but I felt that this limited the book in a lot of ways. The Alts are not necessarily the bad guys, we only perceive them that way because our character, West, is being pursued by hers. So since we’re supposed to be on her side then her Alt is automatically the bad guy. But if you honestly look at it then her Alt is going through exactly the same thing as West is. She also has to fight her Alt to the death and leave her family to do so. She also doesn’t know if she’ll be alive or dead in 30 days time. So ultimately they have the same path. I would have liked to see both West and her Alt and get sympathy for both of them. It would have made it less about us versus them and more about us being pitted against them unwillingly.

West as a Striker – I didn’t understand that decision at all. It seemed to come out of left field. Why did she want to do that? Why did she think that would help? And even if she thought it would help, why did she continue after being declared active? It puzzled me all the way through the book. It was an interesting part of the story but since it seemed to have so little effect on the character or the final outcome then I have to wonder, what was the point? Maybe this will be explained later on in the series but I didn’t get what the author was trying to go for.

It used the two most cliched phrases ever- “His eyes darkened briefly.” and “I released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.” Authors, please please please I beg you, stop writing these things! It makes me cringe every time I see them. Really it does. Enough is enough. I am banning those phrases from the English language forever.

Much more positive than negative and I can honestly say that I couldn’t put it down. I sat on my couch and ignored the world for the entire last 130 pages, with no break. I just had to see how it would end. If nothing else tells you whether I’d recommend this book, that should.

 

 

 

Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

the 19th wifeThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Published June 2nd, 2009 by Random House

Synopsis and cover image from the Goodreads book page

Buy this book at: Book Depository / Amazon / B&N

Synopsis:

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love, family, and faith

 

Rating: 3 star

 

Review:

For anyone who doesn’t know, I used to belong to the Mormon church.  I was born into it (4th generation actually) and lived it until I was around 18 and then removed myself from church membership at 19.  So, in a sense, I can identify with Ann Eliza and her apostasy from the church.  I may have left for different reasons but I was surprised how many were the same.  This also left with me a rather biased view of the church and their teachings.  I was still interested in this book for the story it presented and tried very hard not to let my own biases color this review.  But I feel a tiny disclaimer is warranted just in case I didn’t quite succeed.

This book attempts to tell two stories simultaneously.  First is the story of Ann Eliza, 19th wife to the 2nd prophet of the LDS church Brigham Young.  It tells the story of her disenchantment with the church and later her divorce from Brigham and apostasy over the issue of polygamy.  She later goes on a personal crusade to end polygamy in the United States for good.  The second story is the story of Jordan Scott.  His mother is the 19th wife of a polygamist man in a fringe branch of the LDS church, which branched off over the issue of polygamy, and she is arrested and accused of murdering her husband.

Now, I found both of these stories interesting but I wasn’t entirely happy with the way they were handled in the book.  Ann Eliza’s narrative overtook the large majority of the pages and quite frankly it wasn’t the most interesting thing going on.  Anyone with even a tiny bit of knowledge of Mormon history knows how Ann Eliza’s crusade ends.  They know that the church banned polygamy from practice in order to coincide with US law.  We know that her crusade was only partially effective since fringe elements in the church branched off from the main church and still practice polygamy to this day.  These are all things we KNOW happened, so Ann Eliza’s story is not surprising but only mildly interesting.  What was surprising was Jordan Scott, a young man cast out of this fringe group (called the Firsts) for holding hands with his stepsister.  His mother drives him to the highway and puts him out on the road to fend for himself at 15.  He is then pulled back into the sect when his mother is arrested for murdering his father year later, and he finds that he believes her to be innocent.  We follow Jordan on his quest to discover the truth of his father’s demise.

Although I felt that Ann Eliza’s story got far more coverage than it needed to, I can’t say that I disliked what I read.  The only part that got on my nerves was when we read something from her memoir and then a chapter or so later are told the SAME THING as someone tells Jordan Scott about it.  I felt like this was a forced attempt to connect the two stories when it wasn’t necessary.  We already had the connection of polygamy, the Firsts being founded by Ann’s brother, and both being the 19th wife.  We didn’t need anything else to be intrigued so it felt forced to put all these connections between the stories in there.  The other part of Ann’s narrative that I had issue with was that it got repetitive all by itself.  We hear her talk about her lecturing on multiple occasions, we hear about her marriage from not only her but her former husband AND her son.  It got cumbersome and took up way too many pages, meanwhile I was frothing at the mouth to hear about what Jordan was doing!

Jordan’s story, unfortunately, got neglected.  We kind of think he has a boyfriend (Roland) who is kind of an asshole, but he so readily hooks up with goody goody Tom that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.  Johnny was a delightful character who added some much needed levity to this otherwise very heavy story.  All of the other characters in Jordan’s narrative I really had no feelings for because none of them were fleshed out very much, so I couldn’t have any feelings toward them one way or the other.  I feel like the author relied too much on the reputation of sects like The Firsts and that the reader just automatically understood the interactions.  Here’s a hint, we didn’t and we wanted to!  The ending of Jordan’s narrative took me by surprise.  I honestly never saw it coming, mostly because I never had enough information to see it coming.

Also SPOILER!!!!

Minor grip about the title.  Neither of these women was actually the 19th wife.  Popularly they were known as the 19th wives, but neither actually were in reality.  I don’t know why that bugged me, but it did.  Overall, it was an interesting story and the ending saved it for me on many accounts. A good investment of my time, but it could have done with a few hundred pages less.