Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz

                If I could recommend any book to women that would introduce them to wide variety of different women who impacted the world it would be Rad Women Worldwide. I think this book is absolutely incredible. From the very beginning of this book, readers are introduced to the many different, inspiring stories of women from all around the world who have strived to make a difference in themselves and the world. Many of these women I recognized but there were some, that after being on this Earth for thirty years, I had never heard of. The biographies were short and to the point, providing just enough information to describe the type of person they were and impact the women had on society. This leaves the door open for anyone to research more into the lives of these women if they find their interest sincerely piqued. If you choose not to delve further into the life of an individual, readers can still be satisfied and in many ways pleased with the succinct amount of information provided. I loved this book. The illustrations were absolutely amazing and I found the biographies to be extremely intriguing. I loved the collection of women and the diversity of display, not just in ethnicity but in careers and circumstances as well. Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History simply put is a very beautifully put together collection of short biographies of women who have made an impact. It is inspiring, engaging, well researched and full of the spirit of what it means to be a woman. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. There are no boundaries but the ones we put on ourselves. 

Thanks Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

                Honestly, Phoebe had me at the title and the cover photo. I knew a kindred spirit when I saw her and I wanted to know if me and Phoebe would be bosom buddies in real life. I like her. Why? Because the fact that she could throw in so much humor, while being honest and tackling really complicated issues concerning race made me happy. It’s hard talking to people about life as a black woman. Yet, Robinson did it very well, with some well-timed humor included. This book won’t be for everybody and that’s okay. She makes it very clear that there is no niche that you can contain her in. She is multidimensional, so whatever box you thought you were going to hold her in, you might as well completely disregard. That’s why I enjoyed this collection of essays. I felt like I was having a really honest conversation with one of my friends that included many glasses of wine, served chilled.
                So this is what (a conversation with one of my friends) You Cant Touch My Hair was truly about: a thirty-one year old black woman, who has contemplated race for most of her existence, is really funny, loves doing stand-up comedy and has finally figured out this thing called life… sort of. Now I’m not a stand-up comedian, that’s not my style of funny, but I recently turned thirty, have contemplated about race for a large part of my life and I think I’ve got this life thing pretty under control. Robinson though knows how to convey her story with a raw emotion that most people will be able to understand, empathize, sympathize and relate to. Not to mention the fact that she is pretty damn funny and I had plenty of moments when I found myself laughing hysterically.

                Now you may not love every single essay. These essays may make some people uncomfortable and make you question the microaggressions you just realized you’ve been committing for years. But if you can see past the things that make you uncomfortable I genuinely believe many people can enjoy this collection. Besides being really funny and racially conscious it’s an easy read with quotable moments and hilarious visuals. I enjoyed it. I’m glad I decided to let Robinson’s essay’s wash over my senses and envelope my mind. Her stories are genuine and I saw my own story in many of them. I related in more ways than I thought possible. At the end of the story I was grateful I took the time to get to know Robinson through this collection. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004)

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

                Philip was a young boy but he still knew of the war against the Jews going on in Germany. He could constantly hear his parents discussing it. So when Lindbergh was elected president instead of Roosevelt in 1940, all Philip could feel was fear. His father knew Lindbergh was an anti-Semite. So did many of the other Jewish families in the neighborhood. All of whom were afraid of what Lindbergh’s pact with Hitler and the Japanese Emperor could mean for their future. America had now become allied with the Axis powers. While Europe was being slowly decimated by Hitler’s Army, the Japanese would begin conquering the different nations of the Pacific. The president of the United States, Charles A. Lindbergh, would do nothing but watch.
                I love alternate history historical fiction novels. I think it such an amazing genre with so many endless possibilities. We all know how World War II ended, how Roosevelt would end up serving four terms in office and sending troops to battle in Europe and the Pacific. But imagine if he hadn’t and an isolationist was given power instead. Would anti-Semitism have taken over in the United States? That’s the question Roth sets out to answer with this novel. He envisions a world where such a change takes place and fear and horror takes place on American soil. It was interesting concept, with a plot that was well executed and a pervasive tone of fear but there were some areas where it simply fell flat.
                I have decided that I am simply not a fan of Roth’s writing style. He decided to write this as if it were a personal memoir. That was actually pretty successful except for the fact that his prose was extremely too congested and his narrative tend to waver off topic a lot. I struggled with getting through his writing but I was totally engrossed in the story. The end was a bit of a disappointment. As much as I had grown to like the characters, all of whom were pretty well developed, I felt like the ending was rushed in an attempt to tie the story line up with a neat little bow. I won’t post spoilers but the “plot” aspect while plausible was just lame.

                The Plot Against America was simply okay. I’m giving it 3 out of 5 stars. It was an interesting story, with a writing style I didn’t prefer. The tension was always plausible but somewhere along the line I feel like Roth gave up and wasn’t sure how to end it. A lot of missed opportunities with this novel but an intriguing story none the less of a history I’m glad didn’t happen this way. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (2003)

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

                In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair. It was originally intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the New World. But after the Exposition Universelle, an extremely successful world fair that was hosted in Paris, the World’s Fair turned into something more. Chicago wanted to put its name on the map and also build a structure that would rival the newly constructed Eiffel Tower. The architect Daniel Burnham would oversee the construction of what would be known as the White City and its success or failure would ride on his shoulders. While Burnham was building and planning the World’s fair, there was another man who had his sights on more sinister projects. He was known as H.H. Holmes but that was only one of the aliases he used. He would ultimately be responsible for the death of at least nine people with some estimates guessing up to two hundred. In a time and place where many people often disappeared few were suspicious of the fact that so many seemed to disappear around him.
                This is the second Larson nonfiction novel that I have read and I am extremely pleased. This was an extremely engrossing read about the creation of the World’s Fair, its trials, tribulations, setbacks, success and legacy but it’s also about this murderer who used Chicago and all of its faults to his advantage. I went into reading this book completely unaware of the history of the World’s Fair and found it extremely informative. The impact of the World’s Fair on the generations to come is something that can’t be overlooked once recognized. From Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to Shredded Wheat, The Wizard of Oz and Disney, that’s before even mentioning the first “Ferris Wheel”. The fact that while the creation of the fair was taking place, Holmes was actively luring women with his job and his hotel, with the intent to murder them and possibly experiment on them or sell their remains. It’s disgusting and yet part of the history of this time period. Larson did a great job at juxtaposing these two realities.

                Larson is amazing at creating what is now coined as “nonfiction novels.” He simply knows how to take the facts and information to weave together and extremely interesting and moving plot. His constant change in narrative between Burnham with the fair and Holmes with the murders created an atmosphere of both excitement and fear. His world building and development of historical characters just brought this history to life. I read this as part of the 24in48 readathon and wasted no time in devouring it. Really well done. I give this 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Irena’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

                I had never heard of Irena Sendler until I saw this book. As someone who reads quite a bit of World War II nonfiction books I found this to be quite disturbing. Who is this woman being crowned the “female Schindler?” I know his name. I’ve known his name since hearing of the famous movie that I wasn’t brave enough to watch until I reached adulthood. Now, after reading Irena’s Children¸ I am very well aware of the history of Irena Sendler and the courage it took to walk into the Warsaw Ghetto every day and walk out with a hidden Jewish child.

                This book is powerful in so many ways. One of the things that I admired most about Irena’s Children is that Mazzeo made it a point to emphasize that Irena was human. She was flawed, made mistakes but she wanted desperately to fight against what she found deplorable. Looking back at her history one can understand why Irena had such strong convictions. Her father, Stanislaw Kryzanowski, helped create the Polish Socialist Party before his death. She was raised around Jews and fell in love with one. Irena watched helplessly as her friends were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto and she knew she must do all she could to help them. Irena went to work and began running an underground organization that would help thousands of people, mostly children, escape the Ghetto. Her life and those that worked with her were in constant peril. That never stopped any of them from doing what they knew where right.

           Well composed, well written and well researched, Mazzeo did a great job compiling the history of Irena and those she fought so desperately to save. Irena’s story was reflective of the many people who didn’t stand idly by while those around them suffered. This story gave me faith in humanity. Even in the darkest of times, there will always be those who continue to fight. Irena’s story starts well before with the influence of her father, and ends will after the war when the truth of her story is recognized. Chronologically told from the memories of those who knew her and Irena’s own memoirs, this story is an emotional rollercoaster. Definitely a book I recommend and stand behind. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thanks Netgalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

                Elka looked at Trapper like a father for the last ten years. She never thought it would end with her throwing her knife in his shoulder and pinning him to a tree. A lot of things had changed in a year. The magistrate approached Elka when she went into town, where drawings of Trapper had been posted everywhere. He was wanted for the murder of a few different women and a child. Elka feared for her life and the things that she knew and ran. But Trapper was always near and so was the magistrate. Finding the parents Elka didn’t even remember were her only hope of starting over. But they went looking for gold when she was a young girl. Elka was seven when Trapper saved her and that was all she had ever known since.
                The Wolf Road starts off with a bang and continues to deliver. Within a few pages I knew I liked Elka. She was flawed, hard as nails and yet because of her isolation completely na├»ve when it came to social interactions. She was interesting, had so much depth and I genuinely wanted to understand the relationship between her and Trapper. The mystery of their relationship, the murders and her part in them lasted throughout the entire novel. There were moments when I thought I had unraveled the truth, only to have the full situation revealed to my horror. The tone of the novel, and the dystopia of a future drastically altered because of wars, set Elka up for a voyage that would have killed most people. But her strength and demeanor, all a result of her upbringing by Trapper, kept her safe.
                Lewis’s debut novel is a dark, engrossing read that sucks you in early then keeps you in its grasp. I enjoyed this novel. It never cantered into the cheesy side of storytelling which can happen easily when authors are trying too hard. It remained mysterious while fragments of the truth were littered throughout the story. I loved the ending. It was twisted and unexpected. My mind didn’t want to go to the darkest realms of my imagination and yet Lewis was able to lead me there and it was a ride I thoroughly enjoyed. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thanks Blogging for Books for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

                In the village in Turkey where Desdemona and Lefty were from, things like this happened often. Well, at least there were stories of babies born looking like girls and then around fifteen they were boys. But that was in turkey in the early 1900’s, not Detroit in the 1970’s. There was a reason why first cousins weren’t allowed to marry and you even needed permission to marry a second cousin. Desdemona was always afraid that something would happen after her and Lefty got married. But then they had two kids and they were fine. Their children had kids and Calliope seemed fine. Calliope had no idea about her own truth, even though it should have been discovered at birth. She was born with the genitalia of a woman but the genetics of a man. Middlesex is what Cal has to say about his family history, the girl he used to be and the man he became.
                I can honestly say that I have never read a book about a hermaphrodite before. This was a great introduction into the topic. A little bit of science with a lot of emotional development. This is a lot less about the story of a young girl unaware of her hermaphroditism and more about three generations of Greeks and how they navigated life as a family. It is trying, emotional, funny, and gritty. Cal is our narrator and we are very aware from the beginning that he is a hermaphrodite living as a male. I found Cal to be an extremely well-written, well-executed character. The way he told the story made it really enjoyable and interesting. I found him witty and not at all self-deprecating. His goal, in my opinion was to inform readers of his life and how he came to be in this genetic position. The world building was amazing. I thought Eugenides through Cal’s voice was really able to capture the era, tone, and characteristics of each age, while still being able to describe in great detail the surroundings.

                Middlesex starts off very strong. I must admit that I found the history of the family way more interesting than his “discovery” of himself. Part of that is because the reader is always aware of his hermaphroditism so there is never any mystery involved. When he becomes aware of the truth he begins acting like a typical teenager and that close to the end of the book, my interest started wane. The story of Desdemona and Lefty, the story of Milton and Tessie, and even how they all interacted as a family was great. Eugenides’s writing style was really enjoyable. His change in narrative from past to present was done well. I rate this 4 out of 5 stars. It was really worth the read.