Saturday, January 20, 2018

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith




                I decided to make a “must read” list for myself in July of 2017. These were all of the books that had been sitting on my shelf for a considerable amount of time, that I knew I needed to push myself to read regardless of how I would handle the content. This year has been a tough one for me so far and I found myself shying away from some of the books that I really wanted to read but didn’t think I could handle emotionally. Invisible Man, Got the Whole Word Watching was one of those books. This was a book that I had heard quite a bit about and was given quite a bit of praise. I bought it but I waited. Then I made that damn list and was dead set on finishing every book on it. I started Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching and had to pull myself off the couch and get ready to go to work. If I could have called off that day to finish reading it, I would have. I starting reading Smith’s words and instantly began to relate to his story, his life. I was also born in 1986 and could immediately relate to a lot of what Smith had to say.
               And he wasn’t holding back. Smith’s social commentary was so spot on and honest that it spoke to me in ways that were all too familiar. I’m at the age now where I can recognize hard truths and he refused to back away from them. The way he discussed the black community, politics, sexism, homophobia, the government, the presidency, all of these issues that are issues that I’ve often had to wrestle with and discuss. It wasn’t until I became more aware of the system in which I was raised that I began to unlearn the problematic stances I had been taught. Reading books like this by Smith brings me comfort in knowing that I am not alone. These are things that many people have to wrestle with, come to terms with and grow from. I was taken away by the depths Smith was willing to discuss issues and the way in which he reflected on his own upbringing. His social commentary and the way in which he could relate past events to current events and the cycles that haven’t yet been broken was all very well done, well though-out and well written. I loved this book. I rushed home and finished then sat down to write this review. I want other people to read it and be exposed to this because it is really intimate and honest. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo


                I loved this book. I finished it in a day simply devouring Oluo’s word. I can relate to so much of what Oluo was sharing and in so many ways it was validating but also depressing. I feel better knowing that I’m not the only person experiencing these microaggressions, working through these issues and surviving day to day but at the same time having these similar lived experiences makes me very well aware of how far we have to come in the U.S. when it comes to dealing with race, racism and equality.
                So You Want To Talk About Race is a really well written, comprehensive look at the issue of race and how race relates to inequality, success, poverty, education and much more. When I took a look at the contents of the book I was blown away because I could recognize immediately that these topics were geared towards having a thorough conversation about race and not just placating people who want to feel like they are putting in the work. She included topics like intersectionality, privilege, affirmative action and addressed them head on, pointing out the arguments in each and encouraging readers to recognize and acknowledge where they stand on these different issues. I was hooked from the first page of the introduction. Oluo has a very straightforward writing style and she is extremely well grounded in herself and her voice. That assuredness allowed Oluo to expose herself and her personal experiences in ways that I could never imagine.
                I hope this book speaks to you. I hope this book challenges you and makes you rethink your past experience. And that goes for every person regardless of race, gender, religion or anything in between. There were people that I had in mind while reading this book. Mostly people whose friendships I had to reevaluate in the last year because I realized how much of me they didn’t see and how much of my experience they didn’t recognize. Oluo’s book saw me and saw the struggle taking place right now. I am so thankful for this book and the effect that it could have on those willing to learn, willing to talk and willing to make a change when it comes to race. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele



                We live in a world where we need to tell people that Black Lives Matter. It’s not meant to say other lives don’t matter, we simply need to address that Black lives do in fact matter and their deaths, murders and killings should be addressed, their lives should be whole and they shouldn’t be forced to live in fear. This book isn’t a discussion on whether you should believe or even appreciate that stance. This book is about the life of one of the women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.
This book is split into two parts. The first reveals Patrisse’s upbringing in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles. She describes how she witnessed her brothers being approached by the police for doing nothing more than playing outside. She details her experiences going to different schools outside of her community in affluent neighborhoods during both middle school and high school and the affect that had on her upbringing. Patrisse also talks about her parents: the mother who was ostracized from her parents and her religion for having sex and becoming pregnant outside of marriage and her father who struggled with addiction most of his adult life. Patrisse also talks about being Queer, coming out and the family’s struggle with her brother’s mental illness and stints in jail.
The second part of the book brings with it many of the topics introduced in the first part but it delves deeper into the organizer that Patrisse has become. Her personal experiences dealing with law enforcement and the criminal justice system with her father and brother’s cases helped drive her to make a change. She works with different organizations working directly with youth, and eventually is called to even more action after the killing of Trayvon Martin and the decision made to let his killer go free. Patrisse, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi would eventually begin the Black Lives Matter movement, an organization that would eventually have over 40 chapters across the globe.
                I was automatically drawn to this book after reading the title. I was well aware of the Black Lives Matter movement after the marches in Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death, but I feel like there was a lot of confusion and no credit was given to the original founders Patrisse, Alicia and Opal. It wasn’t until recently that I learned their names and heard some of their actual story. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read a memoir written by one of the founders. It centers the narrative of someone who throughout her life has been part of a world that was actively working against her and the people she had in her life, because she was black and poor. Khan-Cullors has created with this memoir a passionate, well written, documentation of the abuses she has personally experience. It is heartbreaking and sobering and grounded in reality. Not everyone will share these same experiences with her but that does not take away how valid each of these experiences are and how they need to be addressed.
               This is such a relevant book in this political climate. This is a book that will make people stop and think before they try to center themselves and utter All Lives Matter. This is a book that will force people to rethink the way the criminal justice system in the U.S. really works. This is a book that will make you question how people are taught to police and carry out their duties. This is a book that will make you think about mental illnesses, how they are discussed and treated throughout the U.S. And it will make you think about the roles of women and what it means to be Queer or Trans in this continual fight for change. Necessary, well thought out, emotional and direct. This is a book I highly recommend. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey


Melanie's life is really simple. She wakes up, waits for the soldiers to strap her to her wheelchair and then she is wheeled to class. She loves learning and her favorite teacher is Ms. Justineau. On Sundays she gets to eat and take a bath. Her routine never changes. She lives on base, safe from the hungries lurking outside the walls. But she has never been outside only knowing what she's been told. She has no idea who her parents are or if she has ever had parents. She has no idea how different she is from the teachers, the soldiers or the doctor conducting experiments on base. She has no idea that she isn't a child at all, but a hungry too.
So this was definitely a blame-it-on-Litsy read. Litsy, if you've never heard of it, is a social media app that is best described as goodreads and bookstagram having a baby. I love it and have been using it for over a year now. Everyone was talking about this book at some point. I'm not big on Zombies, I actually hate the concept, but I was willing to give this one a try. It was really good. Mostly it was smart. Carey came up with a concept that I found to be pretty original, interesting and believable. His reasoning behind the hungries existence was really scientific and ultimately terrifying. The way he chose to craft the plot, left the energy constantly running high as well as the morbid terrifying tone. The world building was detailed and well executed. There was an intriguing band of characters which covered the different "survival" tropes nicely and wasn't overbearing.
All in all this was a fun, scary but not necessarily horror dystopian read. It's a page turner with twist and turns that I found rather enjoyable. If you don't care for zombie stories, like me, it's still really easy to enjoy this novel. More so than anything I was entertained, anxious at some moments, angry the next and scared by some. I recommend this. It's worth the ride. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson



                This is the story of Walter McMillan, a man on death row in Alabama, awaiting an execution date for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. This is the story of Bryan Stevenson, a young, black lawyer who founded Equal Justice Initiative, in hopes of helping those who had fallen victim to an unjust legal system. This is the story of how Bryan Stevenson saved Walter McMillan from the execution chair by fighting for his freedom and revealing the holes in a case based off corrupt witness testimony, lies, and deceit. But this is also the story of many other people living behind bars, hoping for a chance at freedom, even though the odds are stacked against them.
                This book was absolutely incredible and extremely disheartening. Stevenson, in telling this story, reveals so much about what is wrong in our criminal justice. And he does it in such a way, that it is extremely hard to refute. He is full of compassion and he is able to do what so many others blatantly refuse to do and that’s see people that have committed crimes as human. Stevenson looks at each prisoner, not as a case number or crime or statistic but as a person. Too often we see people punished because they are seen as an other and their humanity is totally stripped from them. Stevenson doesn’t allow himself or the reader to take away someone’s humanity. That makes such a difference when you look at issues like capital punishment, treating child offenders as adults, sentencing, mental illness, abuse and so many other circumstances that affect the criminal justice system. I couldn’t stop reading this book. It contains so much information and yet it is a very intimate look, not only at Bryan and Walter, but of the many other people that Bryan mentioned and whose cases he worked on. Walter is the focus because his situation was so atrocious and so blatantly corrupted that it is hard to believe it even happened. But it did happen and if it weren’t for Bryan and those who worked at Equal Justice Initiative, Walter would have been killed even though he was innocent.
                Some books are meant to challenge your way of thinking and make you uncomfortable. Those are usually the books that affect us most and shake us to our very core. Just Mercy is one of those books for me, because of the way in which Stevenson discussed capital punishment and the detail that he provided of many of the intricacies in sentencing. I was never aware of much of the information that he detailed and reading this book makes me want to educate others and myself more on these topics. This book was so well written. I immediately began to trust Stevenson and became invested in the outcome of his cases and the many people he discussed. Stevenson continues to fight the good fight and it’s because of his dedication to reforming the criminal justice that we are able to see changes. I’m so grateful that he chose to share this story and this information. I highly recommend this book. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi




                This was a story that I began reading with the most basic of information and a whole lot of hype. I took my time getting to it. Part of me didn't know if I was mentally ready to read it, the other part of me didn’t want to be disappointed. I shouldn't have feared either. This book was amazing, beautifully crafted and extremely engaging. Homegoing is about a family separated. Sisters, that never knew each other, and how their fates would lead their descendants in two completely different directions. One would stay in Africa. The other a slave in America. But what would become of their children, and their children's children, and the many after that? This is a look back at history. This history of a people separated. One side staying home while the other can only look back unknowingly to a home they never knew.
                I've said before and I'll say it again, writing successful generational stories is hard. Gyasi though executed it beautifully. Each chapter is centered around a new character's narrative. The narrative are chronologically told from the beginning of the slave trade to the 2000s. I loved that she used these distinct narratives. I loved that she made it easy to follow the family line through the different narratives. I love the unique storylines which lended itself to creating the atmosphere of the novel.
                 I never lost interest in this story! I was invested throughout. It was such an amazing concept and was so well done. Gyasi crafted amazing stories and molded these family units in such a way that you become addicted to learning the outcomes. Her world building and plot development allowed for time to pass with ease without disconnecting the reader from the characters or their histories. Gyasi's effort with this novel has to be applauded. There were moments throughout the book where the social commentary was so spot on that this became almost heartbreaking. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Imago by Octavia E. Butler

Imago by Octavia E. Butler


This is how a story should end. This is how you bring all the different parts together, weave them together seamlessly and produce something new. The Ooankali weren't expecting to create a construct-ooloi and yet Johads is going through metamorphosis, its first, and will become the first construct-ooloi. What this will mean for its future and its ability to mate is yet to be seen.
When I first started this trilogy I was constantly amazed by Butler's creativity and her ability to give so many details to not only the Ooankali but the world that was left after war destroyed life on Earth. With each book she added layers to the story that just increased the scope of this world and brought me to the brink of my imagination. Imago blends seamlessly into this world and takes a wholly unexpected turn that kept me intrigued and excited!
One of things that I really loved about this series was the passage of time. Decades pass between the books and yet Butler misses nothing when filling in the details. The passage of time also allows readers to meet new characters and focus on their journey while still being aware of and interacting with the characters from the first book. I loved that anything was possible in this series! This is exactly what I want from science fiction. I want to be completely flabbergasted by what an author can come up with and yet still make believable. Butler was the queen of the that and it's so obvious in this series!
I am going to recommend the entire series. But this may not be for everyone! If you aren't a fan of science fiction stories with aliens and a dystopian edge to it then you might not enjoy these books. I did because I love Butler's writing style and this story was intoxicating. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.