Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips



                In September of 1912 two white women were attacked in Forsyth County. Ellie Grice claimed to have been raped by a black man. Mae Crow was beaten and left for dead. The events that directly followed these two incidents were the lynchings of five black men accused of the crimes and the exodus of the almost 1100 black residents of the county. The white residents of the town threatened, attacked and stalked the black members of the community until they feared for the life and fled into neighboring counties. Those residents who sought to protect the black workers that worked for them would be threatened until they conceded. Forsyth County, Georgia would then be known as a “white county” something the residents relished with pride. For the next 75 years this county would hold its racial line, defending it with threats to any African American that dared to cross it. In 1987 the Civil Rights movement would finally break through the barriers and drag the county into the national spotlight where their views would finally be challenged and eventually overcome.
                Patrick Phillips and his family were residents of Forsyth County in the 1970s and 1980s. They would march in the Brotherhood Marches led by Civil Rights leaders. His writing and testimony lends such a terrifying credibility to this story that’s hard to deny and honestly extremely disturbing. This isn’t a story to be taken lightly and Phillips did an amazing job in his research and in the way he conveys the county’s history. Every rock has been overturned in an attempt to honestly convey the tone of those who prided themselves on living in a town which such a disgusting history.

                Why do we read books like this? Because it’s important to understand the history of racism, how it is conveyed, how it is inherited and how it is a result of an irrational fear. There was absolutely no evidence that the attacks that took place were at the hands of black men. But the fear that lived throughout the town was so prevalent and all-consuming that one man was lynched the day Mae Crow was found, without a trial or any evidence pointing to his involvement in the crime. It’s beyond disgusting but so very evident of the problem with racism in this country. This book is a glaring spotlight on the racism still prevalent in the U.S., and how it’s managed to rear its ugly head time and time again. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I am shaken and angry after finishing but grateful that this story has been told. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince


                She was known as Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone. She wouldn’t become Michaela DePrince until she had lost both of her parents. Her father was shot in the diamond mines by the rebels. Her mother would die from sickness. Mabinty would become known simply as a number by the guardians at the orphanage. When the rebels removed the children from the orphanage everyone would escape to Ghana, where her new mother Elaine would take her and her best friend, also Mabinty, to the United States of America. Her first night with Elaine before they left Ghana she would show her a picture she had found while at the orphanage. It was a cover of Dance Magazine. On the cover was a ballerina elevated on pointe. She wanted to be that dancer.
                It is hard to imagine what life could possibly be like for an orphan child in Africa. Reading Michaela’s account of her young life is extremely emotional and hard to digest. Murder, fear, bodies lying in the street and the rebels’s forces always near. Michaela does a great job recounting her experiences and detailing how much her life changed after being adopted. It’s obvious that throughout each phase of her life in America that she was loved by her adoptive family. This was as much a coming of age story as it was a memoir.

                This was a very quick and lovely read. I loved learning about Michaela’s history and seeing the growth and maturity of such a young woman. She tackled issues of race as a ballerina and how she was perceived while having white parents. She talks about the stress and decisions she had made to become a ballerina. It’s an incredible story and journey. This was an easy one to enjoy. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


                Cecilia went first. She failed on her first attempt even though she needed over 20 stitches on each wrist. But the second time, Cecilia succeeded in ending her life. Her four older sisters were watched with scrutiny around their neighborhood and their school. Were they mourning? Did they know why Cecilia wanted to kill herself? What could be going through their heads? Lux, Mary, Bonnie and Therese would go a year without their sister before joining her beyond the grave. The entire time they were being watched by the boys who loved them. They tried in vain to reach the Lisbon sisters, to understand them, to express to them the love that boiled over for them. That love would take the boys through to their adulthood, to this book that holds their recollections of the Lisbon sisters. They have been examining the evidence for years trying understand the sisters and their suicides.
                The Virgin Suicides is an intense story with a supremely unsettling tone. Our narrators were young men when the girls took their life. Their narration is filled with unrequited love for the girls and the pain of their losing the Lisbon sisters. There is also an overwhelming sense of mystery surrounding the girls. The reader learns nothing about the girls from the girls themselves. Everything is learned through the observation of other people, whether it be our narrators or the many people they interviewed, or conclusions based off the evidence our narrators have collected. The world is built around these girls but they remain an overwhelming mystery. The biggest question being why they killed themselves.

                I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the tone and the obvious despair. I wanted answers as much as our narrators did. No one could ever understand how five sisters managed to kill themselves. Eugenides did a great job with how he told the story with the constant reflections of the girls and the nonchalant descriptions of how much life has changed in the present. The story exist in the present but is looking back at the time when the girls lived because the narrators can’t move beyond it. I think this book is simply really well executed and unique. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander


                Let me start off by saying that this is one of those books that I believe could initiate a large amount of change if people would take the time to read it, understand it and pursue a change. With that in mind I am going to recommend this book to you before I even start to tell you about this book because I believe everyone should be aware of what is happening in the United States, why it is unprecedented and why mass incarceration affects us all. Michelle Alexander wanted to prove with this book how the War on Drugs began, how the language behind it insinuated the worst possible imagery of the black community, how the prison industry expanded to such a gargantuan size and how the main victims of the War of Drugs are African-American men.
                To see that written so bluntly can be slightly off putting, I understand that. Especially if you may not believe at face value how any of that is true. That’s why a book like this is so important. Alexander lays it all out on the table for you to examine. She isn’t simply throwing her opinion on the wall and hitting you over the head with some conspiracy theory she found on the internet. Alexander has researched the statistics, looked at the communities affected and provides readers with the conclusion. It’s unsettling and unnerving that something could happen to this extent but it has. This book focuses on the War on Drugs that began in the 1980s, at a time when drug use was not increasing but the country was suffering from deindustrialization and many people were unemployed, especially in rural and urban communities. Alexander looks at the racial discrepancies seen with this war and how some tactics employed are usually only seen in poor black neighborhood, even though drug use is as prevalent if not more so in white communities. She examines the difference in sentencing between crack and cocaine even though they are the same drug in different forms. Alexander also looks at what it means to be a felon and how that can affect someone for the rest of their lives and there isn’t an efficient system in place for felons to provide for themselves once out of jail.

                I won’t try and summarize anything else about this book or this situation because it is too complex. I’m saddened by the fact that I honestly believe that people will refuse to believe anything in this book simply because they benefit from the system. This is a book meant to make everyone uncomfortable. Alexander wants people to realize what is happening around them. This book made me very emotional. It’s upsetting to see the creation and effects of mass incarceration laid out so bare. I was disturbed and very angry while reading certain sections of this book. For that reason alone I recommend it to you. I want people to read this book with an open mind, willing to read what Alexander says and look for understanding. This book only focuses on the plight of African-American men. It does not go into the challenges that other races and woman face with the prison system but Alexander makes that clear early on that she hopes someone does, but this was the issue she wanted to focus on. I did think this book became a tad repetitive near the end. Overall though, this a comprehensive look at a corrupt prison system, established by a false war on drugs. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

Cam Girl by Leah Raeder   
          

                Vada and Ellis were in a horrible car accident. Vada was behind the wheel. Ellis was completely drunk. Ryan was in the other car with a blood alcohol level of 0.20. Ryan didn’t make it. Vada almost lost her arm. Ellis lost her best friend. They had been best friends for five years. In many ways they were more than best friends. But Vada never consider Ellis her girlfriend. She was bisexual not gay and she had barely been in a real relationship with a guy let alone a girl. The night of the accident it wasn’t just their relationship that changed. Vada was no longer able to paint or sketch because of her injury. She stopped going to her master’s program, was evicted from her home and met Frankie, a cam girl. Everything changed.
                This was a novel unlike anything I have ever read before. Vada and Ellis are two extremely complicated characters. Not only in their relationship with each other but in their sexuality. This novel deals with sexuality in such a descriptive, honest, emotional and visceral level. It was intense. These characters were so beautifully and obviously flawed. I couldn’t help but to be drawn into their emotional and conflicted relationship, mostly because I really wanted to understand it. But they barely understood it and that’s basically what this story is. This story is about two people in their early twenties still trying to figure out their sexuality and relationship under some very trying circumstances.

                I feel like I will constantly look to Raeder as an example on how to write beautifully flawed female characters. This is third novel I have read by Raeder and Raeder does a fabulous job at creating and sculpturing characters. This book is no exception. I loved the play on words. I love the descriptive writing. I didn’t care for the idea of Vada being a cam girl. As much as it was a vital part of the story, there were moments when it seemed The most emotional instants were when Vada was examining herself and her relationships. I really enjoyed this story but I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Raeder is not for the faint of heart. If you are at all uncomfortable with explicit sex scenes or even the concept of different sexualities then you need to stay away from this novel. Raeder does not hold back and it is an eye opening experience. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stats. There were times when the pacing slowed down a little bit and I wasn’t sure where the story was going but in the end this was a book worth reading. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill


                When Judas Coyne first saw the online listing to “Buy my Stepfather’s ghost” he thought it was a fucking joke. One thousand dollars later and he was the proud owner of dead man’s suit. It came in a heart shaped box and it looked like it was almost Coyne’s size. He still thought it was a joke. That was until he woke in the middle of the night to the sound of someone walking around his home. The motion detector picked up nothing and yet he found a man, wearing the exact suit that came in the heart-shaped box, sitting in a chair outside of his room. The ghost. But this particular ghost isn’t satisfied with just haunting Coyne. He wants him to take his own life and the life of anyone else who attempts to help him escape.
                Oh Joe Hill, how I love your sick and twisted storylines. This is no exception. This starts off intriguing enough and then the horror and suspense just keeps on growing. This was a complicated story about an old rock and roller who is not only facing the end of his career but the effects of old age. He has had a string of lovers and the family of the one he coined “Florida” is out for revenge. Hence the ghost now trying to kill Coyne. This book is a look at life, the passing of time, family, abuse and revenge with an extremely apparent supernatural and deadly element.

                This is the 4th Joe Hill novel that I’ve read and it isn’t my favorite but it is really well done. Extremely original premise and story. The world building was done very well. Characters were all well developed. This books fall very neatly into the horror genre. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2016: The Wrap Up

2016: The Wrap Up

Books and more books of course. And Hamilton.

                     What was a girl to do when there were so many books and so little time: READ! That’s what! This year as usual I started off with re-reading the Harry Potter series. You may ask “But Stacie, why do you read that series over and over again when you have so many other books to read?” Sigh* Number one: You must not be a Harry Potter fan. Number two: It makes me happy. Moving on!

                   This year I turned 30 years old (cue the mix of anxiety, happiness and utter horror at the realization of this landmark) and I wanted to do something memorable. A friend of mine came up with this amazing idea to read a book for every year that I’ve been alive. Voila we now have “Reading through 30 years” which would be later coined #birthdaychallenge. That was my big to-do of this year. I gathered a list of books to tackle this year using the Pulitzer prize list, New York Times bestsellers list, book recommendations and Goodreads to find books published throughout my life. The goal was to read them all this year and so I did. I must say that it was time well spent. Many of the books I chose were books that I had contemplated reading before but kept pushing to the back of my “to-be-read” pile. This was the perfect excuse to push those books back up and read them. I discovered quite a few authors that I really enjoyed and even found the inspirations for this year’s theme (#keepingitshort) while reading. All in all, it was a fun theme that was loose enough to not feel constraining but it had purpose. And now I can say I’ve read books from each year of my life. We call that geek cool.

                So confession time: Social Media and I have a love/hate relationship. I feel like I’ve been on facebook forever without really enjoying it but I came up with excuses to keep it. I started a page for this blog, I made sure to keep up with family and old friends on the platform but honestly I was getting tired of it. Twitter and I never saw eye to eye. I started a twitter handle, again for the blog, but never really enjoyed being on it (it still exists by the way, I’m trying. Honestly, I am,). Then something absolutely amazing happened: Litsy! And it’s like the heavens parted and delivered this in my lap and said “This is for you! Go forth and enjoy.” I am obsessed!

                So what is Litsy? Litsy is an app that is focused on books. It’s been best described as a mix between Goodreads and Instagram and I couldn’t agree more. You can write a review, a blurb or quotes and you can post pictures. But you have to tag a book in every post you make. It is amazing. It’s a community of people who love everything to do with books. You can share book recommendations. You can share theme ideas which is how "Reading Through 30 years" evolved into the #birthdaychallenge. You can have discussions about different books. I even became a moderator for Litsy Feminist Book Club, an unofficial book club which focuses on feminism and social justice. I have met some amazing people on this app. And it has become an amazing place to interact with people using an online platform. I’ve since gotten rid of my facebook account because this is the only form of social media I really enjoy.

                Serial Reader is another app that I stumbled across while using Litsy. I don’t consider myself to be very well read when it comes to classics which makes this app absolutely amazing! Serial Reader takes classic books and sends them to your electronic devices as “issues.” Each issue is meant to be read in twenty minutes or less. The amount of issues you receive completely depends on the size of the books. I’ve seen books have issues that range from five issues to almost a hundred (think Les Miserables). I will freely admit that I have a hard time reading some of the classics. I’ll either get bored, or get interested in another book so it makes completing (my pretty long list of) classics almost impossible. Until now. Serial Reader helped me (finally) tackle The Iliad, simply by checking my Nook and reading it for a few minutes a day. I started journaling while reading which helped me keep track of everything going on in the story. At the end of it I was really glad I did it and extremely happy that I found the app. It’s definitely worthwhile to have.

                On a completely different note: I fell in love with the Hamilton Musical this year! Head over heels in love with Hamilton. I need tickets immediately. That was my tangent.


               In conclusion this reading year rocked my socks off. Completing my “Reading Through 30 Years” theme/#birthday challenge, discovering and falling for Litsy then immersing myself in Serial Reader, have made this year a reading success. I’ve geared up for 2017 and all the trials and tribulations that may come. My new theme #keepingitshort will have me reading a short story after every book I read, which will be an amazing way to get me to read more short stories. I’ve got my books with me, and I feel like if nothing else I'll have plenty to read in 2017.