Sunday, June 25, 2017

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie




                Kambili lives within the walls of her family’s compound. She follows the schedule provided to her by her father, tries to accomplish first in her class every term and ignores the sounds of her mother being beaten. Kambili has felt her father’s anger before too. Her brother JaJa is also no stranger to her father’s hands and the belt. Her father wants them to be as close to God as possible and when they fail, he punishes them out of love. Her father is a very wealthy, very well-known man and depended on by the people of his home village. Whenever they return he brings food and money to the village and shuns his own father, Kambili’s grandfather, accusing him of being a heathen for not converting to Catholicism like he has. When the government begins to fall around them he allows Kambili and JaJa to travel away for the first time, spending a week with his sister and her children. It is there Kambili learns what it’s like to live outside her father’s control, listening to music and watching TV, pastimes she was never allowed to enjoy. That is also where she realizes just how unhappy she has been for most of her life, seeking approval from a man who has caused her so much harm out of love.
                Sometimes you don’t know that you have been hurting until you have been removed from the source of that pain. That seems obvious with Kambili and her narrative. Always seeking approval from her father, she had no idea the kind of psychological trauma she was experiencing under him. She had no concept of what normal was. The wealth that she was always privy to meant security but it never guaranteed happiness. When placed in an environment completely different than what she has ever known Kambili slowly starts to realize how unhappy she had been. I enjoyed Kambili’s narrative. Her naiveté was painful at first but it made her growth that much more endearing. She was constantly reexamining her family, mulling over their life and their views.

                Adichie did a really amazing job with this story. From character development to world development, to examining religion and its effect on Kambili’s family. Everything was so well fleshed out and so well executed. As the reader, I realized very early on how convoluted Kambili’s father was and how manipulative he was towards those around him. Reading Kambili’s journey and watching her discover the truth behind her happiness was really intriguing and really well paced. The subtlety of Adichie’s writing lends itself really well to this story. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps


                There are so many aspects about Black hair and the culture surrounding it that people simply aren’t aware of. With Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Byrd and Tharps attempt to make that information as accessible as possible. This book begins where African American history begins, the tribes of Africa and the pride that was once held in black hair. It continues with how the pride and care put into Black hair was demolished during the middle passage and the beginnings of slavery. It expands on the idea of Black hair with examining the beauty standards of the day in America and how enslaved Black people had no luxuries and none of the oils and tools they used in Africa were available to them to properly care for their hair. Issues of race and colorism also weighed heavily throughout the history of Black culture and still has an effect on how Black hair is perceived in society. From the earliest parts of history to 2014 when this version was released many wide ranging topics are discussed including the industry and money behind it.
                As a Black woman there are many parts of this story and the history of black hair that I was well aware of. The stigma of natural hair, the concept of “good” hair versus “bad” hair, and the manageability of Black hair were things openly commented on throughout my life. Hair Story though brought all of these concepts together and did a really good job of simply presenting the facts. I appreciated how well researched and comprehensive the information was. The area in which I was completely unaware was the industry behind Black hair and how it has changed so extensively over the centuries.

                What Byrd and Tharps really did with Hair Story was remove the veil regarding Black hair. If you are a complete novice to the subject then this would be a great book to introduce you to the beauty that is Black hair. The problems I have surrounding this book has to do with the way it was structured. At times it became repetitive and redundant. There were interviews included throughout the book, in the middle of chapters, and more often than not it completely disrupted the flow of information. I would still recommend this book because it does have a plethora of information and really handles the topic well. Overall, I give this story 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead



                Cora had never planned on running. But after the beating she received on behave of Terrance Randall, she knew the time had come. Only weeks had passed since Ceasar had asked her to go with him. Now she was ready. The train sat on the tracks underground. She had no idea whose hands had dug these tunnels. Cora only knew that they needed to get away from Georgia. Ridgeway had hunted Cora’s mother, Mabel, who ran when Cora was a young girl. He was never able to find her and Cora was his next big target.
                I’m not sure what I expected when I first picked up this novel. There was so much hype regarding the story and so much praise lauded on that I was scared I would be disappointed. Needless to say that within minutes of starting this novel I was hooked. Whitehead begins this story with one woman’s journey across an ocean to slavery and it’s endearing and heartbreaking and honest. Cora’s story follows directly after and within a few pages you become drawn to her character, her struggle and the struggle of plantation life, the life of a slave. All of these characters were well developed and felt true. The people Cora interacted with slave, freedmen, owner, conductor and slave catcher were believable. Whitehead took readers back in time with his world building. From the bodies lining the trees, to the sprawling plantation, to the Negro dormitories and train underground you feel transported. Transported to the days of slavery, to the time of running to be free, to safety.

                Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is worth a read. I really enjoyed Whitehead’s writing style and his ability to weave in and out of different narratives. There was never a sense of safety or a journey completed. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next life changing event to happen and I was never disappointed no matter how much it broke my heart to read it. This was the reality and the tone of the novel breaming with fear, made me as a reader tense. Even when the story ends you know that there will be more to the characters, that there will still be fear, there will always be movement and that may never pass. I’m giving this novel 4 out of 5 stars. It keeps you invested throughout the story. Cora’s struggle becomes your struggle and the railroad keeps you moving. But the Underground Railroad overtime becomes more symbolic than anything. It’s a mystery to those looking for it and it’s a mystery to those who have to ride it to safety. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler



                Everyone felt safer in the gated community. Here it was a real community. People came together to help each other. Night watches protected the streets. Families would go shooting together to stay sharp and seasoned. But outside of the community there was peril. The homeless outside of the walls were dangerous. No one would live the community unarmed. Lauren Olamina knew that they would only be safe for so long. That the walls that separated her family, from the hundreds of others outside of their walls, could come down. She never wants to be a slave to a corporation or lose her family but she knows she needs to prepare herself to survive. And she has Earthseed. The God of her father is not her God. Her God is Earthseed. Her God is change. With everything around her constantly changing. That’s all she can hold onto.
                This might be one of the most realistic dystopian fictions I’ve ever read. And I can’t tell you how incredibly disturbing that is! This book begins in 2024, only 7 years removed from where I am right now. The United States of America is in a free for all even with federal and state governments in place. There is a new form of slavery taking place around the country, where people are so poor that they are basically working for food and board with no chance of leaving. These gated communities are the only ones that have any glimpse of sanity or regularity but everywhere there is fear. The world building in this novel is incredible. It’s made very clear, very fast how dire the situation is by how Lauren’s family has to live. Lauren was an extremely well developed character. Only fifteen when this novel starts, she is extremely level headed, competent and knowledgeable. Her journey and the journey of those who choose to follow her is extremely fascinating and one in which I was wholly lost in.

                Parable of the Sower has the ability to take you by surprise, scare you, disappoint you and make you question the decisions you would make if put in a similar position. Butler’s well thought out and well-crafted dystopian novel has easily become one of my favorites in the genre. Written decades ago and yet still very compelling and very enjoyable. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, The Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers

This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, The Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers


                If this title is at all intriguing to you, then you are probably a sports fan and in that case you should definitely read this book. I am a huge sports fan and have been for ages. I have my teams that I am utterly obsessed with, teams (and players) that I cannot stand and I rave and rage at the TV during games. I thought this book could be rather interesting and boy was it.
                Wertheim and Sommers uses each chapter to take a look at different behaviors of not just sports fan, but athletes, coaches, and executives and examines them under the guise of science. They look at different studies conducted around the world, some of which were simple behavioral studies but others were directed strictly to sports, and used those results to explore the topics at hand. Each chapter is extremely interesting, well researched and thoroughly convincing in the way the information is conveyed.

                Beyond anything else I was entertained by this book. It wasn’t what I expected. With that title I honestly didn’t expect to get such a well thought out, well researched book about how sports definitely impacts our behaviors. This was really well done. If you aren’t into sports then this might not be as much of a pull for you because a lot of these behaviors won’t make sense to you. They won’t ring true. But if you are sports fan, you’ll see a bit of yourself or someone else you know within this pages. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


                I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first picked up The Fifth Season but this definitely wasn’t it. I’ve never read a science fiction, dystopia like this before. And I loved it. From the very beginning of the novel, you genuinely feel transported. Very little is given away up front and trying to figure out the mystery of this world, while being sucked into the varying narratives of Damaya, Syenite and Essun is quite the experience. This is a world where so much time has passed and so many ends have come, that no one can be sure of what history is true. This is a world where orogenes can harness the power of the Earth as a weapon, where Father Earth is fighting back against the destruction happening on his surface and where people will give their children to the Fulcrum out of fear of what they are.
                I fell in love with this narrative. Within the first 30 pages I was hooked. The grave tone of the novel from the very beginning is one that I couldn’t turn away from. There was such despair and yet so much strength within Essun that I became fully invested. As we are introduced to the different characters and narratives you realize that these characters live in a world that has been in a constant state of change and fear, with unknown entities and a complex social order. Character and world development in this book were the keys to success and with both done so well, the plot weaves itself effortlessly through the alternating narratives.

                Hands down, this was one of the most original, interesting, entertaining science fiction books that I have read in a long time. It has so much going for it: diversity, an amazingly original plot, beautifully sculptured characters and a totally original world where anything is possible. This is first novel by Jemisin I have ever read, and just like that I am sold. This is the first in The Broken Earth series and I will definitely be reading more from here on out. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates


                Intimate. Honest. Heartbreaking. Those are the first three words I think of after finishing this book. Put simply Between the World and Me is Coates speaking directly to his son, Samori about life. About what it means to be a black man in the United States of America. What it means to sit back and continuously see that you have no control over your body. What it means to continuously see bodies that look like yours taken prematurely and to see no one punished for the crime. Coates talks about his upbringing, about his parents, about his struggle and then about Howard, The Mecca. It’s as much about Coates trying to make sense of this world and it is him trying to make his son understand what it means to live in a black body.

                Talking about race with children is incredible difficult. I know from the experience of having to talk about race with my own child. It’s uncomfortable and it makes you confront certain truths that you would rather ignore. That’s what makes this book so amazing. Coates realizes that his son, who is fifteen at the time he writes this book, is old enough to hear the truth, regardless of how painful it may be. I loved this book for its honesty. I loved it because I could feel Coates pouring his pain on the pages and confronting what life has been like for him. But it isn’t just him. It’s everyone that inhabits the black body and he makes it a point to emphasize that. It feels personal because it is incredibly personal. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. I just finished this and I am filled with emotion. These instances hit too close to home because too many of these instances happen to people who look like me, honestly they happen to me.