Monday, March 30, 2015

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

                Can you imagine a young, youthful and vibrant Maya Angelou? Honestly, the renowned poet, author and activist running around on dirt roads, bathing outside with water from a well, living in a tiny town in Arkansas? I couldn’t until I started reading her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In her autobiography Angelou reveals information about her youth from being sent on a train with her brother to Arkansas when they were three and four as their parents divorced, to being pregnant and delivering her first child. It all starts in the 1920’s and the racial tension was painfully obvious between blacks and whites. Momma, Maya’s grandmother, owned the only Negro general store in town and it was the social hub of the community. It was here Maya, born Marguerite Johnson, and her brother Bailey Junior would learn many of their lessons about life and what it meant to be black in this world. Both were intelligent children who struggled with the fact that they had been abandoned by their parents at such a young age. As they grew and their relationship with their parents changed so did their identity and their circumstances. Maya’s family would go through many transitions and she struggled to understand much because of her youth. But what was painstakingly clear at a young age, was that her color and the various shades of her people drew a line between what was okay for them and for whites. Trying to understand the reasons behind that play a hug role in maturing and establishing herself throughout her youth.

                Maya Angelou represents so much to the black community. She is well known and well respected and a personality I have known since very early in my youth. I even remember memorizing and performing some of her poems as a young child. Reading about her experiences as a child and trying to understand how she dealt with and was able to move forward in life is complicated. Many things have changed but a lot has stayed and the same. While my experience as a young black woman is different than hers there are some overwhelming similarities. Hearing some of the stories of the elders of my family and reading Maya’s written account of her life brings about the need for more change in my opinion. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is so honest that it is in many ways heartbreaking. Maya’s way of storytelling is so poetic and yet brutal in its delivery that you are left aghast at the majority of the experiences. This was her life and she expressed it in a most powerful way how her life was influenced by her color and how those around her responded to that. This is am autobiography that I have to recommend and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. This isn’t just Maya’s story. It’s the story of many young black women and it is one that must continue to be shared. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tigerlily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

                Tiger Lily never quite fit in with the Sky Eaters. She was found as a baby by the tribe’s shaman, Tik Tok, hidden under flowers. He named her after those flowers and kept her as his own. Tiger Lily was never truly accepted by other girls or some of the older women and would spend most of her time hunting with the boys. As the boys got older, they too shunned Tiger Lily forcing her to hunt alone and to befriend the other outcasts. When the ship sank off the coast of Neverland it was Tiger Lily who chose to save the lone survivor an Englander, even though the council had decided to let him die. The council was furious and in an effort to tame her they arranged for to her to marry Giant, who could best be described as a dirty, smelly oaf. It was around this time that Tiger Lily met Peter Pan, a boy unlike any she had ever encountered. He and the lost boys would bring her on their adventures and accept her in a way that no one else, besides Tik Tok, ever had. She became a part of their lives and they, especially Peter, became an essential though hidden part of hers. As the seasons changed and her marriage loomed life would change across Neverland in unexpected ways.
                This was magical. This was beautiful. This was narrated by Tinker Bell which made this even more magical for me. So here we have the story of Peter Pan, told by Tinker Bell, with a focus on Tiger Lily. Tinker Bell is mute like all the other fairies but can read people’s minds and emotions. It is because of her ability to read minds that Tinker Bell is an extremely reliable, emotional and honest narrator. She loved Tiger Lily, was in love with Peter Pan and genuinely cared about the both of them. She would relay everyone’s emotions, describe haunting memories and keep readers in tune with coming and goings throughout the novel. Tinker Bell was also an extremely interesting character herself whose presence around Tiger Lily was always comforting. I felt that this novel was as much about Tinker Bell’s presence as it was Tiger Lily and Pan’s.

                Tiger Lily was a just well imagined, well developed, emotional and unexpected retelling of the legend we know that is Peter Pan. This was a romance story but it was also a story about coming of age (as much as you can age in Neverland), about learning to love and about acceptance. There was a darker aspect to the story, that is ever present but it only intensifies the emotions felt by the characters. I fell into this story and loved every minute of it. The writing was poetic and had a dream like quality to it that just enhanced the story. I didn’t know what to expect and I love that a story I was familiar with could have all of these unexpected twists and turns. I would definitely recommend this novel and give it 5 out of 5 stars. I am so glad I picked up this book. I am not surprised at all that I devoured it in a short amount of time. I am spreading the word because this novel was simply beautiful. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

                Michael Jordan is the man who was born on February 17,1963 who would win six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to James and Deloris Jordan. He would be raised in Wilmington, North Carolina with his two brother and two sisters. The family wouldn’t live too far from his grandparents and their family’s beginnings in Teachey, North Carolina. Michael would be cut from his high school’s varsity team as a sophomore, only to return as a junior and dominate the team. He would go on to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels bringing with him a NCAA Championship. After his third year in college he would be drafted third in the NBA to play for the Chicago Bulls. This is the story we know of Michael Jordan and his legend. Lazenby, in this biography, reveals the aspects of Jordan’s life and character that many people hadn’t known or understood.
                Michael Jordan: The Life starts well before Michael was ever brought into existence, with first introducing Dawson Jordan, Michael’s great grandfather. By observing Dawson’s life and his struggles, Lazenby set the tone for Michael’s young life and the challenges that he would face within his family. Dawson was the first to persevere and persist, characteristics that Michael would eventually inhabit. The biography continues through all of the men leading to Michael Jordan. The knowledge Lazenby’s provides about Jordan’s family would somewhat help in understanding Jordan the child, the man and eventually the basketball player. A thorough look at his parents and the dynamics within his immediate family would further our knowledge of Michael’s competitive nature and the issues he developed with trusting others. Throughout his years the traits he developed in his youth would make him an amazing basketball player worthy of the accolades that were bestowed upon him but other characteristics would leave many wondering exactly what kind of man Jordan was.

                This was a very in depth biography of a man whose adult life continues to play in the headlines. This book is well over 500 pages and full of information regarding Michael Jordan from everyone’s opinion as a player, his gambling habits, his issues with family member and his treatment of others. Let me caveat this by saying I have never been a Michael Jordan fan. This biography was actually a present for this year’s theme in order to provide me more knowledge of this sports icon. After reading this I can say that I am still not a fan of Michael Jordan, though I can as I always have, respect him and his abilities as a player. This biography did a great job at revealing the motives behind many of Michael’s decision regarding his career, like the three retirements, his stint in baseball and his time as a Wizards owner. What I found most interesting though, were how others around Jordan who had knowledge of his habits would describe him. I can’t say it was an even split between those who looked at him positively and those who had negative things to say. It was interesting to read the different comments made by players that I am familiar with regarding the legend that is Jordan. All in all I enjoyed this rather informative biography. I give this 4 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it to any basketball or Michael Jordan fan. It wasn’t a page turner in my opinion but I was definitely fascinated by his story and enjoyed the biography. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

                Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, has risen to be the confidant of King Henry VIII. He has survived the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey and has slowly gained the king’s trust. Thomas is pivotal to the king’s plan to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn. He is assuring titles, collecting debts and secrets from those privy to the chambers of the dukes and maidens of the court. How did this man of lowly status rise to such power? It is Thomas that people seek out when they want the king’s favor. It is to him that Katherine makes her case in hopes it will reach the kings ear. It is Thomas that even Lady Mary, the girl who was once a princess, states her case in defying, Queen Anne and Princess Elizabeth. As the years passed he played his cards right to make sure he never ended up at the Tower where treason would cause the heads to roll of those who were once trusted by the king.
                I thought I would love this novel since I have been infatuated with King Henry VIII and his six wives. So much happened in this period of history that I just find overwhelmingly fascinating. This retelling of that history through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, who was constantly in the background plotting and making deals, I thought would be gold. I thought wrong. I was bored out of my mind throughout most of this books waiting for the reappearance of Henry, Anne, even Mary Boleyn, who I found all more fascinating than Thomas Cromwell. Was he devious? Yes, and that would have been fine if he wasn’t lost in all of the excess information throughout the pages.

                Wolf Hall honestly just seemed drawn out. It is the first book in a trilogy and I’m just not sure Cromwell’s story lends itself well to that. Mantel’s writing style didn’t help either. Many of the characters were poorly developed and I was never sure how much emotion I should devote to any of the characters, since so many were in and out of Cromwell’s present. I just got irritated and had a really hard time staying interested. I literally started a countdown in my head near the end of the book of how many pages I had left. I was waiting with bated breath for action and it was slow coming. Was this story well researched? Sure, but this telling simply didn’t hold my interest. I give it 2 out of 5 stars. After reading this one I am not at all encouraged to keep reading the trilogy. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

                Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Tuckahoe, Maryland. He was born a slave to Harriet Bailey. His father was a white man but his name Frederick never knew. Frederick also never knew his mother, only seeing her a few times in his life before her death. He never knew when he was born and could only guess his age based on passed information. Sophia Auld was the woman who taught Frederick his ABC’s. She was the wife of Hugh Auld, the man who Frederick’s master sent Frederick to live with to be a companion to their young son Thomas.  Hugh disagreed with Frederick learning his ABC’s or how to read stating “if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.” Sophia stopped teaching Frederick and eventually turned cold against him. Hugh Auld’s words sank deep into Frederick’s mind and he realized that by reading and being educated he would one day be able to escape. He would one day be free.
                This autobiography is an incredible feat for a runaway slave who is believed to have been twenty eight or twenty nine at the time this narrative is written. Douglass relays his message with such elegance and poise. He states his circumstances with a tone I can only describe as solemn and matter of fact. The honesty and emotion is felt throughout the pages. Douglass emphasized that he was one of the many who suffered at the hands of slavery and many far worse than he did. He mentions and ridicules the irony of religion and its bearing on slave owners, even stating “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst.” Douglass while revealing as much as he can about his circumstances is cautious about revealing too much. He was fearful of the retribution that would be shown to those who helped him or the embarrassment they may feel at being mentioned. Douglass doesn’t even describe his escape into freedom, simply stating what it felt like to be on free land. The peril was still real for him and would be for quite some time.

                Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave is very hard to describe. I started reading and immediately was swept into this unimaginable life of a young slave. Douglass was so straight to the point that it just felt stripped, raw and emotionally draining. Douglass detailed what it was like for him as a slave. It’s unimaginable the treatment that he describes and yet here is this story from a man who ended up being a pivotal figure in the abolishment of slavery. This autobiography was an eye opener, then and now. This is an autobiography that still needs to be read, in order to grasp what human beings are capable of doing to one another. My only complaint is that I didn’t learn enough about the man that is Frederick Douglass from this narrative. This was more of a history of slavery, in my opinion than it was a history of Frederick. We see everything through him, but we see through the lens of slavery. For that reason I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.