Friday, December 30, 2016

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

                The day James Halliday died a video was released to the world media and to every Oasis user. James Halliday had created the OASIS, the globally networked virtual reality that had begun as a massively multiplayer online game. He was worth two hundred forty billion dollars and this video was his last will and testament. Whoever found Halliday’s Easter egg hidden within the OASIS would get not only his fortune but his controlling stake in the company. Wade will never forget where he was when he first heard the video. He became one of the many people known as “gunters” obsessed with finding the three keys that would lead you to the prize. But it wasn’t just the other gunters Wade was worried about. The Innovative Online Industries, IOI, was hunting for the keys too. They planned on changing the OASIS making people pay a monthly fee and plastering advertisements everywhere. It would change everything. But years passed and no one had found a single key. Until Wade found the Copper Key.
                I am pleased. This was a high octane, fun read, full of suspense that had my undivided attention. Halliday dies in 2041 and the situation is dire and many, including Wade, have turned away from the real world and live in the OASIS. Most people are destitute, broke and living on top of one another. And here is the opportunity to amass a huge amount of wealth and power. And we’re off. World development in this story was amazing. Keep in mind that Cline had to create two different worlds: the real world of the 2040’s and the virtual reality that is the OASIS. He did an amazing job with both. Cline was so detailed and he had great references for all of the worlds found inside the OASIS. My imagination took off while picturing the many places/planets/worlds that Wade went to. Wade was well imagined and full of depth. He was intelligent, full of a young man’s angst and bravado but fun and self-aware. I was pleased with his character and that was true of all of Cline’s character. I didn’t have to try and understand or decipher any of them because they all jumped off the pages. If I was basing my opinion off of just character and world development this would already be a hit.
                Judging a book is never that easy though. The plot has to be taken into consideration. Luckily the premise behind this story and the mystery behind Halliday’s Easter Egg made this story amazing. The intensity never wavered, especially once it became obvious that people’s lives were in danger over this game and obtaining the prize. It wasn’t at all predictable which I appreciated. There were plenty of moments where I suspected that something may be happening and I wasn’t right. Plenty of twist and turns to keep readers on their toes. I will say that this book does reference a lot of old school video games. The amount of knowledge Cline drops on these older systems and game is impressive. Having some kind of background knowledge about massively multiplayer online games may help when understanding some of the jargon early on. If you aren’t aware it isn’t a deal breaker. You can get used to the terms pretty quickly.

                I had so much fun reading this book. I will admit that I shunned it for a while thinking it may only be meant for hardcore gamers based on some of the reviews I saw. I was wrong, very very wrong. This book was great. The humor was great. The plot kept moving. The level of intensity never wavered and I really enjoyed reading this book. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Hat’s off to Cline for something so fun and original. I am a fan.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

It took me a while to get my hands on this book. Stephen King pulled it, written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, because it was found in the possession of people who had attempted or committed high school shootings. This is the story of Charles Decker, a senior in high school who assaulted his chemistry teacher. The teacher survived and he was forced to see a psychiatrist. Then he walked into his Algebra II classroom, after getting into an argument with the principal and setting his locker on fire, and shot his Algebra teacher in the head. Charles then killed another teacher and held the classroom of over twenty students hostage for hours. 
Rage is a very interesting novel. Not only do you have the aspect of a school shooting but you have really in depth reflections on life by not only our narrator Charles, but some of the other students he has taken hostage. The students’ reaction to the shooting was much calmer than I could ever imagine and the situation that transpired was unlike anything I would ever imagine happening in this situation. I think that’s why I find this novel so different and yet great. King imagined a scenario outside of anything I ever thought would happen in any situation similar and produced a character in Charles Decker that somehow managed to control the situation. Charles is a frightening character because he wasn’t insane yet he was some type of madman. His calm and frank demeanor throughout is extremely unsettling. I had no idea what he would do next. 
After reading this I understand why King felt the need to pull it. Charles’ control of the situation in intoxicating and if the wrong people in any shape, way or control think they can harness that power in use it in a similar situation than things can go south fast. This was a short and very intense novel set in a high pressure situation. So many of King’s books aren’t for the weak and this maybe one of those. I give it 4 out of 5 stars simply for being so damn original. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why the word feminists? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general- but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.

                When I first started reading this essay I was unsure if I would even write a review. Then about a page in I realized that I had a lot to say on the topic of feminism and that everything I could think to say was written in this essay. We Should All Be Feminists is a modified version of a talk Adichie gave in December of 2012. It is amazing. It is amazing because she has spoken on an issue that many people are passionate about: equal rights for men and women. We have come a long way, and Adichie acknowledges that, but we still have a very long way to go. Why? Because some people still don’t believe there is a problem while it is staring other people in the face! The issues that Adichie brings up are all valid. They are easy to spot in society and yet some people refuse to see them. Or they speak down to those that speak out about the issue. The title “feminist” has such a negative connotation now and I am unsure why. I don’t understand why wanting a woman to be treated as the equal to a man is negative. It’s not just about rights. It’s about the way women are treated and regarded in society. Thank you Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for being a voice in the world for women everywhere. Thank you for acknowledging the struggle that many women still experience, that you yourself experience and that I experience. This was well written, well delivered and right to the point. Easily 5 stars. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Stephen King and Philosophy edited by Jacob M. Held (2016)

Stephen King and Philosophy edited by Jacob M. Held

                I read for the pleasure of it. I enjoy being immersed in a great novel or even in the unbelievable facts of a nonfiction book. I’ve been that way all of my life. I fell in love with Stephen King’s writings at a young age and have been addicted to him ever since. There are moments when I’ve been horrified, petrified, amazed, stunned and entranced while reading his books. And there have been plenty of moments when after reading I’ve wondered if there was more. If there was some meaning that I hadn’t pulled from the story itself. I love the conversations that I’ve had with other people about King’s work and that is the reason I wanted to read this collection of essays so badly. What are the hidden meaning behind King’s words? This was the chance to look at the body of Stephen King’s work to see just what gems can be uncovered about not only King’s writing but what he thinks about society.
                There are seventeen essays held between the pages of Stephen King and Philosophy. Many deal with the concept of Roland and his never ending quest to the tower. A few deal with the concept of life and religions and how they can be interpreted. Dystopians, death and ghosts are also discussed. This book of essays is meant for people well versed in Stephen King’s work. If you are not a fan of Stephen King’s work or unfamiliar with a large amount of his writings, especially the Dark Tower series, then I would suggest not reading this book. The essays are full of spoilers because the authors take a very in depth look at the stories in order to convey their point.
                I for the most part really enjoyed this collection of essays but I won’t lie, part of me believes that some of the essays were overdone. While reading some of the essays especially those having to do with time and time travel, they came off as pretentious and nitpicky. In the end, Stephen King has written over fifty fiction novels and I’m not sure if any of what some of the authors have proposed really matters when it comes to enjoying his work. In fact much of it doesn’t. It’s great reading how other people interpret the body of work but in some instances the conclusions seemed really far off. I struggled through a few of these essays for that reason. While other essays I found extremely interesting and they challenged my original interpretation. There is an essay for every Stephen King lover in this book and it is for the Stephen King constant readers that I would recommend this book. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

                The seas around Britain were a war zone. The German U-boats had sunk more than one ship in the last few months in an attempt to disrupt trade in Britain and stop them from receiving any goods that would help them in the war. The captain of the Lusitania, William Turner, was well aware of the risk but he was navigating the fastest liner being used at that time. He could achieve 25 knots with all four boiler rooms running, which could easily outstrip any U-Boat. The Lusitania set sail on May 1st from New York to Britain hoping to make the transatlantic ship without any issues. Walter Schweiger, the captain of the submarine U-20, was on the other side of the ocean. He and his crew were in the water on their own, free to make decisions of what ship to torpedo and eventually he would set his sights on the Lusitania.
                Intense, well researched, well written and emotional, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, is a story that was waiting to be told. Larson reveals the many instances leading up to the Lusitania disaster: the secrets being kept in British Intelligence, the orders to have only three boilers running on the Lusitania along with its late departure, and the ability of German Captains to determine their targets without risk of punishment for attacking civilian vessels. Over 1,000 passengers died, including over 100 Americans, many of which were women and children. Larson begins this nonfiction novel detailing the struggles over Britain’s water with the continued used of U-Boats by Germany. He then chronologically details the factors leading up to the disaster, with the narrative changing between the activities on the U-20, Lusitania¸ the United States, and Great Britain.

                I am a huge fan of Larson because he never disappoints. His nonfiction novels are so easy to fall into with his descriptive language, and the ease in which he relays history brings the story to life. My heart ached throughout most of the book because I was so painfully aware of the fate of many of those on board. But even with this knowledge, I would never have imagined the last few minutes of so many. The history Larson provided throughout this book was a great introduction to the political climate and the tension that was palpable during that time. I give this novel 4.5 out of 5 stars. Extremely well done by Larson recreating so vividly the crossing of the Lusitania and the state of the war during that time. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2014)

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

                The Singer was planning a peace concert in the middle of Jamaica’s current political turmoil. The gangs in Jamaica weren’t sure how to feel about the peace concert, especially when the Singer was conversing with the two opposing parties. On December 3, 1976 someone tried to kill the Singer. He was struck in the chest, in a shot that just missed his heart. The peace concert would have to be postponed and the Singer would leave Jamaica, not returning for a few years. A Brief History of Seven Killings is not the Singer’s story. It is the story of those affected by the attempted assassination of the Singer, and the lives taken, changed and ruined after that day.
                If you are looking for a quick easy read about Bob Marley, then keep looking because this is not that book. I was actually surprised by how little of this book actually involved Bob Marley. He was the tertiary character that this story talked about but he was never in the forefront of the story. Those characters were the drug dealers, the writer, the woman and the CIA agent whose characters we meet and see throughout the novel. The first part of this book was a trying experience. I love a richly narrated character driven plot and I have no problem with changing point of view characters, but I would not have survived if James had not added his “cast of characters” that stated who the characters were. Without that introduction I would have been blindly going into each character, because once a character’s narrative began there was very few clues provided on their given situation. If you read beyond part one of this novel, then I would recommend going forever because all of James’s characters are really well developed and have a strong voice and presence.

                I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars. I found this novel to be really well written but extremely dense. At well over 600 pages this story seemed to go and on and on. I had no idea how James’s planned on pulling it together and the ending still has a lot of loose ends. But this novel was really interesting, with original characters, a complicated plot and really great world building. A Brief History of Seven Killings probed into the topics of drugs, gangs, rivalries, Jamaican politics, government conspiracies and murder. After adjusting to his writing style, I began to really enjoy the story but there were moments throughout this novel where my interest waned. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

                This book is an experience and for that reason I am having a really hard time trying to summarize what I just read. The plot revolves around Ifemulu, a Nigerian woman returning to Nigeria after living in the United States for over a decade, and Obinze, the man she loved when she first made the move to the United States. The narrative changes from the present to the past, from Obinze to Ifemulu. But this novel is about the experience of living in both Nigeria and the U.S. It’s about the struggle to form bonds with people in a new world, the struggle to keep love alive across an ocean and the issue of race in America and how people are perceived because of their race.
                There was only thing that I didn’t care for in this novel and that was the constant change in narrative between the past and the present. In my opinion it impacted the pacing of the plot and interrupted the rhythm of the story. That is literally my only complaint about this novel. Beyond that I really enjoyed this novel. Adichie’s character were beautifully sculptured and her world was incredibly detailed. The love story of Ifemulu and Obinze, their parting and the continuation of their lives was plausible and heartbreaking at times. There was so much emotion and so many painful choices.

                Adichie is a great writer and she has an amazing eye for small details in human interactions which she expresses in her writing. Her observations force you to be honest in how you view people, race, and relationships. I appreciate that. I really liked the story. I loved that the dynamic focused on discovering race and the difference between being an American Black and a Non-American Black. So many intricacies that people don’t understand and wouldn’t understand unless they had conversations with those who have these experiences or read books like this.  I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden (2012)

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden

                Money Mississippi has a lot to tell you about what’s gone on in this small town. The story doesn’t begin with the death of Emmitt Till in 1955, nor does it end there. It begins many years before that with a restless spirit taking over the mind and body of a young girl. That young girl was Doll and Doll wreaked havoc wherever she went. It gave her pleasure to do so. When she met her demise the spirit would continue to wreak havoc in the minds and bodies of others. It was a path of destruction and that path eventually led to the unnecessary and untimely death of Emmitt Till. Those who loved him were forced to move on and live with his loss.
                I’m finishing this novel on August 30, 2016. Days have passed since the 61st anniversary of Emmitt Till’s death. It’s disturbing to imagine the murder of a fourteen year old boy whose death was caused by his skin color and an imagined crime. It’s even worse knowing that the murderers would later confess their crime and receive no punishment. But this book isn’t as painful as much as it is filled with sorrow. Gathering of Waters doesn’t focus on Till’s death. It simply narrates the story of a small town, like many small towns in the 1900’s and how racism and bigotry pervaded and allowed for such a crime to occur. McFadden brings beautiful prose and a surrealism that brings the story to life. The world building is done well and the characters are well fleshed out. The plot spreads over a hundred years and is well paced.

                I really enjoyed Gathering of Waters. I loved the spiritual elements of the story and the way it was narrated. McFadden is a great storyteller. Her writing style lends itself well to the more whimsical elements of the plot. I enjoyed the first part of the story more than the second. As the main characters aged the story tended to drag a bit. Overall I found the story really enjoyable. It’s a quick read full of emotion. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz (2011)

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

                Years before the South seceded from the Union, John Brown attempted to hold Harper’s Ferry in the slave state of Virginia. What did he want from the raid? He wanted to spark a revolution and the war to come. He wanted to arm the slaves in that town, empty the armory and begin making his way down South freeing the slaves. John Brown was an abolitionist who completely believed that slaves should be free and that the institution of slavery should not exist. Brown was willing to take lives and die for the cause as was evident on October 16, 1859 and through the thirty six hours that followed.
                Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War is the story of John Brown. Divided into three parts, Horwitz takes his time dissecting the life of Brown looking at his upbringing and belief system, the raid itself and the aftermath. This book was very well rounded and showed a very in-depth look at a man who had a passion for ending slavery. It is brutal, honest and straightforward with its delivery. Horwitz provides fact along with quotes from not only Brown himself, but those that surrounded him, fought against him, family members and politicians. This was extremely well developed, well executed and powerful.

                I chose this book because I wanted to educate myself on what happened the night of the raid and the days that followed. This offered so much more than just a look at what happened that night. I don’t if anyone can ever truly understand Brown but there was something so amazing about his conviction and his need to free the slaves. He was determined and he committed heinous acts in his quest to end slavery but he was convinced of his calling and he died for it. That’s what made this book so extraordinary. It did a great job in highlighting these aspects of Brown’s life and his need to make a difference. I enjoyed learning about him, and the events that led to that fateful night in October of 1859. Knowing that the events at Harper’s Ferry would make the country ripe for a Civil War made it even more interesting. Horwitz did a great job extending the story. If you are interested in the events that lead up to the Civil War then this is definitely a book I can recommend. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

                Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. While on the operating table receiving treatment, the surgeon on duty took two samples from Henrietta without her knowledge. Those samples were then sent to another doctor where her cells were grown in a lab. The cells were labeled HeLa, from the first two letters of her first and last name. Her cells would continue to be grown and distributed to labs around the world. HeLa cells behaved unlike any other cells and would be flown into space, tested numerous times and would help in research against some of the most virulent and well known diseases. HeLa cells changed science. But Henrietta Lacks wouldn’t know about any of that. She would die in October 4, 1951. Her family wouldn’t learn about her “immortal” cells until two decades later.
                The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a comprehensive look at Henrietta’s life, the affect the HeLa cells had on science, and the family that is still struggling to make ends meet even though millions of dollars have been made off of Henrietta’s cells. This brings into question the moral responsibilities doctors have in taking tissues from their patients and the ethics involved as well. It covers racism and the treatment of black people by the medical community in the mid 1900’s and how Henrietta’s treatment is a direct result of that. Skloot also takes a lot of time gaining the trust of the family and discusses that in this book. It’s an emotional read that really examines the scientific community and how one family has been detrimentally affected by it.

                This book has the ability to tear someone apart. There were quite a few moments when I found myself extremely upset while reading this book. I was infuriated by not just Henrietta’s treatment but the treatment of her family and other patients like her. There is an issue of trust that has to be examined in situations like this. You put your trust in doctors and the idea of them taking tissues without your knowledge for “research” and having them ultimately profit from them is extremely unsettling. I thought Skloot did a really great job with balancing the science with the human element. It is well researched and thorough. I feel like it’s an ode to Henrietta. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

                When people look back on the history of America’s Civil War often the focus is solely on the effect this war had on the United States and its ability to own slaves. Rightfully so. The idea of a country splitting itself in two so half of that country can own human beings is extremely problematic and questions not only the morals of that country but where it will continue to stand in history. What makes Our Man in Charleston stand out from other Civil War historical books is that the focus is towards Britain and the man partly responsible for keeping Great Britain out of the war. That man was the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina, Robert Bunch.
                I can honestly say that the majority of the information provided within these pages, is information I had never been privy to. It’s interesting and scary to imagine how different the outcome of the war may have been if a man like Robert Bunch hadn’t been front and center and able to honestly report to the British Crown the activities taking place in Charleston. As a man opposed to slavery, Bunch was in a precarious position. He had to live in South Carolina and maintain relationships with people who condoned slavery and in many instances praised its existence. His letters to other consuls and to London showed his true feelings toward the South. Bunch was disgusted by slavery and was afraid, as were many in London, that those in the South were trying to open the African Slave Trade again in the South. His reporting both before and during the war would be a saving grace in keeping the crown out of the war.

                I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, extremely well researched, with great world building and an abundance of information. The tension was believable and the problems laid bare. I think Dickey did a great job constructing the life of Bunch by using his letters and his own opinions as often as possible. I can easily recommend it to anyone interested in Civil War history. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

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

Columbine by Dave Cullen (2009)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

                On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people at their high school before shooting themselves. The footage was shown on every news station for hours. Rumors began immediately about them being bullied, members of the Trench Coat Mafia, outcast, Goths. For a while the police weren’t sure if there were only two shooters, maybe there was a possible third. At the end of the day, 12 students and a teacher were murdered, many others were injured and the two young men who committed the crimes turned the gun on themselves and took their own lives. One young man escaped by pushing himself out of a window, even though he was horribly injured, into the arms of the Swat team. I learned later of the young girl who professed her faith before being killed. I remember the footage and I remember the horror and the fear that came from that day. I also remember the accusations and the focus on bullying. I even remember Marilyn Manson being dragged into the argument and violent video games being blamed. Years would pass before I heard anything about Harris and Klebold’s true plan and even then I wasn’t sure if it was true because it didn’t fit the narrative I remembered. Cullen destroys the original and false narrative that has been so widely accepted for well over a decade. Through research and interviews with survivors Cullen provides a look at not only the killers but the media that covered the story, the police that hid information and the survivors that tried to move on past this tragedy.
                Columbine is a well written and extremely well-researched non-fiction book about a tragedy that many people think they are familiar with. Cullen wanted readers to know the true story behind the shooting. As a reporter Cullen was very well aware of the storm created by the media regarding the tragedy. He was also very aware of the impact this shooting had on later school shootings where people for various reasons tried to emulate Harris and Klebold. This book is full of all the information you could ever want to know about the events at Columbine and the events that transpired after. He takes his time with the narrative constantly changing from before, during and after the shooting. Cullen looks at each avenue as well, from the investigation that took place, the media outcry, the parents of the killers and the survivors.

                I couldn’t stop reading this book. Part of it was because there was so much information regarding Columbine that I didn’t know or understand. When I first started reading and realized the extent Harris and Klebold had planned to go, I almost felt betrayed. This was never about being bullied or being a Goth or violent videogames. Once I realized that, I realized how much I wanted to know about what really happened. My hat comes off to Cullen because he did an incredible job handling this subject and being respectful to everyone involved. It’s difficult expelling the myths that have pervaded through society, whether it’s about a myth regarding professing one’s faith before dying or having a target list. I found the actions by the police during and after the investigation to be the most disturbing and I was glad Cullen spent time discussing what happened and why. I thought this book was incredible and disturbing in many ways. I give it 5 out of 5 stars. If you want to understand the events at Columbine this would be the book to read. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008)

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

                Enzo isn’t afraid of what comes next. He knows that when he dies, he will leave his canine body behind, and become a human. He saw that on a documentary and believes it to be true so he isn’t afraid. He will miss Denny though. Denny chose him out of all the puppies at the farm. He took him home and loved him. Taught him everything there is to know about racing and then expanded the family to include his wife Eve and their daughter Zoe. But when Eve got sick things began to change. Their schedule became completely different. Denny was afraid to leave and race. Enzo saw everything and it’s their story that he is telling now. The story of his family, the love they shared and the life he lived with them.
                This is one of those books that make you think about every single relationship you have and how it affects everyone around you. The idea of having the dog narrate the story was brilliant. Enzo is an amazing character, rich with detail and an amusing personality. This is a dog with a wide plethora of information, witty and charismatic. I loved the way he focused on the nuances of being human. The simple changes in body language, dialect, even hormones that can give off so many signals to the persistent observer or dog. I couldn’t get enough of Enzo’s narrative. It was so straight forward and so matter-of-fact that it almost caught me off guard at times. The emotions Stein was able to portray through Enzo was absolutely amazing. It might be because (many) humans find dogs so trustworthy and intuitive that it was easy to trust Enzo regardless of the fact that he was bias towards Denny. Enzo could easily detect and convey the emotions of other people, whether they were genuine, deceitful, loving or trifling and in this story his instinct was always correct.

                I loved Enzo’s depth and the depth of the story. I read this is one sitting and I genuinely could not stop turning the pages. The narrative flowed so easily and the story, while slightly predictable at times, was so well done that I had to finish. There was so much about what is great about the human spirit and what could be inherently selfish about human beings. And again this was all through the eyes of a dog. Stein executed this plot so well. I needed a book to get me out of a stagnant reading spell and this was it. I applaud him for developing these characters so well and creating a story that while simple at first, held so many intricacies. This is a sad story but not because Enzo was in any way mistreated or unloved. But because he was loved and loved those around him and had to watch them experiencing, as he did, devastating loss and trials. Well done. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. Easily recommended to dog lovers and people who consider their pets to be family. Because they are in so many ways. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seales

                Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers is a collaborative effort between photographer Stephen Shames, Bobby Seale and other members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to tell their story. Their efforts are extremely successful with the amazing photography and the gripping oral history within this book. The images speak for themselves. They are extremely powerful, reflecting the life of a member of the Black Panther Party in the sixties. The oral history provided by the many members gives the necessary context for the photos so one can truly understand the message they were trying to convey and their purpose. This book isn’t meant to be an in depth look at the entire history of the Black Panther Party. It does though provide a great introduction to leaders of the party, their goals, struggles, ideologies and their community outreach. An all-around great read with amazing visuals and poignant historical details. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

                Mariam was born in Herat. A harami or bastard child born to maid and a rich businessman. Her mother warned her of the type of man her father really was. A man who could send his child and her mother to live in a shack miles away from the city to hide his shame. Laila was born in Kabul to a loving mother and father. Her two older brothers would fight for the Taliban to defeat the Russians. Her brothers wanted a free Afghanistan. Death would surround both Mariam and Laila. Their stories would intertwine as the bombs fall around them and as Sharia Law begins to take over their land.
                Mariam and Laila’s story is told in four parts. Every single part is amazingly done and so well written. Hossieni dedicated the first part to Mariam and the second part to Laila and that ended up being a great decision. He really focused on building each characters lives and circumstances. Mariam and Laila were both extremely well rounded characters with such depth and emotion. I was almost brought to tears on more than one occasion because of their situations. I could never imagine living in a war torn Afghanistan but Hosseini did an amazing job creating this world, the fear, the bombings, the distrust and the confusion. Everything was done with such mesmerizing detail. It made for such an enjoyable reading experience that I didn’t want to put this book down.

                I’m giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. This was amazing. Hosseini was able to focus on two women in the middle of a war torn country and managed to focus on their strengths and their spirits in a time when no one could blame them for breaking down. I always had hope while reading this book. Even when it seemed like nothing was going to get better, even when Hosseini was describing body parts laying in the middle of the road. I had hope because there was something about Mariam and Laila and the relationship the two women formed with each other. I heard amazing things about this novel before I ever laid my hands on it and I must admit that none of it was unfounded. This was a great story. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Thirteenth Tale By Diane Setterfield (2006)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

                “I am going to tell you a story- a marvelous story!... Once upon a time there was a haunted house… Once upon a time there was a library… Once upon a time there were twins.” And so the writing began. The story of Vida Winters and Angelfield was finally told. After so many false narratives handed to journalist on a silver platter as if they were the real things. After each new novel, Vida Winters told a new tale, a new truth, a new life. But now finally after her last novel has been written she is ready to tell the true story of her life, her home, her family and her ghost. The person chosen to hear that story is the introvert and amateur biographer Margaret Lea. Always more comfortable in the antiquarian bookshop her family owns, Margaret is initially shocked to find herself invited by such a prestigious author to write her biography. But with each passing day as the story continues to unfold, Margaret examines her own story, her own family and her own ghost.
                This seems like such a simple concept: an author on her deathbed has chosen someone to write her biography. But when nothing, absolutely nothing, is known about that author’s life then every story brought forth is a discovery, a revelation, a harsh reality. Margaret and Vida were both brilliant characters. Both were complicated in their own right, educated and avid readers but with secrets that defined who they are. But secrets over time can carry weight and both of these characters have been living under that weight. Both Vida and Margaret become lost in the telling of the story. Vida in the recounting of a life long lived, and Margaret in hearing the tale itself.
                I really enjoyed the mystery of this story. The reader is forced to make assumptions about our main character and it isn’t until the very end of the story that we gain any real understanding. Vida’s narrative keeps you on your toes and keeps you observant. I wanted to know the story and was as absorbed in it as Margaret. I was trying to undo the puzzles before I even had all the pieces. And it was magically told. I feel like this story almost falls into the magical realism realm but only because of the narrative which kept me hooked. The Thirteenth Tale a mystery about family was simply well told and enjoyable. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

                I’m going to be completely honest and upfront, this book is extremely awkward. It’s the story of Oskar Shell and how he heals after his father dies in the September 11th terrorist attacks. His father had called the apartment more than once during the attack and Oskar heard the last message but was unable to answer the phone. Over a year after his father’s death he finds a key in an envelope in a blue vase and goes on a quest across New York trying to find the lock the key opens. His only clue is the word Black written on the envelope in red ink.
                The narrative is what got me with this novel. The author had three different narrators speaking throughout the book: Oskar, his grandmother and his grandfather who left his grandmother before his father was born. This story encompasses all three of them and the events that happened throughout their lives. The only narrator I ever liked throughout the story was Oskar and his was the most straightforward of the bunch, which is saying something. The author never reveals if Oskar is diagnosed with something but it’s obvious by his writing and some of his expressions that he has a hard time understanding social cues. He was a very well developed and enjoyable character with a curious mind that I found extremely endearing. But his grandmother and her husband’s life never intrigued me. Their chapters, especially early on in the novel, dragged for me. They brought the story to a halt.

                Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was interesting overall and had some really great imagery but it simply isn’t story that will resonate with me. There were phrases and expressions that really caught my attention and that I really enjoyed but this won’t be a favorite of mine. A lot of this seemed really implausible, especially him journeying around so much of the city largely unsupervised. I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars. A book with a narrator different from one I have ever had before but not one that I would widely recommend. 

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. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand (2001)

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

                Other trainers had overlooked Seabiscuit for many reasons. He was a difficult horse with “bucked knees” and bad composition. “Get me that horse. He has real stuff in him. I can improve him. I’m positive.” That statement made my by Tom Smith secured in history the success and trials that would come to him as the trainer, Charles Howard as the owner and Red Pollard, his jockey. The group would come together and take the racing world by storm. In the late 1930’s Seabiscuit would fight through injuries, successes and failures as he was swept back and forth across the country competing against many of the best horses in the world, breaking records and winning.
                I only found myself gravitating towards this book because I had previously read Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and absolutely loved it. I have never been a fan of horse racing. I’ve also never seen the movie Seabiscuit so I considered myself completely ignorant on this subject. Needless to say I plowed ahead with this nonfiction book to educate myself on the subject and to see if Hillenbrand was as talented as I assumed she was. I was not in any shape way or form disappointed. This book is absolutely amazing. Beautifully narrated and chronologically told Hillenbrand takes readers from the very beginning with the story of Charles Howard, and how he gained his fortune and began dabbling in racing. We then meet Tom Smith and John “Red” Pollard and the lives of all three men intersect because of Seabiscuit.

                What these men did together over the course of 5 years with this horse was absolutely amazing. And it is all captured and characterized in Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Hillenbrand is gifted in the way she can provide information and weave a beautiful tale. The world and characters are so detailed that they come alive on the page. I felt like I was in the midst of watching these races. The suspense was there in each moment. I felt the pain with each injury, the exhilaration of each win, and the sadness of each lose. I love when I finish a story that I not only loved but that I learned a great deal from. My interest is piqued and I find myself going back to certain section of this book simply to relive the moment. This was extremely well done and I give it 5 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers (2000)

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers

                I was convinced I knew what I wanted to write when I sat down to begin this review. I was going to mention how everyone can recognize the photo used on the cover of this book. That it’s an example of patriotism and a symbol of World War II. It represents the integrity of the men fighting on the small island of Iwo Jima and an ode to those who lost their lives. But it’s so much more than that. That image was used as propaganda to extract more bonds from Americans in the war effort. The image was falsely portrayed and the truth pushed to the side because the image itself was so well done that the story framed around it simply had to be true. Many didn’t want to listen to the true story behind the image, the raising of the second flag on top of Mount Suribachi. That the original picture of the first flag being raised was never used and is barely even acknowledged. Flags of Our Fathers uses this image to explain what really happened on Iwo Jima, the lives that were lost, the sacrifices made, the horror endured in the name of war. Marines stood side by side fighting to the death to secure that island while Navy Corpsman like Doc Bradley would go from man to man trying to save their lives.
                Bradley wrote a book not only about the history of his father but about the many Marines and Navy sailors who fought and died on Iwo Jima. This book was well researched, well told and glaring in its ruthlessness. But war is brutal and the campaign in the Pacific was extremely brutal. This was a type of warfare Americans had never seen and weren’t prepared for. I found Bradley’s account endearing. The love for his father was obvious as was his need to understand the role that his father played. John “Doc” Bradley never wanted to talk about the war, Iwo Jima or The Photograph. It “happened a long time ago” he would say or “the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.” James Bradley wasn’t even aware of the fact that his father had received the Navy Cross for his service at Iwo Jima. By learning the history of his father and writing this story not only about him but about the men who stood by his side I feel like he was honoring his father in a way he couldn’t when he was alive.

                I’m giving this book 4 out 5 stars. I thought it was captivating and captured the horror of war while telling the story of boys becoming men. Now with that being said I must provide a disclaimer. I was less than a hundred pages from finishing this book when I came across an article stating that James Bradley was not sure if his father was actually in the The Photograph on the top of Mount Suribachi. Yeah, how about that for a mind blowing tidbit of information. Now keep in mind his father said he was in the picture. John Bradley took part in the bond tour that took place, with two other flagraisers. He was used as a propaganda piece. What does any of that mean though if he wasn’t actually in the photo? It means a lot of other things may have been in play. Especially if he wasn’t in the picture and the other two men on the tour Rene and Ira, knew he wasn’t in the photo and yet they all took part in the tour. When reading the tail end of this book all of these thoughts were in my mind and I still haven’t come to a conclusion. Does this new information change how I look at this book? Absolutely. James Bradley didn’t purposely falsify his dad’s role. This new information came out within the last two years and he just verified this in May of 2016. It leaves question about the man and the solitude he was seeking once the tours were over. It begs the question of whether there was more to his silence then the horror of the war and the losses of life he witnessed.