Saturday, October 14, 2017

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan


                One thing I love about people knowing I am an avid reader is that they always think of me when they are reading and they suggest books to me. One of my coworkers had mentioned this book to me stating “It’s about this guy who was helping Jews escape from Italy during World War II and he ends up joining the German army, becoming a driver for this General and then becoming an Ally spy.” I was sold. She brought me her copy of the book before she even had a chance to read the whole thing. I began reading the book and was immediately captivated by the story of a man I had never heard of before. Pino Lella was only seventeen years old when he began helping Jews escape into Switzerland. It was days before he turned eighteen that he joined the German army, at the urging of his parents who feared for his safety. After being injured, he had a chance encounter with General Leyers and became his driver. He then began relaying information to his uncle who was an active part of the resistance. His story isn’t one that many knew, but the information he provided was vital to the movement of the Allies.
                This isn’t a biography of Lella. Sullivan made multiple trips to visit and interview Lella, researched extensively about the sequence of events that happened during this story from 1943-1945, but he takes artistic license with this story. It is a historical fiction novel about Lella’s life and is extremely engrossing. It’s easy to get a sense of the life Lella lived. The bravery he had to have in order to risk his young life for a cause he adamantly believed in is inspiring. The ridicule he experienced while wearing a swastika armband even though he was working as a spy relaying information to the allies, was almost too much for him to endure. Many people, including his own brother, considered him a traitor. But for his brothers and his family’s safety he refused to reveal the truth, taking the judgement and the criticism, knowing he was fighting on the right side of history. The horrors he saw and endured for months on end would haunt him for the rest of his life.
               Sullivan’s telling of this story was incredible. He brought this history to life and honored Lella with his depiction. Every character in this story felt real and every atrocity was horrifying. We live in a world where these things happened and confronting that history is the only way to honestly remember those who fought and put their lives at risk. Lella’s story needed to be shared. The story of the war in Italy isn’t one that I’m familiar with so learning of the actions that took place during that time was enlightening and disturbing. I gave this novel 5 out of 5 stars. Lella’s legacy is honored and recognized within these pages. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Revisited)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
(Revisited)


                This is my second reading of The Handmaid's Tale and it's been almost four years since the first time around. I felt a need to return to this book and this story. Maybe because of the current politics. Maybe because I needed to realize what real-life horror could be. Maybe the furor around the TV adaptation influenced me. I'm not sure exactly why but I needed to reread this book. And so I did. This story was just as powerful and unsettling the second time around.
                This is the story of Offred. But it isn't just her story. It's the story of all the women in the Republic of Gilead who have no rights, no jobs, no money and a life completely determined by the men around them. Offred is a Handmaid. She has been sent to the Commander with only one purpose: to bear a child. In the time before she was married, had a child, had a job and her own bank account. But all of these things have been taken from her. All of the women must now serve a purpose to men and to society. There are the Wives who wear Blue, The Marthas who wear green and do service work around the house and the Aunts who train the Handmaids. Women are not allowed to read. The stores that women frequent have pictures so as not to tempt the women to read. This is the world Offred knows now. She remembers the time before but is helpless to make any change or to escape. Offred, the Commander, his wife and the Republic of Gilead with its wall where bodies hang and secret rebel organization exist is the shadows.
Spoilers are coming.
                This is the kind of story that can send chills up and down your spine. Because it is both a world you fear and a world that you can easily envision. Offred could be anyone. Her day to day life before could be reminiscent of anyone's life. And yet here she is now with nothing. Her body used as a ritual to further the means of those who hold her captive. This society is representative of male dominance and women subservience in every since of the world. It has a very biblical undertone that is used as means of control. There is a sense of defiance but the hope in it is fleeting. There is no proof of success, only its undercurrent. And here we have a story of a world that has passed and what has come after. A world where your identity is stripped and you can't even speak your real name.
                If you ever want to know what I am afraid of, read this book. This type of story is exactly what terrifies me. Women unable to control their own destiny. I imagine that this kind of world could indeed happen and in many ways it would feel like Atwood was simply seeing into the future. I credit her world building. She was able to define a world all too black and white, defined by its restrictions. By making the readers well aware of the few things women were allowed to do she made it all to clear all of things women were not allowed. Offred was a character whose mind drifted between then and now, as if trying to hold on to the world she couldn't leave behind. Images of her daughter haunted her while fear for husband permeated her thoughts. Nothing was settled in her mind and the drifting back in forth, the stark realization of the now, was terrfying.
               Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale leaves you with a feeling of discontent. We are unsure of Offred's fate, unsure of what happened in the Republic of Gilead, left to ponder its very existence. I love Atwood's writing in this. It is both descriptive and disconcerting. I kept hoping for a moment of relief and was left wanting. I see those around me who would be complicit to these changes, who would let the world fall around them if it wouldn't affect them directly. And I see those around me who would fight and rage against this horrifying society. This identifying and categorizing of people around me makes it feel real. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli


                It wasn’t until fairly recently that I noticed Harry, A History and I wasn’t at all interested. To be completely honest with you I just wasn’t sold on the idea of reading someone else’s experience as a Harry Potter fan. I had my own history with the books, one that I cherish and speak about to people shocked that a thirty year old woman still rereads the series every year. I just didn’t have the patience to indulge and I have so many books I want to read. Then one weekend I was visiting my in-laws and saw a copy of the book. My mother in law, who is also a huge Harry Potter fan, had ordered the copy months ago and had yet to read it. Sitting idly on the couch, I began reading the forward by J.K. Rowling. I must admit that my interest was piqued after seeing both her name and the fact that the author of this book was the webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron, a site I had frequented often for Potter news. Before I knew it I was chapter in and hooked. Just like that I had fallen into the history of the Potter Fandom.
                Now would be the appropriate to dive into my history with Harry Potter. I picked up the first book in the fall of 1998 at 12. I almost book snobbed it, stating pretty proudly that I didn’t read fantasy when a friend suggested I read it. My obsession with the series began right when the books were being published in the U.S. so I got a first-hand view of the tide as the Harry Potter wave began to rise. I got my hands on a British edition of the second book at a local book store, before the book was released in the U.S. and then promptly bought a U.S. copy as soon as it was released. I reread the books constantly, something I had never done before. I loved the series and was a dedicated fan. The waiting between books sucked, but I returned to the books often. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to count the amount of times I’ve read these books but I still do even to this day.
                Melissa Anelli has a different story. She came across the books while in college in 2000, after a few of the books had already been released and the fandom was increasing exponentially. Her journalism career took her down a different path. She would begin perusing fanfiction sites, indulging in these stories, while also researching articles and sending them to The Leaky Cauldron. Overtime she would become a leading force in providing news regarding the series. She began writing this book moments before the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out. It was in honor of the fandom that she wrote the book and that’s the reason why I loved the experience of reading Harry, A History. It is funny, intriguing and informative. I was never a part of the some of the fan experiences that she describes and it was interesting to learn about all of the events taking place, the rivalries, the discussions, the extensive fanfiction, the conventions. But what I loved most was reading about another fan falling head over heels in love with this series. Reading about someone else and the connection they share with a book series that I am so dedicated to and love brought back all of the memories I associated with Harry Potter. This is a book for Harry Potter fans. People who loved these books and were both sad and happy at the fact that it had to end. The story isn’t going anywhere. I have multiple copies of the series and plan to reread them every January for the foreseeable future. Anelli’s journey was different but we are connected through this story of young boy wizard who continued to fight until the battle was won. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.   

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee



                It is extremely difficult to tell a multigenerational story that has a well-crafted plot, great world building, and amazing character development. Lee managed to not only master all those things but also include historical details and racial nuances that enhanced the story and described a culture. Pachinko begins in Korea in the early 1900s, the story of man crippled since birth, who marries a poor young girl whose father had too many daughters and few prospects. It then follows the growth of their family, his death and his daughter’s unexpected pregnancy. All around them the world is changing. Korea is now controlled by Japan, people are suffering because of their culture and uncertainty about the future looms. We follow this family through four generations. As the years pass, their lives change in unbelievable ways as wars come and go, their country is divided and their family survives.
                I don’t want to be purposefully vague but I also don’t want to give anything away. This story was incredibly well done. The manner in which Lee crafted and maintained this story lent itself beautifully to this plot. She didn’t go into painstaking detail about each year of their lives, but allowed time to pass naturally and events to unfold organically. Reflecting on the time passed and the ways in which it changed the characters was extremely effective. The beginning of the story provided absolutely no clues to what would happen as time changed. Social commentary throughout clued readers into the historical events happening around the characters.
                One of the things that I really enjoyed about this novel was the look at Korean culture and the racial divide between Koreans and Japanese. I’m not well versed on the struggles that occurred in Korean history. Reading about the bigotry and cultural differences that were so pervasive was interesting and I thought well handled. It was vital to making this novel as authentic as possible to explore how these two cultures interacted.
                I’m giving this novel 5 out of 5 stars. I was impressed by the way Lee tackled this multi-generational epic about a Korean family. It isn’t a novel you can casually read because it handles so many details and those details are what weave the beautiful fabric that is this novel. Very well done. I was invested in the characters from the beginning and that dedication to them never wavered. I felt like I was living through turbulent times, rejoicing through their triumphs and despondent through their pain. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty



                I usually read books before I watch any kind of on screen adaptation, as a rule, because I know that the book will be better than the adaptation. I broke that rule for Big Little Lies and dived head first into the HBO adaptation simply based on the casting. It took one episode for me to realize that I needed to read the book and immediately requested it from the library and became #141 in line for the next book. Needless to say I got my copy right after the season ended. I loved every episode and was very interested to see what had been changed in this adaption. Spoiler Alert: a lot had been changed but both were really enjoyable.
                Big Little Lies is the story of three very different women and their families, living in Australia. An incident occurs regarding one of their sons, tension occurs and the worst of the community rears its ugly head and battle lines are drawn. In the midst of these battle lines are all of the imperfections that only these women recognize in their own families because everyone has secrets. An abusive husband, a rape, rage against an ex-husband. It all seems so simple but from the onset we know that someone is dead and it isn’t until the end that we realize how so many of the lies lead to that death.

                I’m not sure how quickly I would have realized who was dead if I had read the book first. I was able to make all kinds of assumptions while watching the show, many of which I assumed I would have made if I read the book first, but alas I will never know. Moriarity crafted this story well and the lives of all of these women were captivating and interesting. I had heard mixed reviews about the book, which I’m glad I decided to ignore. The details provided in the book added so much depth to the story that fortunately the actors were able to add to the show. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler

Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler



                And so it all ends. And it was so damn good! Okay, let me slow down and start with the beginning of this book. The Clay’s Ark disease is running rampant. The only people who exist now are those with the disease, those who hold the pattern and the mutes being controlled. The Clayarks and Patternist are basically at war. Teray is a son of the Patternmaster, Rayal, who is dying from the Clay’s Ark disease. Coransee is also a son of Rayal and now sees Teray as his biggest threat to obtaining the pattern once Rayal finally succumbs to the disease.
                There you have it. That is the backdrop for the final book in this series. I’m not going to try and go into the details of this book because they are too vast and I won’t be able to put into words everything going on, within the limits I want this post to be. What I will say is that this was a satisfying finale. This story spreads over hundreds of years. Many of the characters within the story are never intertwined but they are vaguely mentioned and if you are familiar with these books, then their presence is obvious. I kept wondering throughout if any of the previous characters would intertwine more explicitly and honestly I like that she didn’t. Each of these novels could easily stand on their own. Interestingly enough that’s how this series began! Patternmaster was the first book released in this series but is the last in the series chronologically. The story then moved to Mind of My Mind (chronologically the second book), then Survivor (chronologically fourth but a book she pulled from being published again because she hated it. Of course I’m curious but it’s almost impossible to get my hands on!) Fourth to be released was Wild Seed (chronologically first) and the last book to be released was Clay’s Ark (chronologically third).
                I’m glad that my first experience reading this series was in the chronological order. I absolutely loved the way these characters developed and how the story was told. The world building blended and expanded beautifully with each book. I gained more understanding of the how the pattern was formed and maintained through each book. The introduction of the Clay’s Ark disease was a completely unexpected twist that piqued my interest instantly and made me crave to know the conclusion of the series. I will eventually read the series in the order it was published because I’m curious to see what that reading experience would be like.

                This is a series I would highly recommend. The topics and themes explored were extraordinary. The concepts of slavery, control, freedom and maintaining humanity were prevalent throughout the series, and the supernatural, magical elements added so much depth to the story that it was easy to fall into the story. I loved each of these book. I’m just upset it took me this long to read them. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler

Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler


                Blake thought he would be safe with his daughters in their armored truck, even as they traveled out of their safe enclave. But when a man ripped open his locked door and threatened to kill his family everything changed. Blake knew these people were different. They were reading his body language, like they were reading his mind. They knew Keira was sick even if the strangers couldn’t deduce what was wrong. The strangers forced them to go to the ranch, kidnapping Rane, Blake’s other daughter and threatening them all if they didn’t follow. Eli, the leader of the ranch, made it clear that they couldn’t leave. That they would be infected like him, and everyone else at the ranch. The extraterrestrial organisms inhabiting Eli’s body would infect him too. Shockingly, the only way to keep any one at the ranch, and the world safe, would be for Blake and his family to stay. By then they were already infected.
                I have absolutely no idea how this novel fits into the Patternist series because none of the other characters of the previous books were even mentioned, but it is obvious that this novel is part of the Patternist universe, so beyond anything else, I am extremely curious. With that being said, this book could stand on its own. Changing in narrative from the past, with Eli’s infection and him coming upon this inhabited ranch, back to the present with Blake’s family kidnapped and brought to the ranch, Butler weaves a tale of the struggle to maintain humanity, while your body is losing its humanity. Every single character is struggling with their circumstances, brought on by a mission off the planet and an infection that took the lives of everyone but Eli. The possibilities of what could happen in this well-crafted, and terrifyingly realistic world are disturbing to say the least. And I could not put this novel down.

                I mean, damn. I’m continually shocked by how amazing Octavia E. Butler was a writer. This story, like every single one of hers that I have read so far, has incredible character development and world building. Each plot has been mind-blowing in its uniqueness and detail. This is another book that I could easily recommend. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler



                Centuries have passed since Dora and Anyanwu have met and chose to live harmoniously. A truce between the two of them to exist together even though they may disagree. Doro is close to getting what he always wanted. His descendants are growing in number and now there is Mary. He knew from the moment Mary was born that she would be different. An exceptionally strong telepath, something completely different than he had seen before. She would be the prize he was looking for, if she survived transition. What Doro wasn’t expecting was for her to form a pattern with some of his other telepaths after she transitioned. That those telepaths would be connected to her and that she would be able to control them in a way that even he could not. And that he would begin to see her as a threat.
                The Patternist series is just incredible. There is no other way around it. What Octavia E. Butler created with this series is a group of non-humans who are able to enslave and take over those around them without their knowledge. That plot in and of itself is achieved seamlessly in Butler’s very capable hands. This second book in the series is as strong as the first and pulls in a deeper realm than I ever imagined. The characters are beautifully imagined. The world building is extremely strong. And because there is no extent to their power, the possibilities really are endless to where this story can go.

                I will say that I am reading this book in the order the series flows but not in the order the story was published. I had no idea the story was published in a different order but I am glad I am reading this story through chronologically. I’m loving the way these stories are flowing in to one another. This series is just steadily taking my breath away. Well done. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Eager to begin the next book. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler



                This is a story of power, unbelievable power and unexplainable beings. Doro has roamed the Earth for over three millennia, taking bodies as necessary and finding others with some form of power to breed and build colonies of people, his people, obedient, subservient, useful and different. Many would call them witches. Anyanwu was special. She had power the likes of which Doro had never seen before, able to not only control her shape and appearance but to heal. Alive for more than three hundred years Anyanwu had many husbands and bore many children but none with a power to rival her own. Two extremely powerful beings with motives that would never mix and one content to keep the other a slave.
                I don’t want to spoil anything but what follows is an intense power struggle, one based on morals and the concept of what it means to truly live and to truly love. Anyanwu is willing to sacrifice her freedom for the people she loves and for her descendants. She believes in family and in forming relationships. Doro on the other hand has to kill to survive and only values the lives of those who can best serve him in one way or another. They both fear one another and yet Anyanwu is in a form of slavery. It is an intense and unpredictable story that looks at how we sacrifice ourselves for the ones we love and how others use power to manipulate others for their own gain.

                Octavia E. Butler ladies and gentlemen in all of her splendid glory. I am obsessed. And a little upset at myself for being so late to the “Octavia E. Butler is an amazing author” party. What the hell have I been doing?! What I love about her is that I never know what to expect from her stories but I can always depend on amazing character development, beautiful world building and a wholly original plot that is emotional, not contrived, well thought out and an extremely visceral experience. This novel about Anyanwu and Doro fit all of that and more. Easily 5 out of 5 stars. This is the first book in the Pattermaster Series and I’ve already downloaded the second book to begin reading soon. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck



                Audra was just trying to get away from her ex-husband and his controlling mother. It took her years to finally get over her addiction, develop a relationship with her kids, and finally leave. But he still controlled their lives. He was constantly trying to take the children away from her and she needed a break. Four days they had been on the road, making their way cross country when everything changed. The sheriff pulled her over, her kids were taken from her and now the sheriff claims they were never with her. She knows the truth and yet no one believes her. Except for Danny, the man who this has happened to be before, and who has been hunting for the people responsible.
                Here and Gone has a really interesting premise and started off strong. The sequence with the children being taken happened in the beginning stages of the novel and readers weren’t aware of how far into addiction Audra was and for what reasons until those facts were used to paint a picture about her. This helped with character development and with developing the plot but some of the aspects of the story felt really forced. None of the other characters were strongly developed. Those behind the kidnapping were given very little motivation outside of monetary reasons and those who demeaned Audra never gave her a chance. I also didn’t care for the world development because not much detail went into creating the setting for the story. In all, I thought this book was ok. It has a satisfying end even if some of the plot dragged a little in the middle of the novel.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser with M. Bridget Cook

The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser with M. Bridget Cook     


                Rebecca Wall has been a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) her entire life. Her mother was a second wife and had 14 children. Her father had three wives and 24 children in all. Rebecca never doubted the sanctity of plural marriage. She questioned those outside of the FLDS and the evil lurking in wait to harm her and her family. The Prophet, Rulon Jeffs, was a tool of God and she would eventually be his bride. But as she got older and became a wife she was privy to more and more disturbing details. Were marriages really ordained by God or negotiations of the men in power? Was abuse something women and children should take without question? Eventually the questions and fear of Warren Jeffs, the son of Rulon, who took power after his death were enough to convince Rebecca it was time to escape.
                I heard about Rebecca Musser after watching the documentary “Prophet’s Prey.” It focuses on Warren Jeffs and the corruption running rampant within his FLDS sect. It was interesting and terrifying to say the least. I wanted to read Musser’s story because I knew it would have intimate details of a life I could never imagine taking part in. This memoir is story of a woman who since birth was wrapped up in this ideology. Her youth was filled with abuses at the hand of her father’s first wife. She was constantly told that anyone not of the FLDS would only harm her and were with Satan. Yet as she gets older she discovers all of this corruption. As she becomes aware of everything around her, she realizes just how lost the people around her and the people she loves really are and decided to leave fearing for her own safety. This is a story of courage. It is personal and endearing and describes a religion that is controlled by men through brainwashing and fear.

                I’m recommending this memoir because people need to be aware of just how manipulative other human beings can be and how many will use a religion for their own personal gains. This was not the best written memoir but it does its job. It gets Musser’s story out there. Very interesting look at polygamy and the FLDS from someone who experienced it firsthand. I give this 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


                Some stories just tell themselves beautifully. Through the despair, hardships, triumph, joy and loss of the characters you begin to see the world in which they exists and the lives in which they are living. I feel like Half of a Yellow Sun tells itself beautifully. Taking place in the 1960’s before, during and after the Civil War in Nigeria, this book introduces you to a wide array of characters from Ugwu the houseboy, to his master Odenigbo, his wealthy girlfriend Olanna, her sister Kainene and Richard, the white man who came to Nigeria to study and falls in love with Kainene. Through these characters we experience the war in its entirety. We see the creation of a new nation, the plight of the refugees, the fear of those watching everything fall to ruins around them and the destruction.
                This may very well be my favorite novel so far by Adichie. Not only were these characters well developed and full of depth but their stories were extremely intriguing. I loved the way simple changes were made depending on which character was the main focus of a chapter. Subtle changes in the text highlighted the relationships between people even though third person was used throughout the novel. Separating the text into four different parts, two in the Early Sixties and two in the Late Sixties really shaped the novel in an interesting way and set the stage for world building. The alternating narratives between the two separate time frames created an interesting plot device that really moved the stories along.

                Reading this story completely unaware of the Nigerian Civil War and the genocide committed was more so than anything very enlightening. The main characters brought to the forefront so much pain that forces you to recognize that the story is rooted in a horrible truth. Adichie’s writing shines in this novel. This novel highlights her storytelling and her ability to provide detail, be informative and moving. I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars. I was totally engrossed in the story from beginning to end. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry



                Imagine meeting a young boy with promises of an island where you will never grow up. Oh the fun you could have, leaving the world you know to have adventures. Imagine if the world you did know was one where you were unhappy, afraid, alone. Then this island and this boy, Peter, would have everything you could ever want. That was Jamie. He left the land he knew to follow Peter many, many seasons ago. He was the first boy Peter had ever brought to the island. They were best friends and they would never grow old. But as the seasons passed more boys would come. When those boys died either in Battle, during a raid against the pirates, from sickness or the Many-eyes, Peter would go back to the Other Place to get other boys. Jamie would be the one to bury the bodies. He was also the one that made sure the boys were taken care of, looked after, and while everyone had fun, Jamie kept them safe. This is the story of Captain Hook, the boy once known as Jamie, and how he went from being Peter Pan’s right hand to losing his.
                Jamie is the narrator throughout Lost Boy and he is nothing at all like the villain I remember. He is Peter’s best friend, his favorite and the fiercest fighter that leaves his mark on pirates by taking their right hand by their own sword. But he is also caring, thoughtful and a fierce protector. Even though he is a child, he holds a certain maturity that you would expect from someone older. Henry did an amazing job developing his character and his voice. Through his eyes I learned of the other boys and the truth of Peter, who is a brutal, uncaring child that feeds off violence and parades it off as fun. All of the characters jumped off the page so well developed it was almost frightening. And the island they lived on was full of a certain mysticism where monsters roamed and secrets were hidden.
                I’m a sucker for anything Peter Pan. I fell in love with Disney’s version as a child, loved “Hook” and even watched the short run cartoon show that ran in my childhood. But I didn’t read the novel Peter Pan until I was an adult. I was able to see in Peter Pan the things I wouldn’t have noticed if I read it as a child. Like how Peter “took care of” the boys if they started to grow up. Or what an extremely arrogant trickster he was. I felt bamboozled by the reality of who Peter really was and honestly my opinion of a character I truly loved changed dramatically. Henry’s novel about Captain Hook takes this image of Peter Pan a step further. This novel is dark and brutal with amazing world and character development. I lost myself in this story both horrified an amazed by the lengths that Peter was willing to go to keep Jamie by his side. This is the perfect prequel to Peter Pan and an extremely fascinating background for Captain Hook. It’s easy to feel sympathy for the man that would become Hook and see the cruelty of Peter. The clues were left in Peter Pan that there was more to the boy who would never grow up, something much darker and sinister. Henry exposed all of that in Lost Boy. I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

George by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino


                George loved reading Charlotte’s Web. So much so that George cried at the end when Charlotte died. Charlotte was everything she wanted to be. She wants to play Charlotte in the school play but her fear of everyone finding out that she is really a girl is crippling. Her mom and brother don’t know that she feels this way. George isn’t like the other boys because she isn’t a boy. She is a girl. But how to prove to everyone that what they see isn’t everything.
                Simple, powerful, timely and necessary. Those are the four words I would use to describe this book. Here we have a young person by the name of George, who was born a male but believes himself to be female. She is afraid of what that means but believes in her heart that is true. How do you reveal that information to the people you love most: your mother, brother, best friend? How can you prove to someone what you know is true. George was such a great character. She was well developed and had a great inner dialogue. Readers really understood the amount of anxiety that her identity was causing her and what each challenge was.

                Representation matters and I cannot stress that enough. As well written and age appropriate that this book is, it can and will have an impact on the lives of those begging for representation. I really enjoyed and found it to be a quick an easy read with so much depth. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

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. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair



                Jennifer Teegee was browsing through the library in Hamburg when she came across a book titled I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? The Life Story of Monica Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.” Monica Goeth is Jennifer’s biological mother. Monica placed Jennifer in an orphanage when she was an infant and she had been adopted at the age of 7. She never had a great relationship with her mother, but she did love the company of her maternal grandmother, Irene. Irene was the woman who loved Amon Goeth, the Commandant. Now all Jennifer has is questions about her family, about her life, about the grandfather she saw portrayed in a movie by Ralph Fiennes. He was the man shooting people in the camp from his window. She writes “He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a bastard who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.” Now Jennifer is trying to put the pieces of her family’s history together. This memoir is her journey to discovering the secrets she had never been told.
                What does your family legacy say about you? How does the past actions of family members dictate the rest of your life? Should it even have an effect on your life? These were a few of the questions Jennifer wrestled with throughout this memoir. She felt as if her life was split in two: the time before knowing and the time after. What was amazing is the life she chose to have before knowing about her grandfather. She lived in Israel, learned Hebrew, studied the Holocaust, volunteered and had Jewish friends. But what does any of that mean now, after knowing the horror that your grandfather put people through. These are somewhat unanswerable questions. But through this memoir you can see how she learned to cope and live with her family’s history. The love of the family that adopted her and had been a part of her life for three decades helped. But this was a journey she had to take on largely by herself.

                This memoir brings up so man valid points. It’s hard to describe. If you have someone in your family who has done terrible things, should you be held accountable? Is that a weight others should have to carry? What about others who were ambivalent to the things around them like Irene, Jennifer’s biological grandmother? She was living with Amon outside of the concentration camp. How should Jennifer feel about her, especially when she had such fond memories of her grandmother? It’s so complicated and there are no easy answers but her journey is something I can recommend others read. There is a lot of introspection, a lot of research and a certain amount of acceptance. This really is the story of her life and how this new knowledge changed everything for her. My biggest complaint comes from the way this memoir is presented: Jennifer writes part of it in first person narrative while other, more factual, parts are written by Sellmair. These different narratives were present in each chapter and it was really awkward. The choice of format made me rate this a little lower because reading the memoir like this did get tiresome. Still will recommend this and give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly


Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly



                With World War II came the need for faster, more efficient planes. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), located at
Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, needed computers. The need was so great that women were hired in very high numbers, even black woman were hired for their mathematical skill. Many of these women had advanced degrees and worked as teachers. When the opportunity arose to work for NACA they rose to the occasion. But they would experience many of the hardships in the work place that they did outside of the workplace. Even though they were vital to the work being done they were segregated and known as the West Computers while their white counterparts were the East Computers. They had to sit in a segregated lunch area and use bathrooms labeled as “Colored.” The years would pass and with the end of the war many of the women, who had proven themselves as exceptional workers, stayed and would have lasting careers breaking barriers, by becoming engineers, helping compute the first landing on the moon and cycling the next round of women into the workplace now known as National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

                Had you heard this story before? I hadn’t and I’m really glad I took the time to read this book and learn more about a part of history that I was woefully ignorant of. These women that worked at NACA were extremely strong minded and very well educated women who broadened the horizon and gained the respect of their white counterparts. As they were making strides in the workplace and as the color barriers were breaking around them, they still had to deal with living in Virginia, a state hell bent on keep segregation and holding on to what they considered to be “traditional American values.” It was amazing and disturbing to see the juxtaposition of the women and the progress being made by America as a country as far as trying to put a man in the moon, when the United States was in such a stagnant state when it came to race relations. This book spans three decades and as much as things changed, it was at a horribly slow pace. Compared to the progress we were trying to make in space, we did horribly making sure change was happening in regards to civil rights back on Earth in the U.S.

                But what an empowering and well done debut by Shetterly! This book handles a lot of science, obviously it’s about mathematics and aeronautics, but she managed to find a really beautiful balance between the work that these women were doing and their individual stories. You were never overwhelmed with mathematical details, instead you were informed of just how much work was being done and how capable these women were. I enjoyed it. It was such an easy read with loads of information but told in a very relatable fashion. I gives this book 4 out of 5 stars.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Human Acts by Han Kang

Human acts by Han Kang



                This is the story of Dong-ho and the student uprising in South Korea. It's a story of death and longing. It's a story of a heartbreaking reality and the scars that lived forever. It's a story of spirits that can't move on and the living that cling to their presence. It's a story of memories and how they have the power to cripple and burden. It's a story of time and how some wounds never heal, psychological or physical. These stories don’t have a single narrative. Their narratives change with the passage of time within a community. This story of Dong-ho, is the story of the many who were affected the day the shots rang out and the uprising ended.
          I'm not sure if it was the changes in narrative, the use of the second person throughout, the vivid imagery, the despairing tone, the prose or the characters but I couldn't put this novel down. I wasn't expecting to be so captivated by this political fiction account of the 1980 student uprising in South Korea but without a doubt I was. The changes in the narrative and the characters used to deliver that narrative gave such an all encompassing view of the history of that uprising and the affect it had on the lives of everyone involved. Dong-ho was present in all these narratives and he was a somber but necessary presence. Some of it had to do with youth but most of it had to do with his conviction and untimely death. But every one of the narratives had such a unique vantage point especially with how Han Kang utilized the passage of time. This story just flowed through the years beautifully and showed how the events continued to affect people for decades. The images she created of South Korea before, during and after the events was so engrossing and well done. The details provided and the lingering somber tone made reading this book a visceral experience.
                I really enjoyed this novel. There were so many moments throughout this book that took my breath away. Han Kang's prose and delivery was perfectly timed to draw as much emotion as possible out of every moment. Stories like these about tragic events keep them alive. They need to be told and Han Kang was the person meant to tell this story. I give this 4.5 our of 5 stars.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


                They were the twelfth expedition to make their way to Area X: the psychologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist and the biologist. There was a linguist but she had second thoughts before going through the barrier. When the four crossed through, with the help of some hypnosis by the psychologist, they all had their packs on their backs. It took them four days to reach the camp. Some remains from the previous expedition were left behind. Everything was as it seemed except for the tunnel, or the tower as our narrator the biologist called it. The tower had never been mentioned and it wasn’t on any of their maps and yet there it was descending into the depths, visible only slightly above the ground. In their canvassing of the area they knew they would eventually have to enter the tower but no one would understand the implications of the writing on the wall.
                Well, this is the kind of science fiction that I really love to read. The type that obviously has some supernatural existence but is shrouded in mystery and the moaning you hear in the night isn’t human, or is it. Told in first person by the Biologist the very palpable fear of the four women taking place in this expedition is constantly referenced. This book is a venture into the depths of the unknown and the world building of the mysterious Area X is extremely well done. Vandermeer’s attention to detail and his atmosphere of fear and of something gone terribly awry, almost becomes its own entitity in this novel.

                I don’t want to go into to many details because that would give too much away. This the kind of science fiction novel that is better savored. I didn’t want to put this down. I found the biologist’s observations to be extremely disturbing and I couldn’t turn away. This book is the first in the trilogy and it sets itself up perfectly for the sequel. I am very interested and intrigued by this story. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates



                There was something so incredibly engaging about this story of Paul Coates and his two sons. Now, Paul had many children but this memoir focuses on Bill and the author, Ta-Nehisi. Brothers by two different mothers, often in the same house and completely different. Their father was steadfast in their life but his history caused him to be strict and in many ways an isolationist. An ex-member of the Black Panther Party, “conscious” and not a believer in the holidays, his children were constantly aware of their world and their place in it. Ta-Nehisi and Bill were taking two separate paths. Bill was the one who was always quick to fight and determined to be something. Ta-Nehisi was a slacker, not at all prone to violence, simply trying to make it through his days. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas were not holidays they celebrated. Baltimore was their home and the setting for this memoir about growing up the son of Paul Coates.
                Compelling writing and an intriguing story set the pace for this memoir. Ta-Nehisi’s description of life in Baltimore under the strict upbringing of his father was extremely interesting, complicated and a memoir like I hadn’t experienced. I loved that Coates took time to reflect on his father’s upbringing, his different stints with women and his involvement with the Black Panther Party. Taking the time to divulge that information really set the tone for the story he was telling. Moments of self-reflection were the ones I found most captivating. Coates is very well aware of his faults and those things that caused him to fair so poorly in certain situations like school and girls. The nature in which he reveals and discusses them shows an honesty that we can only reveal later in life, when time has passed and the memories of who we were seep out.

                I enjoyed this memoir. An easy read that dealt with father-son relationships in a very honest, though sometimes grim light. I had really been looking forward to reading this book and the focus wasn’t where I thought it was going to be, I still found it really enjoyable. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.