Thursday, January 26, 2017
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Let me start off by saying that this is one of those books that I believe could initiate a large amount of change if people would take the time to read it, understand it and pursue a change. With that in mind I am going to recommend this book to you before I even start to tell you about this book because I believe everyone should be aware of what is happening in the United States, why it is unprecedented and why mass incarceration affects us all. Michelle Alexander wanted to prove with this book how the War on Drugs began, how the language behind it insinuated the worst possible imagery of the black community, how the prison industry expanded to such a gargantuan size and how the main victims of the War of Drugs are African-American men.
To see that written so bluntly can be slightly off putting, I understand that. Especially if you may not believe at face value how any of that is true. That’s why a book like this is so important. Alexander lays it all out on the table for you to examine. She isn’t simply throwing her opinion on the wall and hitting you over the head with some conspiracy theory she found on the internet. Alexander has researched the statistics, looked at the communities affected and provides readers with the conclusion. It’s unsettling and unnerving that something could happen to this extent but it has. This book focuses on the War on Drugs that began in the 1980s, at a time when drug use was not increasing but the country was suffering from deindustrialization and many people were unemployed, especially in rural and urban communities. Alexander looks at the racial discrepancies seen with this war and how some tactics employed are usually only seen in poor black neighborhood, even though drug use is as prevalent if not more so in white communities. She examines the difference in sentencing between crack and cocaine even though they are the same drug in different forms. Alexander also looks at what it means to be a felon and how that can affect someone for the rest of their lives and there isn’t an efficient system in place for felons to provide for themselves once out of jail.
I won’t try and summarize anything else about this book or this situation because it is too complex. I’m saddened by the fact that I honestly believe that people will refuse to believe anything in this book simply because they benefit from the system. This is a book meant to make everyone uncomfortable. Alexander wants people to realize what is happening around them. This book made me very emotional. It’s upsetting to see the creation and effects of mass incarceration laid out so bare. I was disturbed and very angry while reading certain sections of this book. For that reason alone I recommend it to you. I want people to read this book with an open mind, willing to read what Alexander says and look for understanding. This book only focuses on the plight of African-American men. It does not go into the challenges that other races and woman face with the prison system but Alexander makes that clear early on that she hopes someone does, but this was the issue she wanted to focus on. I did think this book became a tad repetitive near the end. Overall though, this a comprehensive look at a corrupt prison system, established by a false war on drugs. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Cam Girl by Leah Raeder
Vada and Ellis were in a horrible car accident. Vada was behind the wheel. Ellis was completely drunk. Ryan was in the other car with a blood alcohol level of 0.20. Ryan didn’t make it. Vada almost lost her arm. Ellis lost her best friend. They had been best friends for five years. In many ways they were more than best friends. But Vada never consider Ellis her girlfriend. She was bisexual not gay and she had barely been in a real relationship with a guy let alone a girl. The night of the accident it wasn’t just their relationship that changed. Vada was no longer able to paint or sketch because of her injury. She stopped going to her master’s program, was evicted from her home and met Frankie, a cam girl. Everything changed.
This was a novel unlike anything I have ever read before. Vada and Ellis are two extremely complicated characters. Not only in their relationship with each other but in their sexuality. This novel deals with sexuality in such a descriptive, honest, emotional and visceral level. It was intense. These characters were so beautifully and obviously flawed. I couldn’t help but to be drawn into their emotional and conflicted relationship, mostly because I really wanted to understand it. But they barely understood it and that’s basically what this story is. This story is about two people in their early twenties still trying to figure out their sexuality and relationship under some very trying circumstances.
I feel like I will constantly look to Raeder as an example on how to write beautifully flawed female characters. This is third novel I have read by Raeder and Raeder does a fabulous job at creating and sculpturing characters. This book is no exception. I loved the play on words. I love the descriptive writing. I didn’t care for the idea of Vada being a cam girl. As much as it was a vital part of the story, there were moments when it seemed The most emotional instants were when Vada was examining herself and her relationships. I really enjoyed this story but I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Raeder is not for the faint of heart. If you are at all uncomfortable with explicit sex scenes or even the concept of different sexualities then you need to stay away from this novel. Raeder does not hold back and it is an eye opening experience. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stats. There were times when the pacing slowed down a little bit and I wasn’t sure where the story was going but in the end this was a book worth reading.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
When Judas Coyne first saw the online listing to “Buy my Stepfather’s ghost” he thought it was a fucking joke. One thousand dollars later and he was the proud owner of dead man’s suit. It came in a heart shaped box and it looked like it was almost Coyne’s size. He still thought it was a joke. That was until he woke in the middle of the night to the sound of someone walking around his home. The motion detector picked up nothing and yet he found a man, wearing the exact suit that came in the heart-shaped box, sitting in a chair outside of his room. The ghost. But this particular ghost isn’t satisfied with just haunting Coyne. He wants him to take his own life and the life of anyone else who attempts to help him escape.
Oh Joe Hill, how I love your sick and twisted storylines. This is no exception. This starts off intriguing enough and then the horror and suspense just keeps on growing. This was a complicated story about an old rock and roller who is not only facing the end of his career but the effects of old age. He has had a string of lovers and the family of the one he coined “Florida” is out for revenge. Hence the ghost now trying to kill Coyne. This book is a look at life, the passing of time, family, abuse and revenge with an extremely apparent supernatural and deadly element.
This is the 4th Joe Hill novel that I’ve read and it isn’t my favorite but it is really well done. Extremely original premise and story. The world building was done very well. Characters were all well developed. This books fall very neatly into the horror genre. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
2016: The Wrap Up
Books and more books of course. And Hamilton.
What was a girl to do when there were so many books and so little time: READ! That’s what! This year as usual I started off with re-reading the Harry Potter series. You may ask “But Stacie, why do you read that series over and over again when you have so many other books to read?” Sigh* Number one: You must not be a Harry Potter fan. Number two: It makes me happy. Moving on!
This year I turned 30 years old (cue the mix of anxiety, happiness and utter horror at the realization of this landmark) and I wanted to do something memorable. A friend of mine came up with this amazing idea to read a book for every year that I’ve been alive. Voila we now have “Reading through 30 years” which would be later coined #birthdaychallenge. That was my big to-do of this year. I gathered a list of books to tackle this year using the Pulitzer prize list, New York Times bestsellers list, book recommendations and Goodreads to find books published throughout my life. The goal was to read them all this year and so I did. I must say that it was time well spent. Many of the books I chose were books that I had contemplated reading before but kept pushing to the back of my “to-be-read” pile. This was the perfect excuse to push those books back up and read them. I discovered quite a few authors that I really enjoyed and even found the inspirations for this year’s theme (#keepingitshort) while reading. All in all, it was a fun theme that was loose enough to not feel constraining but it had purpose. And now I can say I’ve read books from each year of my life. We call that geek cool.
So confession time: Social Media and I have a love/hate relationship. I feel like I’ve been on facebook forever without really enjoying it but I came up with excuses to keep it. I started a page for this blog, I made sure to keep up with family and old friends on the platform but honestly I was getting tired of it. Twitter and I never saw eye to eye. I started a twitter handle, again for the blog, but never really enjoyed being on it (it still exists by the way, I’m trying. Honestly, I am,). Then something absolutely amazing happened: Litsy! And it’s like the heavens parted and delivered this in my lap and said “This is for you! Go forth and enjoy.” I am obsessed!
So what is Litsy? Litsy is an app that is focused on books. It’s been best described as a mix between Goodreads and Instagram and I couldn’t agree more. You can write a review, a blurb or quotes and you can post pictures. But you have to tag a book in every post you make. It is amazing. It’s a community of people who love everything to do with books. You can share book recommendations. You can share theme ideas which is how "Reading Through 30 years" evolved into the #birthdaychallenge. You can have discussions about different books. I even became a moderator for Litsy Feminist Book Club, an unofficial book club which focuses on feminism and social justice. I have met some amazing people on this app. And it has become an amazing place to interact with people using an online platform. I’ve since gotten rid of my facebook account because this is the only form of social media I really enjoy.
Serial Reader is another app that I stumbled across while using Litsy. I don’t consider myself to be very well read when it comes to classics which makes this app absolutely amazing! Serial Reader takes classic books and sends them to your electronic devices as “issues.” Each issue is meant to be read in twenty minutes or less. The amount of issues you receive completely depends on the size of the books. I’ve seen books have issues that range from five issues to almost a hundred (think Les Miserables). I will freely admit that I have a hard time reading some of the classics. I’ll either get bored, or get interested in another book so it makes completing (my pretty long list of) classics almost impossible. Until now. Serial Reader helped me (finally) tackle The Iliad, simply by checking my Nook and reading it for a few minutes a day. I started journaling while reading which helped me keep track of everything going on in the story. At the end of it I was really glad I did it and extremely happy that I found the app. It’s definitely worthwhile to have.
On a completely different note: I fell in love with the Hamilton Musical this year! Head over heels in love with Hamilton. I need tickets immediately. That was my tangent.
In conclusion this reading year rocked my socks off. Completing my “Reading Through 30 Years” theme/#birthday challenge, discovering and falling for Litsy then immersing myself in Serial Reader, have made this year a reading success. I’ve geared up for 2017 and all the trials and tribulations that may come. My new theme #keepingitshort will have me reading a short story after every book I read, which will be an amazing way to get me to read more short stories. I’ve got my books with me, and I feel like if nothing else I'll have plenty to read in 2017.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
Well I don’t know about anyone else but I read some pretty spectacular books this year! And no I didn’t think this year was the most amazing thing that has ever happened but I can definitely appreciate the many great books I was able to get my hands on. I’m going to quickly share with you some of my most memorable of the year.
My choice of the year for “the one book I never thought I would fall in love with” is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I read this book solely because of the many great reviews I had seen and heard from other people. I have absolutely no interest in the building of cathedrals so the plot would never have jumped out to me as something I absolutely needed to read. It also fit really neatly in my “Reading Through 30 Years /#birthdaychallenge” so away I went. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED it. It was brilliantly written and evenly paced. The world building and character development was impeccably done. I put this book down and was highly upset at myself for waiting so long to get my hands on it.
There were a few nonfiction books that ranked very highly as some of the best books I’ve read as well:
Columbine by Dave Cullen was an intense and extremely thorough look at the shooting that took place on April 20, 1999. Cullen examines the life of both of the young men that planned and executed the shootings, their motivations and their plan for the murders. Also an in depth of the investigative reporting that took place and the aftermath.
In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker is a great comprehensive look at the history of autism from the very first diagnosis to modern day times. Written in an extremely understandable language it is a great way to educate yourself on the history of a diagnosis affecting millions.
Lauren Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: An American Legend was pretty damn incredible. If you have never read Hillenbrand before you really need to pick up one of her books. She is an absolutely amazing nonfiction author who can balance beautiful storytelling and factual information. This is my second book by her and highly recommend it.
Brown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson’s autobiographical story told through poems was a beautiful book. I think it absolutely perfect for a Young Adult audience but I absolutely loved it as well. I plan on getting my hands on more of Woodson’s work in the near future.
The last two books I’m going to mention for great nonfiction books I’ve read this year were both introduced to me by the co-moderators of Litsy Feminist Book Club: killing rage:Ending Racism by bell hooks and We Should All Be Feminist by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I can’t do either of these books justice in small blurbs so I would definitely recommend checking out my entire review of these. But I will say that both of these books are extremely relevant for today, extremely well written and have the ability to change your way of thinking.
One of the books that inspired me to start this year’s them “Keeping It Short” was Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I thought this collection of short stories was extremely well written and moving. It made me wonder what other amazing short stories I hadn’t read yet simply because I suck at including short stories in my reading. That ends this year and I have Ms. Lahiri to thank for that.
A Thousands Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini was another book that I included in #birthdaychallenge because it had been sitting on my TBR pile, calling it out to me for way too long! Again, absolutely amazing story about two women whose stories weave together in an extremely heartbreaking way, in the middle of a war in Kabul. It was not at all what I expected and I couldn’t put it down.
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson is a book I was lucky enough to get my hands on as an advanced reader copy from Netgalley. It is dark, creepy, well written and completely unpredictable. It felt toxic and I became highly invested in these characters very early on.
And last but definitely not least is the one book this year that I bought for my husband and ending up reading and loving: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I shied away from this book. I didn’t think I would enjoy it because I have never been a big gamer. I topped out after Nintendo64. Regardless of that though this book was amazing. I was highly entertained the entire time. It was absolutely hilarious and some of the most fun I had all year.
Well, those are my top picks for 2016. Add them to your list if you haven’t read them already. I hope they are as memorable for you as they were for me. Happy Readings!
Here are a few other books that were also amazing this year and well worth mentioning:
The Fireman by Joe Hill
The Fireman by Joe Hill
End of Watch by Stephen King
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Alice by Christina Henry
Kindred by Octavia ButlerAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Kindred by Octavia Butler
It was Dana’s twenty sixth birthday the first time she moved through time and space to save Rufus. He had been a little boy drowning in the water. She pulled him out, saved his life, and came back. She had only been gone for a few seconds in her time of 1976. She would later learn that she had traveled to the anti Bellum South in the early 19th century. Rufus’ father was a slave owner with a plantation of over 30 slaves. Dana would only learn this information as she continued to return to his side, away from her time, her husband and her life, violently thrusted into his.
This book took my breath away. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first read the synopsis. I wanted to read this book simply because I really wanted to read an Octavia Butler novel. I was instantly sucked into the story. It’s a combination of historical fiction and science fiction with a dash of magical realism throw in. Butler created these really well thought out characters that are full of depth. The relationships between Dana and Rufus, Rufus to slaves, Dana to slaves, and Dana to the future are extremely complicated and yet they all feel real. They all feel palpable. As does the world. Butler did an amazing job bringing together the imagery and detail to create this fully developed world.
Kindred is definitely a book I can recommend because it is one that I wholeheartedly enjoyed. It was a great read and there were many layers to the story. The way Butler handled the anti Bellum South and the traveling through time was so well done. I was hooked. Easy read with mystery and some suspense. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.
Alice by Christina Henry
It has been ten years since Alice was found stumbling out of the Old City, blood running from between her legs where bruises in the shape of hand prints could be found. She was screaming about the Rabbit, her face now held a long scar and her best friend Dor was nowhere to be found. No one believed her story about the Rabbit. But that was all Alice could remember: the Rabbit and the blue-green eye. Soon her family would place her in a hospital. Eventually they would stop visiting. Alice’s only friend would be the man in the room beside her, Hatcher. They would talk through the mouse hole in the wall. Hatcher warned her of the Jabberwocky but Alice thought he was just crazy like her. But the night of the fire, the night Hatcher broke out of his room, grabbed her and they escaped, she saw the Jabberwocky. Now the two of them must kill the Jabberwocky by making their way through the Old city and finding the one object that will destroy it.
Are you in the mood for a dark, twisted, creepy retelling of Alice in Wonderland? If the answer is yes then this is the book for you. I was unprepared for the journey I would take while reading this story and the initial shock value was enough to suck me right in. Alice and Hatcher’s relationship was very interesting and I enjoyed watching it continue to develop. Both were really strong characters, whose lives were dramatically altered before entering the hospital and now all they have are each other. My interest intensified as I went deeper into the novel and I found that both of their realities was worst that what was originally imagined. The plot Henry created revolving around these two, never stopped moving. I never got bored. There was too much happening for me to get bored. Way too many questions that I needed to have the answers too.
The combination of Henry’s world building, the intriguing plot and two main characters on a mission to kill a blood thirsty creature made Alice a story that I not only enjoyed but that I found fun. I loved the way Henry wove this story through Alice in Wonderland yet kept it fresh and intriguing. The unsettling tone persisted throughout the novel and I couldn’t stop reading. The ending wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but it does have a sequel which I am looking into reading. I give this story 4 out of 5 stars.
Friday, January 6, 2017
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
This is the second installment in the Lunar Chronicles. If you have never read the first book, Cinder, you can read my review first or just skip this review. But there will be some spoilers.
Scarlet’s grandmother is missing from their farm outside of Paris. Her ID chip has been removed and the police have given up their search after three weeks. Scarlet however remains convinced her grandmother isn’t safe. When Wolf offers to help, she is desperate to follow him in order to get her grandmother back. Meanwhile in New Beijing Cinder escapes from prison with Thorne and is looking for clues about her life. If she really is the Lunar princess how can she defeat the Queen and take her place on the throne.
I am so torn. On a bright note this book was really funny but I’m not sure it offered much more for me than Cinder. Scarlet’s introduction and story line was interesting but she didn’t grab my attention as much as I hoped she would. Cinder was escaping but honestly she seemed to be floundering an unsure of what steps she needed to take. It wasn’t until the end of the book that she really made any kind of decision and it should have been obvious from the beginning. Now the story did get much more complex and Cinder’s storyline became clearer but there are so many questions.I’m pretty sure I will eventually complete this series. I was interested without being invested. I liked Scarlet and Wolf but Cinder and Kai got really lost in this for me. I give this novel a solid 3 out of 5 stars.
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
killing rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks
I’m going to recommend this collection of essays to everyone knowing that some people might not be ready to read this book. I probably wouldn’t have been able to read this book and gain so much value from it if I had picked it up 10, even 5, years ago. At this stage in my life, at the age of 30, at a time when I feel like I have gone through so much self-discovery and learned so many different things about myself, is the moment when I should have picked it up. And I am really glad I have. bell hooks has created a collection of essays that boldly confronts life as black woman living in North America. Mind you, this book was published over two decades ago and these essays are still valid and still reflect what is happening in society. Feminism, racism, sexism, white supremacy, internalized racism, color complexes, class hierarchies and much more are discussed in depth. I related very intimately with much of what she referenced. This book helped me understand that I am not alone in feeling these complex emotions or in these situations that I’ve experienced.
killing rage saddened me in many ways though. Like I said, this book is over twenty years old and yet not much has changed. The fact that I could relate so personally to the struggles black women had two decades ago proves how very for the United States has to go when it comes to it's power structure and racism. It’s disheartening. But she gives me hope because she boldly stated her stance and she challenges others to take a stand as well. hooks does an incredible job in explaining the different aspects of racism, sexism and the white supremacist culture.
This might be one of the best books I’ve ever read and I don’t say that lightly. With where I am right now in my life, I needed to read these words and see someone clarify the wide range of emotions I was feeling. I highly recommend this book. But I have a stipulation: only read this if you can come to it with an open mind. A lot of people will not want to believe anything that hooks is saying is true. They’ll want to discredit her rather than look at society and confront its flaws. I know that what she has said rings true for many people. It rang true for me and my life experiences. Give this book a chance and read what can happen if the system itself is changed and if the way we view ourselves and each other is changed. I give this book 5 out 5 stars.