BOOK REVIEW: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

18693763Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours 57 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary, Historical Fiction

Read Start Date: April 18, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 25, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My Review: This is the second book that I have read by Celeste Ng (although this is the first book she wrote). The other book I read was Little Fires Everywhere. You can find my review here.

This book was fantastic. The characters were extremely well developed and really pulled me into the story. The opening lines really draw you into the story: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the plot, but it is hard to review the book without mentioning some aspects. I do not think that the below gives too much away.

Lydia is the eldest daughter to Marilyn and James. Lydia struggled under the weight of her parents expectations. Marilyn, having had to give up her dreams of becoming a doctor (when she became a mother), tried to live vicariously through her daughter. James, who never fit in as a child (because he was Asian), tried to live vicariously through his daughter’s popularity. The problem was, that Lydia was neither popular, nor interested in becoming a doctor.

Nath, the oldest child and only son to Marilyn and James, lives in the shadow of his younger sister Lydia. His achievements are all but ignored.

Hannah, the unwanted third child, is basically invisible to her parents, as all their attention go to the favored child Lydia. There is a great quote from the book describing Hannah: “Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.”

In the aftermath of Lydia’s death, the family and their relationship to each other is thrown into turmoil.

The story alternates between the past and the present to give a full picture of the Lee’s life together, and how they became who they are.

My younger brother died almost five years ago (a few days before his 29th birthday) in an accident (he was hit by a driver high on drugs who ran the red light). Some of the descriptions Ng gave of the family dealing with a child’s death really resonated with me. For example, Ng describes a scene where James is looking at his surviving children and he sees bits of Lydia in each of them. I often too experience this. I have the same teeth as my brother, and sometimes I think of him when I see myself in the mirror. Reading this book made me wonder whether when my parents look at me, do they also see my brother in my face? Do they see my brother’s eyes in the eyes of my sister, or his features in those of her son?

Ng’s descriptive language is so powerful and really makes you imagine what you are reading. For an example, James says something nasty to his son after Lydia’s death. Ng says something like, James’ words were like moths in the air that he wanted to catch and pull back, but he was too late because they were already crawling inside his son’s ears. I couldn’t find the exact quote again sadly.

Anyway, in conclusion, I highly recommend this book. Ng’s powerful storytelling with stay with you for quite some time.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (aka J.K. Rowling)

41899Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: Newt Scamander (J.K. Rowling) 

Book Length (Audiobook): 1 hour 54 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Read Start Date: April 17, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 18, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the Wizarding World. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail … Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur Magizoologist. This is an essential companion to the Harry Potter stories, and includes a new foreword from J.K. Rowling (writing as Newt Scamander) and six new beasts!

My Review: This book is short and fun! If you have ever seen the movie of the same title, you know that Newt Scamander is a wizard who works for the Ministry of Magic in the Beast Division. During the movie, he was writing the above mentioned book. J.K. Rowling writes as Newt Scamander, and the book lists in detail the magical beasts, their attributes, personalities, etc.

If you liked the Harry Potter series, this is a must read!

The Audiobook Recording: The audiobook recording was really funny. It had the sounds of the animals as Newt described them.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

35901186Title: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson

Book Length (Audiobook): 8 hours 9 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, History, Science, Mystery

Read Start Date: April 10, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 11, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins–some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them–and escaped into the darkness.

Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist-high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.

My Review: When I first starting reading this book, I had no idea that it was actually nonfiction, and based upon real events. I had never heard of using bird feathers for fishing lures, nor had I ever heard of a “fly tier” enthusiast stealing exotic bird feathers from a museum — in some cases, the very same birds collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, and other naturalists of the same era (around the time of Darwin’s expeditions).

The writing of Kirk Wallace Johnson was so good, that I was convinced for the first portion of the book that it was a fiction story. After I got into it a bit further, and looked the book up online, I realized that this story is actually true! It seems to be a little known fact, which makes for an awesome and refreshing novel. The story is very engaging, and even though it is nonfiction, there is the distinct smell of a fiction thriller — a daring heist of rare, expensive bird skins leads an amateur detective into the bowels of the fly tier underground, where the secretive fly tier community not only trades in black market and sometimes illegal feathers, but closes ranks when threatened.

Did Edwin Rist work alone, or was there perhaps more at play?

I love that this book unwittingly educated me, not only in the not so known world of fly tying, but also the feather trade in general.

The book alternates between telling the story of the feather heist, and telling the story of the author trying to track down the thief. The author also explains about the history of feathers and fashion, and how during the Victorian age several species were almost hunted into extinction all in the name of women’s vanity and social stature.

This book gets a rare 5 out of 5 stars from me. Everyone should read about this strange little piece of history. Even if you don’t generally like nonfiction books, this book will not disappoint.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

34974310Title: The Last Black Unicorn

Author: Tiffany Haddish

Book Length (Audiobook): 6 hours 29 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography, Essays, Humor

Read Start Date: April 8, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 10, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From stand-up comedian, actress, and breakout star of Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, comes The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

My Review: I had never heard of Tiffany Haddish before reading this book. I am giving it 5 out of 5 stars because I actually laughed out loud when I was reading this book — and that rarely happens, even when the book is supposed to be funny. This book is not only freaking hilarious, but Haddish reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life in a surprisingly intimate fashion. From being called a dirty unicorn when she was a child (because she had an ugly wart on her forehead which looked like a horn), to sexism in the work place (comedy is still predominately men), and lastly to an abusive relationship with her twice ex-husband (she married and divorced him two times) Haddish reveals in poignant (and hilarious) essays how and why she is the person she is today. Where most people would have crawled into a hole and died, Haddish turned her pain into comedy and realized her dreams. I can’t help but to salute her for her triumph in the face of so many odds against her.

The Audiobook Recording: The audiobook is read by Haddish herself, which added tremendously to the book. Not only are the words themselves funny, but the way she tells the story makes it even funnier. Even when the subject matter is not really funny (like the parts about her abusive ex-husband) Haddish finds how to present it in a humorous way to get passed the uncomfortable part and get to the story. I think people in general do not want to hear about negative subjects like poverty, abuse, etc — but if you frame it in funny terms, people actually listen.

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone!

BOOK REVIEW: When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

36373647Title: When Life Gives You Lululemons

Author: Lauren Weisberger

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours 14 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Read Start Date: April 6, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 8, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:
Welcome to Greenwich, CT, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor. Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s ex-assistant, does not do the suburbs. She’s working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.

Karolina Hartwell is as A-list as they come. She’s the former face of L’Oreal. A mega-supermodel recognized the world over. And now, the gorgeous wife of the newly elected senator from New York, Graham, who also has his eye on the presidency. It’s all very Kennedy-esque, right down to the public philandering and Karolina’s arrest for a DUI—with a Suburban full of other people’s children.

Miriam is the link between them. Until recently she was a partner at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. But when Miriam moves to Greenwich and takes time off to spend with her children, she never could have predicted that being stay-at-home mom in an uber-wealthy town could have more pitfalls than a stressful legal career.

Emily, Karolina, and Miriam make an unlikely trio, but they desperately need each other. Together, they’ll navigate the social landmines of life in America’s favorite suburb on steroids, revealing the truths—and the lies—that simmer just below the glittering surface. With her signature biting style, Lauren Weisberger offers a dazzling look into another sexy, over-the-top world, where nothing is as it appears.

My Review: This book was SO FUN to read! This book is the 3rd installment of the Devil Wears Prada series, but I haven’t read either of the first 2 books, which I have to say I am majorly regretting. My TBR list is already too long, but what can I say, I added the first 2 books–it just had to be done. I grew up a stone’s throw away from Greenwich, so these characters really brought back some memories of growing up in the suburban areas of New York City. Since I did not read the first two books, the characters were unknown to me, but this didn’t hurt the story at all.

It’s fun because the subject matter is light, and the satirical stories Weisberger tells in the book about living in the suburban shadow of the City rings so true and reminiscent of my childhood. I mean, in what place other than in suburbia Connecticut, would women sit around at a party and talk about bespoke vaginas? In case you have never heard of that, essentially, after giving birth, some women have plastic surgery on their lady bits to “tighten” things back up, and while they are at it, they custom fit said lady bits to their husbands man bits. I do not know if this is really a thing — but if it is, I do not have any doubts that it exists in Greenwich!

I also really liked the spunkiness and the tenacity of the characters, and they were just too funny! What else can I say other than this book is great, and a strong recommendation from my end! I am only giving it 4 stars because a 5 star rating from me is very coveted and is reserved for books which stay with me for a long time (like EducatedGame of Thrones, etc.)

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

17675462Title: The Raven Boys

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 8 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Read Start Date: April 11, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 18, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive. Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

My Review: I first read this book back in 2012, when the other books in the series had not yet been published (there are 4 all together). I had put the second book on my TBR list on Goodreads, and there is where it languished for 7 years. In an effort to clean up my TBR list, I wanted to finally read the second book, but since I hadn’t read the first book in a while, I read it again.

Since I didn’t really remember the book from my 2012 reading, it was like reading the book again for the first time. My overall impression of the book was very positive, and I would recommend the book for the following reasons:

Interesting and Addictive Plot. Even though this is a Young Adult novel, as an adult I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I will just say that the plot was rich with Welsh mythology, history, ghosts, ley lines, psychics and just every amount of weird and crazy that you can think of. It really kept me engaged in the story, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next. At times though, the plot was a bit difficult to follow, as there were always several moving pieces–but it all came together in the end and there were several plot twists which I was not expecting, which made the plot even more interesting.

My only criticism is that after the “big finale” (you will just have to read the book to find out what I mean), the book has a sort of “Epilogue” (although it is just another chapter). There is a gap in time between the “big finale” and when the book ends, which isn’t explained very well. The book was so well paced throughout, and then all of a sudden BAM! a very fast ending, as though the author didn’t want to take the time to really explain what had happened. Maybe it will be fleshed out in the next book?

Overall, I cannot wait to see what happens in the 2nd book!

Well Developed and Likeable Characters. The characters are very well-developed, and the characteristics of each really support the story line. For example, Blue’s mother, and her mother’s friends are all psychic or mystical in some way, and each of their powers, including Blue’s, is important to the plot. The characters are simple on the surface, but somehow complicated underneath the surface–the author reveals these depths through out the story, and with each new reveal you become more invested in the story.

If you like paranormal / fantasy books, this book is definitely for you, and I would highly recommend it!

 

BOOK REVIEW: A Serial Killer’s Daughter by Kerri Rawson

38915935Title: A Serial Killer’s Daughter

Author: Kerri Rawson

Book Length (Kindle): 3437 Loc (336 pages)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Crime, True Crime, Autobiography, Memoir

Read Start Date: March 24, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 8, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “In 2005, Kerri Rawson heard a knock on the door of her apartment. When she opened it, an FBI agent informed her that her father had been arrested for murdering ten people, including two children. It was then that she learned her father was the notorious serial killer known as BTK, a name he’d given himself that described the horrific way he committed his crimes: bind, torture, kill. As news of his capture spread, Wichita celebrated the end of a thirty-one-year nightmare.

For Kerri Rawson, another was just beginning. She was plunged into a black hole of horror and disbelief. The same man who had been a loving father, a devoted husband, church president, Boy Scout leader, and a public servant had been using their family as a cover for his heinous crimes since before she was born. Everything she had believed about her life had been a lie”.

My ReviewWhat I liked. What drew me initially to this book was the fact that the author was the daughter of a notorious serial killer, BTK, i.e., Denis Rader. Having read multiple true crime books in the past, I was interested to get a perspective from someone unique to her situation. Usually true crime books are written by third parties who have done extensive research on the crimes and the killer. In A Serial Killer’s Daughter, we not only get to read about the crimes, but we also get to experience the “behind the scenes” look at the killer himself. Family man or monster? Average guy or sadist? Through out the book Rawson struggles to reconcile these two images of her father — yet Rawson admits that her father was volitale, sometimes erupting into anger and violence without much provocation.

One of the things that stuck with me was Rawson’s description of the BTK killer weeping over his father’s death bed. Rawson’s mother said, “I don’t think your dad had ever sat beside someone who died before.” Little did she know… I have to wonder, what is the psychology of a man who can cry over the death of his own father, but then take the lives of 10 people without empathy or remorse? It is truly chilling. So was Rawson’s visceral need to love and/or forgive her father — to somehow separate the man she knew from the deeds he had done — as though they were 2 different people.

“I missed my father. That was one of the first times I’d admitted that. Was it okay to admit I missed a serial killer? That I loved one? I didn’t miss a serial killer, didn’t love one–I missed my dad. I loved my dad….It was always going to be that simple and that hard.”

What I didn’t like. I would have given this book 4 stars rather than 3 had it not been for all of the religious aspects. I understand that Kerri Rawson is a religious person, and it is obvious that religion is important in her life, but she basically wrote in stream of consciousness /  internal dialogue. For example:

“I spoke of God’s unending ability to forgive–to love. But I was stubbornly holding out on doing it myself. I didn’t know if I could forgive my dad. ‘God? Are you asking me to forgive him or to write him also–let him back into my life? I don’t know if I can–I don’t know if I can trust him.’ ‘You can trust me–I’m your father too.’ ‘But my father hurt me.’ ‘Yes. Remember Joseph?’

And

“I spent the next several weeks stuck on the couch, stewing over my latest predicament, bawling in pain as I tried to keep my toddler son out of trouble, and wrestling with God. Quiet, peaceful, easy, little life, God. Remember? But God lets nothing go to waste. We need to work on your forgiveness problem–we’ve got nothing but time. I don’t wanna God. Do it anyway.”

Aside from the distraction of reading someone’s internal dialogue, I am not a religious person, so the God references, which happened A LOT, were super annoying. I just don’t understand how the portion in italics above helped to move the story along? This is a book, not a diary, afterall.

Professional Reader

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

39203791Title: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by 

Author: Michael Pollan

Book Length (Audiobook): 13 hours 42 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Science, Psychology, Health, Philosophy

Read Start Date: March 27, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 6, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “A brilliant and brave investigation by Michael Pollan, author of five New York Times best sellers, into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs–and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences. When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these remarkable substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third. Thus began a singular adventure into the experience of various altered states of consciousness, along with a dive deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research. A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a triumph of participatory journalism. By turns dazzling and edifying, it is the gripping account of a journey to an exciting and unexpected new frontier in our understanding of the mind, the self, and our place in the world. The true subject of Pollan’s “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both struggle and beauty, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives”

My Review: This book was interesting, but not one of my favorites. Although I liked some of the anecdotal stories that Pollan tells about his own personal experiences with psychedelic drugs (from magic mushrooms to frog venom), I found the science aspects of the book to be rather dry — but I guess that is just the nature of very scientific subjects.

I had such high expectations of this book, based upon the raving review of my boyfriend, that I felt a bit disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm in reading it. I thought it was going to be some enlightening story, that drugs like LSD, etc., would suddenly make sense to me. That I would “see the light” so to speak. Maybe I am just skeptical that a drug which admittedly alters ones perception artificially can somehow treat mental illnesses. That could just be “the establishment” brainwashing me to be against drugs, but who knows.

But the book had its redeeming qualities as well. I found several stories very intriguing, especially those about Paul Stamets, a mycologist (a scientist specializing in mushrooms). Pollan described several interesting patents that Stamets held, including one for a mushroom which was used as a natural ant killer. How do you ask? You should read the book to find out.

Being somewhat of a Startrek fan, I also found it very interesting that the creators of Startrek Discovery decided to name a character Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, and that such character knows more than anyone in the world about space mushrooms. Coincidence? I think not.

Despite my failure to be blown away by the subject matter, I did find it interesting overall. If you are looking for a scientific read that pushes the boundaries of societal norms, then I would recommend to read this book.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

32148570Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours 34 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Read Start Date: March 5, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 27, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: “Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.”

My Review: Before I read this book, I had no idea that it was based upon a true story – the afterward gives a short summary of the real life events. Georgia Tann, was a real person in the early 1900s, who more or less stole children from poor people and gave them up for adoption to rich people. At the time she was heralded as the savior of children, but it eventually came out that these children where essentially kidnapped, and often were mistreated and abused (sometimes sexually) in the orphanages.

I was really surprised that something like that could happen in America, and at times I felt myself overwhelmed with emotion. It reminded me also of all those stories that recently came to light of the orphanages in the UK, where many children were mistreated, and sometimes died, only to be buried in mass graves. Children are supposed to be protected, not bought and sold like commodities.

Even though the book jumped back and forth between the past and the present (the two perspectives of Rill and Avery), it was done in a brilliant way, which made me yearn to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. The characters were great — I really liked the perseverance and strength of little Rill, and the dedication of Avery to find out the mystery behind her family. There was even a little romance thrown in to the story line, which supported, rather than detracted from, the story.

I read this book as an audiobook that I rented from the library. About 2/3 of the way through the book, my loan expired and I had to wait a few weeks to get it again. It.was.torture.

Don’t do this to yourself. If you read this book (which I totally think you should), make sure that you have enough consecutive time to do so because you will not want to put it down.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

32075671Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 44 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Read Start Date: March 24, 2019

Read Finish Date: March 26, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Review: I had no idea what this book was about before I started reading it — honestly, I do not remember how it ended up on my holds list at the library. I am struggling to write a review of this book, as it has raised many mixed emotions for me. I have mixed emotions because on the one hand, I understand that there are bad cops out there that give good cops (like my brother) a bad name — but I also know there are criminals out there who give non-criminals out there a bad name.

The theme running throughout the book, and the meaning behind the title, is from Tupac’s famous quote, that Thug Life means, “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody”. The plot of this book could be ripped straight out of today’s headlines, i.e., Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, African-American vs. Police, etc.

Living in Europe for the past two years, I have not really been following the recent movements, but I can understand that it is a very contentious issue. This book takes the view of an African-American teenage girl, and more or less paints the police in a bad light.

Starr is traumatized when her best friend Khalil is shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Starr takes a deep look at what being African-American means to her. Starr has many juxtapositions in her life. Her father, Maverick Carter, a formal gangbanger, enrolled Starr and her brothers in a mostly white school in a better neighborhood. During the school week, Starr has white friends, and even a white boyfriend. On the weekends in her African American neighborhood (Garden Heights) she leads a different, and separate, life.

This book (and the movie version that I watched afterward) really moved me – at some points to tears. I really felt bad for Starr and her community, especially Khalil, who was shot because the police officer was scared he was reaching for a gun. Khalil wasn’t doing anything wrong, but the police officer didn’t know that. This happens in real life, and it is very, very sad.

There is so much broken with American society, and this book poignantly shows that. Not all African-American men are gangbangers and thugs who sell drugs, and not all police officers are dirty, trigger happy cops who murder African-Americans without provocation – but it is these stereotypes which keeps everyone imprisoned behind walls of hate and suspicion, and forces our collective children to grow up with fear and a learned hatred.

This book may be fiction, but it might as well be nonfiction. Too many times in recent history there have been police shootings of African-American men. Sometimes it is justified, but I can only imagine that sometimes stereotypes and racism (whether conscience or not) have played a part in such a shooting. Sometimes the office responsible for the shooting is indicted, and sometimes he is not. Each time the media and the parties involved become incensed, and it only adds more fuel to an already out of control fire.

Even though this book is supposed to be for teenagers, I would also recommend it to any adult. I usually read only for entertainment, but sometimes it is good to read a book that provokes thought and introspection.