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Americanah

americanahThis was a long book. It’s the longest book I have read in a long time. The story that lies within will make you feel as if you have lived a long time and have the mental scars to show for it. This book is mostly about race (the main character writes a blog about being a Non-American Black in America) but I fully recognize that as a white person I have no place writing about or critiquing such experience. It is worth noting that this book opened my eyes about the African immigrant experience in America, which I am so grateful for. I also enjoyed the differences in experience that were found throughout the book, between male and female, old and young, black in England and black in America. The crowning glory of this book though is the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze that is interwoven with the other stories; a lasting, unforgetting love is something that Adiche writes about so beautifully that you believe it to be possible.

Ifemelu writes in her blog that African blacks that relocate to America are no longer from Nigeria or Ghana or wherever, they are “black baby” and must accept everything that comes with that. Every time I read about the American black experience through the eyes of an African native, I felt a kind of misidentification. It’s the gut reaction that makes people want to defend themselves and say “not all men” or “not all white people” when really what we should be focusing on is the fact that someone is being oppressed and needs our assistance. I wanted to scream on her behalf “not all black people!” but even that would be inaccurate. This is true of those of Mexican, Hispanic, and Latinx heritage in America as well (also Muslims or anyone wearing headscarves or other kinds of religious/ethnic garb). It is not where you are from, it is where you LOOK like you are from that brings discrimination knocking at your door and biting at your heels. It would do Ifemelu or any of her countrymen no good to scream that they were African into the void. In the eyes of America, they were black and inherited everything that comes with that. The way Adiche described each of the characters coming to terms with this terrible reality outside of their home country of Nigeria made me feel so sad, so angry, and very helpless.

The love story in this book is so compelling that I wish it was real for me. Childhood lovers broken apart by an ocean and a desire for education and growth, each has their own journey of discovery, shame, and racism that eventually leads them back to each other. What they do once they are together again in Nigeria I will leave for you to discover, as Obinze has married a woman and had a child with her in the years Ifemelu was in America blogging and going to school. The reason that she stops emailing him after arriving in America disgusted me and broke my heart at the same time. There are things that women must to do to survive sometimes that ultimately change them forever, and I empathize with Ifemelu’s terrible choice. Some things just can’t be undone or forgotten, but maybe they can be accepted and rendered meaningless by those who love us most. Will they or won’t they? Read to find out.

This book is ultimately a dissertation on African immigration and travel experience with a love story to keep you coming back for more. I wish that more people would read it. Every book like this that I read opens my eyes and my mind to more options, more possibilities, and more experiences that I may never have, but should always respect, understand, and appreciate. Bravo Aunty Adiche, bravo!

 

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Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God

beachcombingI received this book as a Christmas present from my grandmother in 2001. She is effectively my dealer, and we are basically each other in different generations and one of our strongest connections has been through our love of reading. Please do not let the word God in the title scare you away. This is not a religious novel. Joe Coomer has written a book that I have come back to time and time again and the story is always fresh, always new, always heart wrenching. I come back to comb the beach for hope.

Our main character Charlotte has lost her husband and to escape his parents’ incessant need to mourn him through the leaching of her memories she relocates to New Hampshire to heal and possibly start anew. She finds a small kitten to keep her company and then an unconventional rental situation on a houseboat with Grace and Chloe and the fucking ugliest, nastiest dog you will ever have read about (but whom you will love anyway). Grace is an older woman, living on the yacht she shared and traveled on with her deceased husband, and Chloe is an eccentric seventeen-year-old trying to find her place in the world.

The bond that these three women form is so sweet and real. Charlotte is working through very real, raw, and recent grief. She is helped by Grace, who continues to mourn her late husband in her own way, but this grief is like an old chair that she relaxes into. Chloe’s dealings with her boyfriend and her estranged family give the reader the perspective that not all loss is negative, and that we can become stronger if we are willing to let some things go. They can all only hide from their problems for so long on the lovely house boat, and each must deal with moving forward in their own ways, but always with support from the others in turn.

Another strength of this book is the scenery. I can almost smell the ocean as I read, feel the sand beneath my toes, hear the creaking of the boat as it rocks the characters to sleep. I can hear the accents and sense the community that exists in such a small town. Reading this book is like taking a short trip to New England, giving you small tastes of the sights, sounds, and smells. What an absolute joy.

This is not a recently published book, but if you have never read it you should add it to your reading list. It is a beautiful story makes us laugh, cry, and hope that when tragedy happens we might have such wonderful people around us to help us find our way through the darkness and back to ourselves.

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The Girl With All The Gifts

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This is a zombie novel. I want to be straightforward and up front about that so if you are not a fan of zombie books you can start with that information. But bear with me as I explain why the zombies are worth your time, because this book is equal parts terrifying, sad, beautiful, and ultimately, realistically hopeful.

The history of zombies in our entertainment includes several different types of zombies. There are slow shambling zombies, fast running zombies, zombies that can smell you, zombies that can be fooled if you walk or smell like them. Sometimes we learn about how it started, sometimes we don’t, but usually there are people working on a cure or a vaccine of some kind as the population slowly falls prey to the disease. We call them different things, most recently “walkers” in the popular show The Walking Dead.

Carey’s book has “hungries” (hungry – singular) and we begin the book on a well fortified base. In the first chapters of the book we also learn about survivalists called “junkers” who refused to live on the multiple bases scattered across England, and of course the source of the hungry epidemic: Ophiocordyceps, which sounds like a really fucking cool dinosaur but is actually a really terrifying fungus that acts like a parasite when it goes into your body and takes over your entire brain and nervous system. Essentially it replaces your neurons and things so it becomes your brain. The doctor we come to know in the book is trying to find a cure by examining the children that we come to know that are being imprisoned(?) on this base. Dr. Caldwell will be a divisive figure in your local in-person book club by the end of this book.

You will meet Ms. Justineau, one of the cadre of teachers whose humanity shines and influences our main character Melanie, one of the imprisoned(?) children(?). Sergeant Parks, the brash kind-of-violent security guard who makes sure everyone is safe and manages the transport and care of the children(?). And when the base is attacked by junkers using hungries as weapons, we will follow them all on a journey which holds discoveries, transformations, and struggles which will shape the future of humankind.

I was shocked at how I related to the underlying themes of this book. If I had a degree in literary anything I would say it is a metaphor for how every generation views the next as damaged and not as good as their own, and how we should allow them to flourish as who they are. To help them grow in the world that is and not the world that was, because we will be gone and they will need to survive and possibly thrive. The power of a teacher to reach children where they are and believe in their abilities and their goodness is central in this story, and I would argue that it is the driving force leading these children into their new world.

Please understand that this is a book that is saying so much more than the survivalist adventure inked on the pages. Be thoughtful about that as you read, because otherwise it’s just another zombie novel. Love is here, understanding too, and hope that even in the darkest of times something, anything, will rise from the ashes. It’s up to us to make sure we do what we can to make sure that “anything” is something good.

 

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Six of Crows

six-of-crowsAn apology is needed here, I think. Usually I like to make sure I read books in order because I’m ridiculously type A, but I just grabbed this book from a picture one of my fellow book club members posted and started reading. I should have done more research. Leigh Bardugo wrote this fantastic book, but prior to this she also wrote the Grisha trilogy, which would have given me more information and background on this universe and the Grisha specifically. Please understand though, that I was able to keep up with the story and lore without having read this prior trilogy. So if you think you would enjoy having that background and these other stories under your belt before busting out this series, visit Bardugo’s website to get the full list of books: http://www.grishaverse.com

There are humans and Grisha. Grisha are humans with powers, and those powers are very specific. The Grisha are divided into types, and then subtypes, and are trained as they grow. Most are found in the country of Ravka, but can be found throughout this universe. There are slavers who capture Grisha for sale, and an entire nation in the north dedicates themselves to hunt and kill Grisha because they view them as unnatural.

The plot of this first book centers around Grisha being drugged, their skills heightened and used as weapons. The drug is called parem jurda and the creator/scientist responsible is being held in the north in a supposedly impenetrable fortress. Our team of six is hired to retrieve him to prevent the northern nation from having this power and to return him to Ketterdam. Relationships form, histories are revealed, and daring plans and twists bring the team to the fortress to earn their reward.

It is difficult to express how much I enjoyed this book. It had a little bit of flavor from many of the things I enjoy. A little X-Men, a little Lord of the Rings, some Ocean’s Eleven and Mission Impossible vibes as well, and I’m always here for an underdog story with dark pasts which feed character development and a love story that makes you want to say “JUST KISS ALREADY!!” There are also some hints that there may be some LGBT representation in the series, which I think is nice. You will love all these characters and root for their success.

I get that this is a young adult novel. I also understand that the characters in YA are usually teenageers, as is the case here. A strength of this book (and perhaps a weakness if you’re looking for continuity) is that you forget they are teenagers. It is only mentioned two or three times that they are 16 or whatever, so as you are reading you can see these characters as adults and the story stays just as impressive and enticing. In fact I enjoyed the book more because I read it that way.

It ends with a “cliffhanger” and just picture me using finger quotes there for sarcasm because really it’s just the story stopping for a minute so you don’t have to read a 600 page book. You’re not really left in suspense, but you do want to know what happens next. This was a fun, intense, interesting read and I highly recommend it.

 

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Without You, There Is No Us

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A.K.A. You can’t spell us without U.

Get it?

GET IT?

I read this book completely on the recommendations of my Facebook book club Bitches Gotta Read (shout out to Samantha Irby at http://www.bitchesgottaeat.blogspot.com) and I would have NEVER picked it up on my own. In the midst of our current political climate, however, I am glad that I did. I discovered that we may have more in common with North Korea than we think.

Suki Kim traveled to North Korea to teach English at a new university meant for the sons of the country’s most elite people. She keeps the fact that she is a writer/researcher/journalist a secret somehow, and goes under the guise of being one of many Christian missionaries who have been recruited to teach there. She is of Korean heritage herself, and part of her journey is also to explore how her country has changed after being divided for so long.

I won’t lie, this is a tense tale. She is always watched, everything she does on the internet is monitored including emails. Every lesson they teach has to be approved ahead of time. Not only is she being watched by the North Koreans around her, but also by the missionaries she is there to work with. It is exhausting watching her exhaust herself as she attempts to keep up the required level of awareness and compliance.

We get glimpses of the famine ravaged population, and several field trips that the teachers take as a group reinforce our knowledge of the staged nature of visiting this country. Monitors, play actors, rehearsed lines, and staged people are all incorporated when the teachers are taken outside of the school walls. The TV stations only broadcast how great the leaders are. The songs are of the country’s prosperity and loyalty to the country and its leaders.

So while the book was very informational when it came to opening my eyes to how terrifying visiting this country would be and how sad and random the division of the country was for families and the people who live there, as I read I kept hearing echoes of American ideas being spouted today, now, in our present time. I shared the following paragraph on Facebook and I want to place it here as well. Read it and think about where you’ve heard similar sentiments.

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There are several times toward the end of her tenure at PUST that Kim becomes emboldened and tries to sneak in information and open her students’ eyes to the world outside of their country. But they had been told for so long and so fervently that they were the best, the rest of the world crumbled around them while they were the pinnacle of government and achievement, that no logical or factual argument could sway them. Granted, she could not work too hard to convince them or she would face some pretty severe consequences, but every time I saw her try to bring truth to them and get shut down by their indoctrinated ways, I thought of the times I have talked with friends and family about the important issues in our American lives today, only to be screamed at or shut out with common lines like “you can believe what you want, I have a right to my opinion” even in the face of issues that are factual and not opinion.

Reading this book helped me understand why North Korea is the way it is. I shudder to think at the level of effort it would take to alter over 60 years of brainwashing and dictatorship in a populace that has been cut off from the rest of the world and its events and advancements for just as long. Once you have been doing something for that long, it would be easier to continue than to exert the effort to change and learn. I am certain that for these citizens it would be at least equally terrifying to catch up to the world if they were free to, than it would to continue to accept their current conditions.

Only 8 years of Glenn Beck, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Republican Party were enough to turn a good percentage of our country to the same brick wall mindset, and I know what it’s like trying to convince someone that “Obamacare” isn’t an actual health care plan that is run by the government while they scream Benghazi in my face. I truly hope that we do not slip the rest of the way into a regime that will insist that we call everything great, fabulous, fantastic, and wonderful when they really are not. There are lessons to be learned by reading this book and warnings we should heed. I just hope things turn out okay for us and that it isn’t too late.

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we were liars

wewereliarsAfter I finished this book I agonized about how to review it. Saying anything I would say about this book would give away what makes it suspenseful and what gives it a twist ending. So I’m just going to make this a short review and give you three things I enjoyed about the book and one that I didn’t.

  1. I enjoyed the friendship described in the book. I love that these children are relatives and also fast friends that look forward to spending time together in the summer. Something I lack in my own life is closeness to family, including sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc so living vicariously through these characters was a pleasant experience for me.
  2. I was glad that E.Lockhart (Emily Jenkins) explored how even opulent families can fall apart and fall prey to infighting. This traditional idea of being an heiress or heir to a rich patriarch is presented as a very stressful situation, both for the parents and the children. The children are used like pawns to gain favor with the grandfather and they do not appreciate it one bit.
  3. Lockhart also explores the plot through the main character’s use of short fairy tales. This idea that there is a king or a rich merchant with 3 daughters who are each different and dealt with in different ways. It was always a lovely break to the story and reminded me that this story as a whole mirrored a fairy tale, but would be much more real with actual consequences. Very Brothers Grimm-style.
  1. The only thing I didn’t like was that these people are filthy rich. I mean, they have four full size houses on their own private island off the coast of Massachusetts because living on (not in) Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t enough of a status symbol. After trying to read Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam and stopping about 30% in, and then reading this book, I have discovered an aversion to books involving spoiled brats that complain about their place in life. I have loads of empathy and I have none to spare for the bitch that can’t afford the occasional $1,500 designer handbag. I mean, I agree that the plot relies on there being wealth in question, which allowed me to get through (and enjoy) the book, but it almost put me off it in the beginning.

This book was a fast read, and the twist at the end made it all worth it. Something happens and you spend the whole book figuring it out. There is an accident. There are consequences. Go find this book and read it, it was very interesting.