Book Review: Underground Airlines-Ben H. Winters

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Take a moment and imagine an alternate reality where slavery still exists in modern America. Perhaps, to some, it may seem as if we are already living that reality on a smaller scale. Ben H. Winters’ new novel titled Underground Airlines creates an alternate history where the Civil War never happened, Abraham was assassinated before he took oath to be president and slavery still presides in the  four southern states  appropriately called the “Hard Four.” Modern references to pop culture make the tale hauntingly eerie as the nature of the book seems quite real. The United States often looked at as a beacon of hope, is now a country with a deviating moral compass. Winters makes America a social outsider, one that relies on foreign aid.

The protagonist Victor was once a former slave who escaped to the North. However he was caught by the Federal Government and forced to work undercover as an agent or “soul catcher”, collecting other runaway slaves and returning them back to the South as a  way to maintain his freedom. His recent case brings him to Indianapolis where Victor is looking for a runaway slave by the name of Jackdaw. Through his pursuit of Jackdaw, Victor becomes closer to the truth of slavery and the oppressive system happening in America.

Unfortunately, this book fell short for me in many ways. The concept was an interesting one to say  the least, however the delivery wasn’t quite there. The characters were wooden and stiff, and Victor’s character was written very shallow. I found that the story’s main point didn’t connect, and it read as a lumpy bit of text to me. Winters come up with a great concept for a novel, however he doesn’t make that idea extraordinary as the plot and characters fall flat.

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Let’s Get Political: Books on Government and the Bloody World of U.S. Politics

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Let’s all take a deep breath for a moment as we let the current election sink in and realize that our future is looking like #Trump/Pence for the next four years. I’m not going to go on a political rant about the election or my dislike for Trump. We can’t change the  outcome, but we can change the future and  get educated on how our political parties run. I was surprised to find how many people really don’t know how U.S. politics work, which is understandable because it’s a difficult puddle to wade through. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work; let’s fix what we don’t like. Although I’m all for a good meaty discussion about politics with the opposing sides, I do know better than to argue not knowledgeable on a subject. It’s better to fight educated and informed than to enter the ring blind. For your reading pleasure, I’ve made a list of great books to read about U.S. politics. I encourage all of you to read up on the facts and learn more about American politics and the judicial system. Some of the material is daunting, but it’s well worth the read if you’re curious about what goes on in Capital Hill.

The Conscience of a Conservative-Barry Goldwater

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What’s the Matter with Kansas?-Thomas Frank

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The New Jim Crow-Michelle Alexander

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Our Revolution-Bernie Sanders

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Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama-Tim Wise

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The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege-Robert  Jensen

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The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America-George Packer

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While this list is small, the contents are magnanimous and will surely aid you in finding answers to how America is governed. I refuse to sit and be complacent with our impending future. It’s past the time to question, to reason, to evaluate. Our country can’t propel forward unless we do. I’ve been a little confounded in how accepting the media and news has been about Donald Trump’s presidency.  It’s like we are expected to just move past this terrible loss of humanity. There are many ways in which we can take an active participation in this new future; let’s work together to get educated. As an African American women I can already see blatant racism bubbling and bursting forth. Trump’s presidency will not stop me from driving forward and  creating ripples everywhere. If I have to live in this America where racism and sexism has the face of a president, then the entire four years you will hear my voice right along side of it, pushing against the force.

America, let’s do better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2-J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany.

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After nearly a decade, Harry Potter  returns. This time as an adult, married to Ginny Weasley with three children of his own. The story was quite different as it is in play form, one that was opened in London July 30, 2016. J.K. Rowling presents a script form version of the story. Those who grew up with the Harry Potter series are able to revisit characters and be introduced to a new world, where the plot is intertwined with new and old. The story has something for everyone to enjoy, and with world wide popularity of the story it received much praise and criticism.

Harry, Ron, and Hermoine return to the wizarding world as adults, married, and with children. Harry is married to Ginny with two sons, James Sirius and Albus Severus, and a daughter named Lily Luna. Ron and Hermoine are married to each other with one daughter named Rose. Clouds loom overhead as a certain “darkness” tempts its’ return. There to witness this new found darkness is Harry’s son, Albus. Readers see Albus and Harry’s relationship pulse with tenseness as Albus deals with the weight of a famous father, and  not being a Gryffindor. Harry’s struggles with being  a father to a teenager is ultimately the catalyst that drills the events in the story. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is Albus’ venture into a different wizarding world, yet finds himself going back in time reliving the same world as his father. Beloved characters are reintroduced and new characters take the play into a direction that is somewhat predictable yet fresh, and fun to read. The play is much more introspective as the character development outweighs the action. Harry, Ron, Hermoine still are participatory in the plot, as they help contain and defeat the harrowing darkness. If approached right, readers can have an enjoyable experience with this newest addition to the series.

As expected, there were many who disliked “Harry Potter and Cursed Child” simply because it was play or because it read like fan fiction. Both are true, however I applaud Rowling for exploring a creative avenue that keeps her story of the “Boy Who Lived” alive. Her story will forever be in rotation on many platforms (novel, audio, merchandise, amusement parks, plays, film, etc.) and you have to respect her for keeping her brand prevalent.  Yes, this play read like fan fiction and I was hoping for a bit more. I went into it with low expectations, and it made my reading experience better because I wasn’t as crushed. The “adventure” part of the play is not as heavy as is the character development, especially between Harry and Albus. I actually really liked how real their relationship was. It showed the flawed  gritty bits of fatherhood to a teenager. The play isn’t very vast, and it isn’t going to give you everything you originally found in the novels. Instead, it gathered the main crowd pleasing parts of the series, and created a play. At times, the plot/play seem too contrived and generic and definitely read as fan fiction. It wasn’t the best work-but it did what it meant to do- entertain. Fans of the Harry Potter series were disappointed, and as a fellow Potter fan myself, I was little unsatisfied. If you approach it for what it is, and know that it WILL be different from the novels you’ve read, you’ll probably end up liking it more than if you read it with expectations for it to be like the previous novels. It’s worth a try, especially if you enjoy the characters and want a little nostalgia.

Have you any of read the play? Thoughts?

Book Review: Fingersmith-Sarah Waters

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Scandal wrapped in twisting lies, a hidden countryside manor, and a smoky London, make for a novel that is worth sifting through. Waters does it again with her Victorian setting, with of course two lovers at the center of the novel. Although the novel is a hefty 582 pages long, towards the end, you wont even realize how many pages you’ve sifted through as the mystery pulls you in. It’s no secret Sarah Waters  loves a good scandal and is particularly noted for the use of lesbian lovers during the Victorian age. I admire how Waters writes two female lovers during a time where that subject was quite taboo and frowned upon. Fingersmith has been adapted to  film one in English and recently a  South Korean rendition of the movie called 아가씨(Handmaiden). A beautiful novel that has many hidden untruths, Fingersmith is definitely a Waters novel that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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South Korean adaptation 아가씨
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BBC two part series Fingersmith

Susan Sue Trinder, an orphan, is raised in the mist of lower working class and grows up amongst thieves and traders and those whose work must be hid from the law. Her home includes interesting characters, and under the matriarchy of Mrs. Sucksby,  they live a simple yet duplicitous life. Sue’s life changes from one of plebian status to a being lady’s maid to a wealthy young women of an astute country side manor. The plan to change Sue’s life is conducted by a man, Richard Rivers (Gentleman as the London streets deem him) as he has the idea to take Sue to be the  of a woman and convince her to marry Mr.Rivers, thus swindling her of her inheritance. Sue agrees, and together both her and  Mr. Rivers set off to the country. It is here where we meet Maud, a simple woman living a recluse life with her uncle. Maud is made to accompany her uncle with writing certain “ribald” texts. When Maud and Sue and Mr. Rivers meet, the plan comes to fruition and the relationship between  the women grow deeper. The story of course becomes more contorted as the scheme to take Maud’s fortune goes awry. The novel is very reminiscent of all of Water’s writing with plot twists, loose characters, and a very befitting Victorian romance.

I’ve been a long time fan of Sarah Waters and I really admire her writing style. She sticks to what she knows and does a fantastic job at it. The novel is broken into thirds told from the different perspectives of the two women. Sue’s perspective was the most interesting in my opinion, and it offered more of the twisted plot. Water’s does well in setting the scene and the supposed disposition of the characters. Fingersmith has been referred to as Dickens-esque novel, and I would agree that Sarah Waters does a fine job in emulating yet creating a new Victorian London. This novel wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I did enjoy the mass of it. It takes a while to get through the first third, and it is quite slow. I had high expectations of the  novel after viewing the South Korean movie version 아가씨, but I was a little disappointed in the novel as it read dry and dull, leaving  me feeling lackluster at the end. Waters could have done more in this novel to make it more exciting, but it fell short with often boring repetition and characters who were less than fascinating. The character development doesn’t extend beneath surface level, and the “villainy” is scooped together and placed towards the end, making the reader dredge through the first half of the novel, being teased for what is to come. While I wouldn’t recommend to the general reader, I would suggest it to a person who like Victorian literature or is a Charles Dickens fan.

 

Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman-Kaitlyn Greenidge

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I’ve been really enjoying reading books by blacks authors this summer. Each author has delivered a unique and interesting perspective into black ancestry, history, and culture. When it comes to African American ancestry, it often turns into a painful reminder that so much of our culture and history was eradicated by white people.  This summer has been about loving, embracing, re-seeking and reclaiming our history through the various types of books I have read. Diversifying your reading is so important on many different aspects as it allows you to gain a better perspective on a multitude of races. In her debut novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman, author Kaitlyn Greenidge ties race, family, sisterhood, ancestry into a story that is both interesting and enlightening.

The Freemans family journey to the Toneybee Institute in Massachusetts to take part in a social experiment by raising Charlie, a chimpanzee as a part of their family.  Part of the research and experiment is to teach Charlie sign language which the family is well versed in. The Freemans must start a new life in a secluded neighborhood and apartment, quite different from life they had previously known. The story focuses on a few perspectives, but the primary narrator Charlotte gives the reader her perspective on how she deals with being the only black girl in a very white surrounding, as well as adjusting as a freshman at a new school. Each family deals with the research experiment in their own way, but when a deep secret is revealed about the project, everyone is affected and reacts differently. Greenidge uses many literary devices to raise important questions about race and black ancestry. Throughout the story there are flashbacks to a woman named Nymphadora who helped the Toneybee Institute, although in a grotesque and exploitive way. Greenidge places heavy weights on the pages, but does it in a way to not deter her readers and keeps them intrigued throughout the duration of the novel.

When I read this was Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, I was so impressed with the quality of writing she exemplifies. You can tell she did her research; and she writes so thoroughly and clean she easily can pass as a seasoned writer. I love that she talks about race and ancestry in a unique way, that doesn’t seem to scream a very wearying rhetoric of “American slavery during the nineteenth century.” She doesn’t write about a family raising a chimp, but a black family raising a chimp which draws interesting comparisons scientists have conducted throughout the ages on black people. I also enjoyed how she brought up race in way that didn’t feel like a hammer hitting your head, but you definitely felt the weight of her words. This book is layered, and although some of the layers are hard to understand, they are vital and necessary in order to tell this story. Charlotte’s narration was by far my favorite as she was so introspective and inquisitive. There was also the layer of Charlie the chimpanzee being a family member but also a science project, loved but also probed. The relationships and themes in the novel seem to be placed in a petri dish and peered at through a microscopic lens which allows the author to conduct an experiment on her readers as well. How science and history often go hand in hand, and the author does a fantastic job drawing these two things together. Greenidge is one to watch, and I’m thrilled to have taken part in her first novel. I’m a fan of this book and would recommended this to anyone wanting something out of the ordinary. Praise to the author Kaitlyn Greenidge and her novel that is both progressive and nods to the historicism.

Book Review: Between the World and Me-Ta-Nehisi Coates

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  They made us into a race. We made ourselves in a people.

The reality of a black person is vastly different than that from a white person. Our worlds are separated, and our bodies hold different weight within the universe. With fists and teeth clenched, we move through the world. You saunter through life, whereas we  briskly walk, trying not to hesitate too long. Our moments in this world are brief and often over looked, which is why we shine so bright-we must fully experience everything before our light is snuffed out. To understand us, is to understand an arcane and hidden secret. Yet, not many seek to bear the weight of the secret, for that would mean stripping one’s self down to humanity. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay and memoir Between the World and Me looks at the reality of racial relations in America and what it means to be black in America in today. If willing, this book hits you in the core. If listening, this book will awaken you and bring you into touch with reality. If looking, this book with refocus your attention on an ailing matter in America.

Structured as a letter, Between the World and Me Coates’ writes to his teenage son Samori about the reality of growing up black in America.  He intertwines it with his own personal memory of growing up in Chicago and his experience of police brutality. He refers to white people as “Dreamers” people unwilling to connect with their humanity. He writes about the heritage of black folks, the oneness we inherently  have with one another. He contemplates race relations in America and ties them in with his experience of being out of America. The book is a collection of emotions and people  and stories that have helped shaped his curriculum vitae. Although it does dive into black culture and heritage, it is an  exposé on how humans are treated different in the world based on skin color. Coates’ passionately bears all when educating his son on his responsibilities.

And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.

This book has been deemed important by many, and I can only agree. It contains so many important facts about the way life is, how black bodies have no importance in the world, even when we shaped and built the world. I thought it incredibly endearing but also somber that one has to warn their child about how the world does not see value in their life. However, through the exact realness of it all, Coates reminds and encourages his son to never break or bend on who he is. To be rooted in his blackness as he writes, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you.” I can foresee this book being on English AP lists everywhere, as it can reach a wide array of audiences. Coates is a fantastic writer, and I can only imagine more great things coming from him.

But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversation.

What to Read When the World Crashes Down and You Need Some Love

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Flashing screens displaying brown bodies piled up. Tears running down tired and blood stained faces. Screams and fists pumping in the air with anger. What do you do when your bones ache from being torn apart day in and day out? What do you do when  people tell you your skin color makes you in invaluable, when they say your life is invaluable. I too am sick of being reduced to a #hashtag or temporary Facebook post; I want more, I want to be valued. In the mist of such turmoil and police brutality, it’s vital we take care of our mental health. We need to string together any last bits of hope and love ourselves. To bask in the essence, the presence, and spirituality of us. It’s okay to be strong but it’s okay to also be human and let those emotions be felt. It’s okay to take time for yourself. It’s okay to step back from social media or the world, and invest in your mental clarity. Many expect black people (especially black women) to hold it all together, because essentially that is what we have done for centuries. But when we do that, we don’t allow ourselves to heal and grow, instead we become desensitized to horror, to pain. I encourage anyone who is left feeling stripped, crippled, voiceless, or tired to just take a breath. When I say breath, I mean a life breath, one that puts things in pause long enough to stabilize yourself. I’m angry and sad just like you, but I fear for the health of my self being if I don’t stop to pause and invest in my self care. Self care comes in many shapes and forms, and it ultimately what makes you feel the best and most whole. One of my self care practices is reading; reading books that fill me to the brim. When I read books that confirm how validated I am, it allows me to then take that knowledge and apply it to my everyday life. I have curated a list of books that inspire me and might be of some help to you. Let’s get rooted in ourselves again. I hope you feel better, wherever you are in the world or in life. Happy reading!

  1. Freedom: The Courage to Be Yourself-Osho

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2. The Diamond in Your Pocket: Discovering Your True Radiance-Gangaji

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3. Communion: The Female Search for Love-bell hooks

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4. One Day My Soul Opened Up-Iyanla Vanzant

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5. Eat, Pray, Love-Elizabeth Gilbert

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6.The Alchemist-Paulo Coelho

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7. Afro Vegan:Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed-Bryant Terry

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