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Book Review: Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice

January 5, 2021 4 comments

Summary:
This is simultaneously a memoir about her faith journey and an opinion piece from her perspective as both a Christian and a member of the Potawatomi nation (a nation Indigenous to both the US and Canada). Kaitlin fearlessly grapples with the historical and current weaponization of Christianity, how she interprets Christianity in her own life, and how her Potawatomi knowing comes into her faith.

Review:
This book, to me, is first and foremost beautiful. I read it on my kindle fire just so I could enjoy its beauty in full-color and larger size than my paperwhite. There are five parts, and each part begins with an illustrated poem from Potawotami tradition that ties into the designated part.

A lot about this book is difficult to categorize, and that is part of its strength and beauty. It is partially a memoir, although not necessarily told in a linear fashion. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of Braiding Sweetgrass (review). It is both about a topic the author has a lot of knowledge on (the experience of Christianity as an Indigenous person), but also is a memoir because her knowledge and herself cannot be separated as they inform each other.

Although I am not biracial myself, I imagine this book would be meaningful to readers who are. Kaitlin, while a full member of the Potawatomi nation, is half white and half Potawatomi. In addition to this, her parents split up when she was young, so she also experienced both living on the reservation and living off the reservation in a white town in a white church with folks essentially considering her to be white and ignoring her Potawatomi self. She discusses what it means to her to be able to pass for white and why she generally as an adult chooses not to. (She even flies with her tribal membership card, which while officially accepted, is usually not recognized by the first TSA agent she sees).

Her insights into how to improve what is broken or ostracizing in the church in the US were simultaneously interesting and challenging. I can imagine a reader very deeply enveloped in the church may feel challenged by her willingness to question what is often accepted as the word of God and also by her desire to draw in aspects of Potawatomi ways. Similarly, I can imagine a reader who has already cast aside the church might wonder why she bothers staying with something that may seem to them to be so obviously broken. This is the beauty of the book. Kaitlin refuses to do what might seem to either side to be the easiest and rather forges her own way, encouraging others to do the same.

The problem isn’t that we search for truth; the problem is that we become obsessed with our belief that we hold the truth, and we destroy entire cultures in the process.

52%

I know I am not the only person who has been wondering lately about other white women who support the patriarchy, and Kaitlin directly addresses this with her insight that comes from being a white passing Indigenous woman in white conservative spaces. I found what she had to say helped me both establish some understanding for something I previously could not understand at all and consider new ways to potentially reach these women.

Unless your lived experience is very similar to the author’s, I expect this will be a book that challenges you. It certainly challenged me. But to be challenged is to grow, and I thank the author for sharing her understanding of the world and her experiences. Being challenged helped me to grow in my understanding. Recommended for all but especially for those who are seeking a greater understanding of the church in the US.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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Book Review: The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

November 22, 2020 Leave a comment
Cover of the book The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Summary:
Dr. Cone is respected as the founder of Black liberation theology. In this book first published in 2011 he explores the connections between the Jesus’s crucifixion and the lynchings committed by white Americans against Black Americans. He also explores in a forthright manner how Christianity is experienced and expressed in Black American churches and directly addresses the seeming contradiction of Black Americans embracing the faith they encountered initially through white enslavers.

Review:
I think it’s important before giving my thoughts on this book to establish for those who may web search their way here who I am. I’m a white, US American woman with the privilege of a Masters degree. While I don’t hazard to guess who Dr. Cone intended to write for, I will say I found both a greater understanding of the Black Christian church in the US and simultaneously called out as a white US American – a couple of times as a white woman specifically. If you are a white US American and not a Christian, this is still a relevant read for you. 79% of Black US Americans consider themselves to be Christian (Pew Research Center) – a greater percent than either US Americans overall or when compared to white US Americans alone. If we are to be good allies, it’s important to understand how this faith intertwines with the atrocious history and (Dr. Cone argues, and I agree with him, continued presence of) lynching in the US.

Dr. Cone gives context for how Black US Americans, especially those who are descendants of enslaved people, came to find and embrace the Christian faith. He also discusses some prominent white and Black theologians, highlighting the differences in how they addressed or, in the case of white theologians, failed to address systemic racism in the US.

I could not find one sermon or theological essay, not to mention a book, opposing lynching by a prominent liberal white preacher.

(loc 79%)

I was particularly moved by the section that discussed how these theologians reacted to the 1963 Birmingham Baptist Church bombing, which resulted in the deaths of four Black girls – Addie Mae Collins (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14) and Carol Denise McNair (11). Dr. Cone’s justified palpable frustration at the general lack of response even in the face of such clear evil was important to hear.

The title of the book alludes to the answer to a couple of questions I’ve heard people ask before – how is the Black Christian experience different from that of white Christians and how did the descendants of enslaved people come to embrace the faith of those who enslaved their ancestors? According to Dr. Cone, Black US Americans saw a fellow sufferer in Jesus and a clear connection between how he was crucified and how Black US Americans are unjustly treated. He also draws attention to how Black churches pay attention to different aspects of the Bible than what you might hear in white churches.

One cannot correctly understand the black religious experience without an affirmation of deep faith informed by profound doubt. Suffering naturally gives rise to doubt. How can one believe in God in the face of such horrendous suffering as slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree? Under these circumstances, doubt is not a denial but an integral part of faith. It keeps faith from being sure of itself. But doubt does not have the final word. The final word is faith giving rise to hope.

(loc 64%)

Dr. Cone directly addresses the frustration of the white people who enforce segregation and lynching and Black people suffering from these things both laying claim to the same faith and how painful that is. My takeaway was that, rather than ask how white supremacists and Black US Americans can lay claim to the same faith, acknowledge that white supremacy is twisting the faith of white US Americans.

Hate and white supremacy lead to violence and alienation, while love and the cross lead to nonviolence and reconciliation.

(loc 46%)

White supremacy tears faith to pieces and turns the heart away from God.

(loc 94%)

Dr. Cone also dedicates space to Black women’s voices, and I was particularly moved by this part as it features Black women directly calling out white women as having the ability to bring change to white supremacy. I have so often heard the opposite, disempowering message that our options of action as white women are limited due to the patriarchy, but that is an overly limited viewpoint. While it is true the patriarchy limits us, we do have the ears of other white folks in a way that Black people often do not, and white women may have more influence over the men in our lives than we may realize. (When I say men in our lives I mean this in the most inclusive way possible – family members, sons, friends, colleagues, etc…) Black women in this book see and call out the power that we white women clearly have with specific examples of how white supremacy responds to perceived affronts on white women. If we have the power to cause harm to Black folks in this way, then we have the power to, at the very least disengage from it by not allowing our experiences to be used as the spark to start off the firestorm, but perhaps we can also use it to quench the violence to begin with. I think it’s important for those reading this not to mistake this as a call for white saviors but rather as a call for white women to cease (knowingly or unknowingly) inciting violence and to work against it. I think of it as the Bible says – take the log out of our own eyes first.

This book also includes some very meaningful explorations of the blues and Gospel music, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King’s theology. It ends with a call to address continued issues, especially as seen through the prison system. As a white woman who grew up rural poor with a large local issue when I was in high school being whether or not to bring in a prison as a source of jobs to an economically depressed area, I viewed this as yet another reason to address efforts toward our incredibly problematic private prison industrial complex in the US.

Through private prisons and the “war against drugs,” whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America.

(loc 97%)

This clearly was a meaningful read for me, and I can easily see what an important read it is for my fellow white US Americans. It does not give easy answers for what to do, but it demonstrates how white supremacy hurts everyone and leaves one with an urge to be part of the change for good.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

September 20, 2020 1 comment

Summary:
Member of the Potawatomi Nation and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer presents a series of essays on plants of North America, incorporating some memoirs from her life and her daughter’s recollections as well.

Review:
It’s difficult to describe how meaningful this book is. The description sounds so simple and yet, to me, it is a collection of scientific and Indigenous knowledge intertwined as near poetry. As an urban gardener who grew up rural among farms, I think of myself as plant knowledgeable, but I was humbled by this book. I also teach, and I found her ruminations on teaching and balancing teaching other people’s children versus your own to be beautifully honest. This book takes time to get through but because of the rich meaning in each essay. You find yourself wanting to savor it.

As a person who feels both spiritually and scientifically minded, this book spoke to me on a mind and soul level simultaneously in ways I cannot fully describe. I wish there was greater focus on teaching this way. I wish the two were not divorced from each other in our society. I think it would be healing to us all and to nature as well if they were not.

Allow me to try to pull out a few meaningful quotes to me by theme.

On morality, contentment, and consumerism:

Refusal to participate is a moral choice.

Transformation is not accomplished by tentative wading at the edge.

Balance is not a passive resting place.

In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition.

The consumption-driven mind-set masquerades as “quality of life” but eats us from within.

On teaching and being taught:

The professor made me doubt where I came from, what I knew, and claimed that his was the right way to think.

Teach any who will come.

I’d left my baby girls at home with their dad in order to introduce other people’s children to something they cared little about.

Facts about plants that fascinated me, include that a 3 sisters garden [growing corn, beans, and squash together the Indigenous way] yields more food than if you grew each alone, polycultures are less susceptible to pest outbreaks than monocultures, breathing in the smell of humus (the dirt, not the food) releases oxcytocin, and lichens are actually two beings together (a fungus and an alga). I also learned:

Sweetgrass thrives where it is used and disappears elsewhere.

Plantain is not indigenous but naturalized. It’s so prevalent and well-integrated that we think it’s native.

Estuaries can have the highest biodiversity and productivity of any method.

Forest ecologists estimate that the window of opportunity for cedars to get started occurs perhaps only twice a century.

I hope I have made you intrigued by this book. I loved it so much that I bought myself a copy after starting off with a digital library copy.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System by Cyntoia Brown-Long and Bethany Mauger

book coverSummary:
Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder she committed at the age of sixteen. Her case became national news when celebrities and activists made the hashtag #FreeCyntoia go viral in 2017. She was granted full clemency after having served fifteen years, walking out a free woman on August 7, 2019.

This is her story, in her own words.

Review:
I think how people will respond to this memoir will depend a lot on what they believe justice to be. Do certain levels of crime deserve never-ending punishment? Can people change or be redeemed? Then there’s another level of do teenagers, people who are still growing and whose brains have not fully developed (brains do not complete developing until approximately age 25), deserve to spend the rest of their lives being punished for an act committed at this age? This memoir aims to be proof that people can be redeemed and, indeed, if we want people to change, they need to have hope that an end could be in sight for them.

The fact of the matter is that no one but Cyntoia, God, and Johnny Michael Allen know what truly happened that night. Cyntoia has never denied killing Johnny but has maintained it was in self-defense. The only facts that we know are that she, a sixteen-year-old who had been being sold for sex by her pimp, was picked up by Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old, and brought home with him, and they were alone in his bedroom together. Both potential stories told by each side are possible. It’s possible he brought her home for sex, like Cyntoia says. It’s possible he brought her home in an attempt to take care of a teenager he found living on the street, like Johnny Allen’s family says. Regardless, Cyntoia ended up killing him. The memoir dances around exactly what happened, with Cyntoia describing him picking her up and bringing her home but then describing the night as a red haze with no details. Was that to protect a guilty conscience or to protect details that would hurt Johnny Allens’ family that no one really needs to know? It’s very hard to say. But in a way I think this is appropriate because Cyntoia admits that she killed him, and the true point of the story is first, how did this girl end up here and second, can she be redeemed?

How she got here contains two of the more interesting aspects of the memoir. First, the school to prison pipeline is painfully obvious in Cyntoia’s story. She originally was placed in a gifted class, acted up some (didn’t get along with the teacher) and was downgraded. She started to be told over and over again she was bad. It was all downhill from there with her hanging out with the crowd of kids who were always in trouble and being constantly told she was bad and not listened to. The police were even called on her at school for her not wanting to give the teacher her purse in detention. If we want our children to rise to their potential, having school tied to prison in the way that it is is not the solution, and treating children like they’re “bad” when they’re just children who mess up sometimes is sending them a clear message that many children will just accept or fail to.

The other issue that came up during one of Cyntoia’s trials is that her birth mother admits to drinking alcohol while she was pregnant, and some doctors have diagnosed her as having fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This is relevant, because fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can cause poor judgment, hyperactivity, poor reasoning, and problems in school. It seems, given both doctors’ testimonies her birth mother’s admission, and Cyntoia’s own perspective that this sad tale is likely, therefore, partially entwined with alcohol abuse. Cyntoia herself states multiple times that she doesn’t know why she has tended to act so impulsively. This could partially help explain it and be another of the many tentacles of how alcohol impacts our society with poor outcomes and violence.

Cyntoia ultimately chooses to have faith that she could possibly be redeemed and decides, even if she can’t be, she doesn’t want to waste her life. She goes to a unique program available in her prison that allows her to go to college. She pursues self-improvement and mentorship of others, and she works to help young girls who have also been trafficked like she was. (It is not a question that Cyntoia was trafficked as she was underage and had a pimp). Cyntoia attests much of her self-improvement to her new-found faith that she solidified after meeting her now-husband via letters in jail. (He felt called to write to her). A spiritual practice is important for anyone to have a well-rounded recovery, and I think it is also significant that the school that offered the college program inside the prison was also a religious school. I am glad for her that she has found comfort and faith, but I also hope it’s not too entwined with her husband and is her own source of strength. While healthy relationships are important, and it’s nice to share a faith, it’s also important for that strength to come from oneself and not from relying upon another fallible human being.

Overall, I think this shows a personal look at the school to prison pipeline, the potential impact of alcohol on a child’s life, and how redemption could look. It’s important to come into this book with an open mind and a willingness to not crave more than Cyntoia is willing to share, nor to think that this book will reveal all the truth or all the answers.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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April 2018 Book Reviews – Kushiel’s Avatar (#fantasy), Please Forgive Me (#romance), The Song of Hiawatha (#poetry), A River in Darkness (#memoir), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (#espionage), Pennterra (#scifi)

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Reading poolside in Florida.  For more shots check out my bookstagram.

Wow what a busy month! After only completing one book in March, in April I finished a walloping six! Let’s get right to it.

I read quite a bit of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey while on a business trip to Orlando, Florida in April (um, where I got to wrestle an alligator YES THAT HAPPENED). Ahem, anyway, this fantasy chunkster finishes up Phedre’s Trilogy and it was the perfect companion for a business trip since I was definitely not going to find the time to finish it while on the trip so it could keep me company throughout. Anyway, if you’ve heard of the trilogy and have been intrigued by it, suffice to say that I found the conclusion to be an improvement on the second book but didn’t live up to the first. I appreciated the artistry of the ending but I personally wasn’t a fan of how Phedre’s life ended up, which I think soured it a bit for me. But not enough to not put the first book in the next trilogy in this world on my tbr list.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap? Maybe? I bought it somewhere)

Next I picked up Melissa Hill’s romance Please Forgive Me. This piece of modern Irish literature follows our heroine from Ireland to San Francisco where she tries to outrun her problems. I found the Irish interpretation of California (not least of which the idea of how the main character can just show up and work under the table and that’s fine) to be pretty hilarious. Three couples are ultimately presented where someone did something “wrong” but no one seems to think all of the running away is particularly wrong? This was one of those classic there would be no problems if everyone would just act like adults instead of impulsive children types of chick lit books. If you’re ok with that and the idea of an Irish take on California appeals to you, you may have found your next read.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next something possessed me to finally get around to reading the copy of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which is I believe out of copyright and has been hanging out on my kindle forever. By “something possessed me” I mean like many other New England children I was forced to memorize (and PERFORM) “Paul Revere’s Ride” (read it in its full glory) and I was curious if the other Longfellow epic poem lives up to Paul Revere. Um. It does not. Here’s the thing. Longfellow’s style works great for a piece about a time very close to his own and his own people in a short form. It does not work great in a full length book based on his interviews with Native Peoples and his attempts at writing down the language. It basically consists of Hiawatha telling the different nations to stop warring and unite or they’d be over-run by white people. It felt a bit…victim blamey to me. Also then in the final chapter missionaries arrive, Hiawatha welcomes them, tells his people they have a very important message and to be nice to them, then sails off in what I think is a metaphor for his death. So Hiawatha is a hero for telling those silly Native nations to unite to fight off white people but also recognizing the salvation message. Okayyyyy. I kept reading it because I thought it must get better. It did not. Stick to Paul Revere’s Ride.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: no idea anymore)

I received my next read free from Amazon thanks to the Kindle First program, and I feel like I caught it just at its popularity wave – Masaji Ishikawa’s memoir A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa is half-Japanese and half-Korean. His Korean father moved the family to North Korea based on promises of a better life when he was 13 years old. Masaji’s life has been incredibly hard – not just in North Korea but also in Japan. When he was a child, he faced racism in Japan because he was half-Korean, and when he escaped back to Japan he faced many difficulties repatriating (for instance, they housed him in a half-house with recovering addicts, while that is a home, you can imagine it would be difficult to repatriate in such a situation). Masaji has lost so much family; it’s overwhelming. I think he’s brave for telling his story, and I encourage anyone interested in helping North Koreans to check out the well-rated charity Liberty in North Korea. While this story is incredibly important, to me personally the pacing was a bit off. Maybe it wasn’t in the original Japanese.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

While I was reading these other books, I was also reading my audiobook The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carre. I picked this up because it’s supposed to be a classic involving the Berlin Wall. This is about a British spy and basically the whole book is the question of is he loyal to the West or not? The book begins and ends at the Berlin Wall. I found the beginning very engaging and the end was exciting, but the middle dragged. I’m glad I stuck with it for the end, though. Also there’s a love interest who is a librarian in this, which was exciting for me! Recommended if you like spy novels.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I finished out the month with a 1987 female written scifi – Pennterra by Judith Moffet. Basically there’s an alien planet colonized by Quakers (because Earth is dying and spaceships of groups of people who have something in common are leaving Earth looking for places to live). Of course there’s an indigenous people who resemble large insects and communicate both vocally and through emotive telepathy. I’d read this book was an exploration on the power of pacifism for resolving conflict, BUT I didn’t find much pacifist negotiation. They just do what the locals tell them to do and obey the rules put upon them. That’s pacifist, sure, but is that negotiation? I thought the planet being alive in and of itself and resisting invaders was fascinating. I thought seeing how children who arrive on the planet at the age of 7 are different and able to adapt was fascinating. I did not think that human children going through puberty and proceeding to behave like the locals sexually in ways that involved the adult humans who never adapted to the planet themselves to be logical (beyond the gross factor). Basically the locals have sex with everyone who’s hit puberty. The human children who hit puberty do the same with adults who don’t feel the natural inclination to go native and so feel guilty about it. What this ultimately means is the author ends up equating bisexualty and polyamory with incest and bestiality. No scenes are particularly graphic but the idea is that it’s ok for the human kids to do it because that’s how the local planet works. But it’s…..not. And it was very uncomfortable for me to see these things being equated. That said that is a minor plotpoint that I was able to skip over easily enough and I was interested in how the planet was going to defend itself, and I found it hilarious how the planet ultimately defends itself. I just wish the author had had going native in the human adolescents to just be bisexuality and/or polyamory and stopped short of the rest. Because they are still HUMANS even if they’ve had to adapt to the environment.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap)

Phew, what a month! My total for the month of April 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 3 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook

 

March 2018 Book Review – Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend (#nonfiction)

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For more shots, check out my bookstagram

Hello my lovely readers! Notice how that says book review and not books reviews? Well that’s because I somehow managed to only finish one book in the entire month of March. :-O

I know the reason for this. It’s because my print book I was reading was a real chunkster. So while I read religiously throughout the month, I just didn’t quite finish the print book within the month of March. But I’m actually ok with this book getting to take center stage, because it’s a cool one.

John Henry is an American folk song that I thought was famous until I was reading this book and had to keep explaining it to people. (I couldn’t find the version I grew up listening to on YouTube but here it is on Spotify – John Henry as sung by Wee Sing on the album America). Essentially the lyrics tell the story of John Henry, a black man who worked on the railroad and beat the steam drill at going through a mountain but died doing so. There are many different versions of the lyrics, but this is the closest to the version I grew up listening to. What’s the point of singing this song to and with children? Well, that depends on who you ask and what version you sang. The gospel version focuses on John Henry’s rewards in Heaven. The blues version focuses on the unfairness of the job and the fear (warranted or not) of machines replacing blue collar labor.

(I did find it comforting that the book indicates that this is an extremely popular folk song in the United States – with the librarians at the Library of Congress telling the author it’s the most researched folk song in the US.)

In Steel Drivin Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson seeks to find the origins of this folk tale and see if there was a real man behind it. Fascinatingly, he successfully found who most likely was the real John Henry. Perhaps not surprisingly, John Henry was a free black man who in the immediately post Civil War era (Reconstruction) Virgina was arrested on what may have been fair charges of shoplifting (no one can really say if a crime actually occurred or not) that was then escalated to a higher charge (most likely falsely). In spite of the North attempts at forcing the South to treat black men and women equally to white, some districts in the South pulled off the Jim Crow laws, which led to unequal punishment for equal crimes, which meant John Henry got put away in prison for a very long time for a very small crime. Unfortunately for him, this was about the time that people got it into their heads that they could use prison labor in the form of chain gangs much like they used to use slave labor. John Henry was sent out to work on the railroad and died there, as working on the railroad was essentially a death sentence.

Some prisoners escaped, and some were killed by guards for what the railroad labeled “mutiny,” but the remainder entered tunnels where tiny bits of microscopic rock floated in the air, entered their lungs, and over a period of six months to three years, strangled them. These prisoners died gasping for air. (location 34%)

I for one after reading that passage couldn’t help but think of Eric Garner and was saddened by how little some things have changed.

Many American folk songs, including this one, were actually originally work songs. I learned through this book that rock and roll refers to these work songs, as the two man crew who drilled had one man to shake the stake and another to hit it, which was called rocking and rolling. Songs were sung to a particular beat both to pass the time and to help ensure no one’s fingers got smashed.

The original blues version of John Henry as opposed to praising his work ethic actually was memorializing his strength and the unfair situation. His status as a prisoner wasn’t so much rewritten as not mentioned (because it didn’t matter), and his strength of character was symbolized by being a man of large stature, even though the real John Henry was actually quite short (under 5’4″). The gospel version focuses more on his strong Protestant work ethic and the rewards he’ll see in Heaven.

The author speaks some about the song and the groups that attached themselves to it over time. I found it interesting that Communist groups in America liked it because of its demonstration of an unfair use of labor. Also interesting was that he found that schools in historically black neighborhoods would devote entire music classes to the song and its history. He also traces John Henry in everything from comic books to Disney shows. I admit that I found the beginning of the book about the real John Henry and the early versions of the song to be the most interesting.

I would have given this book 5 stars but the ending let me down, particularly when the author postulates what message John Henry’s bones might tell us, and I thought that message was very far off the mark, speaking about working less when in fact John Henry was mistreated due to racism, not out of any workaholicism of his own!

Overall, though, I’m not sad this was the only book I read in the month of March. I learned so much, and I really did enjoy it.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

My total for the month of March 2018:

  • 1 book
    • 0 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 0 female authors; 1 male author
    • 1 ebooks; 0 print books; 0 audiobooks

February 2018 Book Reviews – The Lakota Way (#nonfiction), The Empty Room (#alcoholism), Before We Were Yours (#historic), The Gravity Between Us (#newadult), The Nonborn King (#fantasy)

April 11, 2018 3 comments

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Some breakfast reading at my in-laws’ in Michigan. For more shots check out my bookstagram

Hello my lovely readers! I’m a bit behind in my book reviews (as usual) because life just keeps happening. But I’ve still been finding time to read (obviously). Looking back on it, I’m kind of amazed I got so much reading done in February seeing as I had the flu and also took a trip to Michigan to see my in-laws and had a very busy work month. (When I’m busy at work I often find myself too brain tired to do much reading). But obviously I did get a lot of reading done! Let’s take a look at what I read.

The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living by Joseph M. Marshall III was a gift from my husband when we were first dating. I had been trying to read it mindfully and slowly a chapter at a time but clearly I kept forgetting about it instead. This happens to me when I read digital books sometimes. So I decided this month to just pick it up and finish it off. The author of this nonfiction is a member of the Lakota nation, and here he shares the wisdom of his people for us all to benefit from. I am honored and humbled by the fact that he chooses to do so when so much was wrested away from the Lakota by colonization. Reading this book was like sitting down with a wise older uncle who tells stories that may seem disconnected at first but ultimately all revolve around a theme (like love). The stories are also connected with the history of the Lakota people (before and during colonization). I found the entire collection to be moving, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Native Peoples of the Americas.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: gift)

Next, I tore through my first 5 star read of the year – The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis. This is a fictional telling of one day in the life of a woman with alcoholism. Davis is in recovery herself, and her first-hand experience is obvious here. I tore through this in just one day. It’s the most realistic depiction of alcoholism in women I’ve seen. Gritty and dark yet compassionate and hopeful.

She was always 5 minutes away from being the person she wanted to be.
(location 14%)

Alcohol, the man said, had first given him wings then taken away the sky.
(location 55%)

Just writing about it now makes me want to pick it up and read it again. If you’ve ever struggled with alcohol yourself or struggled to understand someone who does, give this read a chance.
(5 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Throughout the month I was working on my audiobook – Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I call this a historic fiction but really it’s one of those dual setting books with a narrator both in the present and in the past. If you’ve been on book blogs at all in the past year you’ve heard of it. This book looks at a dark history of adoption in the United States, with children being snatched from their families under the guise of the law in the name of eugenics (in this case, the idea that beautiful children are better raised by the rich). I very much appreciate the importance of this history being presented and how well-researched it is, but I must admit that both of the main characters rubbed me the wrong way, which wasn’t something I was able to get past.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next I picked up The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer. This book was at the disadvantage of being my first read after having my soul touched by The Empty Room. I often find that after a read that touching I struggle to enjoy my next read, so keep that in mind when considering my thoughts. This new adult romance looks at two best friends who fall in love with each other but struggle to admit it to each other. Complicating factors include they’re both women, in their late teens, and have just moved to LA. Oh and one is a break-out movie star. It’s a great premise but the execution didn’t work for me. Alternating chapters between the two main character’s perspectives took a lot of the tension out and sometimes left me confused about who was feeling what and who was talking. I also felt like both Kendall and Payton really mistreated their friends around them (a straight guy and a bisexual gal who help them keep the relationship under wraps) and while people make mistakes they never really apologize for this or make up for it to them.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Finally I wrapped up the month by finishing my print read of the month: The Nonborn King by Julian May. This is the last in a fantasy trilogy with four disparate plots that ultimately come together in the end of course. I wasn’t into half of them, so that made it a bit of a slog. I also had read the previous two books in audiobook format with multiple narrators, and I wonder how much of my feeling of this being a slog was that it wasn’t being performed at me. I hadn’t realized how much the performance enhanced the books. I still very much enjoy the world of The Pliocene Exile but the direction it went here was puzzling.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: PaperBackSwap I think?)

It looks like the month started strong then went mediocre. Since I got the flu at the end of the month, I wonder how much of that vibe was just a bad flu mood? Hard to say! Regardless, I know I’ll be readingThe Empty Room again.

My total for the month of February 2018:

  • 5 books
    • 4 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 1 print book; 1 audiobook

January 2018 Reads – #fantasy, #scifi, #nonfiction, #mystery

February 9, 2018 3 comments

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For more shots check out my bookstagram

Happy New Year everyone! I started my new year off with a reading bang reading a total of 6 books. I can’t say I’m too terribly surprised as the weather has been pretty…gross in New England. I’m not anti going outside in the cold but even I struggle to enjoy it when it’s so cold you’re at risk of frostbite if you’re out for more than 30 minutes. (It’s dangerously easy for me to tip over into that range with my commute using public transit). Anyway, nothing feels cozier than reading inside while it’s awful outside. While I had a range of reads this month, overall I read a lot of fantasy.

I started off the month with Honeyed Words by J. A. Pitts. My husband picked it up for me at a used bookstore in the $1 pile based on the cover and the fact that it was an urban fantasy starring a queer woman. That man knows me. Unfortunately, it turns out it was the second book in the series, and unlike a lot of urban fantasy, not enough was explained for me to be able to follow along very well. Sarah, the main character, is a blacksmith who also has a magical sword and fights dragons who run the world but usually appear as people? It was very confusing but I did enjoy the different (for urban fantasy) main character.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: gift)

Next I read the audiobook version of Connie Willis’s new scifi Crosstalk. This is about a near future with a surgical procedure to let partners feel each other’s feelings but when Briddey has it she finds herself able to hear the thoughts of the company weirdo and nothing from her boyfriend. I loved Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog but I was disappointed in this one. The plot was predictable in most ways. I didn’t actually like either of the main characters. The female main character in particular was disappointing…very little intelligence or self-starting. I did really like the little niece but I felt the adults who were supposed to be the heroes pushed her around far too much and refused to listen to her. Let’s put it this way: if this was my first Connie Willis read, I wouldn’t be seeking out more. So thank goodness I found To Say Nothing of the Dog first, or I’d have missed it.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

I picked up a print book next, which I originally acquired from an indie publisher thanks to hearing good things about its YA fantasy with LGBTQ content – Valhalla by Ari Bach. Set in a near future where corporations run everything, a teenage girl finds herself with the opportunity to get vengeance for her parents’ death but only if she legally dies and lives with a group who work to keep the world in order. This was a weird book. I really had trouble getting past the ability to resurrect a person in their entirety so long as you have their brain in-tact, and I also found the politics odd and the plot ridiculous. It was readable and action-packed but I did a lot of eye-rolling. I won’t be continuing with the series.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

Our trip in December to the Grand Canyon reminded me of a book I’d bought a while ago on the history of the US National Forest Service (not to be confused with the National Park Service) – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan. I already knew a bit about the history the NPS and NFS thanks to my time in service in Americorps. While I enjoyed everything I learned in the book, it is confusingly organized and repetitive. It needed more editing. For instance, I thought I was reading a book about a fire but a large part of the book was about literally everything about the Forest Service surrounding the fire. While that was informative, it wasn’t what I thought I was getting. Similarly there were passages of the parts of the book about the actual fire that really dragged–how many times do I really need to read about what the burned corpse of a horse looks like? So while I did learn a lot, which I appreciate, I do feel like it could have been better organized and streamlined.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

One of my reading goals is to read two print books a month, so I picked up a second after finishing Valhalla. I have a bookshelf of all my print books and I use random.org to randomly generate a number to select one. So my next read wound up being The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell a British mystery told in dual time-lines, one being modern day with a woman recovering from a horrific miscarriage and the other being in the 80s with five college friends sharing a cottage and trying to go off-grid basically. The women in the modern day dealing with her grief is given this same cottage, and the mystery is how the two timelines will intertwine. While the ending did surprise me, everything leading up to it was boring and predictable and led to me skimming a lot. I’m glad I read to the end because I found the twist interesting but the experience leading up to it wasn’t fun for me per se. I also think that consequences weren’t explored enough.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

I finished up my month by finally picking up the third book in a series I started ages ago – the Riders of the Apocalypse series by Jackie Morse Kessler. This YA fantasy series explores the four hoursemen of the apocalypse as beings who have to get replaced occasionally by new humans who take on the role and in this series each is being replaced by a teenager. Famine was replaced by a teenager with anorexia in the first book, and War by a teenager who self-injures in the second. The third horseman is Pestilence, and I wondered what mental illness would go with this. I thought maybe Factitious Disorder (previously known as Munchausen Syndrome) but it turns out the main character in Loss is a victim of bullying and a partial caretaker for his grandfather with Alzheimer’s. I wanted to like this so much but I just didn’t. I didn’t identify with the main character at all, and I also felt like the representation of sickness and health was overly simplistic (with a weird huge focus on the bubonic plague). Nothing felt as fully fleshed out as I would have liked it to have been, and I don’t think relating bullying to Pestilence works the way anorexia to Famine or self-injury to War did.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

Hm, turns out in spite of all the reading this was a bit of a mediocre month! Here’s hoping something strikes my fancy more in February.

My total for the month of January 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 2 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook

September 2017 Reads – #fantasy, #nonfiction, #chicklit

December 29, 2017 4 comments

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For more shots check out my bookstagram

The end of September was our second wedding anniversary, and I feel like you can see my romantic mood reflected in the last two books of the month. I started out the month, though, with a fantasy and a nonfiction.

The fantasy was Kushiel’s Chosen Jacqueline Carey, the sequel to Kushiel’s Dart that I read in May. In this entry the main character is now a noblewoman instead of a bondservant but she still ends up sucked into the schemings and plottings of the those who would change the course of nations. While I overall enjoyed this entry in the series I felt that the length and action weren’t as well-balanced as in the first book. There was too little plot for the sheer length of the book.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I’ve always been interested in learning more about how to manage money so I picked up a copy of the nonfiction Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. This book seeks to compare and contrast the advice given by a rich mentor and a poor mentor and take the best of each world. While the initial concept is good what is lacking in the book is an ability to understand others and other life situations. There’s not one way that will work for everyone but the book presents the idea that everyone can achieve wealth in exactly the same way. And in all honesty the way presented, while it has some good ideas (such as to ensure you’re investing in assets rather than liabilities) it also relies a lot on other people not managing their money well (for instance in the case of being a lender to someone else or owning property and renting it out to others). While I’m not saying how the author achieved his money is wrong per se I will say that it’s not a way I personally would be comfortable running my own affairs from an ethical perspective. I would also say the book doesn’t necessarily age well. It reflects an ideal property investment market which we do not have currently. I did take away a few good tips from it though, such as the understanding what’s really an asset and what’s a liability tip mentioned before, so it wasn’t a total loss of time to read.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Next I decided it was high time I read the book one of my favorite chick lit movies is based on–Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. The basic plot of this is a 30-something in London keeps a diary for a year documenting both her attempts at self-improvement and her romantic exploits. I found Mark Darcy to be far more likable in the book than in the movie, and I understood Bridget’s attraction to him better. (In fact, reading the book version of him made me like him better in the movie version too. I was able to see the subtleties going on in the acting I’d missed before). I thought the plot with Bridget’s mother was much more well thought-out and a situation that made me have more empathy for Bridget than in the movie. I also liked how it’s very clear in the book that Bridget is obsessed with her weight but is actually a healthy weight and her friends will actually say something to her when she gets too thin. There was just something touching about her neuroticness in the book. As I said in my short initial review on GoodReads: v. good.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I rounded out the month with the Liane Moriarty chick lit from Australia – What Alice Forgot. Interestingly, this made it onto my wishlist long before the Big Little Lies miniseries hullabaloo. I just thought the plot sounded interesting. I didn’t even realize it was the same author until I had to wait in line for the book at the library. I decided to stick with starting with the book I was initially interested in, and I’m glad I did. It was such a hoot. Alice is 29, married/madly in love and pregnant with her first child. Then she wakes up and discovers she’s 39 and in the middle of a divorce. (Of course she has amnesia, she hasn’t actually time-traveled). What happened to make her marriage fall apart? It’s a giant mystery for her to solve. I really enjoyed this book. If you’re someone who really believes in marriage then the mystery of what happened to Alice’s really sucks you in. There’s also quite a bit in there about how you change over the course of your 30s and which of these changes are good or bad. I will say the ending was a bit meh to me. It felt kind of rushed and epiloguey and I’m just not sure how I feel about it in the long-run. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the experience of the read, though.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of September 2017:

  • 4 books
    • 3 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 1 print book; 0 audiobooks

August 2017 Reads – #nonfiction, #scifi, #thriller

December 28, 2017 2 comments

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For more shots check out my bookstagram

August saw me picking back up some nonfiction (yay!) as well as a thriller and a scifi.

The first nonfiction actually wasn’t on purpose. I logged onto my library’s website and they have a collection of “rarely available” which basically means there’s currently a copy available which is unusual because this book is usually checked out. I checked out the nonfiction Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for amusement but guys…it actually has affected my life. I think of myself as being a pretty organized person but something about her method helped me take it to the next level. I reviewed this read in haiku format here.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Next I saw a book had come out by one an author I like – John Twelve Hawks. It’s the scifi Spark. This follows the agent in a secret special services section of a multinational corporation who also just so happens to have Cotard’s Syndrome – he believes he is dead. The themes are similar to those of author of Twelve Hawks’s works (beware of The Man, no matter who is currently in control) but the focus is on one main character instead of many/the whole world.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Throughout the month I read a thriller in audiobook format called Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon. This book follows twin sisters who haven’t spoken in years. One lives as a shut-in and the other has been kicked out by her husband and denied access to her young daughter. My enjoyment of this book was hurt by the audio recording. The two sisters were read by two different performers and while one was excellent the other was very stale and boring to listen to. It kept me from getting too wrapped up in the story. That said, I thought the thriller had some unnecessary red herrings, took a bit too long to get where it was going, and I honestly thought the ending was too kind to a particular villain.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

I finished up the month with In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate. In this work, Dr. Mate examines addiction in the context of his longtime work with the addicts living in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. The perspective of someone working so closely with victims of addiction is an important one to have. Dr. Mate sees the realities day in and day out. He’s also honest about how sometimes he is able to feel compassion and how other times he gets frustrated. Woven in with his recollections of particular patients are discussions of the science of addiction and Dr. Mate’s own take on it. I did feel that Dr. Mate sometimes got a bit too wrapped up in himself. I found his attempts to compare his music cd buying issues with drug and alcohol addiction to be a bit ill-tasting in my mouth and revisited too often. I also felt it muddied the waters of the people whose stories he was telling and the science he was presenting. The academic in me also wondered how he went about getting permission to include certain people in the book (for instance, those who have passed away). However, regardless this was an important read for anyone interested in the current addiction crisis.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of August 2017:

  • 5 books
    • 2 fiction; 2 nonfiction
    • 2 female authors; 2 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 0 print books; 1 audiobook