Posted in diversity, Reading Challenge, Reviews

Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange

234934Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange is a fantastic book full of beautiful, fluid language and the much needed representation of African American women. It centers around three sisters and their mother, providing a slice of life account of each of their journeys. Each woman is shown in her connection to female ancestral spirits as well as featuring her in her own agency in present day. Interspersed as part of the book’s narration are letters from their mother, dream sequences, journal entries, and recipes as dishes prepared in the text of the story.

Indigo is the youngest (and my favorite) and she practices magic, so her section includes spells. She lives at home with their mother in Charleston, South Carolina, and the book opens with her getting her first period. She starts out playing with dolls but ends up as a skillful violinist, admired by neighbors and strangers alike, in addition to Uncle John and her male peers, fellow Jr. Geechee Captains.

Sassafrass is the oldest sister who makes art of her woven tapestries and her delicious food dishes. She struggles to find herself while dealing with an abusive partner and his disrespectful friends who write lewd poetry “praising” (hypersexualizing) black women’s bodies while hypocritically dating only white women. Her story explores her intersectional identity and her longing to make something lasting. She moves from Los Angeles to stay with their middle sister, Cypress, in San Francisco.

The narration demonstrates how Cypress throws lavish parties and is willing to have sex with but not be tied to any particular man in a relationship, unlike Sassafrass. Cypress ends up moving to New York to pursue her dancing career, and there meets and falls for another female dancer, Idrina. Cypress enjoys being part of an all-female dance collective, telling stories of women’s bodies through their powerful performances. The romance crashes when Idrina’s lover returns from a long trip in Europe, and Cypress drowns her sorrows for a time frequenting late night bars, until she is reunited with Leroy, a friend she had tried to set Sassafrass up with back in San Francisco. Cypress’s story flows naturally through the feminist and civil rights movements of the time.

This book is so beautifully written, a summary cannot begin to do it justice. Just hearing the storyline is light years away from experiencing this deeply spiritual and artistic book for yourself.

Reading Challenges
Here we go for reading challenge updates:

Hashtags for the challenges that had them:
#popsugarreadingchallenge
#rockmytbr
#diversereads2017
#whatsinaname2017
#AnneReadAlong2017

December continues to tick away! Are you ready for the year to end?
Jobe

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Posted in Reading Challenge, Reviews

January First by Michael Scholfield

51ma0RMF88L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_I took a break from blogging during November to focus on Nanowrimo but I finished reading several books and got behind on my write-ups. I’m going to try to do these books justice despite having let them sit for too long before writing down my thoughts. I read January First by Michael Schofield in record time: I started it one evening and finished it the next morning before work. I am a SLOW READER so this is saying A LOT about how this book grabbed me and didn’t let me go. I don’t know if everyone’s experience of this book will be similar to mine but I was absolutely spellbound. This is a nonfiction account of a father whose daughter January has child-onset schizophrenia. There were many aspects of this book which rang painfully true, having experienced mental illness firsthand in several forms, in myself, close friends, and close family. This book demanded my attention; I had to know what was going to happen to this girl and the father fighting for her. So many aspects of this read were familiar, and it was affirming to see them expressed in print. I’m lucky to have a kid on the autistic spectrum high-functioning enough that we can easily communicate. But the way that January threw violent fits was very reminiscent of the way that a friend’s low-functioning autistic son acts out. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he just can’t communicate in a different way when he gets that upset. When January is hospitalized, I can see the facilities in my mind’s eye, because I know such places too well. And when January’s “bad memory” is recognized for the dissociation it actually is, I was dumbstruck. This book is heavy and somewhat dark without a picture perfect happy ending, although it does leave the reader with hope. If you are interested in mental illness and mental health, this is a Must Read. I haven’t turned this book back in to the library yet because I read through it so quickly I wanted to read it a second time through more slowly. An incredible tale offering a true human connection thanks to this dad’s ability to be so raw and honest about the frustration, fear, confusion, anger, and exhaustion that accompanies having a close family member with mental illness in crisis. If you read the book and still want more, here’s an interview with Michael Schofield; janisjourney.org is meant to be a progress blog for Jani and her family but I can’t get it to load so I’m not sure of its status.

Reading Challenges
Here we go for reading challenge updates:

Hashtags for the challenges that had them:
#popsugarreadingchallenge
#rockmytbr
#diversereads2017
#whatsinaname2017
#AnneReadAlong2017

November has come and gone! December is already half gone! Where did the year go???
Jobe

Posted in Reading Challenge, Reviews

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

akatawitchMy latest read was Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Okorafor does a splendid job of placing her work in the stream of those that have come before, and it struck me that this would be another volume particularly suited for providing you with a list of “books mentioned in another book” (No. 50 on the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge). Chichi’s home, which belongs to her mother Miss Nimm, is “full of books.” Sunny, too, is a lover of books; when “she had run out of shelf space” she “started keeping books under the bed.” In Okorafor’s opening before the novel begins, there’s a quote from Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Throughout the novel, there are also many quoted passages from the made-up book Fast Facts for Free Agents by Isong Abong Effiong Isong. Okorafor also mentions in her pages: Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton; The Witches by Roald Dahl; In the Shadow of the Bush by P. Amaury Talbot; and Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Like the author, the main character Sunny was born in America and raised by Nigerian parents. Sunny and her family have moved back to Nigeria, where she speaks English as well as Igbo. It is so exciting to read a book about a young witch coming into her own–steeped in African legends and cultural references, rather than the old familiar western ones. Sunny forms an oha coven with her friends Chichi, Sasha, and Orlu. The reader learns all about the secret, magical world of the Leopard People alongside Sunny, who is late to the game and trying hard to catch up. There are crafty and discerning teachers,  troubles at regular school, new knowledge at every turn, a difficult father figure in Sunny’s mundane life, and a truly evil foe. Okorafor’s writing is fast-paced and exciting, and will keep you flipping pages ’til the very end. Luckily for those of you just discovering this volume, the second book, Akata Warrior, is already out! If you want to read more about Akata Witch, check out Chantel’s blog My Jamaican Vignettes and Bina’s blog If You Can Read This.

Reading Challenges
Here we go for reading challenge updates:

Hashtags for the challenges that had them:
#popsugarreadingchallenge
#rockmytbr
#diversereads2017
#whatsinaname2017
#AnneReadAlong2017

October is rockin’, can you believe it! It will be Nano before you know it…
Much Love,
Jobe

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Posted in Reading Challenge, Reviews

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Series (comic books)

7B46D832-0883-4AF7-B865-8618E762FC07Dark Tower: The Gunslinger series is the second set of Dark Tower comics put out by Stephen King and Robin Furth. The entire arc is our main character Roland Deschain chasing after the Man in Black, and what happens when they finally meet. Book 1 is The Journey Begins. Roland tells part of his tale to a traveler named Brown. After the Battle of Jericho Hill, Roland finds Aileen not dead but dying, and honors her request to bury her in the tombs of their fathers back in Gilead. Roland makes friends with a billy-bumbler, which is kind of like a not-so-bright-but-talking raccoon. Not-Men eat a bunch of billy-bumblers but Roland’s Billy in particular keeps saving his life. Like, twice. In Kingstown Roland rescues a woman whose name is Susan who looks exactly like his first love Susan, so of course there is some getting it on that happens after he saves all the ladies who were kidnapped to be slaves. Reminded that anyone near him dies–his Billy dies saving him–Roland leaves this new Susan behind, maybe sparing her a terrible fate.

381D47DC-F118-447D-8D7F-15F2BFE620B1The Little Sisters of Eluria, Book 2 of this arc, is definitely one of the creepier concepts in these already-super-creepy comics, so don’t be surprised if this one sticks with you. Roland explores a ghost town only to be attacked by mutants, and wakes up in the care of the Little Sisters of Eluria, a nunhood that appears to be nurses, but you know from the start there’s something weird going on. There’s the one good nun-nurse, Sister Jenna, and the rest of them are super ick. Come to find out Roland is being regularly drugged to keep him docile and immobilized while insects crawl around inside his body healing him. EW. He’s also got a cross pendant he picked up from town that puts the nun-nurses off. (Hiss, hiss!) Watching it happen to one and then another of the male “patients,” Roland finds out that they’re being healed just to then be eaten. The nuns aren’t vampires, exactly, think more like spider zombie hybrids, because they keep their prey in webbing-ish stuff. When Roland gets loose from their grasp, with the help of the good one Sister Jenna, he sees that it was just a small tent, and most of what he saw on the inside was hallucinations. They get away from the baddies with the help of a stray dog that’s got a cross pattern in its fur–go figure–and Roland gives ladyface her first kiss, awww, then falls asleep. Good thing he doesn’t get it on with this one because when he wakes up she has turned into bugs. Yeah. Awesome.

54F24FBE-FF37-4D65-A2C3-CBF6E9FD1ABCThe whole point of The Battle of Tull, Book 3, is that Roland kills THE ENTIRE TOWN. That’s like, forty people, which may not seem like a lot by modern standards, but he’s got six-shooters, y’all. He shows up and he can tell the Man in Black has been through (he’s pursing him this whole time, okay?) because the MiB has brought an old dude back to life. Old dude Nort now has some bit of the sight, and knows Roland to be a Gunslinger. Roland shacks up with Allie, the barkeep with a scar, and waits for all hell to break loose, which it soon does. The preacher lady Pittston sort of mass-hysteria’s everybody into trying to kill Roland, hence Roland killing the whole town. Allie speaks the word Nineteen to Nort, which is the secret password to insanity and all the knowledge of the afterlife, so of course she asks Roland to kill her because she’s bugnuts, and he does. Well. That was A LOT of killin’. This book also gives Roland some major deja vu because he thought he’d left Brown’s encampment but Brown acts like he’d never left or stopped telling his tales. So Roland just rolls with it, because what else is he going to do.

DDE7EA8A-95D4-4AB6-8ADF-B79B4866608CIn The Way Station, Book 4, Roland finally meets Jake, who is this cool little kid from present-day our world (well, like, the ’70s, but close enough). So there’s a lot of funny jokes that Roland doesn’t get, and Jake has to learn all the ‘slinger speak. (Yar!) Basically Jake died in his world and showed up in Roland’s, brings Roland back from the brink of death, and then they decide to travel together up through the mountains. Roland gets to feel fatherly and get a glimpse of raising the son he never had, making Jake a rabbit pelt sweater for the colder weather and teachin’ him stuff. Then Roland has to put the kid to sleep so he can go get it on with a future-seeing succubus, who gives Roland nothing but jumbled riddles, but of course “Jake is gonna die” is the message we all come away with.

9AD6B089-83A4-40FB-B91C-6CBE710652F1So Roland is finally narrowing in on the Man in Black here in Book 5–they even have a conversation where MiB makes it clear that yes, Jake is definitely going to die–and Jake makes the requisite Johnny Cash reference. Roland tries to imagine leaving off his life’s quest (reaching the Dark Tower, and, ostensibly, saving the world, I guess) in order to lead a regular life being Jake’s dad, but he just can’t do it. He abandons Jake to his own devices, and Jake follows behind just a little too late. Each of them gets lost in the train tunnels on his own before they meet back up, each of them then comforted that the other went seeking him. Mutants attack while Jake and Roland are driving a pushcart on the rails and Jake gets to be brave and Roland gets to kill shit. Then there’s a crazy, rickety ole bridge, and Jake starts out crossing it with Roland not far behind, and there’s a bunch of Jake-almost-dies moments, but then the Man in Black shows up and Jake sort of teeters and is only able to grasp the edge, so Roland has to make this split second decision whether to save Jake and lose the MiB forever or leave Jake to die and finally catch up with the MiB. Being completely obsessed with his scrap of life’s purpose, Roland lets Jake fall to his death. Yeah. I’m not even kidding. Then Roland and the MiB have a pow wow and some dream times and the MiB reads Roland’s tarot, which lines us up for the next arc, which is called The Drawing of The Three.

8198BE8B-DDFB-42D6-BA0B-4E2D2EAD6E9ALast Shots, Book 6 in this arc, is really just three mini stories smushed together. The first one is Sheemie’s Tale, which I thought was by far the most interesting of the three. We get to find out more about the universe (multiverse?), the Tower, the power beams, End-World, and more. The middle story just seems like some extra Roland content that maybe got cut from somewhere else but was too good to just ditch altogether. The third story is Roland telling dying Aileen the story of Arthur Eld defeating Lord Perth, which is very David and Goliath esque (Arthur even fights with a sling). It’s interesting to see Arthur Eld, who I kind of always assumed was King Arthur, as just a scrawny kid from Topeka. But their world is all mixed up from ours, because he’s a shepherd with a sling and his town only has archers, but the enemies rolling toward them have tanks. So the tech levels are very confusing. Tune in next time for the next Dark Tower arc, and much more besides!

Reading Challenges
Here we go for reading challenge updates:

  • PopSugar 2017 reading challenge Okay. Full disclosure, I’m stretching on several of these categories. The problem is, I have this compulsion to fit everything into the same rows and lines, and I can’t just have some of these titles fit categories and others not. It would be like setting up the checkers board with pieces missing. GLARING SPACES STARING INTO YOU FROM THE VOID. It just makes me panic a bit. So, here are the categories I picked, with indications of the ones that are stretching it. No. 7 a book that is a story within a story Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins (Book 1). Fits the category just fine. No. 43 a book with a family member term in the title Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Little Sister of Eluria (Book 2). Fits the category perfectly, and I’ve had this one planned for a while. No. 1 a book recommended by a librarian Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Battle of Tull (Book 3). Okay. I could not for the life of me figure out a category for this book, and I’ve been saving No. 1 for something else, but I needed a category, so here’s how I justified it: my husband used to work at a library, and often gave Reader Advisories; he also told me to read this series. There ya go. No. 33 a book set in two different time periods Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Way Station (Book 4). This one is also perfect. We see Roland’s cowboy land and Jake’s modern world. No. 41 a book recommended by an author you love Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Man in Black (Book 5). This is really stretching it. I asked my friend Cody to ask his husband Remy (who is an author) if, in his opinion, Remy would recommend The Dark Tower novels and/or comics. Because Remy is a horror reader and writer, and Remy works nights and sleeps days. Cody reckoned that Remy would likely recommend them, if he had read them, of which fact he was unsure. And I have not received further clarification. EEEK I HAD TO DO IT OKAY! No. 19 a book about food Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: Last Shots (Book 6). This is really less of a stretch than usual for me. I’m truly never going to read a book about food in any traditional sense, I can’t ever see that happening, I don’t like cookbooks or anything. But food is a significant symbol in about 1/3 of this book: in Evil Ground Roland sets up camp where a hobo was, he eats a rabbit, the hobo’s ghost shows up and eats the ghost-marrow from the ghost-rabbit-bones, and Roland finds the corpse of the hobo the next morning which has been eaten by crows. I really think is the closest to “a book about food” that I’m going to get. So there you have it, all my sins laid bare.
  • Book Dragon’s Lair Audiobook challenge Nope.
  • Book Dragon’s Lair Pages Read challenge This 800 pgs (WOW!) brings me to 14,245 pgs. Good Gracious!
  • Read It Again, Sam Nope.
  • My Reader’s Block Mount To Be Read (TBR) and Rock My TBR challenge Nope. These are library books.
  • Diverse Reads challenge (here and here). I’m gonna go with nope.
  • The Book Date Full House challenge Nope.
  • The Book Date Read the Books You Buy challenge Nope.
  • The Worm Hole’s What’s In A Name challenge Nope.
  • Anne Read Along Nope.

Hashtags for the challenges that had them:
#popsugarreadingchallenge
#rockmytbr
#diversereads2017
#whatsinaname2017
#AnneReadAlong2017

Hope you’ve enjoyed my ridiculous summation of the Dark Tower: The Gunslinger saga.
Stay tuned, more to come.
Much Love,
Jobe

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Posted in Reading Challenge, Reviews

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey

A million years ago (ok, ok, earlier this year) I read The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. The Boy on the Bridge is its prequel. Carey’s new spin on the zombie apocalypse is precipitated by the cortyceps fungus, making an army of mindless undead who know only hunger–that’s the premise established in the first book. Except that the boy, Stephen Greaves, has discovered a second generation of the fungus’s mutation, and these blood-drinkers are sentient… and children–that’s the stage set for this second book. In-fighting and politicking between scientists and the military land Stephen, our autistic genius main character, in a very dangerous mine field, trying to keep his new friends from killing or being killed by his race, humans 1.0. I listened to the audiobook for both volumes, so I should point out that the voice-acting as well as the writing are great.

The main complaint about this book seems to be that it isn’t as thrilling as its predecessor, and I will agree; but I’d argue that this sets out to be a different kind of book. Carey’s scope in Girl is macro, where we feel the weight of the fate of the world. In Boy, already knowing the fate of the world, the scope becomes micro: for this novel, the whole world is the 10-person crew on the bus, which expands to include the zombie children once Stephen learns of their existence (and narrows as characters are killed). The writing is certainly up to snuff. Again Carey brings us beautiful and insightful language. Who else comes up with her cropped white hair like exhaled smoke. Terrific stuff.

This book got a lot of people buzzing. NPR said that “Carey uses this larger crew and the slightly earlier timeline to explore the anxiety and desperation of living on the precipice of a breakdown.” The Verge compares Stephen to the main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, another book with an autistic boy as the main character, which isn’t an unfair comparison, if a bit limiting. As readers here, we get to experience all of Stephen’s emotional distress, anxiety, fear, and love from the inside, as well as the way he is treated and thought of by other characters.

The Verge complains that “From the beginning…its character dynamic is so strikingly similar…Once again, there’s an underage genius who’s underestimated by his travel companions, except for the nurturing mother-figure.” While it’s certainly true that Carey has created a formula that works and used it twice, he himself (in the narrative) states “all journeys are the same journey,” and it was only a few books ago that we heard Ann Patchett say the same, “just about any decent writer you can think of can be boiled down to one story. The trick, then, is to learn not to fight it, and to thrive within that thing you know deeply and care about most of all.”

Greaves goes about the rest of his waking up ritual, in spite of the fact that he hasn’t been asleep. It’s not just to forestall questions. He needs to do it because each day has a shape, and the waking up ritual is one of its lode-bearing components.

“Don’t be scared,” he slur. “It’s okay, it’s okay.” But they’re not. and it isn’t.

He wants to find who did this and teach them the going rate for eyes and teeth.

His hands are shaking. There is no sequence here. None of the things he is doing are on the long, long list of things he has done before.

Reading Challenges
Here we go for reading challenge updates:

Hashtags for the challenges that had them:
#popsugarreadingchallenge
#rockmytbr
#diversereads2017
#whatsinaname2017
#AnneReadAlong2017

October is zooming! How is it half over already??? Are you ready for nanowrimo.org???
Much Love,
Jobe

Posted in Reading Challenge, Reviews

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

 

I can’t believe it’s time to say goodbye to Harry Dresden. He’s been part of my life for most of two years! I remember when Ender was my best friend for so many audiobooks and it was hard to let him go, too. Well, at least I can tell you about this last book before we close the pages.

Skin Game was the first of Jim Butcher’s titles I didn’t “get” from context. I wasn’t familiar with the phrase (I didn’t even know it was a phrase, a shortening of “skin in the game”) and I didn’t remember to look it up until I’d finished the book. It basically means a trick or scam.

This book brings together characters who wouldn’t normally work together—Nicodemus and Dresden on terse terms and at cross purposes at either end of the table, and a bunch of unknown quantities with a bunch of unknown  allegiances between them. Characters run the gamut from familiar faces like Binder and Karrin Murphy (I’ve been listening to the audiobooks and only just recently realized it isn’t spelled Karen) to new-to-us faces like Hannah Ascher (who is a young, literally-fiery redhead) and Goodman Grey (who has the sexiest Looziana Bayou drawl). Now we all know Dresden would never willingly work with the evilest of evils—Ole Daddy Nickelhead Himself—but Queen Mab essentially puts Harry in a do-or-die armbar. So the team assembles to steal the Holy Grail out from under the nose of Hades. (Because, why not, right?) This book is just as exciting and snark-filled as all those before it, but it’s tender exchanges like the ones between Harry and Maggie that really kick ya in the feels. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!) If you’re new to my reviewing style, I try to avoid spoiling stuff, so if you want to know more, you should just read it already! (But start with book 1, okay?)

James Marsters has now read me all fifteen Jim Butcher books in the Harry Dresden series so far. Book 15 came out almost 4 years ago, and Butcher has been putting out other books in the meantime. I’m a little lost as to where to go from here!

Reading Challenges
And here are the reading challenge updates:

Hashtags for the challenges that had them:
#popsugarreadingchallenge
#rockmytbr
#diversereads2017
#whatsinaname2017
#AnneReadAlong2017

Love,
Jobe

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