This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins

This Will Be My Undoing

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, memoir

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Morgan Jerkins discusses Beyonce, Sailor Moon, intersectionality, and what it means to exist as herself in United States and international society.

Review: If there is a book that should be required reading for this year, This Will Be My Undoing is it.  Her words ring out with truth, and they are poetic.  For the first half of this book, I was unfortunate enough to not have a pen with me, so now half of the book is underlined and annotated and the other half isn’t.  But I suppose that just means I should read it again…

Morgan Jerkins is a twenty-something who can speak a multitude of languages and has visited many countries, all the while forging a career for herself.  Though it hasn’t been easy–being a black woman surely has brought her some disadvantages from the start.

As a white woman myself, I find this book to be immensely important.  Not only does it help me reinforce me deconstructing the anti-black and misogynistic narratives with which I’ve been socialized, but it has taught me so much more than I could have ever hoped.  This book is filled with essays, and letters, and rules, and each piece makes me wonder how it can be that Jerkins is only twenty-something, for she has the most incredible mastery of language that I’ve seen in my generation.

This book is something to behold, and it’s another thing to hold it in your hands.  It is timely, it is important, it is essential.

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The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: YA fiction, G fiction

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Evan comes from a traditional Greek family.  To everyone on the outside, his father is a hardworking man and his mother is a wonderful housewife.  But to Evan, they’re a little like captors.  He’s gay, and they think he has a demon in him.  So what’s Evan to do?  Especially after his best friend comes out and his first fling visits him from across the country?

Review: This book was an interesting romp!  I learned a little bit about Greek culture (especially Greek-American culture) and reaffirmed how toxic parenting can have horrific effects on children–especially when there’s a ‘supportive parent’ who simply sits back and doesn’t do anything to help.

Overall, this is a teen love story where the obstacle in the way is straight up homophobia–the deadly kind.  Though rife with lots of abuse (both physical and emotional), it does a good job of portraying just what kind of behavior is unacceptable.

I ultimately found myself rooting for Evan and his dreams, even when he didn’t have the strength to do that himself.  I wanted him to be happy, and it’s that kind of connection to the main character that reinforced my interest in the book and in Evan’s journey.

The Milk Lady of Bangalore by Shoba Narayan

The Milk Lady of Bangalore

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: When Shoba Narayan and her husband step into their new Indian apartment building, they’re surprised to see a cow in the elevator.  And thus sets of a turn of events that leads Narayan to discover the science and spirit behind cow’s milk, all with the help of the milk lady of Bangalore.

Review: I didn’t expect to love this book so much or learn that much about milk from it.  Not to mention, of course, the way India as a whole tends to treat cows, and why, and what they like to do not only with the milk, but urine and feces as well.  Talk about versatile functionality!

Written with Narayan’s journalistic expertise, this book truly makes India come to life.  Its social groupings, expectations, and lifestyle all converge to create a colorful picture that’s smattered across the board with cows.

And even better, even though this is a memoir-esque journalistic nonfiction book, Narayan provides so many sources and recommended readings to further the reader’s knowledge about cows, milk, and India.  I’ll definitely be taking a look at those!

I just think this book is incredible, fun, and informative all in one go.  I absolutely love all of the people Narayan interacts with, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how to go about purchasing a cow and donating a cow and how that all ties into India’s respect culture.  I’ve done nothing in the past week or so except rave about this book to my coworkers at my cafe, and I just hope that anyone I recommend this to (everyone) will find this book as intriguing as I did.

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA Lit

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Tareq loves his family more than anything.  But when an airstrike hits his house, what’s left of his family–his father and little sister–refuses to stay in Syria any longer, and decide to make the dangerous trek to Turkey.  Unfortunately, Turkey doesn’t hold much for Syrians, so Tareq must figure out how to get to Greece and begin saving up money to bring the rest of his family with him.

Review: What an astounding book.  Though not too violent at its core, this book certainly displays an affinity for discussing the aftereffects and reactions to the violence which humanity commits on a day to day basis–namely, in this book, terrorism caused by Daesh in Syria.  As we begin to follow Tareq, we are also allowed insight not only into what used to be his everyday life, but into the horrors he now bears witness to and the fears others harbor towards him.  Nuanced would be the word I’d use to describe this book.

I’ll be honest.  I live a pretty comfortable life.  Even cases of domestic terrorism are pretty far away from me, which allows me to be unsettled but still feeling rather safe in where I am.  Everything I know about refugees and fleeing one’s home is theoretical, and likely through the lens of a white journalist.  This is why this book felt so important to me–because it questioned what I knew, what I didn’t know, and taught me more than I thought it could.

Because I don’t know the author, I can’t definitively say what her goal was in writing this book.  But if it was to enlighten white readers about the horrors refugees must face, she succeeded.  If it was to delve into a character’s fears and anxieties about being forced to flee from the place he’s always know, she succeeded.  If it was to critique governments and charities and relief systems’ reactions to terrorism, she succeeded.  This book did a lot of things, and it succeeded.

Another thing I think it succeeded in was the position of the narrator, which is destiny.  I think it’s a wonderful call to The Book Thief, and it works so well.   The narration wonderfully navigates the fine line between “you can’t outrun destiny” and “nothing’s set in stone.”

Overall, this book is a wonderful, beautiful book that does not shy away from the violence and horrors one must endure due to terrorism.  If you enjoy or are interested in learning about other cultures, human trafficking, homelessness, and hard or unpresent goodbyes, this book is definitely for you.

Woman at 1000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason

Woman at 1000 Degrees

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Herra is 81 years old, and ready for death.  So ready, that she’s made herself a cremation appointment.  But while she waits for her proposed time to come, all she can do is rest in her rented garage and think about her life.  And what a tumultuous life it has been.

Review: Very rarely do I enjoy a man writing about a women’s experiences (especially those involving rape), but Helgason does quite a formidable job.  Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t live through World War II, or that I’m not an Icelandic woman, but his voice was certainly refreshing.  I mean, first of all, I can’t remember the last time that I read a book about an elderly person.  Maybe never?  Second of all, Herra is blunt and brunt and rude.  And that’s something women rarely get to be, even in literature.

And, something I don’t see as often is women living to their greatest potential.  Herra did so much–and was forced to do so much–so it’s completely understandable why she takes upon such a harsh tone through Helgason’s writing.  She falls in love multiple times, gets pregnant multiple times, is forced to flee multiple times–all while being accompanied by her father’s hand grenade.

There’s also some great passages about being a woman within this book that I so wish I had underlined.  Like I said before, I was a little wary about this being written by a man, but wow.  I think he understands how much and how often women sacrifice themselves in order to appease men (whether on a personal level or a political, global level).

Overall, this book was so incredibly enjoyable and interesting that I had a hard time putting it down.  I definitely recommend this to those who like fiction, biographies, and WWII literature.

Truly Devious #1 by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA lit, mystery

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Stevie has always been interested in true crime and the Ellingham murders from 70 years ago.  So when she has the chance to attend Ellingham Academy and see the rooms where Truly Devious wreaked havoc in person, it’s a dream come true.  That is, until another murder happens and Truly Devious appears again…

Review: Oh my lord, this was so good and I can’t believe that I a) have to wait for this to be published, and b) have to wait for the sequel.  Because there’s so much left unsolved and I have theories!!!!  Not that I’m actually good at solving mysteries, but I wanna see if I was at least on the right track and now I probably have to wait another year…but that ending though.  The perfect amount of not-enough-closure and kinda-closure and plot twists!!!

But let me start with the beginning.  I love Stevie, because she reminds me of who I was when I watched Sherlock religiously.  Like, I honestly feel so protective of her and will likely defend her if anyone talks shit about her because now being incredibly observant and detective-like is uncool now that Sherlock season 4 is out (but let’s get real–if any of y’all watched Sherlock and was one of those kinds of fangirls, this’ll be a blast from a few years past.  And it’s great).  She’s a great mixture of being a teenager who’s tired of the expectations her parents put on her, a wannabe detective, and just…your average teenager who makes out with someone after stumbling upon a dead body.  I love her so much.

And the secondary characters are just as incredible and three dimensional (and kinda gay so…that’s a win).  All of the professors and counselors and security guards all have something to say because they’re adults (so of course they have something to say) but it’s always well-intended and aligns extremely well with their characterization.

And I’d be a bad reviewer if I didn’t mention the mystery of Truly Devious, a kidnapper and murderer from the 1930s who makes a reappearance.  The mystery is a cold case, and now that it’s back in action–is it the same Truly Devious, or is it a copycat?  And what was the motive between the kidnapping and the murders?  Stevie’s read and watched every possible thing about the crime, and now that she has access to the actual rooms and documents, she’s persistent about revealing the killer.  Of course, now we have to wait for the sequel at least.  I think the mystery portion of the book is written extremely well, because I have absolutely no clue who it could be (if it is one of the characters featured in the first book).  Granted, I’m bad at solving mysteries, but nothing seems too obvious, and even the ending leaves a little to be questioned…

Anyways.  This is a great book, and I hope you all have the time to read it, especially if you love mysteries and YA lit.

‘Twas the Night B’fore Christmas: An African-American Version retold and illustrated by Melodye Rosales

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, retelling

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: A classic poem with a twist.

Review: I always gotta sprinkle some multiculturalism in my mom’s classroom when I get to read stories…so clearly, I went with this–something her kindergarteners would likely recognize, but with a twist.  It was a hit.  They all recognized it, and didn’t question why Santa was black (my mom’s class is all white lmao) hopefully because that good ol’ socialization hasn’t fully kicked in yet.

I had fun reading this one out loud–the poem itself had a bit of a twist as well, akin to AAVE.  And the illustrations were just absolutely gorgeous and detailed.  This is definitely a new Christmas favorite for me.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, classics

Medium: Ebook

Synopsis: Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts of Christmas: past, present, and future.  What he sees will shake him to his core.

Review: So, I was on a plane when I read this, and I’d just finished another book.  And I’d brought so many other books with me…but they were in my suitcase, which was of course somewhere under the plane.  And, I was afraid of my seat neighbors so I didn’t want to ask them to turn on the light while I rummaged for anything else (it was a night flight and I hate disturbing people).  So I turned on my ereader and was like, well, I predownloaded tons of free domain books about a year ago, so it’s not like I don’t have anything to read.  It was more of a…what’s short and won’t occupy me past a day or two?  (Because free domain authors of the 1800s were very wordy).

As it would turn out, A Christmas Carol was only 73 or so pages.  It was the perfect length to keep me occupied before I attempted to haphazardly nap whilst the person ahead of me put his chair back.

And it was good.  I don’t know how or why I haven’t read as much Dickens as anyone else, but dang.  Remakes and cartoon versions of A Christmas Carol do a good job of portraying it for those who aren’t interested in reading it (or for children who are just being introduced to it), but they certainly can’t compare to the real thing.

After reading this, I felt a little renewed (although a little tired–it was 2 AM, after all).  The Christmas joy was flowing through me and I felt like giving to charity and spreading the wealth.  If only politicians could read this story, too.

I think Dickens did a great job of succeeding in his mission to get people into the Christmas spirit where it’s all about giving instead of the corporate capitalism we have going on today.  And, it’s just short enough to make it a perfect cozy read next to the Christmas tree during winter break.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand

NIght Tree

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: A family goes out into the woods to decorate their Christmas tree.

Review: This is such a cute book!  I read this for my mom’s class just before their Christmas party and they loved it (and so did my mom).  This is just a simple, sweet, feel good story that’s perfect for the holiday season.

Section 13 #2: The Fourth Ruby by James R. Hannibal

The Fourth Ruby

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle Grade lit

Medium: Paperback, ARC

Synopsis: Jack and Gwen are at it again.  As Jack is learning to control his abilities and coming to terms with his family history, another villain takes the stage.  There are three rubies in the world which make its users power hungry and controlling.  Each ruby has a different attribute.  But rumour has it that there’s a fourth…

Review: I have a knack for picking up sequels thinking that they’re standalones.  But not this time.  This time, I happened upon an ARC of this book (even though it’s already out), and I just felt a rush of love swell into my heart.  I love this series, and the fact that I was able to get my hands on the sequel was just incredible.  I read it as quickly as I could.  In fact, I read it in one sitting.

There’s just something about these characters that fully entrances me.  And the world building oh my god.  It’s just so intriguing–all I want to do is read about the history of this underground society.  (Secretly, I’m Gwen).

Okay, but also, I just gotta talk about this.  Hannibal makes libraries sound so cool.  So, I’m in library school right now.  So of course all of my classmates realize how incredible libraries are and how useful they are to society.  But a lot of people don’t feel the same way.  But in this book, we have an archivist who always knows exactly what you need.  And there’s a room filled with a special collection.  That special collection is dragons.  Dragons.  Has there ever been a cooler librarian?  Hashtag goals.

But really, even though this book is technically fantasy and steampunk and fiction, I learned quite a lot about history and geography.  And about thieving.  But that last bit’s beside the point.

Overall, this series is incredible, and this sequel was amazing.  It maintains the same tone as the first while allowing the characters to grow into themselves a little more.  I highly recommend it.