book review, nonfiction, memoirs/biographies

Review: Dreams From My Father

My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t end there.
At least that’s what I would choose to believe.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama

AUTHOR: Barack Obama

GENRE: Memoir

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: This book was published in 1995, way before Obama stepped onto the federal stage as the senator from Illinois and before he was President of the United States. This does not concern any of Obama’s public life, but instead his background and his family’s background. This seems to be before he was acknowledging a career in politics, as he does not mention it. The main focus of this book is rather Barry Obama’s quest in finding his own identity: his racial identity and his identity outside of his race.

THOUGHTS: I thought that this story was intriguing, not just because it is the story of our former president but rather it is a story of someone who is caught in between cultures and races. Barack Obama was brought up by his white mother and his white grandmothers, in the absence of his father who spent most of his time in Kenya, but was treated by everyone else that he knew as what he appeared: a black boy.

Obama’s writing was clear, succinct, and admirable for someone who is not a writer by profession. His capacity to relate emotions in a particular moment and his ability in describing events or landscapes took me by surprise, though anyone who has listened to any of his speeches is probably less surprised to hear what a good writer Obama is.

I think the honesty of the book is also refreshing. In a world of turbulent politics dominated by twistings of the truth and fake news, this brief, honest look into Obama’s early life and his early mistakes was intriguing. His struggles in becoming the best brother, the best son, and the best black advocate he could be struck a cord with me; even though the man is intelligent and successful beyond belief, he struggles with the same idealistic struggles that most young people go through.

Anyways, I can fully recommend this read for anyone who wants to know a little more about our former president. It is pretty clear of our typical political debates, besides a couple of chapters about his advocating in Chicago. But even that does not sound like the pushing of an agenda…just a description of the feelings that he went through at a particular moment in his life. This book is truly a memoir, and not of the same stock as those books published after a politician’s term, or before a politician’s election. If you enjoy memoirs in general, you should definitely check this one out!

Advertisements
Standard
book review, fantasy, reading recommendations

Book Tour: Corruption

Author: Adam Vine

Narrator: Kevin Meyer

Series: Corruption Cycle, Book One

Length: 13 hours 57 minutes

Publisher: Lilydog Books

Released: July 18, 2017

Genre: Dark Fantasy

A dishonored swordsman running from his past.

A city shrouded in dark magic.

An antihero born.

Daniel Harper was champion, until a single mistake destroyed his fencing career forever. With nothing left to lose, he flees to Eastern Europe, where he can start over… where he can be someone else.

In the exotic, lantern-lit crevices of a nameless city, Daniel meets two people who open very different kinds of doors than the ones he is searching for: the troubled flower girl Kashka, who holds the key to a nightmarish otherworld; and the enigmatic street magician and self-professed love tourist Ink, who has the power to bend others to his will.

As Daniel plummets into a downward spiral of hedonism and dereliction, he is tormented by macabre visions of a frozen world in endless darkness where an evil tyrant has stolen the sun, where humanity’s remnants fight to scrape out a cruel existence underground, and wandering spirits inhabit the bodies of the recently deceased. Daniel is doomed to return to this Night Country every time he falls into a deep sleep. But the longer he spends there, the more Daniel realizes his curse is anything but an accident….

Adam Vine was born in Northern California. By day, he is a game writer and designer. He has lived in four countries and visited thirty. He is the author of two novels and many short stories. When he is not writing, he is traveling, reading something icky, or teaching himself to play his mandolin. He currently lives in Germany.

WebsiteTwitterGoodreads
Narrator Bio

Kevin Meyer is a devoted Midwesterner, raised in rural Wisconsin and transplanted to Tulsa, Oklahoma over three decades ago. A career-long voice-over and music radio guy, his iPhone playlist ranges from Alice Cooper and Waylon Jennings to Twenty One Pilots and The Zac Brown Band. Favorite reads are dominated by political biographies (Lincoln, Truman, Kennedy)… and Stephen King.

WebsiteFacebookTwitterLinkedIn

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Adam Vine. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

RATING:

4/5 stars

THOUGHTS:

Kevin Meyer, as narrator, did a terrific job as a voice actor. There was enough distinction between actors to make it clear which character was speaking (and there were a lot of characters) and his tone varied appropriately so that I listened intently for every plot point. There were times throughout the audiobook that I felt as though I was listening to a radio drama rather than being read a story. This kept the story engaging and entertaining, although the plot on its own was already pulling, the voice acting added an extra dimension to it and made it easier to digest as I said before, there are a lot of characters and complexities in the plot. I felt as though if I read a physical copy of this book instead, I’d have a less clear perception of the whole story.

The production overall was of good quality; the sound was clear, which of course, is the most important quality of an audiobook for me. The audio progressed nicely, so that pauses were of the appropriate length.

Like I said, I enjoyed listening to this book and I think I got more out of the story by listening to it rather than reading it. I would definitely recommend it for those audiobook aficionados out there.

Not to mention, the plot of this book and the overall skill displayed by the author Adam Vine were phenomenal. The world building that Vine engaged in and the imagery that so often accompanies fantasy books were exceptionally well thought out. One of the best things I liked about this book is that it was ambiguous- the villains were given humanity, the so-called good rebels succumbed to the uglier parts of humanity, and our protagonist struggles between defining himself as a good person or a bad person. I also appreciated reading from the perspective of an insecure, average, middle-aged man who deals with issues of masculinity, love, and career. I think that is a perspective that is often hard to come by in literature and I really appreciated seeing that it got its voice in Corruption.

Guys, if you like fantasy, you have to step inside the world that Vine has created. It is so complex, and riddled with things like technology, religion, politics, astrophysics, sexually transmitted diseases/memories, genocide, cultural clashes, cultish followings, and the like. There was so much thought put into the creation of this alternate reality and it was a joy being plunged into the complexities, beauties, and issues of a world that exists in another place and time. If you enjoy fantasy, this is a MUST READ for you.

One of the biggest compliments that I can offer a series is that I desire to and cannot wait for the next installment. I can say this for the next installment in the Corruption cycle, and that’s possibly the best recommendation I can give you to read this book!

Goodreads

Audible

Sep. 13th:
Notes from ‘Round the Bend

The Literary Apothecary

Sep. 14th:

Dab of Darkness Audiobook Reviews

It’s Novel to Me

Sep. 15th:

Lomeraniel

Shh I Am Reading

Adventures Thru Wonderland

Sep. 16th:

Blogger Nicole Reviews

Jazzy Book Reviews

Turning Another Page

Sep. 17th:

Wonder Struck

Loves Great Reads

Sep. 18th:

The Bookworm Lodge

Lilly’s Book World

Sep. 19th:

The Book Addict’s Reviews

My Creatively Random Life

➜Sign up as a host here

Standard
book review, young adult

Review: If I Was Your Girl

You can have anything once you admit you deserve it.

If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo

I am still venturing into the genre that is LGBTQ YA fiction, and it’s because of books like these that I want to keep reading this genre.

AUTHOR: Meredith Russo

GENRE: Young Adult

BOOK FORMAT: audiobook

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school and has one goal: survive high school as a transgender teen and graduate, then move to the Northern states for college where she might have a better chance at living her truth. However, her plan becomes skewed when she meets a kind, nice boy named Grant and she can’t help but let herself become closer to him. However, she struggles with how close she wants to be to her new boyfriend and her new group of friends…and how much she wants to let them know about her. Trigger warning: outing scene of multiple lgbt characters, sexual assault, bullying, suicide

THOUGHTS: Okay so first of all, I want to say that I am a cisgender individual so if you’d like to know how a transgender person felt about the representation in this book, I would point to On Wednesday’s We Wear Capes for a co-authored review in which one of the reviewers is a transgender individual and can speak to the representation accurately.

I loved this book, and not because it was perfect. It was far from perfect- it fell into some of the many cliched traps that YA books often fall into. The whole plot line in which the new, quiet, kind, Southern, and charming girl moves into town and instantly gets the boyfriend on the football team and the gaggle of popular girl friends felt a little unrealistic to me. It’s the kind of thing that you’d expect from any other YA book. BUT this might have been intentional on Meredith Russo’s part, because that whole traditional storyline is subverted by the very fact that Amanda is transgender. So the normal events in the book, such as going to church with her Southern Baptist friend and dating an athlete in high school, suddenly became events ringed in tension and potential danger.

One thing that I really valued about this book is that it is an own-voices novel, as Meredith Russo is also a transgender woman, and this meant that she could speak to all of the small things about the process of getting surgery, taking hormones, and learning to inhabit the gender that people truly are but were not born into. This story could have easily and rightfully been a narrative full of drama, since the life of a transgender individual is inherently more dangerous than the life of a cisgender individual, especially in an environment such as the American South. However, Russo based most of the novel in ordinary teenage girl experiences, which I really admired. It speaks to the potential for the future of transgender teens in a more accepting society.

One thing that I absolutely adored in this novel, even though it played a minuscule role, is the treatment of religion. Church was a place of danger for Amanda- she was in the presence of many Christian fundamentalists, after all. However, Amanda learns to come to terms with religion with her own faith in a small way; she chose to believe that God still loved her no matter what society told her. I loved this because I feel like the subject of religious LGBTQ individuals is not represented enough- in literature as well as in media in general. LGBTQ religious individuals’ stories are important too.

I had to give this book such a high rating because of how emotional and touching it was. It made me laugh multiple times, it made me freeze with fright and it made me cry. It was so realistic that it made the story so touching. It was also of some personal value to me because I have been at a loss several times in conversation with a transgender friend because of my misunderstandings of their experiences, and this novel allowed me to better educate myself so that I can be a little more prepared in the future. I am grateful for that and for being able to hear a perspective that is so different than my own.

I’d recommend this to everyone.

Standard
book review, reading recommendations, young adult

Review: Two Boys Kissing

Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.

Two Boys Kissing; David Levithan

I ticked another book off my extremely long TBR list…and managed to pick this delight of a book. I am making an effort to read more LGBTQA books or books about the LGBTQA experience.

AUTHOR: David Levithan

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / audiobook

RATING: 5/5 stars

SUMMARY: The novel is narrated by the general gay man that died during the height of the AIDS crisis, and in this novel, the gay men of the past narrating observe the gay boys of today. The novel follows seven different gay boys: one (Cooper) that is dealing with the depths of despair and feels unaccepted by the community around him, two  (Avery and Ryan) that are trying to navigate a new relationship, two (Peter and Neil) that are trying to navigate an older relationship, and two (Craig and Henry) that are trying to break the world record for the world’s longest kiss. In doing so, Craig and Henry are trying to make a statement to the world: that two boys kissing is not scary, that two boys kissing is normal and acceptable. Their feat touches on the lives of the rest of the boys in the novel in some way, whether in a minuscule way or in a way that is meaningful and lasting. Ultimately, this novel maps out the past, the present, and speculates on the future of the American gay experience.

Trigger warnings: There is an outing scene, and talk of suicide.

THOUGHTS: Okay so I absolutely adored this take on the contemporary gay generation. I am familiar with the AIDS crisis and its victims through fiction and theatre only – the men that were wracked with disease are only those that I have seen on stage, on screen, and in cherished books. This approach to the perspective of those men was unique and gave their story more hope than others would have by allowing those men to see how radically the gay experience has changed in America from the realities that they had known. At first I was a little hesitant about how this approach would work out but it played itself out beautifully.

This was my first novel by David Levithan, and I will definitely be reading more of his work because his writing was sublime. This novel had a tone of breathy wonder, of saddened acknowledgement, of weary resignation, and of renewed hope. I honestly just want to brew tea with Levithan’s prose and drink it all day long, it is that good. This book is so well written that even if I had not liked the storyline or the characters (and to be clear, I LOVED both), I still would have enjoyed the experience of reading it. The prose is heart and tear jerking, full of universal truths and general musings on life and existence itself, and the narration was so wonderfully done that even though this book is Young Adult, it lacks the immaturity that other Young Adult books are subject to because they are narrated by teenagers.

I also think Levithan did a good job of captivating the general contemporary gay experience- some of the minor prejudices approached in everyday life, what it means to be a person of color as well as a gay boy, what it means to have a supportive or unsupportive family, what it means to hate your sexuality or love it, etc. All of these gay characters are approaching their sexuality from a completely different background and mindset, which makes the novel that much more honest. Of course, I can only talk about this with the authority that a straight, not-gay-boy, person can have so please keep that in mind.

I adore how this is an own-voices novel, as Levithan himself is a gay man that was born in between the generations that he writes about, so he is in the perfect place to discuss each different and separate experience while still having a degree of separation from each generation as well. It is a lot more powerful to know that an author is drawing from his own experiences and his own interactions to draw inspiration for a book, especially for a book as relevant and significant as this one is.

I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone and everyone, no matter your reading preferences. It is a short read, and I’d be surprised if you managed to make your whole way through without feeling the prick of tears at least once.

Standard
book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction

Review: Sounds Like Me

Things evolve into other things. Emotions do the same. Forever. Your best ally in all of these shifting seas is your faith in the fact that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) In Song, Sara Bareilles

7bd5f6f291-ac32-4938-9a9e-73551a16a32b7dimg100

In which I have checked off another book from my insanely long TBR list. It’s slowly but surely getting smaller…

AUTHOR: Sara Bareilles

GENRE: Memoir, Nonfiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / audiobook

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Sara Bareilles, the songstress/mastermind behind pop classics like “Brave” and “Love Song”, has poured her heart out on the page in eight beautiful and poignant essays. These essays mostly touch on certain periods or instances that occurred in her life, but they are really about different lessons she has learned growing up, stepping into the music industry, and having several new experiences. Bareilles gives readers and fans a exclusive look into her private life in a way that most celebrity memoirs tend not to.

THOUGHTS: Okay first of all, I must recommend the audiobook of this book over the physical copy simply because each of Sara’s essays is based off one of the songs she has written, and she sings each song a capella at the beginning of each chapter AND ITS REALLY BEAUTIFUL OKAY.

I have only read two other memoirs by famous people, (those two people being Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) and I was ready for Sara’s memoir to be spunky, funny, and a look into the unseen glamour of the scenes of pop-star life. I was ready to learn some more interesting factoids about a woman who I consider to be one of the cooler alumni from my own alma mater. I was not prepared for a frankly honest look at several events in her life, in which she dealt with fright, trauma, heartbreak and the like. However, if anything, that just makes the book that much more endearing to me.

Sara talks about a lot of things that have nothing to do with her life as a pop star, as well as several things that has to do with her life as a pop star. She discusses mental health issues, crying in front of strangers, how fake and twisted the music industry can be, how the right band members can make all the difference, how writing a musical was easier for her to do than writing a book (any other fellow Waitress the Musical fans out there?), how a first heartbreak can really be a metaphor for all heartbreaks, how she navigated her parents’ divorce, and so much more. There was no unifying theme of the book, just the feeling that Sara felt that readers could actually take something a little more real and more substantial than entertainment from the stories that she chose to tell.

Sara had something she wanted to say with her book and she made that clear from the start. However, it wasn’t forced or fake; it was genuine. Sara talks a lot about struggling with her self-image, with her weight, with her appearance, and with her overall image as an artist and a celebrity. But more importantly, she talks about how she navigated through some of those tough areas and has progressed in building up her confidence and convincing herself that she is beautiful no matter what the world might say. Additionally, she desperately wants her fans to know that they are beautiful too, and so loved. And I could honestly hear how much she meant it as she read the words aloud, it was so honest and real.

Sara is not a “writer” so I am not going to comment on the prose or most of the mechanics of her writing. But I will comment on the voice of her novel (the actual voice of her words, not the one I heard on the audiobook). It is unique, and it is all her. It was refreshing to hear a celebrity ready to be so vulnerable and down-to-earth with her audience, with the knowledge that it will not benefit her professionally but rather she is writing with the purpose of gracing her fans with her love and her personality. And that, to me, was the best thing about Sara’s memoir: that it was all her, and that she gave it all.

Standard
book review, young adult

Review: Fangirl

To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

fangirl_coverdec2012

I have checked off one book from my insanely long TBR list! 126 more to go…

AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / ebook

RATING: 3.5/5 stars

SUMMARY: Cath is one of the biggest Simon Snow fans in the world, and a popular fanfiction writer in that fandom. She is about to start her freshman year of college with her twin sister and best friend Wren, but things go amiss when Wren declares she’d rather not room with Cath. Cath, who deals with crippling social anxiety, struggles to thrive in the social atmosphere of college without her socialite sister to guide her, and also struggles to reconcile the real world that she lives in and the fictional world that she would rather inhabit.

THOUGHTS: Okay so the worst thing about being a book blogger/reviewer is that as you read a book, you start to determine what its rating will be from the very outset. I began hating this book and evolved to like it. I enjoyed Fangirl, although I probably liked it a lot less than those who read Young Adult exclusively. A lot of YA reviewers gave it a 5/5 but honestly I didn’t love the book like that, nor did I not like it.

I found Cath to be kind of immature, even though I know this is an aspect of Young Adult fiction, it sometimes got on my nerves. Cath isn’t that young- she is a freshman in university. I am going into my second year of university, so Cath isn’t that much younger than me, and there are a lot of aspects about Cath that I could appreciate and relate to: her preference for books over parties, her reluctance to partake in overwhelming social activities, and her love for fictional worlds and characters. However, the way that Cath just shrugged off some of her school work or even her important relationships in order to tend to her literary commitments seemed ridiculous and acts that belonged to an angsty sixteen-year-old rather than an eighteen-year-old. Other characters comment on Cath’s pettiness and immaturity throughout the book, so Rainbow Rowell had made a deliberate choice there, but honestly? I wasn’t the girl’s biggest fan (see what I did there?)

Other than that, the rest of the book was enjoyable for me. I liked the family drama it encompassed, Cath’s journey to breaking a little more out of her shell, and her experiences with the harsh realties of real life breaking her out of her fantasy-induced stupor. All in all, the characterization was done quite well- none of the characters were too tropey, not even the introverted, fangirling nerd that was Cath. The relationships between characters, and how they broke, mended, and strengthened is what really gave this novel its life.

Also, I was LIVING for the frank portrayal of mental illnesses, self-medication, and family drama. This could have easily been a super fluffy, cute book, but instead, it also incorporates some serious subjects that fiction exists to take us away from sometimes. If anything, this book speaks to the self-medicating powers that fiction writing and fiction reading can have- for a few short moments, it can give us a place to hide from ourselves and our own issues.

If you like YA in general, I’d recommend this to you.

Standard
book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: A Good Man is Hard to Find

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s story comes from the brilliant writer who is a masterful commentator on American life: Flannery O’Connor.

SUMMARY: The narrator of this story comes in the form of a Southern grandmother who would rather vacation in Tennessee, rather than in Florida, where her daughter and her grandson are dragging her along to. This is the kind of woman who is stuck in the past, and stuck in the idea that she was part of a Southern aristocracy, and stuck in an idealized American past that no longer exists in a modern world. She points out an article concerning “The Misfit”, or a serial killer who is out on the road. She finds herself at odds with her family, and she has antiquated values, but this story is still a thriller and the plot twist at the end may have revealed that this grandmother was right about something that she may or may not live to regret.

REVIEW: I was introduced to this chilling story in school, and I am eternally grateful for this introduction because it prompted me to pick up Flannery O’Connor’s collection Everything that Rises Must Converge which I absolutely adored.

O’Connor is great at capturing the feelings of those who are stuck in a different kind of American South, where the wealthy, white plantation owners reigned supreme and in which all of society catered to them. This story proves no exception, and O’Connor manages to concurrently validate those stuck-in-the-past feelings as well as satirizing them.

I also loved the plot and the twist it has at the end, and how it was treated. Yes, it is not the happiest of endings, but that’s O’Connor for you- her stories will leave you somewhat terrified and somewhat in awe. The characterization in this story is particularly some of O’Connor’s best as well; even though you do not know a lot about these characters, they are easily identifiable to any reader. Even the one character in the restaurant that is only briefly mentioned is fleshed out enough for the reader to have an idea of who he is. Additionally, the diction and symbolism is simply enthralling.

If you like a story with excitement, suspension, and an ending that will leave you feeling queasy, (as well with some colorful insights into American generation gaps and American psyches), this story is for you.

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

Standard