Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Study in Charlotte

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This continuation of the Holmes' legacy finds us at a boarding school in Connecticut where Charlotte Holmes, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock has been banished after some unknown scandal and break with her family, and where Jamie Watson has improbably been granted a rugby scholarship. Holmes, besides being a natural observer, has been trained to heighten her perception, though she may not be as emotionally stunted as her predecessor, and in fact, may be emotionally scarred by her forced seclusion and withheld affection. Watson seems to have an inherited sense of protection and trust for the Holmes' clan, though Charlotte doesn't make it easy. After a tense first encounter, they bond quickly when they both become suspects in a murder. Cavallaro has fun with the original Sherlock stories, mining them for copy-cat murders and clues. Her teenage characters seem genuine, even if that means that Charlotte is a bit more of a mess than Sherlock ever was--she hasn't yet gotten a handle on her drug use or her emotions. It makes her less of a savant, less of a character to be shockingly dazzled with, but more of a relatable genius. Watson, who narrates the story, becomes more integral to the story as he works with Charlotte to save them from prison, and perhaps more importantly, save Charlotte from herself.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great MigrationThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this exposition on the Great Migration, an event I didn't even know about until a few years ago. Wilkerson does a masterful job of explaining what it was, why it happened, and the effects on the South and the cities in the North and West that African-Americans migrated to. The bulk of the history is told through the eyes of three different migrants, in different eras, with distinctly different experiences: Ida Mae Gladney who migrated from the cotton fields of Mississippi in 1937 to Chicago; George Starling who fled from the orange fields of Florida to New York in 1945; and Robert Foster who drove out to California in 1953. Grounding the narratives, Wilkerson fills us in with history, legislature, and public sentiment to give the reader an overall perspective. Not only is this history captivatingly recounted and scrupulously researched, but it also provides insights for our present race relations. Highly recommended to everyone.

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The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

The Woman Who Lost Her SoulThe Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was listed as a best book of the year by several lists, but I couldn't agree. The story was full of murder, voo-doo, spies, revenge, international intrigue--all elements I enjoy, but the story just didn't coalesce for me. Maybe it was the length; I did take longer than usual to wade through it and connections may have escaped me. The writing included sentences that were long and convoluted; they often took a second read to unravel. The conversations seemed ludicrous at times (especially among the "spies"). The pacing seemed off to me, too. Shacochis would spend several pages leading up to a climax, only to have the climax be a sentence or a paragraph. And, in my opinion, there were still some unanswered questions and motivations, like how Dorothy reconciled with her father. I will have to agree with other reviewers that the story would benefit from some editorial tightening up.

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It is no secret that souls sometimes die in a person and are replaced by others.

when Americans pray, they pray first that history will step aside and leave them alone, they pray for the deafness that comes with a comfortable life. They pray for the soothing blindness of happiness, and why not? But history walks on all of us, lashed by time, and sometimes we feel its boot on our backs, and sometimes we are oblivious to its passing, the swing of sorrow and triumph through humanity, sorrow, and then, finally, crippling grief fading to obscurity, which is perhaps why Americans want little to do with history, why perhaps they hate it, why prayer comes easier than remembrance, which is how history knots its endless endings and measures the rise and fall of its breath.

he had caught something from her, some decay transmitted from soul to soul, but then he recollected contemptuously that by her own admittance she lacked a soul.

When we say someone has lost his soul, what are we saying? That somehow that person has been emptied, that a light has been extinguished at the center of his being.
What happens to people who lose their souls? They seem to die and be reborn in order to breed horror and misery in the world. Whether they are full of hatred or not, they seem to be without love, loveless, emptied of all love, the enemies of love.
  you can buy a new one, but where, and with what currency? Penance?
How many years are required of us on this earth before you can plunge yourself into serious moral complications and actually have a soul worth losing, or do we arrive afflicted by the original sin of our births?

He had come to understand that we choose the lies in which we participate and, in choosing, define ourselves and our actions for a very long time, perhaps forever--

However you go about explaining it, she thought, love was what diminished you when it was not there.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


I was towering and magnificent,
Substantial and unyielding,
Lusty limbs outstretched as if to hug the sky.
He was just a spindly thing
When he asked if he could
Use me as support.

His tendrils tickled as he climbed,
Fresh leaflets patty-caked in rhyme.
I grew nostalgic for the days
When I was thin and lithe--
Bending with the whims of wind,
Reaching for the sun.

Then laughter stopped
As enchantment turned to irritant:
Stalks snaked around my gut,
Vines grew tight like a garrote,
Began to canker and cut,
Leaves metastasize and march
Relentlessly, recklessly upward,
Its inevitability thundering forward,
My view eclipsed by his.
I labor for breath under the weight
Of his underhanded prosperity.
I buckle and capitulate,
Swallowed whole,
Subsumed into a monster.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed EarthUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These are all slice of life short stories, telling the simple, complicated stories of the people around us. Most of the stories feature recently immimigrated Bengalis, but rather than focus on the actual immigrant experience, most deal with the second generation experience, the children who grew up away from home and now must balance parental traditions and expectations with new cultures and freedoms. The other theme that seemed prevalent was the idea of being alone, how one can seek for solitude at one time, and then, when it is forced upon you, seek to escape it. Using these themes as the base, Lahiri shows how despite our different details (culture, language, education, etc.) we all struggle with the same complexities of life.

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 How freeing it was, these days, to travel alone, with only a single suitCase.

 Like his wife, Ruma was now alone in this new place, overwhelmed, without friends, caring for a young child, all of it reminding him, too much, of the early years of his marriage, the years for which his wife had never forgiven him.

 In the hotel they had vowed not to leave each other’s side, but she was miles away from him

 He felt the same resentment that often seized him after he cleaned up the kitchen and bathed Maya and Monika and put them to bed, and then watched television alone, knowing that he had seen his children through another day, that again Megan had not been a part of it. She lived in the apartment, she slept in his bed, her heart belonged to no one but him and the girls, and yet there were times Amit felt as alone as he had first been at Langford. And there were times he hated Megan, simply for this. 

Wasn’t it since Monika’s birth that so much of his and Megan’s energy was devoted not to doing things together but devising ways so that each could have some time alone, she taking the girls so that he could go running in the park on her days off, or vice versa, so that she could browse in a bookstore or get her nails done? Ad wasn't it terrible, that he looked forward to those moments, so much so that sometimes even a ride by himself on the subway was the best part of the day? Wasn’t it terrible that after all the work one put into finding a person to spend one’s life with, after making a family with that person, even in spite of missing that person, as Amit missed Megan night after night, that solitude was what one relished most, the only thing that, even in fleeting, diminished doses, kept one sane?

 empty her pockets of the pretty coins that would soon buy her nothing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


March: Book One (March, #1)March: Book One by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Again, being new to the format of graphic novels, I am just learning what makes a good one. This graphic memoir of John Lewis was insightful and educational. I found it interesting that he was inspired by a graphic novel of Martin Luther King, Jr. that explained the "basics of passive resistance and non-violent action as tools for desegregation". It shows how college students actually trained together to implement passive resistance and then picked department store lunch counters as their target for becoming desegregated. This format is perfect for showing what African Americans had to endure as they worked together to claim their rights. Lewis, too, is an inspirational figure. Definitely an accessible account of an important historical movement.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Spark Joy

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying UpSpark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondō
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'll admit that while I was reading this book, I was mocking most of it. Cover the eyes of stuffed animals so that it is easier to get rid of them? Put your silverware in a drawer with natural (like bamboo or rattan) dividers so that they gently hug your cutlery, and your forks and knives will breathe easier. Smelling objects to place them in the right pile. Come on, it's hard not to roll your eyes a bit. Kondo takes tidying up VERY seriously, so she can be a bit much. You get the feeling that is written for rich people who can afford to throw away anything that doesn't spark joy and replace it with things that will. And the illustrations are more like doodles and involve a lot of bunny rabbits. However, I ended up reading the whole thing, and afterwards I couldn't help looking around my house, my fingers itching to start chucking things that don't bring me joy....

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