Archive for March, 2018


We Need New Names

by NoViolet Bulawayo

This is another book for category 14. A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you. It could also be read for Book 22. A book with alliteration in the title, and Book 49. A book about a problem facing society today.

My point, really, is that it is a book that should be read.

The first part of this book tells the story of Darling, a young girl in Zimbabwe. She, her family and her friends are all living  in shacks after their homes, and entire suburb, had been bulldozed to the ground by Mugabe’s people. Her father is working away, as is her mother. No one goes to school anymore and she and her friends run riot in the shanty town they have been shunted to.

The juxtaposition of the childish delights Darling and her friends indulge in and the horrors of the world around them is moving and disturbing. They play ordinary games and do ordinary things like steal guavas and throw stones. But they also want to remove the baby from their 10-year old friend’s tummy, and steal food because they are starving.

These are not things kids should be doing.

Darling, unlike her friends, has an escape option. Her aunt lives in America and as a teenager she leaves Africa for America.

This second part of the book deals with the otherness she feels as an immigrant and a black person in Michigan. She deals with teasing and the threat of deportation, as well as the hopelessness so many undocumented immigrants must feel all over the world.

In synopsis this book sounds bleak and depressing. It is not. Darling as a child is fabulous – as are her friends. You will smile at their antics even as you realise the larger setting of their lives.

As a teenager Darling is, in many ways, typical. She may be different from a lot of the teens around her in many ways, but teens are teens.

I think Bulawayo could have made this into two books – one in Zimbabwe and the second in America. There is so much to the story she is telling it could easily have been stretched.

But as a single book this story will whack you upside the head, but make you laugh while it does it.

 

Get it, read it, and be aware of the actual lives so many people live – right now!

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My Friend Dahmer

by Derf Backderf
I read this graphic novel for Book 6. A novel based on a real person. It tells the story of Dahmer as a school boy.

I loved Backderf’s drawings – he manages to portray the bleakness of Dahmer’s life running parallel to his perfectly normal 70s teen years.

I felt a lot of compassion for the boy Dahmer, and this surprised me. He was clearly not okay and not one single adult intervened. Who knows how that action could have changed the lives of so many people.

This book is in black and white but the drawings are so nuanced I am sure I remember them in colour. I thoroughly enjoyed examining them and seeing all the back ground detail. Some stitched together so well it felt movie-like for a moment while others were stand alone moments of import which had to be absorbed slowly.

Of course this book has now piqued my interest and I have to know more about Dahmer beyond what I remember in the press.
Backderf managed to humanise this man without excusing him. And that’s quite an achievement

The Boy in the Snow

by M.J. McGrath

This is the book I read for Book 19. A book about or involving a sport. The sport is a long distance skiing race taking place in Alaska.

This is a murder mystery and is a follow up to White Heat. I didn’t realise this when I read it as it is a stand-alone book. The crime solver is Edie Kiglatuk, a wonderfully strong and stroppy woman who puts up with no nonsense and is a fabulous female role model.

This book has lots of plots and story lines weaving together, kind of like real life does.

On her way to support her ex-husband in the race across Alaska, Kiglatuk finds the body of a child. To complicate matters she finds the body on land belonging to a religious groups, bordering on cultish in their separation form the rest of the world. The Old Believers are an exiled Russian Orthodox group with all sorts of secrets.

Add to the mix the fact that Kiglatuk as an Inuit outsider and it is election time in Alaska and she keeps stepping on political toes, all while tryign to make sure her ex-husband is safe as he and his dogs sleigh across Alaska is some pretty awful weather, and you get an interested, multi-layered thriller.

I really liked Kiglatuk and I loved how she is treated by those who understand who and what she is. This is no damsel in distressed – this woman will slice, dice and destroy you if needs be. She believes in finding the truth and won’t be frightened away.

I was gripped by the book and loved the, to me, very other descriptions of Alaska, the cold and the scenery. I also really liked the references to the Inuit way of life we see every now and then when the characters are simply doing their lives.

I will definitely read White Heat and any other books by McGrath. This felt like a perfect mix of gripping, easy to read, fast moving and detail including tale.

Strongly recommended if you like your crime a little dark and your protagonists fierce. Alaskan noir – who knew that was a thing 🙂

by Amanda Palmer
 
This is my book 17. A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift .My best friend lent me this book a while ago and for some reason I resisted reading it for ages.
What a silly person I was.
This book is amazing.
 
It is mostly memoir actually – not what I expected at all.
 
Palmer tells her story as a way to show the readers that it is okay to ask for help. And when offered help, it is okay to actually take it.
The most valuable lesson, I think, is that when asking you have to be okay with the answer being no. The possibility of being denied is half of the options and to ask with real integrity requires that a negative answer be as acceptable as a positive one.
That kind of thinking changes, for me, the process of deciding to ask for anything.
 
Palmer also differentiates very clearly between asking and begging. Asking, for her, includes an exchange. Art for money is her primary exchange and after her kickstarter phenomena she was accused of begging and taking advantage. In this book she makes it clear that firstly, people only gave what they wanted and, secondly, they got exactly what they were promised for what she gave.
 
She also talks about the other side of asking – accepting. She is great at asking for help and then taking what she is offered, but when an offer comes without the preceding asking, she crumbles. A lot of this book is spent with her agonising over taking a bit of bridging financial help offered to her by her (wealthy) husband. She clearly articulates that she understands she should be able to take it seeing as she asks strangers, but that it is so much harder for her to accept help from him. This juxtaposition is interesting and familiar.
 
Palmer is so human, so much all of us in many ways, this book is hugely accessible to everyone.
 
Palmer has also got right up the nose of so many establishment types because she won’t play by their rules. She offers her art freely online, asking people to share and love it – and pay her what they can and/or think it fair. This sends the capitalist business-types into fits of rage – partly, I think because it works.
 
I think Palmer is a revolutionary in her thinking. I don’t even think you have to like her music to like what she is saying in this book, and in her life. To be honest, I find a lot of her music a bit loud and screamy for me, but I love the lyrics and read them like poetry.
 
This book will make you think if you are willing to open your mind to a different way of being. A more connected way that, I believe, must be the way of the future.
 
As Palmer says – if someone offers you a flower- take the flower! And if you need a flower, ask for one.

 

by Diane Pomerantz

This is my book for Book 16. A book about mental health.

This is a most interesting memoir written by someone married to a man with some serious mental health and psychological issues. Through Diane’s description of her life with Charles, it is possible to see the awful effect untreated mental health issues have on everyone concerned.

What started out as a perfectly ordinary marriage turns into a cyclone of abuse. Through Pomerantz’s descriptions of life, Charles’ actions and her reactions, it is possible to actually see how his issues slowly change her mental health too. That abused people do not ‘just leave’ is something those never in abusive relationships don’t understand. In this memoir it is possible to see how Pomerantz is slowly rendered incapable of leaving. Not only is she financially beholden, she has been gaslit so often she doesn’t trust her own interpretation of events. She even has undiagnosed seizures for a while because she is not sure whether she lost time or maybe, as he says, she was driving too fast!

Charles is clearly not a very nice man but you have to wonder how much of that is because he is just a jerk, and how much of it is because of undiagnosed depression and/or a narcissistic personality. Not that this excuses how horrible he is to his wife and children, but even Pomerantz realises that he is not having much fun either.

This is a well-written recollection of an awful marriage. Pomerantz lived through some of the worst things we can survive, and all with a husband who gave zero support. The loneliness that comes from that is palpable in this book. I just wanted to cry with and for her as she sat alone, making excuses for why her husband was not holding her hand through her cancer treatment. Her brittle smiles to her children when he once again didn’t do what he had promised to do, when they were once again confused and hurt that daddy didn’t love them anymore, brought tears to my eyes.

Mental health is such a taboo subject still that people with less attractive disorders or issues, like narcissism or violent mood swings, struggle to even acknowledge their need for help, and then access it. The result is so many damaged people, some the innocent children of those struggling. Mental health stories range from Girl Interrupted in their severity and immediacy, to the slow destruction of families and communities through undiagnosed and untreated problems within those families and communities.

So much pain could be avoided if people were able to recognise and then treat mental health issues.

by JT Lawrence

This is the second book I have read for Book 3 – The next book in a series you started.

This is the last book written in the When Tomorrow Calls series but Lawrence has done a bit of a Stars Wars thing and written the books out of order. This book is actually the first in the series and sets a lot of the characters up for the reader.

I would not have thought it necessary because the characters seem perfectly whole and rounded to me when I read the series. But then I read The Sigma Surrogate and realised ‘what do i know!’ Suddenly it seemed both necessary and fabulous.

In this piece of the series, Keke investigates some odd goings on in the world of state surrogates, she meets important characters in future books, and Kirsten’s whole existence is questioned. Lots happens in this little book and it is impossible to put down.

I just love how Lawrence writes – her stories are as good as her writing skill. The words are easy to read and unfold into something you want to read. The combination keeps the reader going long after a sensible bed time has come and gone.

In this novella we get to meet some of the characters of the series, and also get some glimpses of the future world Lawrence has envisioned. Its an interesting world that gets more interesting in the series, when Lawrence has the time and space to expand many of her futuristic ideas.

Apparently this book will be permafree on Amazon – a rather clever move by the author to get readers interested in the whole series.

And it’ll work.

I challenge anyone to read this book and not immediately want to read the whole series. That is just not gonna happen.