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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Painted House: A Novel

Another beach, another John Grisham novel. It's an addiction. This summer, it was A Painted House.

One summer, a young boy's life comes to a head before it changes for good. Luke, the young man at the heart of the story, is 7years old and has grown up in his small, Southern town his whole life. His father is a cotton farmer, and every year they must hire the hill people to help them with the harvest. It's never enough – and, inevitably, the floods wipe out the entirety of the remaining crop. This year though, a particularly violent man is a part of the hired help, and with the harvest season the town is forever changed. A beautiful young woman disappears, and a young man lies beaten to death. In addition, someone is mysteriously painting Luke's grandparent's house, which is more significant than most people realize. What is the cause of all of these events?

This was an interesting departure for Grisham, and I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe not in the page-turning sense, but in a way that was easy to sink into, like a big comfy chair that smells like your grandma's house. There was certainly an air of mystery, and there was definitely a sense of injury, but overall it was a well-crafted narrative of a boy's coming of age. I love the whole metaphor of watching the house be painted, and how it never really finished in the course of the out-of-towners being there. I also love the relationship between Luke and his elders. The older I get, the more I am able to relate to the characters are in their adulthood phase and who are struggling to be just that. The protagonist's relationship with his parents was lovely and moving, and his relationship with his grandparents was one that I loved as well as envied. I didn't particularly grow up around my grandparents, so I find it interesting to read stories of those who did. Is that what it would've been like? I don't know, but I am grateful to have the reading to be able to see for myself what the fictional view would be.

I left this book with my cousin because I thought that she could join me in loving this book. As I said earlier, because it's a departure from Grisham's usual thriller fair, it's one that I could recommend to quite a few people. It was a wonderful vacation read, and I'm glad I picked this one up.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Flag for the Flying Dragon: A Captain No Beard Story

Captain No Beard is back! I have a bunch of Carole P. Roman books that are waiting to be reviewed -- she has a fantastic new series out -- but in the meantime, our favorite high-seas bandit is back with his crew in A Flag for the Flying Dragon: A Captain No Beard Story.

Cayla, Captain No Beard's little sister whom we met a few books ago, is now grown up and doesn't need her burp cloths anymore, so she's using them to improve the ship. Their younger brother, though, Zachary, is still a baby. Babies, as we know, are just so much trouble. No one can find a job on the ship for Zachary that he doesn't ruin. No one wants to hurt Zach's feelings, but no one wants him to help, either. No Beard comes up with a plan -- he chooses a flag for the ship, and asks his baby brother to guard it. The flag isn't exactly what No Beard was picturing for an official ship representation, but sometimes we have to compromise to include those we love. 

As usual, I was smitten with this book. More than usual though, I really feel that this is one of the best No Beard books I have read. Roman does a great job of whittling down the story to its essence. It's shorter than most of the other No Beard books, and it gets right to the meat of the issue. I like the short and sweet nature of this story, and I love the addition of a new sibling for the Captain. Now that one sister is old enough to join in productively, he has to deal with a little brother. Some of the same issues, but this time around No Beard is growing up and working with his family instead of against them. It's lovely to see the series progress in this way, and to see No Beard sticking up for his brother. The choice of ship flag was not exactly the one that he wanted, but he knows and understands that sometimes you have to sacrifice the details for the bigger picture. This was a lovely story, and I'm so happy to add it to my No Beard collection. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Do I Have to Say Hello? Aunt Delia's Manners Quiz

I picked up Delia Ephron and Edward Koren's Do I Have to Say Hello? Aunt Delia's Manners Quiz more than a year ago, at BEA 2015, and as we all know I got a little distracted by my (lack of) dissertation. (It's going much better, by the way!) I thought it would be a perfect fit for a Thanksgiving Day review here on Sassy Peach. I will be slaving away in the kitchen for my friends while you sit back and enjoy this post.

How do you eat certain foods at the dinner table? What is the proper response to a letter from a distant family member? Appropriate school behavior -- what is it? If you need to throw up in a moving vehicle, how should you politely ask the driver to pull over? Every question you could imagine that a young person wouldn't ask but needs to know is contained in this book. Fashioned as a question-and-answer process, Ephron covers everything you can imagine in this book and has it properly, and humorously, illustrated by Koren.

You might hear an older generation holler about the kids these days having no manners, but the reality is that manners, and morals, for that matter, are generational. Manners are seen as a moral issue, and I have heard many in the greatest generation yell and yell about the lack of respect and manners in young people. Hell, I've even heard my older graduate students wax on about this. Now, doing what I do for a living, I don't believe this to be true. Not only do the idea of what is proper and what is not changes over the years, but we also know that these things take time to learn. They aren't inherent, and not all children are rude. (Sure, some are.) You must learn how to behave in certain situations -- no one "just knows."

A form of this book was originally published in 1989, and honestly, it shows. I loved reading this book because it's of my generation -- it's something my dad's mom would have absolutely given to me as a child. She once sat me down in her living room with my aunt to tell me how rude I was, because obviously that was her job. I can't remember my response, but I think when she asked me if I was this rude at my other grandmother's house, I replied no. She asked why, and I said because I liked my other grandma. As you can see, she would have purchased me this book without taking a step back to realize that maybe, just maybe, the six-year-old me just didn't like being treated as though I had no thoughts, feelings, or autonomy. My behavior was in reaction to, and modeled by, the people I was with. Think on that.

So this book cracked me up, only because it felt as though it harked back to my childhood. It's not a book I would purchase as a gift for my friends' children, because the times, they are a-changin'. I have a much different view toward the development of children (because, you know, it's what I do). They are to be seen and heard, as opposed to my grandmother's desire for me to be a "good little girl" and be prim and proper and marry young because how on earth do I support myself as a woman in this world? I would, however, purchase this book for my friends so that we could sit back and talk about our childhoods. The ones that were good but that we want to modify for our own kids. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Water Dragons: Too Heavy to Fly

Dragons are interesting, no? I've never had the biggest fascination, but I love children's books, and I was attracted to this book by the lovely cover and the hope of a sweet story with a strong message. This is Ruth Ellen Parlour's The Water Dragons: Too Heavy to Fly.

Silver and Pearl are dragon siblings, and one day while they are out playing, they spot a bird in the sky. Not knowing what it is or how it works, Silver decides that he also wants to fly. Pearl sets him up with wings on his front legs and he climbs a tree to set off. Only when he is up there does he realize his mistake. His mother comes to save him, and together they realize that ground animals should stay on the ground and that the flying can be left to the air animals. 

This was a lovely, short and sweet book that had a great message -- everything I was hoping for when I picked it up. I loved the idea of the dragon siblings and the desire to go out on a limb (pun intended) and try something new. There is something to be said for the risk taking based on observations, and I appreciate that Parlour explored this in a creative and adorable way. One issue I had was with the illustrations; some appeared to be computer graphics and others appeared to be clip-arty, and I was bothered by the inconsistency. However, the story was sweet, the dragons were positively sweet and cute, and I loved the moral of the story. 

That's a win in my book!

(Get it?!? My book?!? Tee hee hee...)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ada Twist, Scientist

You may remember a few months ago when I posted on finding the Andrea Beaty and David Roberts' series of students who achieve in STEM fields. Originally I had seen the cover of this book on the side of Abrams' booth at BEA and turned myself right around to speak with them. I pre-ordered Ada Twist, Scientist (I do that so rarely!), and it was everything I was hoping for. I couldn't think of a better book to kick off this holiday season's Children's Book Week here on the blog.

Baby Ada was a quiet creature as a baby, until age three when she said her first word: "Why?" She then started asking who-what-when-where-why-how questions and didn't stop, driving her parents absolutely nuts. Even in school she drove her teacher, Ms. Greer, bonkers. One day Ada decides to figure out where a smell in her house is coming from, so she experiments. First she tries the cabbage soup, and it's not that. Then she tries the cat. Nope, not that either. Her parents stop her as she is about to wash the cat (all in the name of science, of course!), and they put her in the thinking chair. Ada does, indeed, think long and hard -- all over the walls. Her parents realize what a gift this is, and Ada spends her days experimenting away.

I just can't even believe how amazing this book is. The whole series, really, but particularly this one. The search for books with diverse protagonists continues, and this one, with a young girl of color as a scientist, just warms my heart like you wouldn't believe. She is inquisitive and authentic, lovely and sharp. She chooses to speak very deliberately when she has something to ask. Ada spends her early days taking in the world, and when she has something to say, only then does she say it. I can't express how amazing it is to see this reflected in children's literature in such a mature and straightforward manner. Beaty doesn't have to beat the point with a stick; it's just a part of who the character is. She is smart and curious and that is just simply who she is. It's amazing and inspiring to read.

This book just tickled my fancy.

I love the entire series, and I can't wait until the next one comes out!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ghosts: A Graphic Novel

I have mentioned before, and I will continue to mention, the need for children's and young adult books with protagonists of color. At BEA this year, I picked up Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts with the hope that I would enjoy it as much as I was hoping I would.

Catrina and her family are moving to Northern California where the weather is gloomy and everyone is obsessed with ghosts. Her sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis and it's a better climate for her. Catrina is upset and is slow to make friends -- everyone in this town is crazy about All Souls Day when souls return to find their loved ones. Maya buys in immediately, and can't wait to welcome their grandmother back. Catrina agrees to go out with her friends that night and is wonderfully shocked to find that she is part of something bigger than herself.

This was an absolutely charming book. I was so wonderfully, pleasantly surprised by how moving the story was. Cat loves her sister, and Maya adores Cat. When Maya becomes direly ill and Cat blames herself, the connection between the two is so powerful yet so personal, as it's easy to relate to two sisters who love each other yet want their space. The guilt is also a familiar feeling; Cat feels guilty about Maya's illness even thought it's not her fault. This book is perfect for young adult audiences and grown ups alike.

The return of the spirits to the town is amazing to read. First of all, the graphics are outstanding, but it's really the story that got me. How Cat is able to let herself go and enjoy herself in the moment when the spirits come to visit is fun and it is touching. She is able to realize what a gift it is to be in the middle of something so big and so light, and it was amazing to watch her journey as a character end in this moment. This is a perfect book, and it was a pleasure and an honor to be able to pick it up.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

MLK, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait

While reading Jonathan Kozol's **Savage Inequalities**, it quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait. I realize that I had never read Martin Luther King Jr.'s, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Shame on me. I ordered a beat up paper back of his larger book, and I settled in one day to catch up on some long-missed copy.

This treaties contains several pieces of writing by Martin Luther King Jr. surrounding the events of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He lays out his rationale for why Birmingham, why now, and his writings follow us through the events of the sit-ins at Woolworth counters and boycotts of stores during the Easter season of that year. He discusses the planning stages, the performance stages, and just hopes for what will ultimately come out of these actions. It's a defining piece of writing that encompasses the story the children of all generations know.

Historically speaking, this book was absolutely fascinating and I found myself with my pen in my hands repeatedly underlining and nodding along with his work. He makes some very valid arguments as to why the civil rights movement could not have move slowly. When you have lived under a system of oppression for decades, millennia, how do you wait just a little bit longer for justice? The answer is that you don't. We know that Martin Luther King Junior was arrested with the protesters, but reading about his choice to be arrested was particularly interesting. Sometimes I felt his narrative was a little self-serving, but, if you are MLK, I guess it can be. After he was arrested, he writes a letter from Birmingham jail. It was far more moving than I ever could have imagined. He lays out the argument for desegregation from a moral perspective and his writing could make any more sense if he rewrote it today. I felt while reading this narrative but the more things change, the more they stay the same. He could have written this letter in 2016 and not 1963. It's been 50 years, and what have we learned? Not a whole lot it seems.

I find the argument that many who are anti-Black Lives Matter protests use, which is that MLK, Jr. wouldn't approve of the protests because he was a "peaceful guy" to be simply absurd. I just simply reply, "Well, clearly, you have never read his writing." He was a proponent of civil disobedience which, I would like to point out, is far from peaceful. He was a protester as much as he was a preacher. That comes through in this work -- in his very own words. 

I also particularly enjoyed his argument about using protest and civil disobedience to spark change in the government, since we know that the change in the hearts of the majority population didn't necessarily happen, nor has it really, even to this day. You can see it if you just turn on the news. He says that you may view protest as wrong, and breaking the law particularly in light of not having a permit is just as bad as segregation, but it's not. It's a moral issue, one that must be addressed swiftly and a sharply. I'm happy that I picked up this book when I did, and it will stay on my shelf for me to constantly refer back to. While I don't consider myself a Christian, and that's a discussion for another time, I do very much relate to his argument that it desegregation is a Christian issue. Wouldn't we say that it still is today? You wouldn't know based on our current political climate. My, my, how the more things change, the more they stay the same…

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Fortress: A Love Story

The Fortress: A Love Story by Danielle Trussoni called out to me, but I can't remember from where. I think from a book review somewhere. I am so glad that I had the wherewithal to get this book from the library because it was incredible.

Danielle is a young woman who has lost her marriage, with a young son and working on an MFA when she meets Nikolai, a Bulgarian national who is getting his degree at the same university on a visa. Love hits hard and fast and dangerously. Suddenly Nikolai's visa is up, and they decide to return to Bulgaria while he clears up the matter. They find out that this return requires a two-year stay there, and at the same time, they find out that they are pregnant. They marry, they stay, then they move back to the states. The marriage crumbles from the beginning as Danielle ignores the warning signs. A last ditch effort has her moving her family to the south of France to an ancient home to repair what has been cracking for years. There her marriage slowly disintegrates as she realizes her husband has issues that she can't resolve.

Trussoni is one compelling writer, and I am so glad I picked up this book on a day when I had a lot of commuting to do. I read it in one day. I couldn't put it down, and I couldn't wait to pick it back up again when I had to step away from it momentarily. It's one hell of a book. 

Nikolai is a narcissist. Trussoni never says this, but based upon her descriptions of what happened in their marriage, this isn't a far leap to name the issue. You might say he's crazy, and I might agree with you, but it goes deeper than that. His refusal to compromise with his wife is frightening; instead, he will agree with her then do what he wants, whether it is vaccinating their child or feeding her what he wants. He lords his young daughter over his wife to the point that he ignores his stepson and alienates everyone else. I felt so bad for her daughter, Nico, and what she will have to deal with when she reaches adulthood. I can see the therapy bills piling up already. Dealing with the fallout of a parent who is a narcissist is a long, fraught process. I haven't read Trussoni's first memoir of her father, but from the description she gave in this book, it sounds like her father and her husband share many traits. I was angry for her when she discovered Nikolai had cheated, and I was livid when he felt he could just lie to her as though she couldn't see right through him. I wanted to scream at her to just leave him then.

Trussoni had a right to be frightened of her husband, and I really felt she should have been more frightened far sooner. It was almost a bit too late by the time she came around to ending her marriage. I wanted her to be happy so badly that when she chose to take a love (you see this coming a mile away), I wanted this for her. I cheered her on and urged her to do it in my own mind. She deserved it. Her husband is a classic emotional abuser; throughout their entire marriage, when she wasn't in town or around him all the time he would call obsessively, send a million emails and texts and make her feel guilty for having a life, all the while cheating on her and treating her horribly when she was home. Can you tell I found the man insufferable?

As I said, this memoir was incredibly compelling and an astounding read. Trussoni is an incredible writer and it was a joy to read this piece.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips held particular interest for me as it takes place in Forsyth County, Georgia. While I grew up next door in Fulton Country, my home was, in fact, on the county line, and my life straddled these two counties. I remember being horrified to discover how racist so many were in the area in which I grew up, and now that I am older, and this is now my work, I am not surprised, but rather thankful that I have been able to examine my own biases to be a better teacher and researcher. However, Forsyth cannot escape it's bloody and horrifying past.

In 1912, the murder of a young woman rocked Forsyth county, an area in rural Georgia north of Atlanta that until this saw few crimes and a quiet life for the residents, be they White or Black. No one in present day would say that the Black residents had it good, but overall, everyone existed together as much as they could for the post-slavery South. Until, that is, Mae Crow's death at the hands of an assailant. Immediately a group of men determined that this must have been at the hands of a vicious Black man, and a mob set out to right the wrongs of this young woman. Her death was exaggerated to the millionth degree, and several Black men lost their lives in the process. One was viciously lynched while the others were hung in a public spectacle after a farce of a trial. After this, the mob of Forsyth residents ran out every single black resident they could find from the county in the least heard of racial cleansing in American history.

The county stayed that way until very recently. You may recall one of Oprah's first episodes, when she came to town in 1987 and interviewed the residents there. I recall seeing the show -- I'm confident it was much later, some retroactive revisiting of the episode -- but I remember being horrified by what I heard. And it came from my neck of the woods. 1987 was also the time of the Peace March through Forsyth County that was anything but. To this day, as of the 2010 census, Forsyth remains 85% White. That's astounding.

I say that with an asterisk, of course. It's only astounding if you aren't from there. I grew up on the county line, and I knew very well that people of color were not welcome in Forsyth County. It's not blatant, it's just a written rule. I never questioned it, but then again, I lived just over the line in the next county. The older I got, the clearer it became, and the more my family spoke of it. I can attest to all of these facts about the segregation of the South. I lived it, even in the beginning of the present century.

Phillips has written an astounding piece of work that covers the racial cleansing in clear, minute detail that at times is quite painful to read. The fear that the residents must have felt, worried that their own kin would be lynched at a moment's notice simply at the drop of a White man's fancy is just simply too much for me to wrap my head around. Having to abandon all you have worked for simply because others tell you that you must or you will be killed -- my heart aches simply at the thought. House help couldn't even stay to work for families they had been with for generations. Men who worked to own their own land through toil and sweat had to sell for pennies on the dollar or risk their family's lives. This is more than unfair, this is egregious and must be rectified. However, the county doesn't feel as though it owes the decedents of its refugees anything for their trouble. How disgusting.

The worst part of all of this is that another murder occurred just weeks later in a close location to Mae's -- with a similar modus operandi. This murder, however, was covered up and ignored because if, god forbid, anyone realized that the Black men accused might not be the murderers, how would the residents of Forsyth justify their racial cleansing? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses

Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses by Lawrence Ross is a must-read for anyone who wants to get a grasp of race relations on college campuses. It was eye-opening for me.

The politics of race on campus has come to the forefront in the last couple of years, but make no mistake -- these issues have been going on for some time. It's not a matter of needing a "safe space"; it is flat-out racist acts by members of the university community that egregiously affect the health and welfare of their fellow students. Whether it's hanging someone in effigy, writing racial slurs on walls, or it's the ever-faithful traditions of historically white fraternities and sororities, the politics of race on campus are alive and well and perpetuating themselves over again and again, leaving a swath of students feeling unwelcome at best and unsafe at worst.

This book was eye-opening to say the least. From a historical perspective, there was more information than I could have ever imagined, and I took it all in and sat with it for a while. You see, this book reminded me of my own experience at my alma mater in the early 2000's. By experience, I in no way mean that I was belittled and faced aggression due to my race -- because that's not at all what happened -- but I was a member of a Greek organization, and I remember very distinctly what happened the year that a young Black lady rushed the traditionally white houses. I remember the comments my sisters made, and I remember the divide that this caused in the community. I remember the older girls trying to keep it away from the sophomores (as I was) so as not to involve them in the "race drama." I remember not understanding why it was such a big deal, why we couldn't just vote on her as a potential sister, but I also remember not quite understanding why I had such mixed feelings about the process. Now, 15 years later, I have much more solidified views of this issue, and I would feel quite unequivocal now. This book, though, dredged up those memories and brought them to the forefront. I, too, was guilty of blackballing, whether or not I meant to be. I was part of an organization that did.

I add this book to my canon of work that critically examines the historical roots of systemic racism, as the college and university system in this country is about as systemic as it gets. The ousting of administration for not responding to racism on campus isn't just because students are bratty and angry over little things; the ability to feel as though your alma mater is your home and an extension of self is something that the majority culture takes for granted. I know I sure did. It's only when you are considered part of the "in-group," which means that you not only show up but are made to feel as though you belong, that you can find a home at a university. Sure, Southern schools get a bad rap, but they also deserve it. The Greek system at some of the oldest Southern universities are based upon the exclusion of minorities, even in 2016. Read a little bit about the student government at some schools -- it's entirely Greek-based, which is exclusionary to others who don't look like them.

We can do better, and we do better by recognizing first and foremost that there is a problem. There are problems everywhere, but this particular book focuses on the problem in our universities. Recognize that there is a problem, then start asking how you can be a part of the solution.