Necessary Lies: A Review

Necessary Lies

Aaaaannd I’m back!

Hello internet!  I’ve come back to you with another review, and this time it is for Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain.  I read this book last year, and it was easily my favorite of the standalones for last year, and probably for the past several years.  I picked this book up on Book Outlet during one of their sales, since the premise sounded interesting.  It was highly rated, but I still didn’t expect what I got.

Necessary Lies is historical fiction, and is set in rural North Carolina in 1960.  The story follows Jane, a social worker, as she is assigned a set of underprivileged families to help – to garner resources as well as trying to make them as self-sufficient as possible.  Jane is white, at least middle class, and is intimidated by working with people she can’t relate to and has really only heard about – the poor white and black families of Grace County.  Very quickly, Jane realizes that she will be expected to make decisions for these families that she is uncomfortable with and morally conflicted about, often without their permission.

This book is primarily about the voluntary and involuntary sterilization of thousands of our country’s poor – mainly black – and otherwise “unfit” men and women.  This was a normal practice for decades, and it lasted much longer in North Carolina than any other state.

This book was beautifully and realistically written, from the plot to the characters to the setting. It was often difficult to read, not because of the writing, but because the story was so overwhelming and intense, and because much of the intolerance and misunderstanding that has marked (and continues to stain) our nation was portrayed so matter-of-factly, adding to the authenticity of the story. It seemed I was always annotating and pondering as I made my way through the book.

The characters are defiantly real, leaping from the pages into your heart. There are some sad endings, and some happy ones, the way it happens in real life. The book is also very well-researched, and in its realness teaches a lesson that could have been overdone (but wasn’t).

The themes of acceptance, embracing differences, and humanizing people we see as “other” help me to give this book a 5 star rating, as well as the realistic portrayal of bravery and fighting for what is “right.” This book shows how slow the process of progressive change can be.  Jane wanted to give agency back to her clients, but at times, her thoughts of them could still be classified as racist, classist, etc.  She was a product of her time, and progressivism in 1960 looked different than it does now, which I think it is a main concept of this book.

Although race was mentioned many times in the book, in a lot of ways, the feelings and emotions it brought up weren’t wholly unpacked, and I think that Diane Chamberlain relied a lot on her readers to know why certain things were wrong or offensive, and didn’t elaborate on some areas where she could.  However, the book had a story to tell, and there are so many convoluted parts to the story of our country’s relationship with the poor, and with minorities, and the book would probably still be being written if she decided to unpack it all.

Bravery, loyalty, trust, authority, agency, compassion, humanization – if you enjoy reading about these ideas, you will enjoy this book.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or if you’d like to.  I haven’t been able to really discuss this book with anyone yet, and I would love to!  See you all in the next one!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Read Recently That Weren’t My Typical Genre (or Were Outside My Comfort Zone)

TTT

Greetings and salutations; Welcome (or welcome back)!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and I am still getting into the groove of participating.  This week I’ll be discussing 10 books that I read recently (in the last year) that stood out to me in some way.  I don’t really have a reading comfort zone; I read almost everything.  Some things, admittedly, more (or less) than others, but still, pretty varied.  Let’s see what I come up with…

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1)  The Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
I read this recently, and since it’s rare that I read a high-fantasy book, this was a bit out there for me, but I really enjoyed it.

2)  Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do About It – Kate Harding
I am no stranger to nonfiction, but what was strange was the speed with which I read this book.  I usually read nonfiction at a really slow pace, absorbing the info and reading other books in between sessions.  I read this straight through with no interruptions.  It was that engrossing.

3)  Made You Up – Francesca Zappia
This was the first book I’ve read (at least in QUITE some time) that had an unreliable narrator, and that was entertaining and thought-provoking on a different level.

4-6)  Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star – Pierce Brown
As I mentioned in my review of the series, I don’t often read fantasy or sci-fi, but I couldn’t put these books down.  My favorite trilogy of all time.

7)  The Wednesday Group – Sylvia True
This is a beautiful story of friendship, addiction, and the facades we all put on for the world.  It’s adult fiction, so not something outside of my comfort zone, but I found it completely striking.

8)  Necessary Lies – Diane Chamberlain
This is historical fiction, which I enjoy sporadically.  Set in the 1960s and exploring the ideas of racism and agency, this made its way onto my list of favorites of all time.

9)  Treasure – Rebekah Weatherspoon
I stumbled upon this book on Amazon.  It’s a book with Black lesbian protagonist, and I found this after making a decision to try to diversify my reading list.  I’m no stranger to African American literature, but I hadn’t read anything with a lesbian protagonist (that I could recall), so I picked this one up!  I think it could have delved a little deeper into some of the issues it brought up, but if you are looking for books that are different from what is usually out there, it’s worth the read.

10)  The PMS Club – Carolyn Brown
This is an adult fiction book; the characters are a group of women in their mid-thirties.  I feel like most of the books I read have characters a bit younger than that, so this one stood out in my mind.  I loved the characters and a somewhat more mature look on life.  I also like that it is made clear that 35 isn’t old.  I’m not yet in my thirties, but passing that threshold can be scary, and I like that this book paints a good picture.

Thanks for making it to the end of my list; share some of your “non-typical” reads in the comments!

The Vault of Dreamers: A Review

Greetings, earthlings…

I’m back to do another review!

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This time, I am going to be talking about The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien.  This is the first book in what, I believe, will be a trilogy.  The second installment, The Rule of Mirrors, just came out a few days ago, and I can’t wait to get to it!

The Vault of Dreamers follows protagonist Rosie Sinclair, and her matriculation through the Forge School for the Arts.  Everything that the students do during waking hours is televised to the world as a reality TV show.  The students are allowed 12 hours of awake-time a day, and are given a pill to ensure that they get 12 hours of sleep, which has been proven to enhance creativity.  One night Rosie skips her pill and begins to realize that nefarious things are happening while the students sleep.

I was really interested in the premise of this book (hence, me picking it up), and it did not disappoint me!  The world-building is SUPER interesting.  It is set in the not-so-distant future, and that, along with the idea of a reality-TV show school, is very intriguing.  The concept was built out in a way that was unexpected, but enthralling. Even the negatives weren’t dealbreakers for me.  There were definitely a few things in the plot that were just completely unbelievable, and a few of the characters fell a little flat, but even those things didn’t distract me from flying through this book.  The plot was entertaining enough to make the small annoying things disappear; in fact, I didn’t realize I felt that way about the characters until I was done with the book.  The unbelievable things are just blatantly unrealistic, lol, but I really didn’t mind. I thought the book was extremely well-paced, and the tone and language were appropriate for a YA psychological thriller.

I will note that I have seen a lot of comments that say that the book could have made a grittier impression with a higher level of violence.  I will say that there were a few times that I expected more violence, but by that, I mean physical violence.  There was a creepier kind of mental violence that makes up for the lack of fight scenes in the book, in my opinion.

As I mentioned, some of the characters seem one-dimensional, but I do think we will see many of them fill out a bit in the books to come, so I’m not too worried about them right now.  The romance kind of came out of nowhere, but other than that, I did like the portrayal of the relationships in this book.  There was a lot of show, not tell – which makes the journey the characters go on more interesting, yet more confusing sometimes.

And the ENDING!  Some didn’t, but I LOVED it.  It made me SO anxious for the second book.  I can’t say much more than that, but I am VERY curious where Caragh O’Brien is taking the rest of this series.

Overall, I gave this book 4.5 stars.  There were definitely some issues, but I really couldn’t put it down.  It kept me excited, anxious, and really thoughtful about the ideas of privacy and creativity.  I recommend this book if you like YA futuristic/not-quite-dystopian reads, if you like cerebral reads, if you like strong female protagonists, if you like suspenseful reads.  Or if it simply sounds interesting.

If you have read this or want to, leave me a comment and let me know!  This was one of my most highly-rated books last year, and I’d love to discuss.

Ok.  I’m going to leave this here for now  Thanks for reading; catch y’all in the next one!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Songs I Wish Were Books

TTTHello all!

In an effort to keep up with this blogging thing this go-round, I have decided to participate in a few weekly posts.  The first that I want to jump-off with is Top Ten Tuesday.  This is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and I’m excited to get started sharing and building some community.  There might not always be 10 items in my posts.  C’est la vie.

This week’s topic is “10 Songs I Wish Were Books,” which is PERFECT for me this week.  I am eager to share my tastes in books, but also in other things in life, so I am in love with this topic.  I’m going to jump in and share; these are in no particular order:

1)  “American Pie” – Don McLean
I learned this song in 7th or 8th grade; I was in a class of 12, and we learned it both to perform in a school production, but also as a part of a unit in American History.  I LOVED learning about this song and all of its layers, and I think it would be a haunting, yet compelling book.

2)  “Come On, Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners
I’ve been on a bit of an ’80s music kick lately, so don’t be surprised if the 80s shows up again in this list – and this song is all kinds of fun for me.  I first heard it in the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (and no, I still haven’t read the book, but I do plan to), so while I’m too young to have been listening to this when it came out, I do have very fond memories of the song, mainly because of what was happening in the movie when it was playing.  Anywho, I’ve been listening to it lately and would love a book about this relationship – how it began and where it went after the song.  That’d be pretty cool.

3)  “Can I” – Alina Baraz
I love Alina Baraz, and this is one of my favorites by her.  I believe that this book would be a sensual, steamy, and explorative romance, wrapped in a story that is about seeing the best in the people around you.  This would be a book that I would fall in love with, undoubtedly.

4)  “Same Ol’ Mistakes” – Rihanna
This would be a dark and angsty story about how hard love can be sometimes, and it would have an unhappy-happy ending.  Meaning our protagonist may end up alone, but better off for it.  Which, lets be honest, is a happy ending for real.  I think there would be a lot of learning and frustration in this book, but it would be an amazing journey.

5) “Next Lifetime” – Erykah Badu
A story about two people in happy relationships, but who can’t seem to stop finding and orbiting one another? Sounds frustrating, but sign me up!  Maybe they are soulmates who have traveled through time together, not always together but always finding one another.  I feel like this book already exists, but still…  All the yes.

6)  “Rude” – Magic!
A story about a guy trying to win the permission of his lady’s father to propose?  Super patriarchal, but I love the idea of him putting in so much effort and then realizing he is putting his attention and effort into the wrong person, and concentrating once again on the woman of his dreams.

7)  “Bartender” – Lady Antebellum
Just a fun, post-breakup tale about a girl finding her happiness after a failed relationship.  Cliché, but for a reason:  when done well, it works.

8)  “Tell Me If You Still Care” – The S.O.S. Band
Two people looking up after going through the motions for so long, to realize that their relationship is almost over, and deciding whether or not to fight for it.  Magic.

9)  “Human Nature” – Michael Jackson
A novel (or novella) of vignettes, all capturing the power in the minutiae of small, everyday human interaction.

10.  “Rather Be” – Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne
Fantastic tale of a couple beating the odds in several countries, traveling, and being free together.  I’m not sure how it would all come together, but I love this song, and I think it would be a great book.

Thanks for making it to the end.  What songs do you think you make good books?  Let me know in the comments!  Stay tuned for more reviews, and more entries into Top Ten Tuesday!

The RED RISING Trilogy: A Review

Red-Rising-Trilogy-by-Pierce-Brown

I’m going to just jump right into the reviews here.  And there is no better place to begin than the RED RISING trilogy, containing the books Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star, all by Pierce Brown.

Let me start by saying:  this will be a non-spoiler review.  My goal is to get you to read the books (or at least consider them), not to take the fun out of them.  Also, I just need a space to discuss, because I don’t know anyone else who has read these books, which is a travesty all by itself.

I gave every book in this series (and therefore the series as a whole) a 5/5 star rating.

The RED RISING trilogy is a fascinating epic that explores the highs and lows of human nature on a very large (yet also – very small) scale.  It is set in outer space, and the world building is awe-inspiring.  If I were hard-pressed to provide labels, I would need to mention sci-fi, fantasy, and dystopian.  However, if those don’t necessarily interest you, disregard them, because you should read this series anyway.  I don’t think I’ve ever read another sci-fi book, and fantasy is found few and far between in my reading journey.  I will, however, admit a leaning towards dystopian books.

I didn’t think I would like these books when I first encountered them (at that time, only Red Rising and Golden Son had been released).  But I picked up Red Rising on a whim, and it hit me over the head and laid me out for not picking it up sooner.  Although, I must admit, I am happy I found it with only a few months to wait for the final installment.  The wait would have eviscerated me.

All in all, this trilogy is about honor, betrayal, philosophy, politics, loyalty, family, doubt, leadership, and many other topics that I could continue to name ad nauseum.  It is a STRONG indictment of racism and classism; indeed, of many of the isms/phobias that we find ourselves observing and participating in in our society today, and shows, to the extreme, where they could lead us.  It is about the wars that we wage with one another as humans, and also the very human condition of the wars that we wage within ourselves.  It reminds us that you can’t subjugate a whole group (or groups) or people for years, decades, centuries, millennia, and then point to the disadvantage of their current state as a reason for the initial subjugation.  It also reminds us that people are not all good or all bad, no matter how much we have painted them either in our minds.

Pierce Brown does an excellent job setting and maintaining a rapid-fire pace (after the somewhat slow build of Red Rising).  He delivers enough of Darrow’s voice so that we can follow the story and his growth as a person, but keeps us out enough so that the action parts surprise, delight, or dismay us, as appropriate.  The characters are deeply flawed.  All of them.  The good ones.  The bad ones.  Everyone has a weakness, and they ferret them all out to exploit them for their own causes.  There is character growth, and there are also times where you are extremely disappointed in characters that you are rooting for, and I loved it, because that is real life. There are decisions that you disagree with, even vehemently, and the message is: that’s ok.  You don’t have to agree with everything a person does, says, or thinks to respect them and their humanity.

Red Rising starts off a little slow.  Give it one hundred pages before you even think of putting it down.  Please.  Really, I’m begging you.  Do it.  Once the story expands, it just doesn’t stop, and it pulls you right along with it.  Red Rising is about the burning of rage, of betrayal on a scope you can’t even initially comprehend.  Golden Son is about the relationships that are built, broken, maintained, or strengthened through the battle of  honor and revenge.  Morning Star is the amazing conclusion, about what it means to push through failure and to truly submit to a cause that is greater than one’s self.

I hope that this review has sparked even the smallest desire to pick these books up and devour them, as I have.  I recommend it specifically so anyone interested in sci-fi, fantasy, stories with a strong moral conviction, or tales told with a dramatic backdrop (like OUTER SPACE).  This is now my favorite trilogy of all time, and I don’t see it being supplanted any time soon.

PS:  I am counting Morning Star as one of the books for the Mount TBR Challenge, since I pre-ordered it in December.  Is that cheating?  Oh well….

Read and enjoy, my darlings.

Introduction and Mount TBR Reading Challenge Declaration (Fancy!)

Greetings all; welcome to my blog!

First things first:  I have tried this blogging thing before.  It didn’t stick.  However, I now come to the internet with a somewhat narrowed focus, so let’s see where that takes us…

What I mean by a narrowed focus is that this is mainly going to be a place for me to write reviews for books that I am reading; a supplement to my (somewhat bookish) YouTube channel, which can be found here.  The same rules apply here as my channel:  I will mostly talk about books, but I will often write about other subjects that interest me.  A lot of the time, the books that I read inform the topics I like to talk about, and that’s what I call a “win-win,” dear readers.

In order to give myself some purpose and structure here, I am kicking off this blog by announcing my participation in the 2016 Mount TBR Reading Challenge!  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the very hip lingo of book bloggers and YouTubers and have no clue what that means, let me explain what a “TBR List” is.  TBR simply stands for “To Be Read.”  These are books that you want to read in the future.  Most of the time, when people use this phrase, they are referring to books that they already own, but haven’t yet read.  You can add books you don’t own to a TBR list, but at that point, it’s still a wishlist…

Anywho, the Mount TBR Reading Challenge is designed for people like me, who love books so much that they buy more books than they tend to read.  At this moment, I own about 100 books that I haven’t read, and there are about 65 more on my Kindle, also unread.  I need to be nicer to my unread books (not to mention to my wallet), so I figured that this challenge is a good way to do both of those things.  I’m sure that I will participate in other reading challenges this year, and I have a goal (on Goodreads, if you know what that is, lol) to read 75 books this year, so there will be lots of reading taking place, and hopefully a lot of content to be placed here.  Of these AT LEAST 75 books that I’d like to read this year, I’m pledging to the Mt. Vancouver level of the challenge (SEE BELOW), which means that at least 36 of those 75 will be books that I already own.  (I am secretly planning to actually reach for the Mt. Ararat level – 48 already owned books, but I am loathe to make such a high goal so publicly.  Parentheses make this a less serious commitment, obviously.)

In addition to posting about the challenge, I’ll be reviewing some books here, and as I mentioned, talking about various other topics that interest me.  I’m doing the most, and anyone reading this is welcome to join me on this horribly disjointed but assuredly interesting ride.

Everything below describes the rules of the Mount TBR Challenge, ,and has been copied and pasted from HERE.   Please click that link if you want to participate! Until next time…

Challenge Levels:Pike’s Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s

Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s

Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s

Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s

El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s

Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s

Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you’re on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.  All books counted for lower mountains carry over towards the new peak.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2016.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 1st, 2016.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2016. No library books.

*Rereads may count only in the following circumstances: If you did not own the book when you read it long ago and far away [based on your age, you can decide what that might mean–definitely not within the last five years…my arbitrary pick for a limit] and you bought the book pre-January 1, 2016 intending to reread it now that it’s your very own.  [To clarify–the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, “just because,” etc.}. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*You may count any “currently reading” book that you begin prior to January 1–provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2015.  I will trust you all on that.

*You may count “Did Not Finish” books provided they meet your own standard for such things, you do not plan to ever finish it, and you move it off your mountain [give it away, sell it, etc. OR remove it from your e-resources]. For example, my personal rule (unless it’s a very short book) is to give a book at least 100 pages. If I decide I just can’t finish it and won’t ever, then off the mountain it goes and I count it as a victory–the stack is smaller!

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*There will be quarterly check-ins and prize drawings!