Black History Month

9780812993547_p0_v4_s192x300February marks the celebration of Black History Month.  I feel it’s so important to recognize diverse voices, perhaps now more than ever.  Last year, we shared our list of notable books that we love – some of which I use in the classroom every semester.  We still love those books, and believe that they are worth reading – and not just in February, but all year round.

Celebrating black history and black culture extends beyond the books that we’ve shared before, black history isn’t just the study or celebration of the past – it’s still happening, still evolving, and always relevant.  Don’t be daunted by heavy subject matter, or 5138ynpfqnl-_sx332_bo1204203200_indifferent to the history.  These books represent so much in black history and culture – each for different reasons.

Between the World and Me – After I read this book, I was completely changed by the experience.  It challenged every idea I had about race, and what being an American means – not just to me, but to anyone who grows up in this country.  Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a legitimate voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, having lived through the experience of having a friend, a Howard University classmate, shot down by police for no good reason.  This experience has shaped him as a writer, a father, and as an activist.

61ocvx9uu3l-_sx328_bo1204203200_Native Son – This was written by Mississippi-born writer Richard Wright, an incredible writer giving voice to blacks in the South.  This is his best work, exposing the hopelessness and poverty experienced by so many blacks of his generation.  He also bravely tackles the issues of race and class and his work.  The story focuses on a young white woman who was murdered in Chicago by a black man.  It’s such a sad story, that seems to show, sadly, that the main character Bigger Thomas had been destined for nothing in his life.

The Warmth of Other Sons Focusing on a unknownfew individuals and their own experiences, Isabel Wilkerson tells the tale of the Great Migration, which involved millions of African Americans moving out of the rural south.  In order to escape the segregated south, they endured so much – violence, discrimination, poverty.  This story is beautifully, painfully told through these voices.  This is honestly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University, takes on the controversial topic of mass incarceration.  Comparing this experience to a new wave of segregation, in which African American men have lost their constitutional rights en masse, this is a provocative unknownsubject.  Not all will agree with her argument, but it is backed up by an immense amount of research, making it hard to disagree.

Up From Slavery Born a slave in Virginia a few years before the start of the Civil War, Booker T. Washington was an important leader in the early Civil Rights movement.  Martin Luther King Jr would later be compared to him, as they both had a non-violent, non-confrontational approach to their leadership in the movement.  Not only was he able to overcome his past and lack of early opportunity, he was able to educate himself, and help many others achieve that same dream.

51vyzgf58l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Just Mercy – I just finished reading this book last week, and I absolutely loved it.  It correlates with what Michelle Alexander argues, and tackles another side of mass incarceration.  Bryan Stevenson is a criminal defense attorney, who has worked all over the south, working on some of the toughest cases.  It is heavy reading, no doubt, but worth a read.   It’s a scathing review of the American justice system, and a story I think everyone should hear.

These books are worth the read, worth the time, and deserve recognition.  Black history and culture should be celebrated every day, all year round.  The month of February is a special time of reflection and remembrance.  Through these voices, the tale of African American history is told – through slavery, segregation, discrimination, mass incarceration and violence.  A struggle that is still real and relevant today.


A Handful of Stars

51kylxczcql-1-_sx342_bo1204203200_I love a good dog story.  I also love a good cat story.  In a Handful of Stars, which I just finished a few days ago, Lily’s dog is blind and she is his only guide.  Cynthia Lord, the author of Rules, which earned her a Newbury Honor, released Stars last year, and it is such a great read.  Lily lives in Maine with her grandparents.  She doesn’t know her father, and her mother passed away when she was really young.  All she has left of her mother is this dog which she had before she died.  During the summer, in preparation for the blueberry festival, she befriends another you girl named Salma.  Salma is the daughter of migrant workers, in the area to pick blueberries for the season.

They are introduced when Salma saves Lily’s dog from being hit by a car.  They have little in common, as Lily has lived in Maine her whole life, and Salma has lived all over the place.  Though she calls Florida home, Salma and her family move up and down the east coast, following spring and summer harvests.  Lily’s grandparents own a story that locals and tourists frequent.  In order to raise money for a surgery that could restore Lucky’s eyesight, she paints bird houses to be sold at the store.  When Salma hears of Lily’s work, she spends the summer helping paint more, and as a talented artist, her work becomes quite popular.

Salma was strong and brave, and helped Lily to raise money for Lucky’s surgery.  This story about these two young girls really got to me.  Maybe I was having a rough day, but when I got to the end of the book I just cried.  Her grandfather and Salma have a very close relationship, and though he supports her mission to save Lucky, he has some advice for her.  He tells her this:

“Giving up and letting go are too very different things, Lily.  Giving up is admitting you’re beat and walking away.  Letting go means you’re setting something free.  You’re releasing something that’s been keeping you stuck.  That takes faith and more than a little courage.”

The summer is life changing for this 12 year old.  She learns about love, friendship, and letting go – in ways that she couldn’t have expected.  I loved this story, and the way that these two girls, from very different backgrounds, were able to connect.

Where Do We Go From Here?

unnamedLast Friday was a tough day for me.  I know I’m not alone in feeling disappointed and hopeless.  This past year has been filled with shock and fear, and through the election cycle I thought he’ll never get the nomination, he’ll never win the election, he’ll never really be inaugurated.  Well, here we are.  It’s still so hard to process, and as rough as Friday (or honestly, this past year) was, I am so incredibly proud of the women across this country who participated in the women’s march on Saturday.  I know that to most of us, this seems like a small consolation.  To help process these feelings of desperation and loss, and to help us all move on, we have to find a way to continue on.  These books may help.

It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis was the progressive voice of a generation.  Not our generation, but one which faced similar challenges.  The story charts the rise of a dictator, and the demise of democracy.  It was written as satire, but still feels very current.  It’s such a strong message, and a cautionary tale, calling us all to protect our democracy.

House of Cards – The book the TV show is based on is a behind the scenes look at national politics.  The show takes a slight departure from the book, and I’m constantly wondering who the main characters are supposed to be based on.  Part of the story is frightening – making it seem like there is no one in Washington politics who is honest.  The main character is ambitious (and his initials just happen to be FU), stopping at nothing to get ahead.  Sound familiar??

Hillbilly Elegy This is one of the best books from 2016.  To understand just how anyone might be interested in a Trump presidency, read this book.  If the explanation of Trump’s win comes from the idea that there are average Americans – living in the “flyover” region of the country who don’t feel represented in national politics (or anything for that matter), this is the idea that this book represents.  I would never have voted from Trump, but there’s still something so powerful in this message.

Between the World and Me – “Black Lives Matter” has become another political issue dividing our country. Unfortunately, while some within the African American community use this as a unifying and empowering statement, that their lives are just as important as anyone else’s, others criticize the movement and this slogan, in that it might suggest that not all lives matter. This is not the message at all – let us not forget that there still is real racism in this country.

We Should All Be Feminists – This is a really quick read, but it’s an important one. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote Americanah, which I really loved.  This essay is based on a Ted talk that she did about feminism.  Feminism isn’t just for women or about women, women’s rights are human rights.  That’s her major argument here – and one that we all need to hear.

Undocumented – Undocumented immigrants seems to be the focus of every immigration policy.  Could there be reoform?  Yes.  Dan-el Padilla Peralta was just that, an undocumented immigrant.  Yet, he lived a real life, and succeeded despite his immigration status.  This book challenges readers to look beyond that, and remember that these undocumented immigrants are people.  People who are not worthless, people that may have something to positively contribute to society.

Let there still be hope.  Let us start to heal.  We will get through this, this is not really the first time the country has been so divided.  We can work together.  And though it seems that Trump isn’t interested in working together, we can!


A New Reading Challenge

unnamedEmbarking on a new year is inevitable.  It’s here wether we want it to be here or not. Fear not!  There are exciting things ahead – and new reading challenges to tackle!  Last year I finished 26 Books in 2016 hosted by BringingUpBurns, just in time before the year ended.  The last thing on that list that I was able to check off was Gone With the Wind, which I had been wanting to read for a long time, and it was a serious challenge.  For this year, I signed up for TBR Challenge 2017, hosted by The Misadventures of Super Librarian.  I am super excited because the challenges are different, and the categories are different.

I don’t think I have a comfort zone when it comes to books – but with this list, I’ll be reading quite a variety of books.  First up is short stories, which I normally don’t read.  Some I’m already out of my book comfort zone!

Reading Marathon LogoThe Virginia Beach Public Library is also hosting a book marathon this year – users can sign up and log in each time they finish a book.  The  goal is to finish 26.2 books this year.  You don’t even need  to be a library card holder to sign up for this challenge!

Hope the new year brings many new books!  Happy reading and enjoy!!


Welcome to 2017!

unnamed-2Happy New Year everyone!  All of our decorations have been put away, and I am ready to get back to a routine.  My daughter went back to school yesterday, and I am ready to embark on another semester.  The holidays this year for us were bittersweet.  We spent lots of time with our families and our friends, which was really great, but my husband left for deployment yesterday.    His departure date seemed to loom over our heads, though I tried not to think about it.  We enjoyed our time together, but I dreaded yesterday.  The start of a new year is usually a time for resolutions, or a new start, but for right now, my only goal is to survive.  And I know we will – and I know it will be hard.

I have resolved before, or set a goal to do more yoga, and that is a goal I haven’t met.  I would really like to try meditating.  So, instead of setting a specific goal, my only goal is just to try it.  I’m also starting a new teaching job next week, which will be challenging.  I know I’ll need time to de-stress, and I believe meditation might help.

I’m excited to tackle another reading challenge.  Last year, I finished a reading challenge that got me reading “outside the box”.  This year I signed up for TBR Challenge that is being hosted by The Misadventures Of Super Librarian.  First up: a collection of short stories.  I can’t wait!!

One other goal I have is to create more.  I love making things – but don’t always have time.  I have a bunch of crafts that are half-finished.  Whether I decide to finish those projects, or embark on new ones, it is a goal of mine.  I have a couple of huge projects on my to-do list.  One thing I need to do is to organize and sort through my daughter’s many school projects.

What are your goals for the new year?  Do you have any resolutions??

Best Books of 2016

9781501141515_p0_v4_s192x300This past year was a great year for books.  I probably said that last year, but I’m saying it again.  I read some really great books – and some that were quite disappointing.  I finally read FanGirl – and I honestly could’ve read it in one sitting.  I really loved it – and though it wasn’t released this past year, I’ll be looking forward to anything that Rainbow Rowell writes.  Of all of the new releases I read this year, these are my favorites.

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen  Growing up, Bruce Springsteen was always one of my Dad’s favorite artists.  I still think of him every time I hear the song Born to Run – which is all the time!  I had to read this book, and I really loved it.  I had 9780399588570_p0_v1_s192x300no idea he had such an interesting life, and after reading it now know the inspiration to some of his songs.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld She is one of my favorite authors and I was so excited to read this.  Although the story wasn’t 100% original I still loved it.  She wrote the book as part of the Austen Project, which challenged 4 contemporary writers to rework Jane Austen’s classic stories.  This was her version of Pride and Prejudice – set in modern day Cincinnati.

At the End of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier If I were ranking 9780525953005_p0_v1_s192x300these – this book would be my number 1.  I don’t read historical fiction too often, but this book had a lot of history of it.  Regional history – beginning in Connecticut, a family moves out west, into the swamps in Ohio.  It follows the family’s youngest son to California, during the gold rush of the mid-19th century.  It was touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, but I really loved it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – So this wasn’t a full Harry Potter story, just a manuscript of a play that debuted in London.  I loved the story, which is set years after the last book left off.  He and Ginny are now married and their sons are students at 9781501132933_p0_v3_s192x300Hogwarts.  There was a lot of action and I kept wondering how it work on stage.

The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware From the very beginning until the end, I could not put this book down.  At least 3 separate times while reading it I was convinced I knew exactly what had happened.  I was wrong each time.

The War at Home – Rachel Starnes As I type this, we are counting down the days until my husband’s next deployment.  He has 6 days until he leaves again.  Rachel Starnes is also a 9780143108665_p0_v1_s192x300military wife, and her husband works in the same Navy community as my husband does.  She spoke to me in this book, or at least that’s what it felt like.  She speaks of military life candidly, honestly, and unapologetically.

I’m looking forward to many more great books next year.  Early mornings with a cup of coffee and a good book.  Late nights with a cup of tea and a good book.  Right now I’m working on Just Mercy, which I am loving!

Happy New Year and happy reading!!

New Fiction Friday: The Mothers

51n7sl28jyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_What does it take to be called a mother? I became a mother when my daughter was born, but I have called others mother – other than the one who raised me.  Brit Bennett’s debut novel is The Mothers, all about a group of women at a church called the Upper Room. Nadia Turner, a teenage girl who loses her mother to a tragic unexpected suicide, is at the center of this story. She too could be a mother, her life becomes shaped by the loss of her mother, and this story – which spans the months following her mother’s death, until her graduation from law school. Throughout that time, she is searching. Searching for meaning in her life, something to fill the void that her mother left behind, and for approval – for the mother she no longer has, and for the mothers of the Upper Room.

Nadia becomes wreckless after her mother’s death. She is only 17, and without guidance in her life. Her father has mentally and emotionally checked out- and there is no one else in her life.  She finds a connection with Jake – a local football hero whose mother is involved in the Upper Room. It’s not the right kind of love or attention she needed, but it’s all she can get. She’s a great student – and has earned admission into the University of Michingan, which is thousands of miles away from the home she shares with her distraught father. Still, she’s counting down the days until she’s able to escape.

Her story seems so sad, and she is so badly damaged emotionally.  Even when she goes away to school – and stays away, even going to law school, she won’t allow herself to heal.   She is drawn back home when he father gets sick, and reconnects with some old friends. She’s still hurting – and returning to the home that she shared with her parents is a stark reminder of her mother’s absence.

This book was a selection of the Book of the Month Club and I read it immediately when it came to my house. I had heard Brit Bennett interviewed on NPR and knew the premise of the story, and was so excited to read it.  It’s a reminder that no matter how old we get, we still need our mothers.  Even if we don’t have our real mothers, like Nadia, we need someone.