May Favorites

May was a month of chaos and blessings for me. I graduated from my Master’s program and also had a whopping total of two deaths in my circle of acquaintances/family.Yet, I was still able to acquire new experiences and favorites that will forever stand out when I think of 2013.

Random Life Experience: After graduating, my mother and I departed from Pittsburgh on our way home via airplane. What was supposed to be a routine trip turned into a nightmare and ultimately led to the bizarrest adventure I’ve ever had while traveling…….and that’s saying something since I’ve traveled in foreign countries by myself without knowing a lick of the local language and never had any huge mishaps. Put on standby in Chicago, My mother and I along with two random gentlemen were forced to deplane once we touched down in Branson, Missouri.

You’re probably thinking Branson, Missouri?!?! Where the heck is that?!…Honestly, had I not been forced off a plane in the middle of this destitute city I’d be asking the same thing (no offense to anyone from here). Sadly, I can’t give you geographic specifics due to being in a state of shock at the time of this event, but I can tell you under better circumstances, I would’ve probably enjoyed the peace and quiet of the city and the rustic landscape. However, I can only offer you the general observation that it had houses that looked like the set from Disney’s High School Musical when they showed Troy’s house.

After being deplaned, we were all given instructions to make our OWN way to Tulsa, Oklahoma if we wanted to get a flight home since the Branson Airport had no flights in or out for TWO WHOLE DAYS……..insert seriously pissed face here……When we all found this out, you can only imagine how we felt. At this point, things got really interesting.

Disclaimer: Growing up, my parents often taught my siblings and I the golden rules of interacting with strangers. These rules included a) Never talking to strangers  b) Never eat anything from them and c) NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GET INTO A CAR WITH THEM. Looking at these rules you can only guess how scary and surreal it was for me to actually have to get in the car with two men that I didn’t know (Even though my mom was there with me) and riding for about 3+ hours from Branson to Tulsa. While both the men were gentlemen and we were all united in our anger at the airline, I sort of had a what the flip moment where I had to question my mother’s sanity doing the beginning of this imprmptu road trip.

Thankfully, we made it to Tulsa and got a new flight home the next morning and arrived all in one piece. The most amazing thing out of the whole trip was the fact that we were literally just miles away from where the tornado in Oklahoma hit. The four of us were literally joking about getting hit by some type of storm as we drove through the countryside and watched the sky turn from clear blue to steel gray before our eyes. At this time none of us imagined that there was an actual tornado reeking havoc so you can only imagine how my mother and I felt seeing the aftermath of devastation throughout Oklahoma. All I can say is I am BEYOND grateful that God let us make it home safely.

Favorite Album: As usual, I am tardy to the party and just got my copy of the 2011 masterpiece that is Megalithic Symphony, which is AWOLNATION’s first studio album. Thanks to Amazon having it’s bi-weekly sale on mp3 albums, I was able to get this album for a mere $5. I love the sound of this band. Unlike last month’s favorite album (i.e., Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock And Roll) AWOLNATION’s sound gives off more of a rock vibe than a pop one. This album has minimum screaming and is perfect for us pseudo-rockers who are master’s of the air guitar. Some song’s like “Kill Your Heros” and “Sail” are a bit explicit in the deliverance of their messages, but overall the album is a conglomerate of upbeat non-threatening songs. I would definitely recommend this album to anybody who enjoys a good guitar solo.

Favorite Book: I finally got to crack open Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier.  This book is a part of the fantasy genre of young adult fiction. The main aspect of the book deals with time traveling and a long ago foretold prophecy. When I tell you that this book is amazing, I mean that it is literally knock your socks off, laugh out loud ah-maz-ing.This book was so good that I had to scrounge together money to buy the sequel, Sapphire Blue for my Kindle at the crack of dawn just because I didn’t want the feeling of reading this series to end. I plan to post a review of tthese two books soon however, I wanted to share this as my absolute favorite book for May. Gier’s book is brimming with freshness, crazy plot twist, witty humor, and unbelievable characters. It’s a must for all YA lovers.

Personal Challenge: I have recently decided that I need to gain more knowledge about African and African-American Literature (i.e. my chosen area of graduate study). Therefore, I have deemed that this summer I will try my best to read at least one African or African-American themed book a week. To start off my reading, during the last week of May I read the play, A Raisin In The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and watched the 1961 movie adaptation. Also, I was able to finish So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba. I will be posting a movie and play review for Hansberry’s book however, I didn’t have much to say for Ba’s book so I won’t bore you all with a review for that one. If you would like to here my general thought’s for Ba’s book, you can look at my goodread review.

Once again, I hope everyone is enjoying their summer and reading some good books. Please feel free to post your TBR piles in the comment section.

Cheers!

Through The Voice of the “Other:” Book Review on Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”  – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve been struggling to write a review for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah for the past week due to mixed feelings about it. Upon finishing it, I was equal parts content and frustrated with the book. While it met my expectations in a way, I was also let down by certain aspects of the novel. I end up giving this book 4 stars due to a lackluster ending and the general feeling that Adichie only meant her characters to be mouthpieces to voice her feelings on different cultural and political topics.
 

At its heart, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a book about various immigrants who are trying to work their way through discovering what it means to be a part of the countries they’ve immigrated to while also holding on to their original cultures. Adichie’s story is told through the perspective of Ifemelu, a Nigerian blogger who has lived in America for thirteen years and Obinze, a wealthy Nigerian business man who still lives in Nigeria. From Ifemelu and Obinze’s perspective, the reader learns about different race issues that go on in America, the way the Nigerian government works, and hears the stories of different people who have settled abroad or come home to live in Nigeria after living abroad.

Comment below if you’ve read this book!

As the novel begins, Ifemelu is set to return home to Nigeria after her hiatus in America and decides to reconnect with her childhood sweetheart, Obinze. The two previously lost contact once Ifemelu went to America to finish college. By the time that Ifemelu reaches out to him, Obinze has moved on with his life and is married. Adichie makes it very obvious to the reader that the two characters have built separate lives from the ones that they once lived as carefree children who were oblivious to the ups and downs of Nigerian politics.

The pacing of this story was fairly good. The author was able to say a great deal about the Nigerian culture while also providing adequate details about each of the main characters’ lives. There were times in the book where the background history about Nigeria became long winded, but it never got to the point where I felt the need to put the book down. One thing that hindered the overall pacing of the story, though, was Adichie’s habit of adding different blog post from Ifemelu’s blog at different intervals in each chapter. While some of the post were interesting and thought provoking, others just seemed awkward in their placing or unnecessary altogether.

In terms of characters, Adichie creates solid ones to tell her story without making them seem overly preachy. Ifemelu’s character is pegged as someone who “tells it like it is” and isn’t afraid to call others out on their BS. Behind this character’s tough exterior, there is also an inquisitive nature that helps give her the initiative to voice her opinion about race relations in America and Nigeria and confront different issues that plague African immigrants and African-Americans. This bluntness in the character as she tries to gain an understanding of racial groups who are deemed as “the other” in America can also cause readers to label Ifemelu as a callused individual. Yet, Adichie makes it a point to eventually peel back this character’s layers and expose her reasoning behind each negative assessment of American and Nigerian culture.

On the other hand, Obinze is a character that is a dreamer at heart and is initially hell-bent on making his way to America to live out his fictional dream of “making it.” Mentally, he believes that life can only begin once he makes it to this glorified Mecca.  Obinze is an individual who also scrutinizes the immigrant’s life, but unlike Ifemelu, his character makes it a point to do so from the role of an unbiased onlooker opposed to a blunt critic. It would seem that his longing to become a part of the Western world keeps him from being overly harsh in his judgement of “the other’s” role in society in places like England and America.

With the building of Ifemelu and Obinze’s character, Adichie creates a storyline that holds the potential to be electric once it hits its climax, but it ends up falling flat for me due to its lack of originality. To me, this is extremely sad because for a good 3/4 of her book, Adichie makes powerful statements about race relations in America and politics in Nigeria. However, when it comes time to wrap up the loose ends of Ifemelu and Obinze’s love life, she creates a weak generic ending that feels dry and so unlike what her reader’s expect of her characters. In this way, I feel as if Adichie did more telling than actual showing in her book. I was truly interested in the cultural topics she spoke about, but by the end of the book, I got the feeling that she could’ve condensed the actual love story of Ifemelu and Obinze into a mere 150 to 200 pages and written another book about her feelings on race in America/ Immigration laws in America and England/ Nigerian politics.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nigerian culture or who wants to learn what the American or English culture looks like from a non-white immigrant’s perspective. However, if you aren’t interested in hearing a lot of back history to either of these culture’s, I would recommend reading something else.

As of September 2019, there has been word that Danai Gurira of Walking Dead and Marvel’s Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame fame is adapting the film as a limited 10-episode series for HBO Max. Gurira’s television series would include heavy hitters, such as the Oscar winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, from Twelve Years A Slave fame and the Emmhy award winner, Uzo Aduba, of Orange is the New Black acclaim. If you’re excited about this adaptation, drop down below and leave a comment!

Cheers!

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger Book Review

 I gave this book 5 stars.

Kody Keplinger’s novel, The DUFF is the type of book you could read at any age and connect to. The main character, Bianca is a tough as nails girl who’s heart has been hardened by the pains of love. Adamant about never falling in love again, she chooses to enter into an “enemies with benefits” relationship with Wesley, the notorious womanizer of her high school who has problems of his own. Together the two teenagers work through their problems in the form of..ahem…advanced cardio for the grown and sexy. However,  even with their preconceived rules of “no feelings” being involved, Bianca and Wesley learn the hard way that love can infiltrate your heart when you least expect it no matter how hard you plan.

Keplinger’s characters are well developed and likable. Even though Bianca does come off as cynical at times, the reader gets shown that her feelings of anger and frustration are justified. The way that this character antagonizes over being “the duff” a.k.a the designated ugly fat friend, is something that is especially well portrayed by the author and made into a relatable point for anyone who chooses to read this book due to the fact that most people have felt like the dud of their circle of friends at one point of their life or another.

On the flip side, Wesley’s character while clearly placed into the cliched role of being resident bad boy is endearing opposed to annoying. Even when he makes Bianca feel ashamed of herself by calling her the duff, it’s apparent that his character is battling his own set of demons and does so only as a knee-jerk reaction to his pain.

Keplinger’s choice to use cliched roles in her work is balanced off by the fact that her storyline is solid. Never does the reader feel as if they are being rushed off into a tidy conclusion. Instead, the author paces the story so that her audience can get the full benefit of watching the character’s lives come undone and then slowly pieced back together again. Both Bianca and Wesley’s character are funny, interesting, and sarcastic enough to keep readers entertained and willing to stick wound to finish Keplinger’s story. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is in need of a good chick-lit book or who just loves a good novel about bad boys and strong opinionated female leads. Yet, I would caution against letting younger readers begin this book being that it is meant for a mature audience due to explicit sex scenes throughout the novel.

The Power of Greed: Book Review On Aravind Adiga’s Last Man In Tower

The point of this review is more to dispense my troubled feelings about this book than to persuade or dissuade anyone from reading it. I felt something akin to word vomit as I wrote this review, so please don’t get upset if you find the occasional spoiler within this review. Most of my remarks come from personal feelings about the book and my reactions to my class discussion of this novel.

Cheers!

Image result for Last Man In Towerby Aravind AdigaI gave Last Man In Towerby Aravind Adiga  four stars not because I was head over heels in love with it, but because it led me to have profound thoughts about the condition of humanity. While this book was required reading for me for Graduate School, there were many times when I wanted to throw it clear across the room out of frustration and anger at the characters’ actions.

The story’s theme focuses on the duty that one has to his/her community. In this novel, Masterji, a retired Physics teacher living in a co-op in Vakola, Mumbai, along with his neighbors are offered the chance to sell their shares in their old apartment building for close to $2,900,000. However, the catch is that the group must do so unanimously. For many in the co-op, the idea of having money and being able to move up in the world is enticing enough to sign without much of a hassle, but for Masterji, the idea of leaving a place where his deceased wife and daughter’s last memory rest is unthinkable. Therefore, Masterji refuses to sign and rages a one-man opposition to the builder’s proposal. 

Here is where my distaste for Adiga’s novel sets in. For the whole of the book, Masterji’s neighbor’s complained of this man’s disregard for his community’s wishes, yet, everyone ultimately betrayed him for greed. It was argued in my seminar that Masterji was in the wrong for his actions of refusing to agree to abandon his home and go along with the co-op’s wishes because he had a duty to his community. However, in my opinion, this line of thinking seems twisted.

For the first half of the novel, the individuals of the Vishram Society regarded themselves as “respectable” people and prided themselves on living as upstanding middle-class Indians that were committed to doing what was right for their community. This all changed as soon as the opportunity to get money was presented to them. After this, they all became greedy and insufferable characters who only thought of their own needs forgetting the community. If the individuals in the society had had better reasons for their actions, I would have felt less trepidation at the characters’ final actions, but each person betrayed Masterji for mere dollar signs in the end. Moreover, they hid behind the idea that Masterji was blocking their one chance at “happiness” to keep from dealing with their betrayal. To me, this greed in Adiga’s characters hardened my belief that money really is the cause of all evil.

This being said, Adiga’s story is well-crafted and worth a read regardless of its raw portrayal of humanity. My only gripe besides anger at the characters’ pettiness and greed is that in some places, the author overwhelmed the reader with too many details and back history/story. This verboseness had me struggling to keep myself invested in the overall action of the novel (I actually found the last 1/4 of the book to be the best part of the story). Overall, I would recommend this book, especially as a book club pick, so that you can have someone else to discuss the themes and topics in this novel.

Going To The Edge Of Crazy: A Book Review On "32 Candles" by Ernessa T. Carter

I gave this book a solid 5 stars!!!

Ernessa T. Carter’s book, 32 Candles kept me entertained from start to finish.

Davidia Jones is an outcast at her school and unloved by her mother. Growing up as a dark-skinned African-American girl in her southern Mississippi town, she learns to fold in on herself and become numb to others’ taunts about her skin tone. Add to this the fact that Davidia refuses to speak at all, and it’s a recipe for disaster. However, once she reaches high school, the unthinkable happens……..she falls in love with James Farell, the newly arrived small-town football player and resident rich boy.

While James fails to acknowledge her presence, Davidia takes matters into her own hand and uses her Molly Ringwald-playbook to win James’ love. Unfortunately, James’s sisters have something else in mind and set off to make Davidia’s life hell. Fleeing from her small town after a prank goes too far, Davidia hitchhikes to Los Angeles with a female trucker. Here she changes her name to Davie Jones and becomes a sultry lounge singer. Seventeen years later, James walks back into Davie’s life and this time, she’s ready.

Davidia/Davie’s character is one of those characters that worm their way into the reader’s heart and forces them to become invested in the character’s story. Davidia’s character is well constructed and feels authentic to the reader. Even when she exacts her revenge on the Farell family, the reader has sympathy for her and may even want to help her payback the rich snobs who caused Davidia pain in high school by bullying her.

The author’s pacing for this story helps drive the story’s action. This is helpful in building the story steadily to climax and keeps the reader interested. The storyline also felt well though out and was easy to relate to whether you were popular in high school or an outcast. While the novel does span over a time period of roughly twenty-eight years, the pacing of the story never has the reader feeling the urge to hit fast forward on Davidia’s story.

Carter’s novel is definitely one that I would recommend to anyone who wants a taste of revenge or who just loves a good novel about a girl coming of age in the 80’s. However, I would caution that this book is meant for a mature audience since there are some heated scenes within the novel that may not be appropriate for a younger audience.

Cheers!

Playing Dress Up: A Book Review On Lola & The Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

I gave this book 3 stars.

You know those books who get raved about by everybody in all of Booktopia and you tell yourself, “I’m going to read this book because it must be fan-tastic if everybody else loves it so much?”….Whelp,  Lola & The Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins falls under that category for me.

I chose to read this book before its companion because well, Anna & The French Kiss was checked out at my local library and this was all they had at the time. I went into the book all drummed up and ready to sing its praises afterwards. However,…I was faced with disappointment.

While this book isn’t bad, it’s not technically good either. The characters in this story seemed to me to be ones that were harvested from other YA Fiction and placed smack-dab in the middle of Perkins’ novel. For instance, Lola is a somewhat contrived character who is labeled as the fashionable/artsy daughter of a same-sex male couple. The couple adopted Lola from one of the dad’s drug addicted sister when she was younger and wasn’t ready to raise a child.

Perkins also gives Lola the somewhat obvious aspiration to become a costume designer and formulates Lola’s character to dress up as different “characters” throughout the novel to mark herself as an individual while also showing her creative side. Keeping with this “individual rebel” act, Lola’s boyfriend, Max is delegated the role of the 20-somethin year old rocker who treats everyone else like crap besides Lola (or so it seems in the beginning). From here, we get the return of Cricket, the goofy/smart boy from next door who Lola was previously involved with and the usual sparks start to fly.

 Major Things That Bothered Me About The Book:

1. To me,  Lola and Cricket’s courtship falls flat and the characters also comes off as a tad mismatched. Cricket’s character seems so juvenile while, Lola seems to be this worldly girl who captures everyone’s attention.

2. Lola’s refusal to acknowledge her feelings for Cricket sends her in a relentless circle dance. She goes from not wanting to say how she feels. To hiding her actual feelings from Max and Cricket. Then, when she finally gets to the point where she can’t hide her feelings  anymore, Lola has to confront Max and he breaks her heart and leaves her in ultra-goth mode (which, she vehemently denies being in).

3. By the novel’s end, the only thing left to do is to “tidy up” and write a final romance sequence for Lola and Cricket……but wait!…..Perkins decides to go the extra mile and spice things up by giving Lola a final chance to showcase her clothing designs in the form of Calliope, Cricket’s twin sister who happens to be a figure skater. This chance for Lola to showcase her talent seemed so random in the midst of the story’s ending but, it does give readers the chance to see Lola’s versatility in fashion. Suffice to say, Perkins has Lola rescue the day and then, sends both Cricket and Lola on their blissful way to a ball-like ending with Lola wearing a gown inspired by Marie Antoinette’s fashion and Cricket looking dapper in a regular suit.

Even though I would label this book as a typical YA love story, my biggest gripe with the story was that it didn’t feel authentic. I felt as if I’d read the conversations between Lola and Cricket before and seen the “boy loves girl but, girl’s with another guy” storyline before. Even Lola’s zany outfits just seemed to be pilfered from other books with similar plots. I’m still looking forward to reading Anna & The French Kiss and even Isla & The Happily Ever After but, this book didn’t exactly work me into a frenzy. Yet, If you’re looking for a light, quirky read I’d suggest this book.

Cheers.