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Before We Were Yours Review

Before We Were Yours Book Review

If you were to ask me what one of my favorite books was, I would immediately say Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I read this book about a year ago, and I loved it the moment I read the first page. It is historical fiction at its best; it creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual historical event. I re-read it (technically I listened to the audiobook) for book club, and I didn’t realize that this was possible, but I loved it even more.

Before We Were Yours has two separate stories that eventually come together. The main story involves a 12-year-old girl named Rill and her four siblings, who live on a shanty boat with their parents in 1939 Memphis. When their parents leave for the hospital one stormy night, the children are taken away to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Having been put in charge that night, Rill fights to keep her siblings together. The other story revolves around Avery Stafford – a federal prosecutor who comes from a privileged family in present day Aiken, South Carolina. As she helps her senator father with his health crisis, an encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing care facility leads her to a journey through her family’s hidden history.

When I said that the best historical fiction creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual event, I really mean it. The actual event in this case was Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. For over two decades until 1950, Tann and her cohorts kidnapped poor children, and sold them to wealthy families across the country, even to Joan Crawford and June Allyson. It is sadly estimated that some 500 children died due to disease, poor care, and possibly abuse while in the society’s hands. (https://nypost.com/2017/06/17/this-woman-stole-children-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich/). Many of them were molested as well.

I had no idea that this event even occurred, and to think that this happened to children of all ages AND that Tann managed to get away with it frightens me all the more. That fear translated into sympathy for Rill and her siblings in their quest to not only make it out alive, but also to tell their stories while still in the orphanage. Even when she had no choice but to obey, I understood because for Rill, that meant survival. This is why Rill’s story gripped me to the bone more than Avery’s story even though I have nothing against the latter.

It was the audiobook that made my read the second time around all the more enjoyable. Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber put on some great vocal performances. Rankin – a well-known audiobook narrator and creator of the popular web short Jane Austin’s Fight Club – plays Avery, and she voices her in a professional east coast manner with hints of a Southern accent. This is highly appropriate since Avery lives in the east coast, but grew up in South Carolina. I extremely respect this particular detail that Rankin made to Avery’s character. Taber is also a well-known audiobook narrator, and she has appeared in television shows like Jane the Virgin and Star Wars: Clone Wars as well as gaming franchises like Final Fantasy. In my opinion, Taber is the standout.She voices Rill as a southern 12-year-old girl, who is perfectly fine with living by the river, yet it never gets too juvenile, especially when Rill experiences several traumatic episodes at the orphanage. There is also a sense of maturity in Rill that Taber also provides with such honesty. In addition, Taber shines when voicing Georgia Tann, who could be sweet and manipulative to not only the children, but also to the wealthy families. It is through Taber’s vocal performance of Tann that I could imagine an evil smile draping across her face when she said many of her lines.

If you have not read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate yet, do so as soon as possible. The story and the horrific events that it is based on are why many people have praised the novel. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I will continue to enjoy it forevermore.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Eight

Hello Everybody!

What a wonderful first day of March! I’m looking forward to spring, especially to travel more! Even if I’m walking around the block, it’s traveling by pandemic standards. I’ve had traveling on my mind ever since I started reading this book:

Around the World in Eighty Days with Michael Palin by Michael Palin is the book companion to the 1989 BBC series of the same name. In the show, the Monty Python member-turned traveler circumnavigates the globe in the same amount of time as Phileas Fogg – the protagonist of the famous Jules Verne novel of the same name – and using the same modes of transportation that were available in Fogg’s time. Along the way, he describes his joyous and sometimes chaotic experiences.

Pandemic or no pandemic, seeing pictures of Venice and Cairo make me want to travel even though they were taken over 30 years ago. Palin offers hilarious insights into them. For example, in Venice, a photo depicts an older man faced down, and he muses that the mafia probably got to him (forgive me if I misremember the comment).

I also like how every page indicates which part of the world Palin and his Passepartouts (the film crew essentially) are in. For instance, on one page, it lists Day 5: Cornith Canal in Greece as the author talks about going through it. On the next page, it lists Day 5: Athens as he talks about his experiences in that city. It’s good to know that Palin wants readers to know where he’s at all times (in the book of course).

The travelogue makes me want to watch the 7-part BBC series, which is available in its entirely on Amazon Prime. I look forward to hearing Palin’s narrations since I hear his voice constantly while reading the book.

As for the other novel that I’m reading, I finished My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, and I’m almost done with What Was Your Name Downriver?: Tales of the Shattered Frontier by Anthony Lowe.

We now come to the end of the eighth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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Nighthawk Book Review

One of the most prolific authors who passed away last year (and not from COVID-19) was Clive Cussler. With and without credited ghost writers, he wrote over 70 books during his lifetime. These usually involved characters who worked at the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) and tried to save some aspect of the environment. They often utilized scientific knowledge and contained 2 subplots. I can now say that I read my very first Cussler book with Nighthawk – the 14th book in the NUMA Files series. It was a very fun, action-paced novel that one should not read before going to bed.

In Nighthawk, NUMA crew leaders Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala are assigned to locate a highly advanced aircraft, which went missing. The titular aircraft carries antimatter, which was extracted from the upper reaches of the atmosphere and has to remain frozen. If thawed, it will unleash a catastrophe that will have a lingering global impact. The NUMA team along with Russia and China try to find the aircraft before it’s too late.

Before I go any further, I must add that like with Chief Armand Gamache series, the NUMA Files books can stand on their own, but the characters develop throughout. 

The book itself is a very easy read. The scenes move at a quick pace like those in an action/adventure movie. I especially loved the first scene between Kurt and Emma Townsend – the scientist turned agent for the National Security Administration – as they try to run from and fight the Chinese agents. I felt like I was in it as a good book should do. I would love to see this book turned into a film with George Clooney as Kurt, John Cena as Joe, and Jennifer Lawrence as Emma. I think it would be a big draw at the box office.

Having a fiancé who reads Clive Cussler helped me a lot to understand his books. For example, he mentioned that every one of them has a main plot with two subplots. In Nighthawk, the main story is about finding the aircraft, while the minor ones are about the antimatter that could possibly destroy the world when it hits a certain altitude and about the implications of governmental actions without properly considering the past, present, and future.

The latter subplot comes into play in the prologue with the Spaniards giving smallpox to the Inca people in 1525, and later when Kurt, Joe, and Emma go to Peru. They are assisted by Urco – an archaeologist studying the origins and disappearance of the Chachapoya people – with finding the aircraft. However, it turns out that he is the villain, but the book portrays his motivations empathically even if it agrees with the readers that his actions would create more destruction. 

In fact, I came across Bodacious Bookworm’s review of Nighthawk recently, and I’ll let her explain more about Urco:

“This villain … is motivated by tragedy and anger. He is a scientist betrayed by a government agency. An agency he warned about an experiment he worked on. In the government’s effort to keep him quiet, they try to kill him but end up only damaging him mentally and physically. He then turns the tables of the project he created against the three major superpowers- USA, Russia, and China.” (http://bodaciousbookworm.com/book-review-nighthawk-by-clive-cussler-spoilers/)

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Another plus for this book is the humor. It’s sprinkled with quips and retorts up the wazoo. I especially love the banter between Kurt and Emma throughout it. Also, the ending is one of the most hilarious ones that I have ever read in awhile.

I was also amused by the mention of Dirk Pitt in the book. Pitt is the main character of the first series that Cussler ever wrote. I bet the author has a Marvel universe with his characters since most of the main ones work at NUMA.

The only thing that I noticed while reading the book is that if one is going to read it, don’t do it before going to bed. For some, this may not be a big deal, but to others, it is. It contains so many details that I hate to admit this, but I almost missed the subplot about the antimatter. I will be frank. I read the book right before I fall asleep, and I now realize that I should have read it while wide awake. I had a similar feeling while reading So Anyway by John Cleese and vowed never to read nonfiction before I went to bed ever again.

All in all, Nighthawk by Clive Cussler is a very good book and introduction into the Marvel, uh I mean, Cussler universe. It’s full of great action and adventure with a lot of humor thrown in. I would recommend this book to Cussler fans who haven’t read it yet as well as to those who like marine-based suspense books and action/adventure novels with sharp wit. Also, please read this book while awake and not before sleeping. In the meantime, I look forward to more of his books even if they are completely written by someone else. 

RIP Clive Cussler (1931-2020)

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Seven

Hello Everybody!

I hope all of you are staying warm and safe, especially if you live in the eastern part of the United States.

I have been cozying up with What Was Your Name Downriver by Anthony Lowe (almost there!), Blowback by Brad Thor, and Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity by Norma Lewis. Last week, I added this new title:

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman is about Elsa – a 7-year-old girl who is different. Her best and only friend is her brash and crazy grandmother. She tells Elsa stories in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. When her grandmother dies and leaves behind letters apologizing to the people she’s wronged, it’s up to Elsa to deliver those notes. They lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, vicious dogs, and totally ordinary old people, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

I’ve seen book titles, in which I was so fascinated by them that I wanted to immediately read them. Kill the Farm Boy is an example of this. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is different. Not only is it an exciting title, but I also wanted to know the story behind it. With Kill the Farm Boy, I only wanted to read it simply because it was a cool title. My Grandmother invites readers to know what had happened with the grandmother and why she needed to apologize. No other fictional book has done that to me in recent memory.

This is my second Fredrik Backman novel, and I’ve noticed something about his books. They tend to be eccentric on the outside and dark on the inside. Both this title and A Man Called Ove contain stubborn old people as they deal with life in their own idiosyncratic ways. However, as the stories progress, their backstories are revealed piecemeal, and the dark elements are more prevalent. In the latter, Ove tries to kill himself on multiple occasions. In the former, Elsa gets physically bullied by her peers. She even receives notes telling her to kill herself. I know that Elsa is not an old lady, yet I wanted to point out how intense it can get. Even though I’m only a third in My Grandmother, I wouldn’t be surprised if the grandmother’s backstory is sad and dark.

Joan Walker – an English actress – narrates the audiobook. She has voiced other books from Backman like Britt-Marie Was Here and even A Man Called Ove (I’m going to take note of that for an audiobook versus special). For this novel, she does a good job giving vocal distinctions for the female characters. The grandmother sounds like what one would expect for a brash old lady holding a cigarette in her hands, and Elsa is quiet like a mouse. The second part reminded me of how Eric Idle voiced Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Also like Idle, Walker has some volume issues. She could be very quiet in one second, and then raise her voice in the next. I had to adjust the volume multiple times because of this. I’ll see how this performance unfolds, but I’m liking it so far.

We now come to the end of the seventh chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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The Book of Love: 50 Poems to Fall in Love Book Review

Full disclosure: I was given a free PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Love is in the air, and there are many ways to express it. One way is to read poetry (no matter how corny it is), for they come from the most vulnerable and deepest emotions. Shah Asad Rizvi has a new poetry collection called The Book of Love: 50 Poems to Fall in Love. It focuses on love and its many manifestations like longing, becoming one with another, love at first sight, and what it means to be in love. Like his previous work Divan of Shah, it’s a good gateway into this genre.

While I was reading this collection, I decided to listen to the 69 Love Songs album from The Magnetic Fields, which includes the famous indie song “The Book of Love.” However, I stopped halfway through the album when I felt that it was mocking the poetry (not unintentionally of course). The poems were clearly written by someone who felt intensely about love and would express his feelings about it no matter how cliche it sounded. This is in contrast to the album, which was clearly made by a cynical, but sincere guy, who expressed love in more realistic and blunt terms. I mean, the opening line to “The Book of Love” is “The book of love is long and boring.”

I can describe The Book of Love: 50 Poems to Fall in Love as many things, which I’ll get to in a bit, but the two things that I won’t call it are long (it’s a little over 100 pages) and inherently boring. So, in conclusion, if people feel the need to read the collection while listening to music, I would definitely suggest piano music like this collection on YouTube. It’ll set a more romantic mood.

As for the collection itself, I noticed that The Book of Love had similar strengths and weaknesses to its predecessor. The pros included the simple, elegant and (mostly) non-rhyming language, which make them feel like pop songs but with a sonnet tone. They also make the emotions and topics clear without being too obvious. In other words, the words and tone are elevated enough that people who love poetry can relish its every word and cadence, yet blunt enough that it doesn’t disway those who are not as into the genre as much. In addition, it helps that the collection forces people to sit down and actually read them in order to absorb their meanings. Some of my favorite poems were “Origins”, “Gesture”, “Gravity”, and “Doorstep.” 

On the other hand, the main con is that it covers the same aspects, but in different ways. Rizvi also has a tendency to repeat the same metaphors to express his feelings like rainbow and colors as well as summer and breeze. There are variations of I can’t live without you thrown in there as well. This could bore some people. Some of it is understandable since some of the poems in The Book of Love were originally from Divan of Shah. I’m hoping that for future collections, Rizvi expands the ways he expresses himself and how he looks at subjects like love.

Before I finish this review, there’s one more thing that I need to point out. As I mentioned earlier, the title is The Book of Love: 50 Poems to Fall in Love. Technically, there are 49 poems. I noticed that the poems “Envious” and “Home” are the same one right down the wording and comma placement. I don’t know how it slipped under the author’s and editor’s noses, but if one is going to have 50 poems in a collection, have 50 poems. It’s like naming a group Fifth Harmony, but only having four members.

In conclusion, like his previous work, Shah Asad Rizvi’s The Book of Love: 50 Poems to Fall in Love is an accessible poetry collection. It’s elegantly passionate and palatable at the same time. Although there are some minor flaws, I would still recommend it to those who want to start reading poetry as well as to those who love poetry, especially the romantic kind. This book of love is not dull and boring, and I’m sure people will love it if their significant others read it to them.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Six

Hi Everybody!

I hope everyone is having a great first day of February. I sure am! I just finished Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly! I can’t wait to review it this year!

In the meantime, I’m still chugging along reading What Was Your Name Downriver by Anthony Lowe, Blowback by Brad Thor, and The Book of Love by Shah Asad Rizvi. Luckily, I started a new book that I hope to review for Women’s History Month next month, and it’s called…..

Wild Women of Michigan: A History of Spunk and Tenacity by Norma Lewis is about the women who performed extraordinary acts that challenged and changed the world (they lived in Michigan obviously). It ranges from known people like Gilda Radner and Madame Marie-Therese Cadillac to the obscure like Anna Howard Shaw and Pearl Kendrick. The book even includes women of color like Loney Gordon – an African-American woman who assisted Kendrick with developing the vaccine against the Whooping Cough – and Madeleine LaFramboise – a mixed Odawa and French woman who was one of the most successful fur traders in the Northwest Territory. It’s very informative so far, and I look forward to reading more about these women.

The only complaint that I have is the structure. Sometimes, there will be a section that’s devoted to one person, but it will end up talking about others at the end. Despite that, the positive of learning about these women in an accessible way outweighs that little negative so far.

We now come to the end of the sixth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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My Name is Not Easy Book Review

As I have mentioned in prior reviews, fiction allows writers to create stories that are based around certain facts, and they permit readers to take a look at how the people involved feel. Fiction also has the power to bring unknown events to a wider audience. In the case of My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson, it showed the experiences of Alaskan students from the vast region known as the Bush. They had to travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to attend boarding schools for months or years at a time prior to the Molly Hootch settlement of 1976. That required the state of Alaska to fund schools no matter how small the settlement was. As one could imagine, those experiences were not very rosy. The book does a fair job at telling these stories.

My Name is Not Easy is about Aamaugak or “Luke” – an Inupiaq teenager – who is sent to Sacred Heart School – a boarding school hundreds of miles away with his brothers in the early 1960s. The school contains Eskimos (note: the characters in this novel refer to themselves as this), Indians, and white students, who are constantly segregated even in the cafeteria. They are also forced to speak English, and if they disobey, Father Mullen is ready to use his ruler. Luke struggles to survive, but he’s not the only one. There’s the smart aleck and daring leader Amiq, the blond and freckled Chickie, and the quiet and nerdy Junior. All of their stories come together at the school, and things will never be the same.

I really liked the story around Luke. He is the eldest of three, and like any other oldest sibling, he feels the need to look after his brothers. However, his youngest brother Isaac is too young to attend school, so he is essentially kidnapped and adopted by a family in Texas (to be fair, his family could have waited one year before sending Isaac to that school). Luke expresses guilt for not doing more. In addition, as the title implies, his Inupiaq name is not easy to pronounce, and he fears losing his identity. I even felt sad for him when he found out that his other brother Bunna died in a plane crash.

I also liked how subtle the injustices were. Granted, there were scenes, in which characters were smacked with a ruler, but I’m talking about ones that it takes them awhile to realize what had actually happened to them. For example, scientists come to the school to test how the Eskimos can withstand intense cold. One of the experiments that they did involved giving Inuit students a cupful of iodine-131 aka radioactive iodine. The Author’s Note, which provides a lot of context to the story, states that a lot of students ended up having cancer because of this.

The aspect that didn’t work as well as it should have was the fact that it had a lot of narrators. In fact, there are 5 narrators in total throughout the book. Even though these stories need to be told, I didn’t connect to them as much as I hoped because of the constant switching between characters, sometimes even in the same chapter. It didn’t help that Junior – a character emphasized in the summary – didn’t have much of a story until the third act. I feel that the story would have been more concise if Luke was the sole narrator or if him and Chickie (a stand-in for the author) were the main ones. I liked Chickie as a character – a white girl who could be tough and sassy, and she even falls in love with Bunna. 

In addition, I felt that the finale – the earthquake and tsunami – was anticlimactic. I understand that this actually happened in 1964 (Luke’s final year at the school), yet how it was used in the story was underwhelming. It felt like Edwardson was grabbing straws for a climax, and then she did some research and was like, “I know! An earthquake and a tsunami occurred in 1964, so I’ll have the characters react to them.”

Overall, My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson is an average young adult historical fiction novel. It’s clear that the author cares about these experiences. I only wish that there weren’t so many narrators and that the climax was more impactful. Despite my complaints, it did get me interested in learning more about the experiences of Alaskan students in boarding schools in the mid-twentieth century. So yes, I would recommend this to readers who like to read about social justice, PG-13 versions of The Nickel Boys, stories involving Inuits and Native Americans, and the 1960s. 

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Five

Hello Everybody,

I hope everyone’s having a great MLK Jr. Day! I sure am! I will continue to strive for diversity, equality, and inclusion when I review books from all walks of life.

Since the last chapter, I have read a lot of books and audiobooks, but I do have two books to share with you today.

Let’s get started.

The first book on the reading block is The Book of Love: 50 Poems to Fall in Love by Shah Asad Rizvi. It’s the second poetry collection that I’ve read of his, and it focuses on love in its many manifestations. So far, the book is about longing, becoming one with another, love at first sight, and what it means to be in love. I’m halfway through it, so I look forward to seeing how Rizvi expands on this topic. I plan on reviewing it in time for Valentine’s Day.

The second and last novel on the reading block is Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. This book takes place during World War II – historical fiction’s favorite era. It tells the stories of three women – Caroline Ferriday, Kasia Kuzmerick, and Herta Oberheuser. Caroline is a former Broadway actress who works at the French Consulate in New York City when Hitler invades Poland, and she sets her sight on France. Kasia is a Polish Catholic teenager at the beginning of the war who becomes a courier for the underground resistance movement. Herta is a young German doctor who lands a position at Ravensbruck, yet she finds herself in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power. Their lives begin to collide when Kasia and her mother and sister are sent to that same concentration camp. As a result, their stories intertwine as Caroline and Kasia seek justice to those history has forgotten.

I’ve read plenty of WWII-based historical fiction, and it’s nice to see one that encompasses a broader view of the people’s experiences throughout that war. It’s also good to read one that emphasizes the home front and the work of women on both sides, despite how deadly some of that actually was. The main characters are fleshed out so far, and I look forward to what happens next and how their stories collide. Some sections can be hard to get through, especially the ones that involve Kasia at Ravensbruck.

I’m listening to the audiobook, and it’s good so far. Cassandra Campbell (from everyone’s favorite book Where the Crawdads Sing) is Caroline, and she voices her like a Hollywood starlet. Kathleen Gati (from General Hospital) plays Kasia with a vague Polish accent, and she captures the emotions that Kasia feels, especially during her time at Ravensbruck. Kathrin Kana – a bilingual German/English actress – takes on the role of Herta. Kana plays her part well as her character deals with the implications of working at a concentration camp.

We now come to the end of the fifth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life Book Review

Alex Trebek’s final episodes as host of Jeopardy aired this past week. As a longtime viewer, I wanted to honor his legacy by reviewing The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life – an autobiography that does that as well as reflect on general and Jeopardy-related topics. It was published in July 2020 – less than 4 months prior to his death. Since the book uses a similar structure to that of the famous quiz show, I will do the same thing here. So, here it goes: The answer is… a fabulous book that is both sassy and heartfelt while Alex Trebek reflects on his life and work. What is… my opinion?

The answer is…these sections of a book make a quick read, especially when they are less than 10 pages each. What are…chapters? Seriously, this book definitely fits the needs of people who don’t have much time reading. The short chapters make it easier to take a break and not lose the reader’s place. At 304 pages or 4 discs, they could probably finish it in about a week or two.

What are… my favorite parts? Trebek offers anecdotes about his personal life and his time as host of Jeopardy. One of the parts that I really liked was simply getting to know him. Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know that he was bilingual (his mother was French-Canadian from Ontario), his father was an Ukrainian immigrant, and loved horses and classic movies. 

Some of the other amusing parts were when he talked about certain contestants (like Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter) and incidents that happened on the show, including the time when no one answered the questions relating to football. Also, it’s very telling that he didn’t have a bad word to say about any of the players that he mentions. And of course, he discussed the popularity of his mustache and how the media freaked out when he decided to shave it off. I didn’t know that his facial hair became famous because there hadn’t been a quiz show host who sported that since Groucho Marx. As a Marx Brothers fan, that made me very happy.

Another memorable section was when he discussed his battle with pancreatic cancer. It really showed his mentality in how he deals with being a cancer patient. For example, he talks about disliking using battle as a metaphor since if one doesn’t survive that, then they are considered a loser. To him, the most important thing was getting through treatment, and if he felt that it was time, then he would stop the process.

What are… expectations? I’ve seen some reviewers express some disappointment with Trebek not revealing much of his life. I wasn’t bothered by this since he admitted that the chemo has affected his mental capabilities. He also confessed that he evaded writing a book about his life for a long time because he thought it wasn’t interesting enough. These are probably the reasons why the autobiography has an equal focus on his values as well as his actual story. He kept my interest throughout.

What is… my complaint? Before I address my issue with the book, I want to say that I understand that it was written in 2020 – the year of the coronavirus. Therefore, talking about this disease is inevitable. I didn’t mind Trebek discussing this because let’s face it, it has affected everyone no matter who they are. What annoyed me was when he brought politics into that particular conversation. It’s not that I have a particular bias for/against one party and that he expressed opposing views. I agreed with a lot that he had to say, yet it simply took me out of the book. That’s it. 

What is audiobook narration? Ken Jennings and Alex Trebek narrate the book with the former doing most of the work. I was a little disappointed in that, but knowing that Trebek had been going through chemotherapy and doing Jeopardy at the same time, it probably would have been more exhausting to record an audiobook too. Anyway, Jennings is a perfect choice to read the book not only because he’s the most famous person to come out of the quiz show, but he also has a smart, confident, but friendly voice and can be very funny with his deliveries. Trebek narrates the more intimate portions with the same style that he’s known for – a family member that relatives always look forward to seeing because they bring fun, joy, and knowledge.

All in all, The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek is an uplifting and engaging book that does exactly what sets out to do. He reminisces about his personal life and his time on Jeopardy like how I expected the smart and sassy Canadian would. Along with fans of the quiz show, I would recommend it to anybody who has an interest in knowing more about the host himself as well as to those who’ve been through or know someone going through cancer treatment. We’ll all miss him dearly, but the book helps to keep his legacy alive.

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The Hate U Give Movie Review

Warning: this review contains spoilers of the movie.

Shortly, after reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, I felt the need to watch the movie because A. the book was so good that I wanted to see how it was adapted, and B. I wanted to see films that didn’t involve solving the race issue by the end of it. Now that I have watched the flick, I can say that it retains the same emotional core as the book albeit with some good and not-so-good changes

Since the novel itself is nearly 450 pages, it’s not hard to see why Audrey Wells – the person who wrote the screenplay – had to condense the material into a movie that is a little over two hours. A good chunk of what happens in the book involves Starr waiting before getting interrogated by the police and later interviewed by a local news station. Those were cut out. Then, there were scenes that were given multiple pages, but only bits of screen time and even rearranged in the film. For example, in the book, the conversation among Starr, Seven, and Chris about how one is white occurs while they are trying to evade the rioting. In the flick, this exchange actually happens after they leave the prom and go to the Carter residence, so Chris can meet Starr’s parents. In the novel, Chris doesn’t meet Maverick and Lisa until Seven’s graduation party. Wells understood that that conversation needed to be retained for the movie, and while it effectively breaks up the tension in the book, it would have taken away the gravitas of the climatic rioting in the movie. 

In addition, certain elements were cut out entirely. The character Devante was in the book to show why Khalil would have ended up selling drugs as well as to display more of Maverick’s compassionate side as he tries to get him off the streets. I only felt his absence halfway into the movie because there were scenes that illustrate Maverick’s caring side, and they make it clear in the beginning that Khalil was selling drugs. In the novel, it is more ambiguous. Moreover, the Carter family moves out of Garden Heights into a nicer neighborhood in the book. In the film, they end up staying in Garden Heights, despite Lisa’s protests early on to move out. This drives home the points that they are still willing to help out their community despite its troubles and that Starr has become more comfortable with where she is from and how that will always be a part of her.

Also, there were scenes that were not in the book at all. At the end of the movie, Starr goes into Rosalia – Khalil’s grandmother’s house – to retrieve his Harry Potter wand. While this is absent from the book, it gives the audience a visual reminder that Starr will always remember Khalil and to speak out against injustice. Meanwhile, one of the most profound examples of this is Sekani – Starr’s little brother – pointing the gun at King after the latter tried to burn down the grocery store. As my mom and I were watching it, we were shocked and tried to figure out if that was in the book or not. As far as I remember, it wasn’t, but I get why it was in the film. It serves as a powerful visual representation of the THUG LIFE acronym that is echoed throughout both the novel and film.

On the other hand, there were some alterations that didn’t quite sit right with me. One of these is with the character Maya – Starr’s Asian friend. In the book, after Starr and Hailey have their huge fight, Maya confesses to the former that the latter had said some incredibly racist stuff while at her house for dinner. As a result, they form a pact to stand by each other’s side. In the movie, this is cut out. In fact, after the fight, Maya is seen rushing over to Hailey. This makes it seem that Maya is taking Hailey’s side, whereas in the book, this is not true at all. I’m not the first one to notice this, nor will I be the last. 

The biggest complaint that I have with this adaptation is how Khalil and the scene where he gets killed are depicted. In the novel, Khalil is portrayed as a nice and friendly guy who happens to own an expensive pair of Air Jordans. The movie makes him more of a life of the party who can come off as a douchebag at times. In addition, right before Khalil and Starr get pulled over, he tries to kiss her, which wasn’t in the book. Afterwards, Khalil says that someday, Starr will be with him. 

I’m sure that this was not what Wells was intending, but I think that this has to do something with the performance. A lot of the actors in this movie (including Amandla Stenberg as Starr and Russell Hornsby as Maverick) act the heck out of it, and it made me feel for them. The guy who played Khalil didn’t give me that because of his actions prior to the character’s death. It didn’t help that he was giving a very smug smile during his scenes. Another crucial change is that the officer who pulls them over actually gives an explanation why he did that. Now of course, I understand that there are some officers that will give vague statements of why they pull people over, and this was certainly the case. In addition, Khalil even reaches out for his hairbrush when he gets shot in the movie, while in the book, he simply moved just to see if Starr was okay. Along with Khalil not being complacent, these make him all the more blameworthy as much as I want to avoid victim blaming. I guess that Wells was trying to make the officer’s actions a little more justifiable, but in the end, it makes Khalil more responsible for his death. I mean the entire movie is about trying to speak out what truly happened that night. 

Overall, The Hate U Give movie is a very good adaptation of the book of the same name. There were some drastic changes, but most of them still retained the same emotional core as the novel. As I briefly mentioned, the acting was mostly top notch, who understood their characters very well. While the novel is in many ways better than the movie (as most who get film adaptations are), I would still definitely recommend watching it even if one hasn’t read the book. It’s a very important film that empathetically represents what’s happening now with the riots against police brutality. 

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Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2020

Hello Everyone!!!!

Today is the last Monday of the year, so I figured that it’s time to do my very first year-end countdown of books that I reviewed in 2020!

There were so many good and not-so good titles that I read over this year, but six of them were stuck in my mind for better or for worse. To be clear, the novels that I will rank are ones that I originally reviewed this year, so no books from the Book Reviews From the Vault series.

So let’s get started with the Best Books that I reviewed in 2020!!

3. That’s Me Groucho!: The Solo Career of Groucho Marx by Matthew Coniam

I read That’s Me Groucho!: The Solo Career of Groucho Marx during the initial quarantine, and I was glued to it every second. Of course, being a Marx Brothers fan, I can see why a general reader might not be able to get into it as enthusiastically as I have. Despite that issue, Coniam does a great job researching the book and maintaining an objective view of the iconic comedian. Also, it contains a buttload of information that even diehards may not know about. So if you are looking for a present for a Marx Brothers fan, get them this book!

2. The Survivors Club by Lisa Gardner

I normally don’t read a whole lot of suspense books, but Lisa Gardner made me want to read more titles in this genre with The Survivors Club. It contains some of the most unexpected twists and turns that I have ever encountered. It also helps that the novel has three-dimensional characters, a non-sugar coated and nuanced approach to the very sensitive subject of rape, and a great finale! It’s no wonder that Lisa Gardner is the “Queen of Suspense!”

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

On one of the library Facebook groups that I’m in, someone had asked what books I read this year that I couldn’t stop thinking about. I answered The Hate U Give. This novel earns every praise that it has gotten with its diverse and realistic storytelling and characters. Although it’s a young adult book, anyone can read and enjoy it. Its portrayal of empathy is so impactful that people will be empowered to stand up for justice.

Alright, now let’s get to the worst!

3. Tangerine by Christine Mangan

As I mentioned in my 49-book ranking, I was originally going to put Tangerine as two stars because I was putting a lot of emphasis on the fact that George Clooney’s film company had acquired the film rights. Since then, this title has not been made into a film. This is an around-about way to say that I’m not sure if it will get adapted because the book is kind of dull. I get that the first two acts are a slow burn, but it could be very plodding at times. I would have tolerated that more if the ending was unpredictable in any way. It frustrated me until I realized who was the true protagonist. I still hold out for the film adaptation, but because of the source material, I’m afraid that it will be just as boring.

2. The Biggest Lie in the History of Christainity: How Modern Culture is Robbing Billions of People of Happiness by Matthew Kelly

Look at that title. See how inflammatory the words are. I had other issues with this book like no sources and a lack of an examination of Christian ideals, but none of those angered me as much as how it was worded. I don’t mind the bluntness of self-help books, but they have to be straight-forward without being condescending and stirring up feelings of anger and fear. Sadly, that’s how I felt about this title. I’m sure one can find more balanced self-help books on how to be a better Christian elsewhere. 

1. Final Jeopardy by Linda Fairstein

Final Jeopardy is on the list not because of how the author contributed to the Central Park Five case. If you want to frustrate me to the nth degree, all you have to do is take a potentially interesting scenario and make it as dry and boring as a Costco cake left out for too long, and that’s what this novel does. No further explanation is needed.

And that was the Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2020! I hope all of you enjoyed it. I look forward to having plenty of new reviews for 2021! See you next year!

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