Monday, June 17, 2013

Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon Wrap-Up

My goal for the Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon was very simple. I wanted to read four books in one week. I started off strong as usual and slowly waned by the challenge's end. Overall, I finished two books and started one more reading about half-way through before I put it down.

My first book that I picked up was Corregidora by Gayl Jones, which was one of my African-American/African book selections for the week. I got about 50-54% done with this book before I was notified that Wonder by R.J. Palacio was available for me to download from the library. Currently,  I have 94 pages before I am done with Jones' book.

I picked up Wonder by R.J Palacio from my library's eBook collection since I had seen so many BookTubers haul this book. I absolutely adored this story and have added it to my favorites of 2013 list. I plan to review this book very soon.

Next, I read Heist Society by Ally Carter, which I got in eBook form as well. I personally expected a bit more than I actually got from this book. It was a good read, but not a great one. I will be doing a series review for this book along with its two companions so I won't have an actual review for at least another month.

Other books that I picked up last week included: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamed, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Our Souls To Keep by Gary A Caruso, and Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter, which is the second book in the Heist Society series.

Movie & Play Review of Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin In The Sun

I gave the play 5 stars and the movie 3 stars.

The thing about classics of any kind is that you never know what you're going to get when you read or watch them. You can look up all the reviews you want, but until you've cracked open the book or movie for yourself you can't be sure if any classic is right for you.

I have often heard people gush over Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin In The Sun and told myself there was no rush to read it on my own because I would eventually have to read it for some class. Sadly, this book never actually made it onto the required reading list for any of my classes so it was left up to me to read it at my leisure. This summer, I finally had a chance to pick the play up from my mother's collection while I waited for my own boxes to be shipped from Pittsburgh. My ultimate reaction was that this play was nothing like I expected it was infinitely better.

Play Review

A Raisin In The Sun follows the Youngers, an African-American family living in South Side Chicago sometime between the end of WWII and the present. The Younger family includes Mama/Lena, a retired domestic worker;Walter/Brother, her son who has big dreams of making it; Ruth, Walter's wife; Ruth and Walter's son, Travis; and Beneatha, Walter's younger sister who wants to become a doctor. As the play begins, the Youngers are all anticipating getting the insurance check that covered Walter Sr., Mama's husband who has recently died.

Each person in the family has big dreams of what they want to do with the money when they get it however, Walter is the most vocal about his plans. When the check finally comes, Mama takes the money and buys a house in an all-white neighborhood with half of it and gives the rest to Walter with strict instructions to put half in the bank for Beneatha's medical education and use the other half for whatever he sees fit. Unfortunately, Walter does the opposite and things start to unravel from there.

For once, I can actually agree with the general consensus and say that this particular play is worthy of the title of classic. Everything in Hansberry's play felt extremely relevant and real to me, from the characters who were trying to figure out how to spend their new found fortune to the themes that Hansberry brought up about African-American's place in American society. Even on paper, the characters' emotions and actions are mapped out and shown so well that watching a film or live performance for Hansberry's work was actually unnecessary. I personally enjoyed each aspect of the play and could see how certain issues such as, the idea of the black man's ambitions being unrecognized or the questioning of whether blacks are better off assimilating into the American culture vs. African culture are still relevant. Yet, when I watched the 1961 film adaptation, I wasn't necessarily as impressed by it like I was with the play.

Movie Review

For starters, the movie added and deleted key scenes that were important to the overall message of the play. In one deleted scene, Beneatha cuts her permed hair off and everyone is shocked by her actions. This depiction of going natural was empowering in the play. In the film, this scene is cut so that instead of physically shedding what is implied to be her "assimilated American habits," Beneatha just goes into a monologue about how she will not take on anymore American habits and will instead identify more with her African roots. In my opinion, this scene would have been amazing if it was acted out properly by Diana Sands who played Beneatha.

Likewise, the scene where the Youngers' neighbor comes in to borrow cleaning products before the family moves and warns/reminds Mama that going into an all-white neighborhood to live isdangerous for the times. This particular scene while not as profound as Beneatha's hair cutting scene would have been good to show that not only whites were weary of the trouble that could come from blacks and whites living together. Yet, directors of the film chose to show only the white viewpoint instead in the visit that Mr. Linder who acts as the "welcome committee" to the Youngers' new neighborhood makes to the family's South Side apartment.

Even though the film did delete these two scenes and add scenes where Walter is sitting in a bar or shown chauffeuring his white boss around, I did somewhat enjoy it because of Sidney Poitier's acting in the role of Walter. Out of all the actors in the film, he gave the best performance to me. His emotions were raw and he embodied the idea of being a man who the world had beaten down on to a T. Seeing him play Wlater alongside Ruby Dee who played the role of Ruth was interesting since these two seemed to have good on screen chemistry. While I did enjoy Diana Sands in her role as Beneatha, I was a little annoyed with her character in general in both the play and the book. However, I did chalk this up to being just part of the acceptable emotions that Hansberry's play was meant to draw out of me.

I would definitely recommend the play and the 1961 movie adaption. I eventually hope to get a chance to watch the 2008 film adaption to see how Sean "P. Diddy" Combs acted in his role as Walter. Not to mention Phylicia Rashad is one of my favorite actresses so I would love to see her in the role of Mama as well.

I hope everyone's day went well and that a lot of reading was done in between celebrating Father's Day.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ruby Red Trilogy Review

I gave this series a solid 5 stars and also added these two books onto my favorite of all times list.

The Ruby Red Series by Kerstin Gier took me by surprise. When I initially picked up Ruby Red, the first novel in the series, I was expecting a quaint story about a teenage girl who time traveled and a few historically relevant scenes that made for just another angsty teen fantasy novel. However, what I got was a fun and witty story about a girl named Gwyneth who inherits her family's "time traveling" gene instead of her cousin, Charlotte who was believed to be the apparent heir for sixteen years. Unlike Gwyneth, Charlotte was thoroughly trained to handle being a time traveler and was initiated into the society's secrets through private lessons since the time of her birth.

Ill-prepared for her new job Gwyneth makes up the rules as she goes along. From falling in love with her time traveling partner, Gideon, to being introduced to the infamous Count Saint-Germane, leader of the secret time traveling society (who has long been dead), Gwyneth proves that she is not just an accessory to anyone else's agenda. Instead, she searches for clues in the past and the present with the help of her best friend, Leslie and the ghost and demons who follow her around.

To make matters even more interesting, Gier has stretched the cast of the series across different time periods, which gives the story a Clue like feel. Each characters' motives come off as suspicious and it seems that Gwyneth can only trust herself, which causes the series' plot to be full of suspense.

The first book in the series is geared more toward character formation and unraveling who Gwyneth is and what role she plays in the time travelers' mystery. However, Sapphire Blue has a bit more action than Ruby Red. In this second installment readers get to see Gwyneth travel back in time more and converse with her ancestors, which allows her to obtain more answers to her questions about why she must time travel.

Also, in Sapphire Blue, the love connection between Gwyneth and Gideon becomes more apparent. Gier constructs this weird dynamic between these two characters in her first book and it only gets
more complicated as the series goes on. At first, it seems like Gideon likes Gwyneth. Then, it seems like he hates her. THEN, it's like okay, maybe he does, maybe he doesn' short, his character holds a lot of secrets. None of which, are really revealed until the end of Sapphire Blue.

Gideon's character seems to be good however, my actual feelings toward him changes continuously throughout the first two books. When he's first introduced, I just assume that he is a sort of secret bad guy. Later on, it's revealed that he was mostly raised by the secret society and was unable to
actually spend time with other kids besides Charlotte. Therefore, the fact that Gwyneth is his new untrained time traveling sidekick is a little much for him to bear. Yet, he outwardly warms toward her, but still gives multiple hints that he would rather work alone. This places him on the potential bad guy list along with like 50 other people.

This series is definitely one that I would recommend. I personally am highly anticipating the third and final installment of this series, Emerald Green which comes out on October 8, 2013. Sadly, with this new installment comes a new cover design. Gone are the beautiful original jeweled covers and instead, readers will see a dark-haired girl in various colored ball gown standing next to a clock-tower. I am hoping that I can find a copy of the final book with the original cover since these books are translated from German into English.

Well, I hope ever one is enjoying their reading. I'm still participating in the Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon and would encourage everyone to join. If not, I hope you're getting in hordes of reading this weekend. Happy Reading!


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sweet Redemption: Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon

After my last disastrous results with the Bout of Books Read-A-Thon, I feel that I need to redeem myself. Therefore, I have decided to partake in the Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon book challenge. 
The Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon is a time when the book community gets together to dedicate the days of June 7-14 to getting as much reading done as possible. Each participant reads as much as they can in order to get themselves through their TBR piles or just for the sheer enjoyment of reading. Of course, we all know that real life gets in the way of reading, but that shouldn't stop anybody from participating. Everybody should read as much as they can.
In the meanwhile, the sponsers of the Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon will be hosting book-related challenges where participants can win cool prizes through participating in a Twitter party and using the hashtag #WWReadathon! You can posts updates on your blog, Twitter, Goodreads or Facebook — as long as the profile is public and your reading progress can be seen.

Since my last go-round in the Bout of Books book challenge, I hav elearned that I don't necessarily know how to stick with a TBR pile therefore, I shall now only set myself a number goal of four books. Also, I will review all books after June 14 so, I can read as much as possible. I hope you all are getting lots of reading done. New reviews are coming tomorrow.

Monday, June 3, 2013

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. Hiwever, 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, which is one of the books from my Birthday Book Haul. 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 int he comment section.


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 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. For the most part, 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.

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 also hindered the overall pacing of the story was Adichie's habit of adding different blog post from Ifemelu's race 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.

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, there is also an inquisitive nature that helps give her the initiative to voice her opinion about race relations in America, as well as, Nigeria and confront different issues that plague immigrants and non-white Americans. This determination to gain an understanding of racial groups who are deemed as "the other" in America (i.e., individuals who are not a part of the dominate race) 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 sort of 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.

Sorry for the wait, I've been a tad busy lately. I hope you all enjoyed it.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Top Nine Of All Time

In response to and in celebration of Kate's Book Club's birthday and subsequent giveaway, I would like to do a listing of my top nine favorite books of all time. And yes...I am aware that most people did video responses to this YouTube Book Tag however, I prefer to use my blog to cover my top picks. In no particular order, here they are:

1. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples: I remember having to read this book in fifth grade and being so transfixed by Shabanu's story. Shabanu is a Pakistani girl of about 12 or 13 who lives in the Cholistan desert with her nomadic family. Growing up tending her herd of camels she always knew she'd marry young, but as fate would have it, her betrothal comes much earlier than she expects. Shabanu is married to a man that is twice her age after a chaotic event takes place when her family visits her actual betrothed. Staple's book has the type of storyline that sticks with you well beyond you finishing the book. Even though I read the other two books in this series, I would still recommend this book out of the whole series as the one that is most riveting.

2. Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling once said that, "no matter how old you get, the world of Harry Potter will always be waiting for you when you return." As corny as this sounds, it is the truth. I frequently reread this series from beginning to end and always get emotional even though I know what's going to happen. Regardless, my emotions always slip away from me when I read the 6th book in the series. I love the back story that Rowling gives to why Lord Voldemort is the way he is and why their is a rivalry between Harry's father and Professor Snape. If I had to only pick one book from the series as my all-time favorite, this would definitely be the one. I never get tired of this book.

3. Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss: The thing you'll quickly learn about me is that I'm a tad sentimental and a sucker for quotable things or things that give some insight into the human experience. I love this book by Dr. Seuss because it makes me feel like I'm not alone in my journey to that great beyond we all call adulthood. This book is usually something that you give to a person who's graduating or just moving up another level in their life. I love the simplicity in the Dr.'s rhymes and the overall messages in the books. The artwork in this book also lends itself to the unique wackiness that can only be found in a Dr. Seuss book. This book is good for people of all ages and something that never goes out of style.

4. Friday Nights At Honeybee's by Andrea Smith I picked this book  up on a whim in undergrad at my
university's bookstore and fell deeply in love with it on first reading it. The book follows two women as they migrate individually to Harlem in the 1960's until the point where they meet at Honeybee's. The two women, Viola and Forestine are both running from their own personal demons. Viola is a Southern Baptist preacher's daughter who gets ran out of her small town by her father and the congregation for what is perceived to be less than sanctified behavior on her part and Forestine is a woman who's only dream is to become a singer. In Smith's story, the recreation of Harlem in the 1960's is beyond believable and the storyline is so gripping that I couldn't put it down until I was completely finished.  I'd recommend to all lovers of Harlem and jazz.

5. The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman: We've all been born in skin that we don't always feel comfortable in. To make matters worse, we may often get told, "oh you would be pretty if..." or "honey, why don't you do x, y, and z to yourself. You would be soooooo beautiful if you did" by some brainwashed individual who has been sold a one dimensional view on what beauty is. In the case of Emma Lou, the hue of her skin is what keeps her from being considered beautiful by others in her family and race. Born as a dark-skinned African-American in the Harlem Renaissance period, Emma Lou is frequently badgered to modify her skin tone to fit in with society's concept of what beauty is. I personally love this book because of the raw emotions that Thurman lets spill from its pages. Growing up as a dark-skinned girl myself, I can understand the feelings that Emma Lou has when it comes to life and her struggle to come of age in an era when blacks were not necessarily as accepting of their skin tone as they should have been. Yet, don't be detoured from reading this novel if your not that into African-American history, it's a good read for anybody who enjoys coming of age stories as well.

6. Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree: This particular book falls under my top picks not only because it is a good book, but because of the way it came to me. Tyree's book was a staple read amongst middle school girls when I was in 6th grade. Flyy Girl was secretly passed back and fourth between us girls like it was the ultimate study guide and each girl in turn would read it and pass it on to the next girl in line. As an adult, this book doesn't hold nearly as much magic for me, but I still keep it in my list of faves because it reminds me of a much more innocent time. The book itself isn't exactly child friendly because of certain scenes where the main character partakes in adult "cardio" exercises yet, the novel itself is about the main character, Tracy's coming of age and learning who she is on her own terms. While I did read this book at a fairly young age, I would caution other young girls to do so under the pretense of being an observer of Tracy's story opposed to using it as an all out manual for living life in the fast lane.

7. The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee: Action, racial commentary, fight scenes, wise cracking, and an urban setting are all a part of Greenlee's masterpiece. I read this book this semester for my seminar on African-American Fiction after growing up hearing my parents discuss it frequently. Greenlee's novel has a tumultuous back story. Turned down by American publishers and eventually having to go to Britain to publish this book due to its graphic and raw nature, Greenlee's book was lost in the shuffle of great African-American fiction. This book is a fictional account of Dan Freeman, an ex-CIA African-American operative as he fights to exact guerrilla warfare on his oppressors. The novel takes place in the 60's and follows Freeman as he seeks to educate a gang of urban teens on having love for themselves and their race. It was eventually turned into a movie and then, banned by the government upon its release. It has only recently been reintroduced into print and DVD. This novel is not for the faint of heart or for those who are easily offended by racial slurs. I would recommend it as a serious read or just as a thriller selection for any and everyone.

8. Imaginary Men by