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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer is the second book I read as part of my grand lifetime goal to read all the books that have won The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction/Novel since the award was created. The Sympathizer won the award in 2016.

The narrator is a Viet Cong double agent who comes to America after the fall of Saigon. Once in America he still reports back to his commanders about the actions of his fellow Vietnamese refugees. It reads somewhat like a very well written spy novel, and while it is fiction, it also reads like a memoir.

The plot is by turns achingly beautiful and terribly harrowing.

I never learned anything about the Vietnam War in school all the way through the college level, so The Sympathizer was very eye opening to me.

It is said that history is written by the victors. From what I can tell Vietnam had neither victors nor losers, only victims.

Until Wednesday,

Wendy

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

After reading Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friends’s Exorcism two years ago, I was delighted to see that Hendrix had released a new book. I suppose I may be a tad biased, because both books take place near where I grew up and currently still live.

I’ve seen this book described as “Steel Magnolias combined with Dracula.” Um, sorry. Nope. These are real southern housewives in the early 90s. They have oppressive husbands who treat them as sweet southern belles, not to be taken seriously. The women’s biggest job is keeping up appearances.

I especially loved the beginning, when the book club forms. The women are give a high brow book to discuss that no one actually reads. Watching the main character try to voice her ideas on a book she hasn’t read is all too relatable. Eventually the women go on to read true crimes books, such as Helter Skelter. In the end, their true crime knowledge comes in handy when they plot to go after the bad guy.

The first victims are Black children from a poorer part of town. Due to the victims’ skin color, and their family’s lack of wealth, neither the police nor the media take an interest. I fear not much has changed here in that respect. The only difference is the Black neighborhood has been ‘gentrified.’

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a fun and engaging romp with an undercurrent of exposing sexism, racism, and classism.

Happy Reading,

Wendy

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Mexican Gothic

Book cover: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set first in Mexico City and then the mountains of Mexico in the 1950s, Mexican Gothic is a slow burn of creepiness. After receiving a troubling letter from her newlywed cousin, socialite Noemí Taboada is sent by her father to check on her cousin in High Place, a mansion in the Mexican countryside near their defunct silver mine. The decrepit house is owned by a shabbily genteel and very controlling British family.

The house has very little electricity, Noemi is forbidden to smoke, and the wallpaper is covered in mold. The longer Noemi stays, the harder it is for her to leave, let alone rescue her cousin. She only has one potential ally in High Place, and he is rather sickly and weak.

I was hooked from the first paragraph, and then I couldn’t put Mexican Gothic down. In fact I read it straight through in one day. I highly recommend this fresh take on the Gothic genre, It will have you on the edge of your seat, and you may want to sleep with the lights on upon finishing the book.

Happy reading,

Wendy

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book review children fiction

The Mermaid Atlas: Merfolk of the World

Got this gem over the long weekend and delightfully skipped it to the very top of my book stack. I tried to think of a new catchphrase but, alas, I don’t have one. Mermaids before ______? Anything not mythical for sure. Here is a shot of the contents:

If you require an elementary primer on the Merfolk, this is the book for you. You can also give it to kids, as the school system is woefully inadequate in teaching the nonhuman species to our children. This may even be meant for kids. Maybe.

Continent organizes this book, and you’ll learn the differences between Merfolk around the world. I found out that European Mermaids often play fiddle while in human form. Who knew?

All in all, a solid edition to our mythical section of our home library. Five Stars.

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The Poet by Michael Connelly

The cover of The Poet by Michael Connelly

The Poet, originally written as a stand alone novel in 2003, follows newspaper reporter, Jack McEvoy, as he investigates the murder of his twin brother. Jack’s brother’s death was originally ruled a suicide, but Jack’s investigation uncovers that it was not only a homicide, but part of of pattern of deaths, leading the FBI to start an investigation into a serial killer.

I am a big fan of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books, as well as the Prime series Bosch. It doesn’t hurt that Harry Bosch is played by the dreamy Titus Welliver. *swoon *

Buy I digress…..

I will admit The Poet bogged down just a bit in the middle. It was not nearly enough to make me lose interest in the book. And I’m glad I didn’t put it down. The last 100 pages or so had enough twists and turns to make me dizzy. If you figure out the ending in advance, you are much smarter than I.

I’m looking forward to reading The Scarecrow, book two featuring Jack McEvoy.

I’ll be back Wednesday with a review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno- Garcia

Happy Reading,

Wendy

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book review chick lit fiction YA fiction

A Few More June Book Reviews

Was I looking for a YA mythological tale set in an alternate version of Portland, Oregon? No, but I found one I read this on my couch in June 2020 when every day brought new protests and revelations in the Black Lives Matter movement. I didn’t choose this book specifically for these times, but as fate would have it, I was reading it at the perfect time. I love the world-building and the mix of all the mythical creatures. Humans live alongside different creatures with varying degrees of acceptance. Most humans hate sirens (Black women with the ability to use magical calls on people with their voices), so our MC hides the fact that she is a Siren from almost everyone. The Audible version is fantastic. The two main characters voiced by different actresses are outstanding.

As another reviewer stated, this is ” Black Girl Magic,” not just another mermaid YA fantasy novel ( I would have read that too- btw) You can try and pigeonhole it into whatever corner you’d like. Still, I think teen fantasy readers will love it. June 2, 2020

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This story turned out to be a timely read for me as I picked it up the week that all the George Floyd protests began. While this is historical fiction, the author brought her real-life experiences growing up in Chicago in the 1960s to the story. In nearly every way, it reads as nonfiction and is entirely believable. I don’t want to give away the story, but at the start, there are a lot of characters, and it can be confusing- stick with it, and it will more than pay off. (Adult or older teen readers-June 16, 2020)

I picked this up late and couldn’t even find the email of whatever publicist sent it to me. I did just buy a new calendar, so hopefully, I’ll get into the swing of 2020 soon… Anyhow, do not miss this book. It’s an adult fictional thriller that is so twisty, and un-put-downable (is that a new phrase?) that I used my 2 am insomnia time to finish reading it!!

This story is dark and gripping as the main character Jane is a psychopath. (That’s not a spoiler btw) it’s not too far in when she breaks the fourth wall to tell the reader:

“Stop it. Don’t look at me like that. Stop being so judgmental and listen to the story.”

I was left wanting and equally, not wanting to know what she would feel justified in doing next to keep close to her best friend, Marnie.

June 16,2020

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book review homeschool MG Non fiction YA Non fiction

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes The World

Ah, parents in this realm in the year 2020, let me lead you to the book you need in these dark days.

I jumped at the chance to get this actual Advance Reading Copy in my hands. The USPS was frighteningly slow though and I didn’t actually have it until a few weeks ago. So, good news, you can order it now. Bad news, well, there is no bad news.

The book begins by asking what we think of when we think of the big moments of the 20th century. He then points out that half of the events on that list are wars. And if you focus your history teaching on battles, you are communicating to the kids you teach that historical events revolve around conflicts. If you believe that, then you think that our History is mostly violent and that the only way to change things is to be “a politician or a general or someone willing to take someone else’s life.” What We Are Power does is challenge that entire notion. There is another way—more than one. I learned that there are 198 practices within nonviolent struggles. That should mean fewer wars, and yet here we are in 2020. Within the pages of this book, kids will read the stories of heroes. Real men and women who took a stand without violence exist in world history. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a substantial personal cost to these people, but they did not begin a war to get the change they wanted. 

This book covers Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King Jr, Cesar Chavez, and Vaclav Havel, and Greta Thunberg and tells how they’ve all used nonviolent methods of protest. 

We’re studying American History this year, and even though this doesn’t exactly fit with that, I added it to our reading list. I have my kids give me an oral report on current events each week, and so we’ve talked a lot about the ongoing protests, and I think this book will help to further our understanding of protest to enact social change.

The back of the book includes an extensive note and bibliography section and photo credits for the many excellent historical images contained.

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The Overstory

The cover of “The Overstory” by Richard Powers

Back in March, at the beginning of the quarantine, I got this idea that I would read every book that has won The Pulitzer Prize for fiction/novel. I undertook this venture because of Keanu Reeves. I watched an interview with him last year. When he was asked what his favorite book was, he replied that he would go with the book he had most recently read, The Overstory by Richard Powers. Since I’ve had a crush on Keanu since I first saw Bill and Ted in high school I immediately logged in to Amazon and ordered it. Then I promptly forgot about it, until during a fit of quarantine madness I organized all my books and came across The Overstory. I decided to make it my next read, not even knowing it had won the Pulitzer last year. It was so fantastically good that when I found out it had won the Pulitzer I thought, “I must read ALL the winners.” I’m well known that I lack moderation. I’m a go big or go home type of person.

Now about The Overstory. It is a little bit hard to describe. The book is about trees, and it follows the lives of several different unrelated characters who are passionate about trees. One is a tree hugger, another is a scientist, yet another is a video game developer, one is a man and his son who took a picture of the same tree at the same time every day for decades. Each character has a fascinating story to unfold, and I was left with a much deeper appreciation of trees.

If I could I would have rated The Over story ten out of 5 stars on Goodreads. So, thank you Mr Reeves for introducing me to this books, and giving me a lifetime journey of reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners.

Wendy