Saturday, July 1, 2017

All Good Things

I've have always been a voracious reader, making time for books during good times and bad. There's nothing books haven't gotten me through (and some of those bad times were extraordinarily difficult). Books are my refuge, and I love that they take up so much space in my tiny life.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, I'm putting this blog and reviewing books on hold. Reading is something that has always been fun for me, and sometimes blogging about the books, and the pressure to keep up with the reviews, has felt more like work than fun, especially as some of the authors I have come to love have let me down in some pretty big ways.

I'm taking a break from reading romance in order to read more nonfiction, and this blog wasn't really meant to review books that are at times of the utmost seriousness. I'm also taking a break from romance because there are times when reading about people falling in love, their great lives, and unimaginable joy, make my anxiety and depression worse. I love reading a happily ever after, but when you feel and HEA may not really be in your future, reading about them stir up all my worse emotions. I have loved spending time with amazing characters who rule over amazing worlds.

Now, I'd like to possible write some characters of my own. Spend some time in my own head instead of someone else's. For now, that means putting down someone else's books and picking up my pen. I hope you've enjoyed reading along with me. I hope you found out about some great books. Hopefully in the future you'll be able to pick up one of mine.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas ♡♡♡♡♡

The Hate U GiveI preordered The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas pretty soon after hearing about it. There are a few reasons I bought it. First, I think it is so so important to support writers of color, especially when they are writing about the black experience. I always thought #ownvoices was important, but after reading a book, written by a white author, that didn’t take into consideration what people of color experience, I’ve felt it's more important than I realized.  Second, I wanted to support a book that delved into the very real world of how black communities deal with the fallout of police shooting of unarmed black people. The premise of the story sounded great, and the writing was getting praise well before the book was released; I couldn’t resist.

Let me offer some background on a few things. I don’t normally review books here that aren’t more focused on the romance in the story. While there is some romance, it is not the focal point of the story. But this story is too important not to review. There are lots of books that deal with what it means to grow up black in America, but this is the first contemporary novel I’ve read dealing with this experience. Some other suggestions of books to read if you’re interested in reading about experiences then read You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson and Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates. Listen to NPR’s Code Switch podcast, and read their articles (which delve into the experiences of minorities in general, not just the black community). In other words, get woke. There is so much out there about different communities, and it would do the world some good if people learned about people other than themselves.

I’m also going to offer some personal background, because I think my feelings about this book are informed by experiences. I’m mixed, half black and half white. I grew up in Virginia with a black dad who was a law enforcement officer, and a white mother who often felt the need to deny the fact that I was black (she said I was white on all my school forms even though no one who sees me would ever say I was white). While my dad was a law enforcement officer, he was/is not a good person. As a kid, I knew lots of other police officers (many of them good people), and I was never scared of them. I think my parents never really wanted me to see the reality of why so many people were afraid of police officers. And it wasn’t until I was older that I not only understood why people would be afraid of police/law enforcement, but that I started to see that people who, not really look like me, but look like my family would be afraid would be afraid. And subsequently, I have some fear regarding them myself. Now, even though I grew up with someone who is a bad person and a law enforcement officer, I know that all law enforcement officers aren’t bad. I know many of them want to make a difference in their communities; I know that many of them really do want to serve and protect. And I know that it is the bad ones who get most of the coverage in the media. But I also know the reason the bad ones get the attention is because people are literally being murdered by the bad ones. And when you can’t tell just by looking at them if your life is worthy of being protected or if they want to kill you, it’s easier just to be scared of them all; you’re life is on the line if you make the wrong decision with your trust. I try my best to think that police officers are here to protect me, but I also have the luxury of living somewhere with few incidents of police brutality issues. I have the luxury of being black, but also not. People look at me, and they don’t know what I am. I get a lot of questions about where I’m from, my background, and a lot of wrong assumptions. I code switch, often without realizing it. I spend time living in two worlds and wondering about my place in the world as a whole. So, that’s where I’m coming from reading this book.

So, back the book.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, a black girl, who witnesses one of her friends, Khalil, who is also black, get shot by a white police officer. Khalil is unarmed when he is murdered. Starr deals with the aftermath of the murder and being a witness. We also see her deal with the experiences of so many people who are living in two different worlds. She’s black, living in the the bad part of town. Starr attends a mostly white, private school, where she often feels she has to change who she is and how she speaks (code switching) so she doesn’t get pegged as “ghetto” or as the “angry black girl.” We get to see so much of everything that Starr lives with on a regular basis.

I’m not sure anyone could have written this book better than Angie Thomas. For some people, the book gives insight to what black communities go through when one of their own is unjustifiably killed by the people who are supposed to protect them. For me, all the code switching and living in two worlds felt so relatable, and I enjoyed reading something that I felt I had experienced. And I hope it will help people understand that a broken tail light, speeding, selling illegal cigarettes, and playing with toy guns do not carry a death sentence in court, and they shouldn’t carry a death sentence by the people who enforce the law.

The book was beautifully written. All the characters feel like people I have met in real life. There’s just something about them; if you were to tell me these were all real people, I would believe it. The characters, side characters included, are so well rounded. The dialogue sounds like things people say. The depiction of everything just jumps off the page.

This book was inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and I’m not sure it could have come at a better time. I hope this book inspires people to get involved in their communities. Over the past few years, in particular, we have seen police officers kill unarmed black men and women without facing any punishment in court. The victims’ lives end up on trial more so than the person who actually murdered someone. The Hate U Give sheds light on why that is so problematic.

“A hairbrush is not a gun.”

I’m not sure what the answer is on how to fix what is obviously a systemic problem. I have lots of ideas, but some of it comes down to people realizing that people are trying to survive within the confines of the community they were born in to. There’s a lack of empathy when seeing black bodies gunned down by society’s protectors, and in the words of Ta Nehisi Coates, the people in the black community are expected to be “twice as good” if we want to see justice. Even Tamir Rice, a little boy playing with a toy gun. I saw people saying he should not have been playing with a toy gun. But I also see my white nephew playing with them in public. No one is gunning him down. No one is saying he can’t play. Tamir Rice was a child, and still, there was a lack of empathy. I hope this book will help those who don’t understand what it’s like living in these communities. I hope it will help people gain some empathy. Black lives matter, too. And I hope this book helps people see that.

P.S. to the editors who say books about POCs don’t sell, you might want to check yourself on that. I hope this book will show publishers that people want to hear our voices.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Havoc by Jamie Shaw ♡♡♡♡♡

Havoc (Mayhem, #4)What can I say? Jamie Shaw has found my weakness for rock stars, and she writes them beautifully.

Havoc is final book in the Mayhem series, which I am super bummed about. I have loved the entire series, and I seriously loved Mike (even though Joel will always be my favorite).

Mike has been waiting for his perfect girl. He doesn't hook up with the groupies, he's a good guy, and he makes sure when he finds the right girl, he won't have a long list of conquests. He's waiting for his perfect when his ex, Danica, walks back into his life looking for a second chance. But with Danica, Hailey also walks into his life. Hailey wants Mike, Danica wants Mike, and Mike has a bit of a quandary deciding between the two.

Mike is really the good guy in The Last Ones to Know, and I was ecstatic he got his happily ever after with the perfect girl for him. Havoc completely wrecked me. I laughed, I cried, my heart was broken and mended back together again. I think I'll have a book hangover from this one for a long time to come.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Jamie Shaw has in store next. I've loved the Mayhem series, and I'm sure her future projects will be just as awesome!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Riveted by Jay Crownover ♡

I should start by saying a few things. First, I usually really like Jay Crownover. She is the only author I have ever taken the time to go meet, I’ve bought all of her books regardless of whether the premise actually sounded good to me, and, for the most part, I have enjoyed them all. Second, I am from the south; not the deep south of Mississippi, but from a place where confederate flags flying are not unusual (on trucks, in front yards, and on as many articles of clothing as you can think of).

Lastly, I am mixed. Half black and half white. My heritage will go a long way in explaining all the problems I have with this book. And I should state up front, that I obviously do not speak for all mixed people (there isn't even agreement in our community on what to call ourselves; many don't even like the word mixed. I like mixed because it includes those who are more than just biracial, although I see why people don't like the term), nor do I speak for all black people. I speak for myself and my frustrations are based on my experiences.

I’m not going to get much into the premise of this book, other than to say it involves a wounded soldier who thinks he’s a fault for all the hurt in the lives of those around him, and a girl who thinks she can fix everything and everyone.

So, I have not yet finished this book, and I am already reviewing it, because I am more frustrated than I thought would be possible reading a book. I am a huge proponent of included people of color (POCs) in books. I think this is so very important for some many different reasons, and I even believe that people who are not POCs should include them in their work. But I think two things need to happen if you are not part of a group and want to write from their perspective. One, you need to do research, and two, you need quite a few people to do a sensitivity reading. Let me use this book as an example as to why that needs to happen.

The main character of Riveted is named Dashel Churchill, and he goes by Church or Dash. The character complains about the issues of growing up in the south with an “unusual” name. Neither Dashel, Dash, or Church would be considered that strange of a name. Kids with “ordinary” names get picked on all the time. And in the south “unusual” names are a dime a dozen.

POCs don’t normally refer to themselves as such in their heads. I have met lots of them. I am one of them. As a group, we are POCs, but individually, we are what we are. It is weird that the main character would refer to himself as a person of color in his own head instead of thinking about his own heritage. Also, it’s weird for other people to say it, too. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with calling a character what he is instead of mentioning it once and then referring to him as a POC for the rest of the time.

What is going on with the stereotypes!? Church’s dad (the POC in an interracial relationship with a white woman) leaves before he’s even born? It may have worked for the storyline, but considering all the other points against this book, this one was still egregious. I think the author may have felt it was okay because the person who steps up to father Church is black, but I still think depending on the stereotype of black man leaving their children was a bad move.

Finally, how is the main character, Dixie, who is in love with this wonderful guy, the opposite of woke? I imagine, any minute, she’s going to say something idiotic along the lines of “I don’t see color.” How does she not understand that a black/middle eastern/white man will be afraid to go into a bar when there are a bunch of trucks outside flying confederate flags? And what was the point of mentioning it if nothing was going to happen in that bar? Was the point to say that just because someone flies a confederate flag, they aren’t going to start trouble with every POC they see? Was the point to say that flying a confederate flag doesn’t make you racist? Was the point to say that a POC should not be afraid of trouble just because they see a confederate flag? Because let me just say, I grew up around those flags, I grew up around plantations, and I grew up around reminders that my family members were, not too long ago, enslaved. Then, following that enslavement they were considered second class citizen. It some places, and in too many cases, we still are. Dixie is the epitome of white privilege. And what is even more concerning is the thought that, possibly, Jay Crownover believes these things as well. Sure, some may make the argument that the confederate flag is a reminder of states’ rights, but the right they wanted to hold on to was the right to keep people enslaved for free labor.

I am furious about how this book has portrayed not only the south, but also what it means to be a POC in America. If an author who is not part of a group wants to write about the experience of those in that group, then a lot of research needs to happen. This book is an example of why so many people ask that white authors not write about our experiences. If the book had stayed solely in Dixie’s perspective, I would have just thought the character was ignorant of those experiences, but adding Church’s POV really made it necessary that their was research done, and his perspective should have been handled with so much more sensitivity.

I'm not actually sure I'll finish this book. I know it will end with a happily ever after, as most romance novels do, but I imagine Dixie will remain unaware of what she has so far ignored other than on a very surface level.

I am extremely disappointed, and I'm not sure I will be reading another Jay Crownover book due to the lack of sensitivity with which she handled a very serious issue.