review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

tkam

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the top selling books of all time, and for good reason.* It is poetic in language, sincere in theme, and impeccable in delivery. It is one of the best that I have ever read, if not the best. Just as I read Gone with the Wind about four times throughout high school (I was entranced with Scarlett O’Hara’s gumption and later, her strength), TKAM fascinated me for its poignant portrayal of one of my country’s darkest eras.

The Jim Crow Era lasted from after the Civil War/Reconstruction (1877) clear through to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. That’s right, folks…nearly 100 years was spent pushing black Americans into corners, making them use back doors and separate water fountains, and in general not treating them like human beings. In TKAM Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white woman, and despite overwhelming evidence against that accusation, he is found guilty and sent to prison. He attempts to flee the prison and is shot dead by a guard. A towns person later says of Tom’s attempt,

You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ’em.

That kind of blanket statement that criticized the entire race was commonplace during that era, even among the most educated people. In fact, many Christians were known for preaching about the uncleanliness of blacks, a matter that simply was not grounded in any Biblical fact whatsoever. Dill, best friend of Scout (the precocious narrator) recognizes the unfair treatment during the trail of Tom. Crying, he said to Scout and a white landowner and black sympathizer,

The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an’ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered…It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ’em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.

The book was set in the 1930s, but published in 1961 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It (pleasantly) surprises me that a white woman from Alabama would pen a book that didn’t just turn the heads of Civil Rights leaders, the Pulitzer Prize committee, educators, and the entire country – it gave them all whiplash. It was picked up by international publishers and translated into more than 40 languages. People felt drawn to the sad truth coming from the South. Most importantly, from within the South.

While blacks may have equal rights today, make no mistake that no one is granted equal treatment. Women make less in salaries than their male counterparts. Migrant (largely Hispanic) farm workers are underpaid and mistreated. Gays are not permitted to marry in most states. We are not equal. We continue to mistreat and to be mistreated. We are better than we were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but we are still so behind on the matter of equality. Read To Kill a Mockingbird to realize how far we have come. Read it again to realize how far we haven’t.

*Interesting facts: Harper Lee earns over $9,000 a day in royalties. TKAM continues to sell 750,000 to 1 million copies each year.

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review: A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury

moment

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury is the harrowing story of three teenagers living in Jalandhar, India during the Pakistan Revolution of 1947, a turbulant time for Muslims, Sikhs, and the occupying British – who at the time still controlled that region of the world.

Tariq is a Muslim boy who is desperate to quit India and attend university at Oxford – saying nothing of letting his family make the dangerous trek to Pakistan without their only physically-abled son. He is the assistant to a British cartographer in hopes of receiving a recommendation from him to attend the prestigious school.

Anupreet is a Sikh girl who fears the wrath of angry Muslims, but even moreso fears her brother’s anger towards the Muslims after strangers attacked her, leaving her face marred. She wants peace, but doesn’t want to confront what is necessary to acquire that.

Margaret is the daughter of a British cartographer tasked with assisting Lord Louis Mountbatten in carving out a place for the Muslim community – Pakistan – and leaving the rest for the Sikh community. She wants to feed the orphans and aide the sick, but is kept inside by her fearful and prejudiced mother.

These three characters are fictional, as are the specifics of the attacks detailed in the novel – but by no means are the themes made-up. Bradbury conducted extensive research into the culture of India at the time of the divide, even spending a few months living in the country to better understand the customs and familial relationships that made A Moment Comes so authentic. And it is a war story. The novel culminates on the eve of the day the boundary lines are published, so the reality of one of the largest human migrations in world history hadn’t even come close to reaching its peak. I closed the book after the last page and found myself wanting, needing to know more, but I loved that Bradbury ended it where she did. Because from that evening on, no one could have predicted where their lives were heading. The unsureness was palpable, and terrifying.

What I found so engrossing about the novel was that none of the characters were 100% convinced that they and their “side” was the right one. Tariq grappled with being a dutiful son, and making the best future for himself and his future country. Margaret’s father, the fictional Mr. Darnsley, isn’t even sure that he is in fact helping the situation. In contrast, Margaret comes into her own when she is finally called to help, but not in a way she intended.

Recommended for:
Although my two-year committment to the Loudoun County Public Library 1Book 1Community committee has ended, I will recommend this book for the honor come next year when the group convenes. It encases the themes of a book worthy of discussion, and meets the mission of the project; to promote “community dialog and understanding“.

Read-alikes:
I cannot think of a read-alike to this. Truly, I can’t. BUT, the real-life daughter of Lord Mountbatten – the British Lord who led the cartographers in drawing the boundary lines – Pamela Hicks, just recently wrote a book Daughter of Empire: my life as a Mountbatten and I look forward to reading it to compare her story to the fictional Margaret’s.

Wednesday review

Another week. Another shelf full of books on hold me yours truly. Another sigh as I release that book from my holding to give to the next person in line. So long Cuckoo’s Calling. Farewell Shadow and Bone. It’s not you. It’s me. I’ll come find you when I’m ready for you.

momentI totally judged A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury by its cover, and I am not ashamed to say it! Seriously, the peacock feather is so beautiful, and the intricate details of the orange pattern really drew me in. Until I sat down with it this morning I hadn’t even realized there was an eye on the cover! The book is set in India before Pakistan became its own country in 1971 as part of the Pakistan Movement of 1947. History lesson in a novel? Yeah!

Untitled-1The author of Escape from Eden is Elisa Nader, who lives locally. She gave me 5 copies of her book to give to my Recent Reads Teen Book Club members, and she may be coming to my library for an author event or panel. I am really enjoying this book and Mia and her escape from a cult.

review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

typist

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell is yet another example of a stunning debut author of 2013. This year has not disappointed me, and I cannot wait for more. But, onto the review…

1920s New York City. Mobsters. The Charleston. Speakeasies. Glitz and glam. Rose Baker does not fit in this culture. Rose Baker is an observer, and the self-proclaimed moral barometer of the orphange where she was raised and the police precint where she is employed. She adores her boss the honorable Chief of Police, and abhores her gossipy roommate Helen. Her life is her job. That is, until the day a stunning woman walks into the precint to interview for the job of typist. Rose takes an unnatural interest in the raven-haired Odalie Lazare, and through no act of her own, somehow becomes the new girl’s best friend and roommate.

But Odalie is perfect for the era. She knows how to talk to men, how to order a drink, to smoke a cigarette. She is a modern girl. But she is no typist. In fact, she is no good at her job, and Rose constantly corrects it for her dear friend. But the job keeps her close to the goings-on of the police department which comes in handy for a woman whose real profession is less than legal during the time of the Volstead Act. These two women could not be more dissimilar.

The relationship between these two women is story alone, but Rindell added mystery and intrigue, and all at once the pace picks up and the reader is breathless and screams No, you have the wrong person! And then the reader’s breathing slows and wonders…do they?

This is an incredible novel with twists and turns at the end, but don’t worry…getting to the end is no chore. It is fun. Rindell’s writing is descriptive and delicious. You can hear, smell, and taste the city and all of the pleasures the women imbibe. I adored the details of the era, though I wish the author would have spent more time on the historical details and the backstories of the mobs and speakeasies. Oh well, that’s for another book I suppose. (Any recommendations??)

Recommended for:
Women. I think women would really enjoy this story of two incongruous women, and love the action of the glamorous fashions, drinks, and fun described.

Read-alikes:
Gatsby.

Wednesday reads: words & water

Today’s “Wednesday Reads” brought to you by the letter W. Water, words, and more words. Oh, and murder. Yeah, each of these books sees someone die in a gnarly way. I need a little more light reading in my life…

nailAs I mentioned in my last weekly post of titles I’m working through, I am still reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But since last Wednesday I have picked up three more of his books. Okay, technically it’s the same book, just in three different formats. The first was on Sunday afternoon when I saw the stage adaptation of Neverwhere at Rorschach Theater of the Atlas Theater in DC. During the intermission I got on my handy dandy little Android phone and put the graphic novel and audiobook on hold at my library.

I went to the play with my sister and her sister-in-law, whose friend from college is the costume designer for the show. I was semi-dragged there. Don’t tell my sister. I wasn’t really interested. I ate my words mere minutes in, y’all. Go see it!!!!!!

typist

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. Audiobook. Wow. I have been absolutely blown away by this, and am finding myself obsessed (hmm…interesting word choice) in Odalie’s life and Rose’s next move. And I just read that the film will star Keira Knightly. I LOVE it!

 

 

 

lexicon

Lexicon by Max Barry has me by the throat. So far it is the perfect combination of murder, pursuit, passion, and intellectual intrigue. Max Barry hasn’t failed me.

Review: Transatlantic by Colum McCann

http://www.amazon.com/TransAtlantic-A-Novel-Colum-McCann/dp/1400069599/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370554132&sr=8-1&keywords=transatlantic

Transatlantic  is yet another shining example of why Irish author Colum McCann will be forever immortalized on my book charm bracelet (specifically, his book Dancer). He has once again woven together the lives of people who one would not assume belonged in the same sentence. It is his brilliant composition that brings to life grand historical events and people, but places them in a context that is intensely personal. War, sacrifice, and family are experienced by each of the characters in this novel.

In this novel spanning from the mid 1800s to today, McCann described what Frederick Douglass’ visit to Ireland must have been like for the abolitionist. The potato famine, and political and social disputes with Great Britain were well underway, and Douglass compared the African American situation to the Irishmen’s.  He also wrote about Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown, the first men to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Entwined in these historical narratives was the modern-day one of Senator George Mitchell who was appointed by President Clinton to work towards bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Although these three seemingly unconnected stories were the ones which McCann took (well-researched) liberties with, he used his imagination to fill the spaces in between with fictional female characters. He said in an interview of his inclusion of the woman’s perspective

We have a responsibility to what some might call the ‘little guy.’ Often the little guy is a woman, in fact. Women are often excluded from the history books. As if guns and testosterone rule the world.

The women – beginning with the poor Irish housemaid Lucy, to her descendant Hannah – are who frame the novel. The female experience truly is the one that history forgot, but that gives extensive insight into the social impact of larger events.

I am partial, still, to the recklessness of the imagination. The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.

I love his novels, and am drawn into the stories. But I must admit that I do not fully comprehend the political background of some of the events and themes of which he writes. I know I missed a lot simply by not knowing more about the Northern Ireland peace process, but I was nonetheless captivated and learned something, as well.

 

Recommended for:
You will learn something reading this book, be it about a historical event or a new perspective on an issue. It’s less than 300 pages so it is a quick read, but a good one.

Read-alikes: 
I would recommend Ken Follet’s Fall of Giants because it also covers multiple generations and sets the story within a political and broader social perspective.

Further reading:
If you want to know which McCann novel to read next, read this article from The Millions. The author does a great job of making you want to read each of them (or re-read them, in my case). This interview will make you want to get coffee with the guy. NPR interviewed him as well.

Review: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier is the fourth book I’ve read this spring written by someone with the name Kristin/Kirstin/Kerstin.

Wait no, that’s not a book review. That’s just an odd fact that is making me wonder if perhaps I should change my name if I ever want to be a published author.

Ruby Red is the first in the Ruby Red series (followed by Sapphire Blue and Emerald Green, coming out this October), the story of sixteen-year old Gwen who discovers that she has the dreaded (to her) family ability to time travel. Her extended family has no faith in her ability to accomplish the tasks the Ruby is tasked with, nor does her attractive fellow teenaged time-travelling companion Gideon. Although she hadn’t spend her youth learning to sword fight, dance the waltz, or behave in company of different societal classes, Gwen surprises everyone – most of all herself.

I was recommended this book by a teen at my library who loves time-travel, and I found it quite fun to read. It is a quick read, and a perfect lunch-time read (note: one that you can read while holding a conversation with a coworker and not miss a bit of either thread). It is a clean read as well, something that is rare in the (older) YA lit I read.

Recommended for:
Tween girls who enjoy a fast-paced plot, with little romance. Don’t get me wrong, Gwen thinks Gideon is alarmingly handsome, but she doesn’t let it cloud her judgement.

Read-alikes:
Fat Cat by Robin Brande simply because Gwen’s best friend is reminiscent of Cat’s; witty, smart, and someone you want in your (real) life.