Read: The other Wes Moore: one name, two fates by Wes Moore

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The other Wes Moore: one name, two fates is a fascinating that is part memoir and part biography about two men from Baltimore growing up at the same time with the same name. As the subtitle suggests, their lives diverge and are polar opposites despite their oddly similar beginnings.

The audiobook is read by the author himself, which makes the story even interesting. It is a great way to enjoy the book since Moore does a wonderful job of reading and has great dynamics and intonation. Listening as an audiobook also adds more emotion to the story since there are many difficult times and passages for both men.

Despite having eerily similar family situations and starting environments, each Wes Moore makes decisions early on that set them on different paths but it isn’t until middle/high school that their lives become set. The author could have ended up like the other Wes Moore if his mom hadn’t made drastic changes and stretched their financial resources to ensure that his life was better than hers. He was sent to military school that in fact straightened him out whereas the other Wes Moore didn’t have the same opportunities and his mom struggled to support their family so like his brother he began dealing drugs to make copious amounts of money and couldn’t quit it for good then ended up in prison after a robbery was interrupted. Clearly environment as well as nurture played important roles in shaping both of their lives, for better and worse.

This is another timely book even though it is several years old. In a way, it reminds me somewhat of Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and is a good pair to it.

Recommended?: Yes, for anyone who enjoys a memoir and is interested in reading about two very different lives of black men from Baltimore. It is a serious book but there is a lot to learn from it and certainly worth a read.

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Read: Go set a watchman by Harper Lee

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Due to the controversy of whether or not this book should have been publisher and if it was despite Harper Lee’s previous wishes, I decided not to read it when it first came out. However, the copy at the public library recently intrigued me enough that I figured it was time. Another initial reason for not picking it up soon was the fact that it received mediocre to poor reviews as a novel. To be fair, while Go set a watchman is technically a sequel, it is no To kill a mockingbird which it seems many people expected.

First, there is some history that needs to be addressed for this novel. Go set a watchman was written before To kill a mockingbird, even though it is set after her famous novel. The story focuses on Jean Louise Finch (a.k.a. Scout) still but she is 26 and returning to Maycomb on her annual visit, having moved to New York. It is written in third person, unlike the famous first person of To kill a mockingbird. Also, most of the characters that we know and love are already present in this novel but some are very different, namely Atticus. As a person who dabbles in writing, I can tell you that characters change and grow (or morph) from the first writing to their final incarnation. So, since Lee wrote this novel in the 1950s and likely did little to no editing before it was published in 2015 means that it should surprise no one that it isn’t the same Maycomb nor the same exact characters. To me, this feels like a precursor exercise to her later written To kill a mockingbird that was never meant for publication. So it shouldn’t be described as a sequel; it’s a standalone work that happens to have somewhat the same setting and similar characters. It always breaks my heart when an unfinished or unintended work is published usually after the author dies but it is fairly common.

Putting all of that aside, let’s focus on just Go set a watchman as a single novel. The topic itself is oddly quite timely in America right now. Jean Louise returns home to be shocked by the level of racism in her hometown and is upset that her good friend and presumed sweetheart Henry along with her father Atticus aren’t opposing it more. She disagrees with their approach to toe the line just enough so that they can stay aware of what heinous acts active racists might do so that they can stop or prosecute them. After a black man accidentally runs over a drunk white man and kills him, Atticus gets into a fight with Jean Louise and it’s at that point that she realizes he views blacks as less-than-human who need to slowly be integrated into white society so that they don’t fail and so she throughly disagrees with him. Part of his reasoning is that it is just his generation as well as trying to live civilly in small, racist community without being alienated. With the current racial violence plaguing the country and such a divisive presidential election recently, the topic itself surely struck a chord with me while reading it. Also the n-word is used about 10-15 at least, especially towards the end, which only further emphasizes the tension and hated of that Maycomb. As Jean Louise references the case that her father tried when she was little, the main focus in To kill a mockingbird, she believes that the town and her father have drastically changed on her but as she comes to realize that perhaps she just never saw it before and now it’s just coming to the forefront which is what truly bothers her.

While the topic is racism is addressed, the novel is truly about Jean Louise and her reckoning with the fact that she sees her father for the first time as a flawed person with whom she utterly disagrees with when it comes to blacks and their treatment. For the first two-thirds, the story describes Jean Louise’s homecoming interspersed with memories from her childhood, especially of Jem her brother. Not long into the novel, it’s revealed that Jem died young and suddenly due to a heart attack–like their mother. While there are many reasons for this plot decision, it mainly adds another emotional struggle for her returning home and makes it even more difficult for her to have her idyllic image of her father smashed. Jean Louise is a strong, opinionated woman yet falls back into the childhood mindset and attitude. Due to this, the overall plot is slower-paced as we mainly follow her around Maycomb and interacting with family, friends, and townspeople of the past. The last third picks up with the struggle of her dealing with the town’s and her family’s varying degrees of racist views. In the end, she comes to some semblance of terms with it, due to her uncle ‘s harsh reasoning with her. However, it is unclear whether she will move back and marry Henry or return to New York and only continue to visit annually.

Recommended?: It depends. If you are hoping for a direct sequel of To kill a mockingbird, then you will likely be disappointed. If you can think of this work as separate from it and are curious about the original characters and backstory then you may appreciate this novel. Overall, I didn’t find it compelling and since I disagree with it being published since it seems unfinished, it wasn’t as enjoyable for me. For anyone who has read it, I’d like to know what you think.

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Shelved: Outlander: a novel by Diana Gabaldon

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Outlander: a novel by Diana Gabaldon inspired the now famous tv show that the author has a personal hand in creating. Being a fan of the show, I figured that the books would offer me more insight into the world and characters while waiting for the next season. Claire has just been reunited with her husband Frank after WWII in which he was stationed as a soldier in a different place than she was as a nurse. They are on vacation in Scotland to rekindle their marital romance and start a family but Claire is transported almost 200 years into the past at a mysterious prehistoric stone structure. She is found by highlanders who are battling the English for rights with the Jacobite rebellion looming ever closer. She tries to get back to the ruins to try and return home but it’s difficult to do especially while pretending to be an English lady from that era to explain herself.

Read 206 pages (22%–Goodreads) before shelving it.

Reason: Unfortunately, Gabaldon has done such a great job making the show so similar to the books that I feel like I am reading the script. While reading, the corresponding scenes play in my mind as if I am watching tv instead of reading a book. It’s really odd and not in a good way.

Finish in the future?: No. There’s no need since the show is a great version of it.

Shelved: The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

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*Note: Shelved is a new feature post for unfinished books that will be shorter than the regular review posts and cover a brief overview and reason for why I stopped reading it.

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger is a children’s book that teaches math concepts and theory through a quirky story of dreams with the number devil. Each night, Robert falls asleep and dreams of a different locations where he meets the number devil who (somewhat meanly being a devil and all) teaches him about math. Having only read a couple of chapters, the first few are mainly about places, Roman numerals, zero, and fractions. The book itself looks like a novel but the font is large, has a good amount of spacing on the page, and has frequent illustrations. However, really young kids probably won’t understand the math concepts and perhaps the story.

Read 56 pages (21%–Goodreads) before shelving it.

Reason: Due back to the library with no renewals left–someone else must have required it.

Finish it in the future?: Not likely. For me, it was okay but didn’t grab my interest even though it’s wildly popular in Europe.

Read: Sharp objects by Gillian Flynn

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Known for Gone girl which now has a movie of the same name, Gillian Flynn‘s Sharp objects is just as clever and shocking of a tale. While having only seen the movie of the other, the novel Sharp objects was more integuing of an idea and story.

Caveat: the novel reads like true crime and the murders are of little girls with vivid sometimes gory details and descriptions of the main character’s family abuse and self-harm. These passage run throughout the novel and might turn some readers off from it. 
Told in first person by second-rate journalist Camille Preaker, the book opens with a murder assignment from her editor that forces her to return to her long-left home in rural Missouri. Wind Gap is so small and with other more important news in bigger cities around the world that she is the only one of the scene writing, or rather struggling to write, about the horrific murders of little girls. Part of the novel centers around her reluctance to return and enummerating the many reasons of why she moved away to Chicago years ago. Flynn’s insights on small-town life are eerily accurate and her crafting of Camille’s loneliness and unhappiness are fascinating as well. The characterizations of Camille and Wind Gap create realistic portrayals in the novel. 

More specifically, Flynn hones the details but makes them her own. For example, Camille is a cutter (self-inflected harm) who carved words all over herself during her teenage years and got professional help for it recently. Now she writes on herself in pen, sometimes mindlessly. Due to this, she’s forced to wear long sleeves and pants or skirts to prevent anyone from seeing as only a couple of people know. Instead of the generic stereotypical acting out of a teen girl, it becomes a wholly unique endeavor especially as Camille refers to certain words flaring up throughout the novel when triggered by particular emotions, people, or situations.

True to form, the reader is led to believe varying things as the story progresses, usually kept in the dark alongside the main character. Deeper and deeper into the story, more is revealed and the mystery seems to become crystal clear until the final plot twist, in Flynn’s true nature. Stunningly chilling. 

Recommended?: For those who like a twisting murder mystery but don’t mind the brutal gruesomeness of the murder details for the young girls and other abuse and self-harm described. The plot itself was well-crafted and kept me in the dark until the final twist was revealed. Maybe diehard fans would have seen it coming but I certainly enjoyed the plot itself. More Gilliam Flynn, please!

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Read: Transmetropolitan volume 3 by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

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If possible, Transmetropolitan: year of the bastard volume 3 is even more offensive, explicit, and violent than the previous two. The main character Spider Jerusalem is oven emperor again consumed by city life and back to his bad habit of being constantly drugged up to make it through the day and write his columns. Previously led to his demise by reporting on politics, he begrudgingly agrees to cover the current divisive election. Keep in mind, this graphic novel was published in 1999. 

The plot of this volume is Spider starting to cover the election that he’s tried so hard to ignore up until now. Neither choice is good but one side is using hate and bigotry to divide people and feed off of it for popularity while the other candidate is still and fake, always smiling but not much substance. Just as he gets involved and starts covering the candidates, the opposition’s campaign advisor gets shot on air and dies. With such a cliffhanger ending, I’ll need to order the next volume soon from the public library. 

Oddly, the second the third volumes have been in near pristine condition while the first was well used. Seems like people try out that series and then do not continue on, which makes sense considering the content. If these were movies, they wcould hid certainly be rated R for drug use, violence, and sexual content. Despite these aspects, the story itself is compelling because while Spider is clearly flawed, he writes for and cares about educating the common person who he believes is getting screwed by society and those running it. His drug use stems from not being able, or perhaps willing, to deal with his disgust for how the world works and the scum who live in it, in a more healthy way. He doesn’t date, hang out with friends, and so far lacks or isn’t close with his family so there’s no support net; instead he fills that void with drugs to get by. However, with his new assistant, in this volume she shares her concern with her uncle who is Spider’s editor so perhaps in future volumes he will turn this around or at least work on it.

Recommended?: For graphic novel fans, and readers of Transmet as this fills in the political aspects of the world and what makes Spider tick. Also, for anyone interested in Ellis’ take on a divisive political race, as long as the other material isn’t a deal breaker. It feels weird to recommend this series, due to its explicit nature but the story so far is intriguing and the main character is complex. 

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Read: Monstress: volume one Awakening by Marjorie Lin and Sana Takeda

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Monstress by writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda is a fantasy graphic novel about a world in a tentative peace after a brutal war with weapons and magic. There are five main races, including humans and other creatures with some that are magical.

From the first page, the drawings are stunning. They are in the style of steampunk mixed with fantasy elements that are reminiscent of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The detail and movement captured add to the atmosphere of the story.

Also, the world is mainly women, which is refreshing for a change. Whether or not there’s a reason for it isn’t addressed in this first volume. Nearly all covenversations are between women and never about men so it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, even the new one proposed by Slate. Despite this, there is still a fair amount of fighting and deadly battles. Life in this world is difficult and cruel, especially for certain types of creatures who are taken advantage of by those in power.

While there is a lot to like about Monstress, the story itself isn’t very clear. There’s a main character but there are several others and a handful of different locations in which the story takes place. Perhaps the other volumes build upon it further but I wish there was more explanination in in this one. Nothing particular hooked me as a reader plus with new aspects being introduced then receding just as quickly as it turned back to the main character, it felt disjointed and confusing at times. I am not sure if I will read the others.

Recommended?: For graphic novel lovers and fantasy fans who would enjoy a beautifully drawn, creative story about a curious magical land in turmoil and on the verge of another war.

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