Book Reviews Are Back :)

So, in the spirit of returning to my roots, I’m going back to what began this lovely little blog journey in the first place. Now, I’ve recently dug myself out of the rut of rereading my comfort books and ventured into new territory, courtesy of a Black Friday trip to BooksaMillion last year. With this comes the subject of today’s review, Dark Rise by C. S. Pacat. 

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker from fantasy, from Harry Potter, to Chronicles of Narnia, to Simon Snow, I’ve definitely wracked up quite the fantasy tab. However, I’ve never encountered a franchise that captures that sense of “Old, forgotten world” quite as well as Dark Rise does. There’s just something about the way that this franchise showcases a world that no longer exists that is impossible not to love. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a review of the basic story. Will Kempen is on the run from men who killed his mother months ago. As the sixteen year old evades Simon Crenshaw, a wealthy aristocratic trade monarch, he encounters the Stewards, in particular a man named Justice. It’s discovered that his mother’s death and his life are entangled in an ancient lore involving a Dark King who’s on the rise, a Lady who is the only one who can stop him, and the Stewards, rigidly disciplined keepers of the old world’s history and fighters of the light. As he meets Violet, a girl with formidable Lion’s strength and Katherine, an aristocratic daughter with a fear of magic, Will’s life becomes more and more fantastical, and more and more dangerous. 

Now, I’ll not spoil anything because I highly recommend this book to anyone with even an inkling of fantasy interest. However, I will discuss the things about this book that really stuck with me; statements of meaning, if you will. First and foremost is the richness of the writing. This may come from the startlingly easily comprehensible setting of London in the 1820’s, the well developed characters spanning from “Knight from the past” to “aristocratic lady of the manner”, the substantial quality of the plot (seriously, I’ve scarcely seen a plot this well developed) to the general sense of majesty that accompanies all the settings of this book. Regardless, this book is so intricately written it makes most super popular franchises pale in comparison. 

The other thing I love about this book is James. You’ll understand if you read it. 

My absolute favorite thing about this novel, however, is the way Pacat writes intimate moments. There’s not a single scene of sexuality in this books pages, and there is scarcely a scene of romance, as is expected of a book set in London 1821. However, there are so many moments, between so many characters that have an inexplicable sense of intimacy about them; the tying of an ascot, the escorting of a lady home, the release of a prisoner from manacles. All of them are amazing. Beyond all the plot twists and epic battles, the thing that really captured my heart was the way this novel shows intimacy. It’s so pure and unfiltered that it almost aches on the page, and I’ve never seen that and now will never forget it. 

All in all, this book was fantastic. 10/10 read that I will strongly recommend to absolutely anyone that will listen and will also provide me with inspiration for my own forthcoming fantasy endeavors. Please, at least consider reading this phenomenal story, I assure you every word is worth it. Until next time,

Sincerely, someone who’s constructing his own “Old World”  

A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 5 :)

This week’s entry really puts a new spin on the popular phrase “last but not least”, in that, while it only made the bottom of the “tier list” (meaning nothing more than it was mentioned last), it is certainly no lesser than any of the previously mentioned works. 

David Arnold’s “Mosquitoland” is merely distinctly different than the other works on this list. And, what I mean by this is that, while it didn’t necessarily change my perspective on life, per se, it absolutely changed my perspective on literature. 

The story telling style of this novel, while the exact opposite of the traditional linear style, accomplishes so much with it’s erratic method of story telling. Given that our narrator, Mim, is someone who is more than a bit unorthodox, it’s very easy to get confused or find the story difficult to follow. 

However, if you can manage to keep up with Mim’s story and avoid the whiplash that my come with the frequent flashbacks and erratic plot, I promise the story is well worth the ending. 

Mim’s story begins in, ironically enough, Mississippi. There, she receives ill word about her mother, whom she used to live with, in Ohio. Then, the mentally unstable Mary Iris Malone embarks immediately to get back to her mother. Along the way, she meets several colorful characters, including the old lady Arlene, the bus driver Carl, the true love to be Beck, the lovable and unpredictable Walt, and even villains such as Poncho Man. 

Along the way, Mim reminisces about her own childhood, writes letters to Isabel (quite the plot twist there), and experiences the absolute chaos of the journey. Through this lovely little cacophony of chaos, we learn that Mim is mentally ill, blind in her right eye, a child of divorce, and, truthfully, just homesick. 

It’s a truly heart wrenching tale if one has the dedication to stick with it all the way through, and it’s definitely not boring, though the deeper parts of the story are possible to overlook if you’re not paying attention. 

But, for Mosquitoland especially, it is not about the destination. It is about the journey, and Mim’s is definitely one worth following. So, if you ever see a copy in the local library, give it a read. I promise, you won’t regret it. 

Sincerely, someone else hoping to escape “Mosquitoland”

A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 4 :)

Since series seem to be a popular thing amongst bloggers, and I have left this one dormant for quite the little while, I thought that I would bring back my first and favorite series to date. Reviewing these books truly does mean something special to me, and I sincerely hope that caries over to my readers.

Now, this weeks installment is dedicated to, you guessed it, another John Greene book. What can I say? The man’s writing speaks to me, and I will not pretend to be apologetic about gushing over it.  

Particularly, I’m drawn to his work in the book “Paper Towns”. This book completely changed my perspective on relationships. Before reading this work, I was a decently firm believer in the standard “relationships are time based and sensical” ideal, to a degree anyway. 

However, after observing the story of Quentin Jacobsen’s wild chase after the mystical Margo Roth Spiegleman in a fast paced adventure of no less than outlandish proportions, I found myself not so certain I believed what I had come to know relationships to be. 

Now, in all honesty, since I read every book on this list back to back in one quick series, some of the finer details blend together. For some pieces. But Paper Towns was never one of them. Because I have seldom identified more with a character than Margo. 

She is eccentric, and unpredictable, and chaotic, and untamable, but most importantly, she is unsatisfied with the world around her. She seeks something deeper, something more. And that is what makes this book special to me. 

It isn’t watching Quentin chase after Margo like a dog after a ball (though that part is amusing), it isn’t the chaos of their late night scandals before the chase. It isn’t really even Quentin’s many realizations in the days after Margo’s disappearance, though I identify very closely with them (particularly the epiphany about the feeling of leaving something). It’s the fact that there was someone like me who simply wanted something more. 

The shared, simple, and innate dissatisfaction with the shallow seeming world around us is what draws me to Margo, and therefore this book. In it, the idealistic girl discusses her distaste for “paper people” (i.e. “normal” people) as they go about their lives in their towns and their jobs and their houses. She, I assume, like me, is repelled by the idea of monotonousness and normalcy, and is no less than disgusted by the idea of a normal “nine to five” life. Therefore, she enacts the logical solution of disappearing to relocate to a ghost town in New York and become a writer. Now, admittedly, I do not see myself going to such extreme measures to subvert the cycle of society. However, I, like Margo, refuse to fall into the pit trap of “normal” life. I want adventures, not a day job. I want individuality, not uniformity. I want creativity, not normality, and I intend to get it by living my life in an exciting way. 

All of that isn’t even touching on the flawless way that Greene plays out Margo’s methods of searching for something deeper. The twists and turns in this story truly have the ability to redefine the term “encapsulating” if one allows them to. So, if you ever find yourself feeling unsatisfied in this “paper world”,  give this book a read. I promise you, you will not regret it. 

Sincerely, a somewhat less paper-y person. 

A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 3 :)

Greetings everyone! I’m very excited to see you all again and, in an effort to get through to all the blog ideas that are quite literally pouring out of me at this point and stockpiling rapidly, we continue this little series. 🙂

The next book in our little series is another work by the famed John Greene, “Looking for Alaska”. 

This absolute miracle work of young adult fiction centers around the experiences of main character Miles “Pudge” Halter as he settles into life around the boarding school “The Creek”. There, he meets characters such as Alaska Young and Chip “the Colonel” and we get to see Miles embark on his journey through the series. 

From petty prank wars, to the absolutely devastating death of his classmate and friend, and everything in between, “Looking for Alaska” puts a previously unexplored spin on the classic telling of the teenage experience. It’s not often certain experiences, especially the more traumatic ones, are explored in such visceral detail, however this book has no qualms in detailing Miles’s feelings about each and every event in his life at The Creek. 

And that, my dear reader, is what I adore about this work. No matter how grisly or dark or stupidly teenage-esque an occurrence gets, this book does not shy away from it. “Looking for Alaska” is unyielding in it’s depth filled pursuit of inner connection with it’s readers, and that brazenness is something I can only hope to live up to when and if I begin novel writing. 

This book changed my life because it wasn’t afraid to. That’s the important part. 

And, as someone who has endured what can easily be considered far more than my fair share of trauma in my life, I’m very proud anytime I find a work of literature that explores that. Works such as this, which don’t hesitate to put emphasis on failed sex attempts and drunken breakdowns and spontaneous forays into the forest that lead to nothing but petty pranks and bad consequences, are truly what brings me comfort as someone who has been through so much. 

I love seeing works like this that give a true picture of the “teenage experience”. Because it is messy. It is nonsensical. It is a roller coaster. It can be awful. It can be amazing. It is often both. It is a good story. 

And this book tells it flawlessly, hence the reason your read for this week is “Looking for Alaska”. I promise, it’s very worth it. 

Until next time, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone between, above and beyond. 

Sincerely, Someone looking for their own Alaska. 

A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 2 :)

As promised, the list of works that have truly changed my life continues. This week’s installment: “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Greene. 

In this book, seventeen year old Aza Holmes navigates a missing person’s mystery, young love, loss, and extreme anxiety, particularly over physical health. 

This book did something no other piece of literature ever has for me. It gave me a term for the way my anxious mind works. In her story, Aza compares her anxious thoughts to a literal downward spiral, as in a whirlpool of thought that goes further and further down, getting tighter and tighter. 

I never knew how much I related to this feeling until I experienced it. This metaphor, though not exactly identical to my own experience, gave voice to a sensation I wasn’t even aware others experienced. That is one of the most powerful things a piece of literature can do. 

My spiral, however, tends to spin outward. Sure, there are certain thought processes that feel constricting, but my vice is a sort of “creative surplus” rather than an anxious buildup. It often feels like my mind is too big for, well, itself. It’s like my thoughts are spilling over, growing out of me and leaving all that is safe, and solid, and known behind and it can be terrifying. 

An entire universe blossoming out of your head when you’re just trying to stay together is no easy concept to digest. This book helped me believe that, somewhere out there, someone, be it the author or my fellow readers, understands how it feels to have thoughts outside of thoughts. 

Hence, the reason it places so very high on the “life changing” list. 

Another reason this particular book ranks so high is the metaphor of “turtles all the way down”, which is actually referenced within the book. In it, the phrase is used in a sort of parable about a woman in a college lecture to argue a professor that the Earth is on the back of a giant turtle, which is standing on another turtle, which is standing on another turtle, all the way down. Hence, the metaphor. And, though it might not necessarily be the meaning intended to be drawn from this particular inclusion, what I took from it was this: it is completely okay to be wrong about the world. You do not have to have everything all figured out, there’s no pressure to be right. And that, in and of itself is beyond reassuring for someone with my spiral problem. 

If you struggle with any thought disorder, diagnosed and concrete, or unexplained and vague, I suggest checking out this book. It’s no substitute for mental help, but it may help you, at the very least, be a little more grounded for a few pages. Until next time. 🙂

Sincerely, someone learning to ride the upward spiral. 

A review of life changing books: Installment 1 :)

Throughout my time as a person who appreciates literature, I have come across several works by a range of authors that resonated with me in a different way than normal content. 

To put it another way, I’ve stumbled across several “life changing” works. And, considering the wonders they’ve worked for me and my personal thought processes, I’m planning a series to review them and recommend them to you. Because each and every one is truly worth the read. 

First and foremost, Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephan Chbosky. This book completely altered how I perceive the world around me, people and my relationships with them, and even my own self and my identity. I cannot even begin to describe the feelings this book produced in me, and reading this absolutely amazing story for the first time is an experience I envy any soul lucky enough to do so. 

The story of Charlie is a deceptively simple high school tale, told from the perspective of a uniquely keen eyed teenager who struggles to be “present” among other people. More commonly, a “wallflower”. 

Throughout the book, Charlie tells his story through a series of letters to an anonymous “Friend”, formatted to seem like he’s speaking directly to the reader in these installments. This detail alone brings so much depth and meaning into the telling of this story, and completely alters the way it would have been received had it been written traditionally. It’s my personal favorite touch of the book, because it’s inclusive. 

From there, you go on to actually hear Charlie’s story about his trauma upon trauma, high school experiences, his thinking and feeling processes, and what it is like to live as a wallflower. 

However, there is one specific quote that really sticks to me. If you’ve seen the movie, or even the preview, you know it. 

“I would swear, in that moment, we were infinite.” 

The ability of such a simple phrase to completely encapsulate a feeling of such depth that I cannot even begin to express it after dozens of pieces written in attempt speaks volumes as to the effects this book has had on me, and could have on you. If this does not convey what this book can offer you, and entice you to read it. 

Cannot recommend it enough.

Sincerely, a wannabe “wallflower”. 

Mad World: Who Did it Better?

Recently, pop star, Demi Lovato released a new album entitled The Art of Starting Over.  The 17th track on the album is her song, “Mad World,” and when I first heard this song, I was immediately intrigued. Now, for the past two weeks, I have listened to this song on repeat, and I have every word memorized, so it’s safe to say that this has become my new favorite song. Honestly, I really enjoyed the entire album (with a few exceptions), but overall, I’d give the album a 7/10. 

Now, the other day, while scrambling to get class before 8:01am, like I usually do, an unfamiliar song played on my Spotify. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it. I didn’t have time to stop and look at the before throwing my phone into my bag, but when I got to class and looked at my phone, I saw that it was “La La Land,” a song from one of Lovato’s earlier albums. Spotify most likely played it based on my recent Lovato obsession, but I noticed that the song had similar vibes to “Mad World,” but I dismissed it because I thought it was just me, especially because the two songs differ vastly when it comes to sound. 

However, while researching to write this review, I found an article that said, “Lovato’s ‘Mad World’ lyrics seem like a mature version of those from ‘La La Land,’ which was the 2008 hit from her debut album Don’t Forget.”

It’s not just me! But the story doesn’t stop there… 

As I was researching, I discovered that Lovato did not write “Mad World,” and it is actually a well-known song written by British band, Tears for Fears. Does that name sound familiar? It’s probably because you’ve heard or read, literary icon, Callie Matthews’ endless ramblings about her favorite bands, one of them being (you guessed it!) Tears for Fears. 

Now, I still agree that the two Lovato songs have similar vibes, but I don’t think that was intentional, seeing as how Lovato didn’t even write “Mad World”.

Now the question is: whose version is better? Tears for Fears? Lovato? Gary Jules? 

Personally, I think Lovato’s version is the best. The smoothness of her voice with playing of the piano was so beautiful. I also really enjoyed the key she sang it in, and maybe it’s just that I prefer female voices to male voices. No disrespect to Tears for Fears because honestly, they get all the credit because they wrote the song. They ran, so Lovato could walk, and she definitely walked the walk. 

God’s Presence in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”

For my this month’s review, I will be writing my analysis on Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat”.   *I recently wrote this essay for Mrs. Lambert’s class so if Turnitin tries to check me, I am covered because I am simply repurposing.

© Carl Van Vechten

SUMMARY 

“Sweat” tells the story between an abusive relationship between a Floridian Black couple in the early 1900s. Delia and Sykes have something far from a ordinary happy marriage. Delia is a hardworking washwoman who believes deeply in Christianity. Sykes is jobless man, who openly commits unfaithfulness, and verbally and physically abuses Delia. Through it all Delia keeps her faith and prays against her husband. One day Sykes brings a snake home to place fear in Delia, however, it ended up attacking Sykes leaving him almost dead. 

ANALYSIS
From the very beginning, the Christianity religion presence excludes from the short story, “Sweat” written by Zora Neale Hurston. Sundays, gospels, scriptures, and prayer are only a few tools that help solidify the story’s overarching themes. Hurston’s complex and advanced use of symbolism communicates the hidden parallels between the biblical era and the short story’s period.
Delia’s character arch and her physically weak, yet faithfully strong essence symbolize the power of having blind faith in the Lord. She is a church-going woman and at the beginning of Sunday, Delia reveals that she has taken sacrament. “Ah aint for fuss t’night Sykes. Ah just come home from taking sacrament at the church house” (1023). When one performs sacrament, they repent from past sins and again are pure in the Lord’s eyes. Delia’s refusal to participate in Sykes miserable and abusive actions is to protect her purity. Hurston conveys Delia as weak compared to Sykes when the writer states, “Delia’s habitual meekness seemed to slip from her shoulders like a blown scarf. She was on her feet; her poor little body, her bare knuckly hands bravely defying the strapping hulk before her” (1023). Nevertheless, Delia defends herself against the antagonist not by physical abuse, yet through her strong blind faith.
For example, when Delia first stands up against Sykes, she gives her testimony. “Looks heah, Sykes, you done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin in washin’ fur fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, pray and sweat!” Another example of this blind faith is shown when Delia prays to the Lord that Sykes will get what he deserves. “Somehow before sleep came she find herself saying aloud: ‘Oh well, whatever goes over the Devil’s back, is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther, Sykes, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing.’ After that she was able to build a spiritual works against her husband.” These prayers foreshadow Sykes fate when he is violently attacked by the snake, he ironically brought into the house to fear Delia.
Delia purity and strong faith represent the Lord’s presence in “Sweat”, on the other hand Sykes and the snake represents evil and the Devil’s presence in the story. Sykes believes in Christianity. He calls his wife a hypocrite because she works on Sundays. In Christianity, Sundays are the Sabbath, which means to rest. He claims that he told the Lord that her work will not be in his house. However, he uses Christianity to support his abusive actions towards Delia which is hypocritical. “Ah don’t keer if you never git through. Anyhow, Ah done promised Gawd and a couple of other men, Ah aint gointer have it in mah house. Don’t gimme no lip neither, else Ah’ll through ‘em out and put mah fist side yo’ head” (1023). Hurston solidifies the Devil’s presence in Sykes by incorporating his fascination with snakes. In the bible, snakes are seen as the serpent of the Devil. Delia wants the snake out the house because she is afraid but also because she believes that they are the devil. “Whut’s de mattah ol’ satan, you aint kickin’ up yo’ racket? She addressed the snake’s box” (1028).
Delia and Sykes’s relationship is abusive and Delia goes through treacherous events similar to biblical times. There are many examples of Christianity symbolism in “Sweat” and Hurston does an excellent job at connecting them to Delia and Sykes.

The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl: A Review

Recently, I journeyed to the Lincoln County public library for the first time. I went in not expecting to find anything, but I did: Tess Holliday’s memoir, The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl. Although I haven’t completely finished the book, I have enjoyed every page I’ve read had so far. Holliday’s journey of being a single teen mom, living in the South, being fat, and trying to be a model is a story like no other. It’s a story that, I think, people from all walks of life can relate to in some way. For me, it really hits home because Holliday grew up in south Mississippi, not too far from where I’m from. The fact that she went from being a single mom in a dingy town in Mississippi to a well-known plus-size supermodel, seemingly overnight is inspiring. Holliday has defied all the odds, and she’s a role model for so many. I’ve only read the first five chapters, but all of them have been so good. Holliday mostly discusses her hometown life in Mississippi in the first few chapters, but in later chapters, she delves into how she got into modeling, raising her son, and managing the industry.

Overall, the book is personal and captivating. Holliday is one of the women who inspires me to live my truth, be myself, and that I can do anything, no matter where I come from. She made it out, as a fat woman, from the same simple-minded place that I grew up, so I know I can do anything I put my mind to because she did. That’s my biggest takeaway from this book. 

Rate: 10/10; it’s an awe-inspiring story of a woman just living her life, and there’s so much truth, vulnerability, and beauty in this book. If you’re looking for a new read, I totally recommend this one! 

 

August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Hello to those who actually decided they care enough to read about my opinions lol. This is another segment of “Stephyne tries to review art by prestigious writers which she one day hopes to be on their level” or as I like to call it,  my monthly literary review! 

 

If you have never heard of the name, August Wilson, be prepared to be amazed. August Wilson was a playwright who captured the joy and struggles of the African American experience through his art. According to the Huntington Theatre, ” The impact of Wilson’s work has made a lasting mark on American theatre, and opened doors to conversations about the black experience in the United States. Wilson was attracted to the theatre and its potential to reach audiences, no matter the class or race.” Mr. Wilson has many accolades including a Tony award for his play Fences and and two Pulitzer Prizes.  

August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand |August Wilson biography and  timeline | American Masters | PBS

The play I will be reviewing is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Ma Rainey was a influential blues singer who is known as the Mother of Blues. Her sound is soulfully, strong, painfully, yet filled with joy.Ma Rainey - Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Wilson play is a fictional story that surrounds Ma Rainey and her band. The setting is placed in the recording session of her hit song, “Black Bottom”. 

 

I watched the screen adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix. The film starred talented and well known stars such as Viola Davis,  Chadwick Bozeman, Gylnn Turman, and Coloman Domingo. The movie was filled with black comedy, black joy, black talent, black dreams, and finally black pain. 

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom movie review (2020) | Roger Ebert

I inspire to write about the black experience vulnerable as August Wilson did. He is the an example of a true artist capturing the art of human interaction. I recommend his plays and movies to anyone. Not only those apart of the black diaspora even though we will identify with it more. I also recommend this to any young writer who is in desperate need of motivation to create truth. August Wilson is the perfect writer and I can only hope I walk through the doors he has opened for any black playwright.