19. Unbroken

Well this book was a real surprise for me, but also for my book club!  I didn’t originally vote for it but it passed the cut for the list of books to read for my book club 2011-2012.  Everybody enjoyed the story and said they learned so many things.  Reading the synopsis frightened me.  I thought, “Oh God not another World War II book and on top of that about the Pacific and Japan.”  I was cringing and trying to avoid it because I was dreading the pages about his captivity(about 150 pages), but happily I was wrong and strong. It was that but so much more than that.  This was a fantastic read about a true American hero that I hadn’t heard of, Lieutenant Louie Zamperini.  This biography follows Zamperini’s life from the beginning, turbulent and headstrong, all the way through becoming a bombardier in the Air Corps in world War II, to his capture and internment in POW camps in Japan, and life after the war.  He is an extraordinary person who survived many excruciating trials when most people would have given up.  Just as it’s written in the title: “It’s a story of survivall, resilience, and redemption.”  It’s obvious that his incredible strong will and confidence helped him pull through it all.

Unbroken is a 406 page book but what a page turner, along with a bit of suspense toward the end!  I learned so many different things about the war, the Olympics, B-24s, etc.  I must admit thinking back to high school I realized that the Pacific hadn’t been covered in the same depth as the Normandy invasion.  I knew very little about it.  So, for all of you out there like me, you should read this book.  Hillenbrand’s style of writing is smooth, informative but most of all easy to appreciate.  Moreover, everything is so well described that your imagination comes alive while reading.  Certain descriptions of the bomber planes and flying incidents are very clearly explained.

Laura Hillenbrand is known for having written another extraordinary true story called Seabiscuit which is about  a race horse.  It’s amazing to see how much thorough information she acquired from Louie Zamperini and his family members, not to mention the help from people who corrected her writing of the flying scenes so that they would be more true to life.  Some people have criticized Hillenbrand’s style saying that it was written like a movie script, which I find harsh.   Personally I don’t have a problem with that.  I think it made it more readable and very intriguing.  The only real mistakes I thought she made was when she occasionally let her personal opinion creep in on a situation where it wasn’t necessary or when she goes on about thee feelings of certain people when she couldn’t know exactly what they would have thought and felt.  Nevertheless, once you get started you will plunge into the story and won’t be able to put it down.  I read this book in 3 days and started to wonder about the audiobook of Unbroken.  I imagined it would be very captivating to listen to because of the storyline. So I checked it out on You Tube and found an extract.  Click below. I give this book 4 and a half stars and am so glad I read it.  Thanks Sonia for suggesting it and sorry I teased you so much about it.  We missed you at the meeting.   Check it out everybody!

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18. Lucy

Here’s the second novel this year that I’ve read from Jamaica Kincaid.  Lucy is a coming of age novel about a girl of the same name from the West Indies who is sent to North America.  There she is meant to work as a jeune fille au pair for Lewis and Mariah.  They are a young, successful, wealthy couple with four children.  They seem to be the perfect couple – happily married and of the upper class, but shortly after her arrival Lucy starts to notice some blemishes on this idealistic family.

Lucy is a young West Indian who seems to be happy to have left home, and particularly her mother.  Even though, her coming, to what appears to be New York City, immediately  triggers a sense of profound homesickness.  She feels as if she is in the middle of two worlds.  She is different and that is accentuated from the moment she arrives in North America – the cold air, a pale yellow sun.  “I was no longer in a tropical zone, and this realization now entered my life-like a flow of water dividing formerly dry and solid ground, creating two banks, one of which was my past-so familiar and predictable that even my unhappiness then made me happy now just to think of it-the other my future, a gray blank, an overcast seascape on which rain was falling and no boats were in sight.  I was no longer in a tropical zone and I felt cold inside and out, the first time such a sensation had come over me.” (Lucy p. 6-7)  Through the story it becomes clear that Lucy’s moods change as the seasons do.  In the winter she is lonely.  The spring brings to her a sense of renewal, while summer contentment and autumn disillusionment.  She has not lived with seasonal change and finds it unnecessary.

As the story continues Lucy proves herself to be an observant critic of her surroundings and of her host family.  It’s as if Kincaid uses this character to express the trials of a lot of West Indians that come to work or to  immigrate to North America.  She mentions how people start to speak with her by saying, “So you’re from the islands?”, as if all the islands are the same or worse claim to know where she’s from because they were there on holiday.  Lucy is unsympathetic and extremely hostile, which often leads to her somewhat blatant commentary.  It is sometimes a little comical, but is the principal reason she is perceived to be difficult and bitter.  She tries to make her place in this family and develops a relationship with Mariah which is similar to a mother-daughter one.  Searching for more independence, her sexuality evolves through sexually interested relationships that leave her dependent.  It’s apparent that Lucy desires full independence and a break from her past but she speaks of home and her mother often.  This proves the overwhelming force or her mother Annie Potter, despite her physical absence.

Food is described in distinct memories and the passages are beautifully written.  you can almost imagine yourself eating the delectable – mullet and figs and the fried fish.  Not to mention the lovely descriptions of the warm sun and the beautiful blue sea.  In comparison, there is a scene where Mariah asks Lucy if she has ever seen spring and speaks of daffodils, which happen to be Mariah’s favorite flowers.  For Mariah, daffodils are symbols of beauty and the arrival of spring.   Unfortunately, it only brings up Lucy’s feelings of hatred toward colonialism and her colonial education.  She remembers how she had to memorize a poem by Wordsworth called Daffodils, when she had

never seen one, while she felt the beauty of her own homeland was ignored.  Lucy is very short 160 pages and I found it making me want more.  It isn’t really a plot driven novel, but more so a character developed one.  Kincaid just needed to write a bit more (another 50 pages at least).  Not knowing much about West India, I marvel at the way the sections describing Lucy’s memories of home-made me  feel that sensation of warmth, sea breeze, and enticing scents, the same as in Annie John.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure this book is for everyone.  I say give it a try because it’s a little different from what most people are used to reading.  Kincaid’s simple style allows you to fall quickly into the story, but the abrasiveness of Lucy may put some people off.  I rate Lucy 4 stars and will be looking for some more Jamaica Kincaid novels to read next year.  Below I’ve copied the Wordsworth poem Daffodils.  What do you think about this poem?  Does it inspire spring and rebirth to you?  Do you enjoy reading Wordsworth?

“Daffodils” (1804)

I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the Milky Way,

They stretch’d in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Today

This evening was filled with music when I played with my orchestra the violin above at 6:30pm.  My daughter played her flute with her orchestra an hour and a half later.  We then spent the rest of the evening enjoying lovely music from all the other orchestras until 11pm.  What a great way to start the weekend! 🙂

17. Mockingjay

Katniss Everdeen awakes to District 13 (the rebels) and to the destruction of her home District 12.  She doesn’t know what awaits her after her second adventure in the games.  The dystopian world of Panem takes a complicated turn for the worst and Katniss has to figure out who she can trust, what is expected from her, and who she loves –  Gale or Peeta.

I finally finished Mockingjay after reading off and on for two weeks.  I can’t say I loved this book like The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. For me, it wasn’t the page turners I’d read before.   I found Mockingjay slow and dispersed.  The story of Katniss Everdeen becomes more and more tragic.  I guess you could say she is put to the full test.  Suzanne Collins tries to introduce a strictly psychological story but where she goes wrong is with 200 pages of moaning teenage angst.  I still love the idea of this trilogy because the themes are so universal and have been dealt with differently in other novels.  The thing that is also missing is more in-depth descriptions of the different districts.  I thought Collins would have used the tour of the districts, that Katniss and Peeta had to do as the winners of the games in Catching Fire, as a way to describe and explain them more in detail.  I did enjoy the love story though which added a little spice to this quite violent, dark dystopian world.  You just want things to work out for Katniss and Gale or Peeta.  sorry no spoilers.

All in all, as a story, it’s a good one.  You must read it to judge it.  The Hunger Games is getting a lot of press because of the film and people are judging it on that alone.  Yes,  it’s violent but I don’t think it’s anymore violent than what adolescents usually watch these days in movies, on tv, or in video games.  Unfortunately, this trilogy is an example of why I don’t usually enjoy reading trilogies.  In my opinion, they fizzle out and are usually one book too long.  This being said Suzanne Collins does know how to keep up the suspense and make incredible turns in the story as well as in the growth of the characters.  I give Mockingjay three and a half stars, but you have to read it to find out how it ends.  It’s a trilogy!  Or,  you could skip right to page 265 and start reading there. 

I was watching You Tube and there was an interesting Hunger Games tag going around. So I’m asking you which do you prefer? Comment below.  I’d love to know what you think.

Snow or Coin  – Neither they’re scary!

Effie or Cinna – I like Cinna’s simple, but creative style.

Slugging it out in the Districts or living life in the Capitol – I would prefer slugging it out in the districts.

Lamb stew from the Capitol or bread from district 11 – I like lamb stew.

Gale or Peeta – I like Peeta, although that didn’t begin until Catching Fire.

Katniss’ archery skills or Cato’s knife fighting abilities – I would love to have Katniss’ archery skills. So cool!

Become an Avox or get stung by a tracker jacker –  I’d rather be stung by a tracker jacker.  I like to talk a lot.

Who’s cuter Prim or Rue? – Rue is very cute, especially in the movie.

Peeta’s gift of camouflage or Rue’s gift of climbing – Peeta’s gift of camouflage would be useful since I like to paint.

Run for the Cornucopia or Run for the hills – I’d probably run for the hills for obvious reasons.

16. Home

In a way, home can be considered the beginning of us all.  For some it evokes nostalgia, comfort, warmth, love-a place one can’t wait to get back to.  For others it’s a place we’d like to forget completely or partly, and some wander aimlessly for a good amount of their lives trying to find one.   Home is our reference point.  The place which has made us in some respect who we are today.  Home is the story of Frank Money and his journey to his home after serving in the Korean War, which took place between 1950 and 1953.  Frank is a self-loathing African-American man who is searching for peace among all the horrors he went through during the Korean War, but that he can’t seem to shake.  He tries to subdue them with alcohol but that just disorients him. and gets him into trouble.  This novel is engaging, but very melancholy.  At some points, I got the impression that he felt he didn’t deserve to survive the war.  It’s very difficult to talk about this book without including spoilers but I’ll try.

The second main character in Home is Frank’s sister, Cee.  Cee is the reason that Frank finally goes home.  Growing up, Frank and Cee were very close to each other.  He protected his sister as if he were a parent.  Until then, we follow Frank through the ups and downs of being an African-American veteran in racist America.  Jim Crow Laws (1876-1965) are being enforced, separating blacks from whites, and preventing any type of equality.  The Korean War was the first time that whites and blacks actually fought in combat side-by-side in war.  Preceding this war, the military was segregated, although President Truman had signed the Executive Order 9981 in July of 1948.  It established equal treatment and opportunity in the Armed Forces without regard to race.  More than 600,000 African-Americans served in the Korean War and no one can begin to imagine the horrors they must have had to face in the US after what they had already been through in Korea.  What’s even more incomprehensible is that Korea integrated the armed forces.

Home is Toni Morrison’s latest and tenth book.  Morrison is 81 this year and still an extraordinary writer.  I hope she’ll continue to write these informative and important stories that we don’t have the possibility to read so often.  Before long,  I’ll be able to say I’ve read them all.  I still have Love and Paradise left to complete reading all of her genius works.  Home is a real gem!  Morrison does what she knows how to do best, which are descriptions and massively detail packed sentences giving you the character analysis,  scenery and time, but most of all feelings.  She really knows how to get to the crux of the subject and the emotion, which she explores thoroughly.  It’s like watching a movie and you’re afraid to blink because you’re afraid of missing something.  I hated putting it down because I just wanted to know more about what happens to the characters in the future.  I haven’t read anything before as a fiction novel on this subject, but Home reads quickly.  The proof, I read it in 2 days.  I probably could have read it quicker if I didn’t have so many classes to teach.  Approaching the end of the novel, I wanted to know more about the future of the characters.  It’s a lovely little 145 page book that I suggest all Morrison fans and newbies to Morrison should read.  I rate it 5 stars out of 5!  Happy reading……

http://www.nj.gov/military/korea/factsheets/afroamer.html

15. B is for Beer

You might want to grab a cold brewski before sitting down to read B is for Beer by Tom Robbins.  You’re going to need one to get through it.  This is another book I picked up two years ago and didn’t get around to it until today.  This is the latest from Robbins but unfortunately not his best.  It came out in 2009.  I’m a real die-hard fan of Robbins, especially Jitterbug Perfume, Skinny Legs and All, and Another Roadside AttractionB is for Beer doesn’t have a really absorbing storyline like Robbins usually writes, nor is there the strong character building.

This is a fairy tale about beer and Gracie Perkel.  At the beginning of the story, Gracie is five years old and curious about the customary liquid substance of choice of her father that makes him go pee-pee. His refusal to let her have a sip while watching a football match leads her to getting one from her Uncle Moe.  Her Uncle Moe schools her a little on life and of course on beer.  Henceforth, commences her interest and slight obsession with beer.  He leaves the day of her sixth birthday for Costa Rica and doesn’t get to honor his promise to take her to visit the Redhook brewery.  Disheartened she guzzles her first beer, gets sick, meets the Beer Fairy, and the adventure begins.  Yes, I said the Beer Fairy.

I really have to say not an interesting book other than to find out facts about beer and to learn how it’s made.  If you know that already there’s no need to read this.  You do get funny info like; “Speaking of inventions, did you know that the tin can was invented in 1811, but can openers weren’t invented until 1855?” B is for Beer p. 15 or”….thirty-six billion gallons of beer are sold in the world every year.” B is for Beer p. 83   Since it’s a fairy tale you can guess how it ends.  Robbins does every now and then show his talent for witty one liners and funny descriptions, but I wouldn’t suggest you read this if it’s your first time reading Robbins.  I would suggest Jitterbug Perfume.  Overall I’d rate this 125 page, two and a half hour read two and a half stars.  I was disappointed.  The cover was promising.  I was expecting a whirlwind ride and I got B is for Boring.  If you do decide to read it, for God’s sake don’t buy; have a friend lend it to you, check it out from the library, or buy it for a couple of dollars on your Kindle!  I hope this won’t be Tom Robbins’ last word because I do love his crazy, outlandish, adventurous, and unpretentious storytelling.  It’s refreshing!  It would be a shame for him to finish his career like this.

14. Hair Products 101

Organic Root Stimulator, Shea Moisture, Jane Carter’s Solution, Oyin Handmade, Uncle funky’s Daughter, As I Am, Ouidad, Talijah Wajid, Carol’s Daughter, Hair Rules, Koils by Nature, Karen’s Body Beautiful, Jessicurl, Komaza Care, Mixed Chicks, Giovanni Cosmetics, Darcy’s Botanicals, Hairveda, and so on….. The list is getting longer and longer as natural hair becomes more popular in the African-American community.  Companies are jumping on the natural hair bandwagon to try to earn lots of money in the ever-growing market of natural hair products.  Companies that are developing natural hair care products are sprouting like mushrooms.  Some are even trying to sell their products, while promising stupendous results, without even taking an ounce of care towards the ingredients that they use in their products.  Inticing naturals who are searching for the product that will give them the perfect curl, the product names often contain the word curl or curly.  The question is:  Which products are the best for your hair?

In the beginning, I spent time worrying about products and living in France didn’t make it easy for me.  Sporting my twa (teeny-weeny afro), I realized that I needed moisture in my hair and I wasn’t ready to turn into a product junkie trying to find the right one, especially since I would have to order everything online.  I survived and my hair grew with the simplest methods, *co-washing, leave-in, and sealing with jojoba oil.  Two years ago, I didn’t have Hair Products 101 A 4-Step Process to Empower You To  Select the Best Products for Your Hair.  Chicoro hadn’t written it yet.  I was fortunate enough to have read her first book, Grow it!  How to Grow Afro-Textured Hair to Maximum Lengths in the Shortest Time.  Having been very impressed with all the efficient information in Grow it! made me want to check out Hair Products 101 and I wasn’t disappointed.  This is an excellent guide for choosing the right hair products for your texture.  Chicoro breaks it down and explains how we can get side tracked into buying products because we like the shape of the bottle or the color of the label.  These new companies are using all the marketing strategies possible to make their products attractive.  But, did you? “Most studies on hair are conducted using Caucasian and Asian hair.  It is difficult for research centers to obtain long, unaltered, unprocessed Afro-textured hair……The practice of the hair care industry is to use Asian hair to represent Afro-textured hair.  The Asian hair is treated with alkali, or it is steamed and heat damaged until it crinkles so that it looks “kinky” and curly.” Hair Products 101 p. 7

An overview of the 4-step process is given in the beginning after explaining the rare commodity value of afro hair.  She then gives an explanation of the human hair fiber, comparing Afro, Asian, and Caucasian hair.  She then urges naturals to follow the growth of their hair through photos and answering all the questions in her “understanding your hair” survey.  It’s a template that you can copy from pages 42 to 49 and answer with care to continue a successful healthy hair growth journey.  There is also a big section on solvents , surfactants, protein treatments,etc.  This leads into what Chicoro calls cheat sheets.  They designate how to identify, recognize, and categorize, ingredients.  The end of the book contains case studies.  There you can read a problematic from a natural and what Chicoro suggests as solutions.

Interesting book and explained clearly and simply in 111 pages.  I rate it 4 1/2 stars.  This could be the book to help a product junkie to repent and to prevent others from becoming one.  I don’t know much about Chicoro, but she definitely has a wealth of information that should be more publicized.  This information will enable us to stop being victims of the sharp marketing tactics in the hair care industry.  Please check out both of her books and her website at http://beautifybitbybit-chicoro.blogspot.fr/

Still I Rise

I’m still celebrating  National Poetry Month with another one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou.  Scroll down to the video to hear her reciting Still I Rise with her luscious, mesmerizing voice.  Enjoy and recite or publish your favorite poems this month.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou