Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

Jennifer Teege is perusing the shelves at her local library when she spies a surprisingly familiar image on a book cover. The picture is of her biological mother and the book is about living with the legacy of a Nazi father. Jennifer is shocked to learn that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the infamous commandant portrayed in Schindler's List. Her life goes into a tailspin as she tries to come to terms with a beloved grandmother who was deeply in love with a war criminal who would have murdered Jennifer because of the color of her skin.

This book very intelligently has two authors. Jennifer Teege tells her own story, while Nikola Sellmair writes the history that surrounds her family. She details the life and atrocities of Goeth and the history of the places that Jennifer visits. The two voices are essential to this story. Jennifer's reactions, are of course, primarily emotional and personal. Sellmair's careful research places her story within the larger lens of history.

Jennifer's discovery spurs her to re-examine her entire life. She connects with her mother for the first time in years, and tries to sort out her feelings about her childhood as a black child in a mostly white neighborhood. She remembers growing up with an adoptive family who adored her, but made the difficult decision to cut ties to her biological family. She wonders how she can ever look her Jewish friends in the eye again and walks through the camp where her grandfather reigned in terror over the prisoners.

One of the most fascinating and disturbing parts of this book is Jennifer's realization that she is not alone in this bizarre situation. While she had no knowledge of the actions of her grandfather, there were thousands of spouses and children who knew exactly what was happening during the Holocaust. Multiple generations downplayed the atrocities committed or insisted that their loved one could not have been a part of such a thing. Even the descendents who were not alive during the war live with extraordinary guilt. How can a person atone for the actions of their ancestors?

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me
A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past
By Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair
The Experiment April 2015
240 pages
From the library

Sunday, November 27, 2016

It's Monday, how was your Thanksgiving?

Hello bibliophiles! How was your Thanksgiving?

It's been a good week here. It was great to spend Thanksgiving with my family, even if we only saw some of our siblings via Skype. We have officially decorated our house, my parent's house, our church, and we even saw Santa Claus ride through town on a fire truck. Christmas season has officially started at our house.

This week, I read the memoirs My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me and The Middle Place. I found it difficult to read solely about a cancer diagnosis or the knowledge that your grandfather was an infamous Nazi, so I simultaneously read Blind Submission which hit the literary mystery sweet spot.

           My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past     Blind Submission    The Middle Place

Now I'm reading Sam Maggs' Wonder Women and Lyndsay Faye's Dust and Shadow. I guess we're hitting the time of year where we catch up on those books we meant to read earlier in the year and enjoy some backlist titles!

         Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History    Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson

What are you reading this week?


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Truevine

In 1899, two young boys were taken from the field they were working to become part of the circus. They spent decades being heralded as cannibals, aliens, and sheep men as people paid admission to see these two albino black men. But George and Willie Muse rarely saw any of the profits from their international stardom and their family back home in Virginia didn't know where they were or even if they were still alive. Their mother Harriet was determined to find them and to give them some control over their own lives, regardless of the cost.

Truevine is an intriguing read in many ways. Author Beth Macy struggles with being both an accurate reporter of facts and a kind fellow human as her research indicates that the often-repeated Muse Family story may not be quite what transpired. The book opens with Macy meeting Nancy Saunders, George and Willie's great-niece. She is a fierce protector of her elderly Uncle Willie and disinclined to let this white journalist talk to him. Nancy continues to believe that the boys were kidnapped, even as Macy accumulates evidence that their mother may have initially arranged for them to join the circus.

One of the most revealing moments in this book is when Macy questions if the circus might have been the best place for George and Willie after all. While the owners and managers certainly took advantage of the brothers, she examines what life was like for people considered freaks both inside and outside the circus tents. George and Willie were seen as different everywhere they went, whether they were up on stage or just sitting outside their home. It is impossible to escape the shadows that hang over this story: many of the people that the brothers performed alongside at the circus met terrible ends and the town of Truevine itself has a dark history of racism that is not as far in the past as we would like to believe.

Truevine: Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and A Mother's Quest
A True Story of the Jim Crow South
By Beth Macy
Little, Brown, and Company October 2016
432 pages
From the library

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It's Monday and the holidays are coming!

Hello bookish ladies and gentlemen! How are things in your little corner of the world?

We are very much looking forward to the rest of the year. We have given in a few days earlier than usual: the tree is up (just lights, no ornaments yet) and Christmas music is in occasional rotation. It will probably be full-time towards the end of this week. We'll be spending Thanksgiving with my family and then looking forward to a certain little boy's ninth birthday (someone please hold me).

I finished A Thousand Nights pretty quickly and then went to the interwebs to discover if this would be the first book in a series. Apparently, E.K. Johnston is writing a related book that uses some of the events in A Thousand Nights as background for a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I will definitely be checking it out next month. Then I read Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior. I'm a big fan of hers and I think she tells her story with such grace and compassion for both herself and her ex-husband.

        A Thousand Nights        Love Warrior 

I'm currently reading My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, which is a really fascinating but difficult read. To give my heart a break I'm concurrently reading Blind Submission, a novel about an assistant at a literary agency who receives a manuscript that seems to be about her.

          My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past   

What are you reading right now? If you are celebrating this week, have a happy turkey day! Don't forget to eat some pie and watch Gilmore Girls on Friday!


Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: Patient H.M.

Henry Molaison was a normal boy until the day a car struck him while he rode his bike. After the accident, he suffered frequent seizures. Henry began seeing doctors in an attempt to heal his brain. In his late twenties, a doctor tried a radical new procedure: a lobotomy. It didn't heal his seizures, but it did leave Henry unable to form long-term memories. He became known as Patient H.M. and was a constant source of study by scientists and surgeons for the rest of his life. Henry provided much of what we know today about the brain and how it works.

I have to admit that I picked up this book partially because it sounded fascinating and partially because it was compared to The Immortal Lives of Henrietta Lacks. The comparison is a fair one, as Dittrich blends the history of brain science and lobotomies along with his own grandfather's story as both a scientist and a part of his family. Dr. Scoville is Luke Dittrich's grandfather and the one who performed the procedure in question.

In spite of Dittrich's best efforts to be impartial, it is hard for the modern reader not to find fault with the methods and ethics of Dr. Scoville and his peers. The doctors frequently experimented on patients in mental facilities, many of whom suffered only from being different than their families or society preferred them to be. The most terrifying possibility is that Scoville operated on his own wife, Dittrich's grandmother.

Reading Patient H.M. is a fascinating experience. It's a deep dive into the horrors of mental health and brain study in the past without ignoring how much we have learned from their dubious methods. The story is a tragedy, as we see the life Henry Molaison led as a result of medical experimenting and the cost of the author's discoveries about his family. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in medical history and ethics, how our brains work, and every reader who appreciates good nonfiction.

Patient H.M
A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets
By Luke Dittrich
Random House August 2016
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mini-reviews: Faithful and Behold the Dreamers

Shelby is a pretty typical teenage girl. She and her best friend Helene are attached at the hip until the night of the accident. Shelby is driving, but she isn't the one who is hurt. Instead, Helene is left in a coma and Shelby is left to deal with the consequences and guilt. She retreats from the world first to a mental institution and then into her parent's basement, Is it possible for Shelby to forgive herself and move on with her life when her best friend will never wake up?

Faithful is a novel that pays attention to all kinds of relationships: friendship, romance, and families. In some ways, it is a typical coming of age story as Shelby drifts away from and comes back to her parents and her small town and discovers who she is and what she wants out of life. She learns that it is possible to love someone while knowing they are not the person for you. But each step is made harder by her excruciating guilt as she wonders if she deserves any sort of happiness.

This book can be tough to read as Shelby sabotages her own life, but this is an Alice Hoffman story. That means there will always be just a bit of magic and the hope that these characters can find a happy ending,

By Alice Hoffman
Simon and Schuster November 2016
272 pages
Read via Netgalley

In the fall of 2007, Jende Jonga gets an incredible opportunity. He starts a job as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. This job will give his family security and ensure that his wife Neni can continue in pharmacy school. As Jende becomes an integral part of the Edwards family, the lines between employer and employee become fuzzy. When the financial market and Lehman Brothers collapse, can either family escape the destruction?

Behold the Dreamers is a book that is both incredibly specific to the years before and after the financial crash and a universal look at trying to survive as an immigrant in America. Jende and Neni have come to America from Cameroon and they have big dreams for their futures and that of their small son. Through his job, Jende has a literal front row seat to the inner workings of the wealthy in New York City. He hears the business deals that his boss brokers in the back seat and drops him off at the hotels where he is unfaithful to his wife. He sees the heartbreak of the neglected wife trying to keep a brave face and her snobbery about other people. But Mbue has not taken the easy path of making the rich bad and the poor saintly. Instead, we get a multitude of complicated characters who are trying to do their best with what they have.

This is a book full of impossible choices and characters who get knocked down time and again by life. But somehow this story manages to encourage its readers that all is not lost. Even if America cannot grant all of our deepest desires, there are still moments of joy to be found on its shores.

Behold the Dreamers
By Imbolo Mbue
Random House August 2016
380 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It's Monday and we are still reading

So...we had an election. I feel like I'm still processing things a bit and there are a lot of people who are writing things more eloquently than I ever could. I will just say that we are watching and listening. We are doing a lot of talking with our kids about what it means to be kind and what it means to use our voices for other people. We are doing a lot of reading because reading (of course) teaches us empathy. And it's sometimes good to escape into someone else's world for a while.

Last week, I read Lessons in Belonging From A Church-Going Commitment Phobe. I rather adore spiritual memoirs and as a lady who is married to a pastor, I try to pay attention to the things that compel people to leave churches and the things that convince them to put down roots in a church community. Then I read The Wild Girl, which was my first time reading a book by Kate Forsyth.

Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe     The Wild Girl

Now I am reading and very much enjoying A Thousand Nights and then I'm continuing my Nonfiction November streak with Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior

A Thousand Nights     Love Warrior

What are you reading this week?


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review: Sing For Your Life

Ryan Green was a young man heading for trouble. He lived in a bad neighborhood, his father was gone, and Ryan and his mother frequently get into physical altercations. When he was twelve years old, he was sent to juvenile detention. But twelve years later, he was singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House and winning a spot in a national program for the most talented young singers. Sing For Your Life follows Ryan from a cell in solitary to a career as a professional opera singer.

As someone who has studied voice and sings frequently, I was intrigued by Ryan's story. I know the years of practice that it takes to become a good singer and that talent is no guarantee of success. I wanted to know how a young man with little training kept winning competitions and rising in the opera world.

It's wonderful to read about teachers and mentors who chose to believe in and champion a boy who had a difficult upbringing and had spent time in juvenile detention. The adults in his life tried to get through to him at his most violent, gave him the extra instruction he needed to catch up to the other musicians, and encouraged him to dream big.

The most fascinating part of the story though, is seeing the ways Ryan encounters prejudice and is able to overcome it. He remembers the wonder he felt the first time he saw a person of color sing a major role in an opera and how her performance convinced him there could be a place for him too. The most heartbreaking moment comes when he is fairly far along in his opera career and is asked to sing the seminal musical theatre song Ol' Man River. He has already performed several opera roles and knows how to sing in multiple languages, but the wealthy patrons of the arts want to hear him sing a song that hearkens back to the days of slavery and racism.

Sing For Your Life sometimes struck me as being better suited as a series of pieces for a magazine or newspaper and even after spending 300 pages with Ryan, I feel that I have only seen the surface of who he is and what he has experienced. In spite of that,  I am glad I know Ryan's story and hope that he has a long and wonderful career.

Sing For Your Life
By Daniel Bergner
Lee Boudreaux Books September 2016
320 pages
From the library

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's Monday and November is crazy

Hello bookish people! How are things?

I think I hit a bit of a wall this week with things being stressful and crazy around here. I'm trying to make some time for myself to breathe, so it was good to run away for a bit on Sunday afternoon and visit two of my sisters with my mom.

Part of taking good care of me is reading, of course. I read Truevine this week, which follows the lives of brothers who performed in a circus sideshow and the difficulties that shaped their family as poor black people living in Virginia. Then I curled up in bed with the latest edition of Saga

         Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South  Saga, Volume 6

Next up is Lessons in Belonging From A Church-Going Commitment Phobe and then I will continue my week of faceless women with Kate Forsyth's novel The Wild Girl

         Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe    The Wild Girl                     

What are you reading this week?


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

October Wrap-Up and What I'm Into

Oh October. You were really long and too short and full of good as well as crazy and stressful. We went on a Disney cruise for a week and had all the fun of festivities of Halloween. It's also been a tough few weeks as my husband deals with some medical stuff and my 3 year old is at peak toddler. I could do with a few easy days during November!

Han Solo loves Princess Leia. 

What I Read/Reviewed:
I only reviewed four books this month? Maybe I will get my book reviewing powers back for November. Two of those books were for review and two were from my library. Three of them were read as a part of Readers In Peril, a fun fall event where we read spooky books during September and October. My favorite of the bunch was probably The Fireman by Joe Hill.


Favorite Kid Books This Month: BG is adoring a series of books about The Jellybeans, a group of four friends who like different things but go together like a handful of jellybeans! D is really into The Elemntia Chronicles, a Minecraft series, and The Treasure Hunters series, James Patterson's attempt to take over the kid's bookshelves too.

    Elementia Chronicles #1    The Jellybeans and the Big Dance 

Favorite posts:
I wrote about our vacation experience on a Disney cruise and I also recorded my 24 Hour Readathon adventures this time around. 

What I've Been Watching:
It's nice to curl up on the couch after putting the kids to bed and watch a show or two with my husband. My current favorites are This Is Us and Jane the Virgin. Yes, I like to cry along with my laughing when it comes to tv.  

What I've Been Cooking/Baking:
I have to confess we have been ordering takeout far more often than I would like. I hope we are going to do better in November! We did make our first Chicken and Dumplings of the season. They are the perfect way to start fall. 

     Easy Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings I howsweeteats.com
Picture from How Sweet Eats
Pumpkin Chess Pie Bar Recipe
Picture from Love and Olive Oil


I also baked these pumpkin chess pie bars and it seems like everyone liked them. There were none left for me to take home at the end of coffee hour! 

What were you into during October?

Grab button for What I'm Into