Title: Always Running
Author: Luis Rodriguez
Genre: nonfiction, memoir, crime, urban
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.
By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.
At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.
Review: Always Running has been a book I’ve gone back to over and over again as a story that still needs telling. Every time I read it, I’m surprised and impressed by how Luis Rodriguez can tell such a heartbreaking story so beautifully. In the synopsis they say “at times heartbreakingly sad and brutal” and they aren’t lying. This book is sad, brutal, and graphic. But. Every single word means something in Rodriguez’s story. Every anecdote he relays to the reader is purposeful and compelling. I hate that the things he writes about from his childhood are still relevant — the police brutality, the general attitude toward the “other”, laws and policies that are detrimental to those outside of the majority, those without power. The way Rodriguez writes about gangs and his upbringing is still relevant. I love this book, and I’d recommend it to high schoolers or older without reservation.
Title: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
Author: Fannie Flagg
Genre: fiction, historical fiction, LGBT, feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) It’s first the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women — of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder.
Review: If you’ve seen Fried Green Tomatoes and liked it, you’ll love the book a thousand times more. The book answers all of those ambiguities from the movie and sheds more light on all of the characters. Ruth and Idgie’s relationship is pure and beautiful and clearly defined. Ninny as a storyteller is wonderful and Evelyn is much more defined.
If you haven’t seen the movie, this book is told from multiple perspectives in multiple eras. Depression Era south, 1980’s Birmingham. It’s got everything you’d expect a historical fiction novel to have — a busybody with her own news column, family, love, loyalty, action, and humor. When you read this, you’ll fall in love with Flagg’s characters — from Smokey Lonesome, the hobo who tramps around the country on the rails, to Idgie Threadgoode, feminist icon who defies gender roles in a time where women were meek and obedient.
The only thing that stopped me from giving this a 5/5 is how Flagg wrapped up a few of my favorite characters. The writing style is unique — each voice is distinct, and no one gets left behind.
Title: Two or Three Things I Know For Sure
Author: Dorothy Allison
Genre: memoir, LGBT, nonfiction, feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bastard Out of Carolina, nominated for the 1992 National Book Award for fiction, introduced Dorothy Allison as one of the most passionate and gifted writers of her generation. Now, in Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, she takes a probing look at her family’s history to give us a lyrical, complex memoir that explores how the gossip of one generation can become legends for the next. Illustrated with photographs from the author’s personal collection, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure tells the story of the Gibson women — sisters, cousins, daughters, and aunts — and the men who loved them, often abused them, and, nonetheless, shared their destinies. With luminous clarity, Allison explores how desire surprises and what power feels like to a young girl as she confronts abuse.
Review: it’s rare that I’m surprised by books anymore but Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know For Sure was a happy surprise. I was drawn in by her writing style first. It’s simplistic, but descriptive, word work was refreshing. I felt connected to Allison’s words and stories. She broke up the text by using family pictures. The pictures provided their own beautiful storyline too. Her life wasn’t always easy, and her descriptions of those struggles and tough issues really enhanced her storytelling. It felt a little like stream of consciousness writing, like there were some stories that needed to be told in that exact moment. I’ve felt that way too — she pulled at one thread and then the fabric started to unravel.
Title: One Dark Throne [II/IV]
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.
Review: I have been waiting for this book since I read Three Dark Crowns and literally couldn’t put it down all day. It was exactly like stepping back into the world that Blake has created. Fennbirn was just as I remembered it, but the queens were not. Katharine was haunting and I’m still not super sure what happened to her down in that pit, even after finishing the novel. Mirabella was different too. Arsinoe, since she found out who she was supposed to be, was much more clear. Jules as a character was very different too. Overall I really enjoyed this read but some of the character developments felt forced, much more so than in the first book. The last page is interesting. I’m looking forward to whatever Kendare Blake has in store for us next.
Edit: As I kept thinking about this book, I had to drop my Goodreads rating. I would definitely still recommend it, but the characters I liked most changed in ways that felt completely outside of their character arcs and as I continue to think on it, it’s still bothering me.
*Special thanks to the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Author: Toni Morrison
Genre: Fiction; Classics; Magical Realism; African American Culture
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Review: I admire Toni Morrison’s writing as much as I admire any writing out there. She is able to create complex characters with ease… characters you come to care deeply about. Sethe is as complex as they come, and after a while, you begin to understand the decisions she makes, even if you could never understand or fathom the horrors she’s lived through. There’s a lot to this story — hauntings, magical realism, love, tragedy, horror. The plot moves swiftly in three sections of a narrative, each more intense than the last. The intensity of the story, the intensity of the trauma, that’s what makes the story so beautiful and difficult to read.
Toni Morrison, like Sandra Cisneros, holds a special place in my heart as a reader and would-be writer. If I could do just an ounce of what they do in their writing, I would feel accomplished.
Title: Woman Hollering Creek
Author: Sandra Cisneros
Genre: Short Stories, Feminism, Fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A collection of stories, whose characters give voice to the vibrant and varied life on both sides of the Mexican border. The women in these stories offer tales of pure discovery, filled with moments of infinite and intimate wisdom.
Review: I knew I’d like this book walking in because I adore Sandra Cisneros and I wasn’t disappointed by this book in any way. Cisneros has a way of writing universal truths that force us to slow down and read deeply. I saw myself, I saw my life, and I felt touched. All true books should have this power. If you liked The House on Mango Street you’ll like this one for sure. This is heavier than THOMS in a way I can’t really describe. It’s heart wrenching and gutting in a way I haven’t seen outside Sandra Cisneros. Her writing style makes you feel.
Title: Prince of Wolves [Book I/V in the Grey Wolves Series]
Author: Quinn Loftis
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Jacque Pierce was just an ordinary 17-year-old girl getting ready to start her senior year in high school in Coldspring, Texas. When a mysterious foreign exchange student from Romania moves in across the street, Jacque and her two best friends, Sally and Jen, don’t realize the last two weeks of their summer are going to get a lot more interesting.
Review: This is a fast and easy read for those of you interested in finding something fun. If you liked Twilight, you’ll like this. If you didn’t like Twilight because you hated Bella, you’ll also like this. In fact, while I’m not SURE about it, I think this could be a fanfic based on Twilight. There is a main lead, (Jacque/Bella) with two girl friends (Jen/Rose; Sally/Alice), and three boys (Fane/Edward; Decebel/Emmett; Costin/Jasper). If that’s your jam, go for it. If it isn’t, don’t be turned away by this — this is a good shapeshifting novel series that are all free on iBooks / Android library!
I selected it for that very reason — a free iBook is not something I easily dismiss when I’m scrolling through at midnight looking for an easy read. The werewolf / shapeshifter trope is a particular favorite of mine, so I always click “Download.” Sometimes this works against me, but not with this series. While the characters aren’t given a ton of amazing character development, Jacque is a more developed lead than Bella ever was — given a strength and foundation that makes her feel real. The love story is cute and very high school -esque, but it’s a YA shapeshifter, so it’s exactly what I was expecting.
The dynamic between the friendships is strong and beautiful, there’s no betrayal or jealously between Jacque, Jen, and Sally, just an easy friendship that kind of ties the whole story together.