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review 2016-11-05 17:45
The Bat Boy and His Violin - Gavin Curtis,E.B. Lewis

Another story I have read to my 4th graders! I read this book the same week as Teammates, and we compared & contrasted the two. We talked about theme again, and how the moral was the same and different. We also discussed the time period again and how it was the same as Teammates (the civil rights movement). Another part of the book we discussed as a class is how the characters felt. We used pictures and context clues to determine if they felt happy, sad, determined, upset, encouraged,etc. 

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review 2016-11-05 17:03
Teammates - Peter Golenbock,Paul Bacon

I read this with my 4th grade class to discuss theme, which I felt very appropriate. First I had to explain the setting to be during the civil rights movement when blacks and whites were separated. They helped by adding to the discussion and sharing their own thoughts on this. Then I asked them if they knew what theme was. We discussed as a class that the theme is the moral of the story or lesson learned by the end. While keeping this in mind, I read the book only stopping at points to explain vocabulary. After reading,we talked about the theme of the book and what lessons they learned from it. 

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review 2016-07-10 11:38
Fate, love, race, violence, war and how some themes remain always relevant
The Last Road Home - danny johnson

Thanks to Net Galley and to Kensington for offering me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the description of the novel I was interested in discovering a new Southern writer and seeing how Danny Johnson fitted in with a literary tradition filled with pathos and a heavy historical burden. Unfortunately, the news filled up with incidents of racial violence in the USA as I was reading it and it made the content of the book topical and urgent, even if the story goes back to the times of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

The story is told in the first person by Junebug, a young white boy that at the opening of the novel is only eight years old and has just lost his parents in a car accident (his father made moonshine liquor and they were driving with the car full of alcohol at the time of the incident). The boy goes to live at his grandparents’ tobacco farm and becomes friendly with twin African-American siblings, Fancy and Lightning. This is South Carolina and although the friendship flourishes whilst they are kids, it is clear that whites and African-Americans know their places and there might be heartache to come. From very early on fate seems to be against Junebug that after losing his parents, and in short succession loses his grandfather and later his grandmother, being left looking after the tobacco farm alone aged only fifteen. By that point Lightning has left seeking adventure, his relationship with Fancy has moved on and things get more and more complicated.

The novel deals with many of the typical themes to be expected from a Southern novel: race relations (and interracial relationships), the weight of family and small town morals, historical memory (there’s only a passing mention of the Civil War, but the Ku-Klux-Klan plays an important part in the plot and later we hear also about the Civil Rights Movement). The novel is also a coming of age story, as we follow the main characters from a very early age, and see them change, in body and character, and discover new urges and feelings as they grow. (A word of warning: there is some sexual content, although not the most explicit I’ve read or even close.) As they live in a farm, there is a fair amount of detail of traditional farming tasks, from growing up tobacco, to churning butter or killing a chicken or a pig, which I enjoyed and I didn’t find overly long or distracting from the main plot.

Junebug’s life is marked by violence, and it reflects the violence that is part of the history and the atmosphere of the land. He gets fixated on his dog’s death (his father shots the injured dog at the beginning of the story) and his fate, apart from losing loved ones, seems to put him on the way of circumstances that lead to his use of violence (but I don’t want to give too much of the story away). After a serious warning from the KKK, he ends up in Vietnam, as a way of finding refuge (for strange that it might seem) from his loneliness. There he discovers he has a natural talent as a sniper but finally things come to a head when he realises he’s not as hard and as strong as he had always thought and one can’t hide from the consequences of one’s own actions and violence forever.

I did enjoy the style of the novel, its many memorable lines, the many themes that give one pause (that also include PTSD after Junebug’s war experience although possibly even before that) and the details of everyday life offered by the narration. I spent over half the novel trying to accurately place it in time (we are given clues, like the price of things and the fact that Junebug’s mother’s grandfather fought in the Civil War) but Junebug mentions it is 1963 quite late in the story (although admittedly it would have seemed irrelevant to a child in his position). His style of language changes suddenly when he gets to Vietnam, as once more he has to adapt to new extreme conditions, and he seems to get into the role of the marine easily and with gusto.

I found the plot and the experiences of the main characters interesting, although perhaps too much is fitted into a single book and it does not allow for a deep exploration of the many different strands. Junebug is not very articulate when it comes to his feelings, although some of his reflections can be quite sharp. He not only tries to hide his feelings from others but also from himself (it’s not easy to trust somebody when all your loved ones die and you wonder if there’ something wrong with you), and even an experienced therapist has difficulties getting to the root of things, but that fits in with his experiences and his personality. Junebug has flashes of insight, like when he wonders how Fancy must feel, knowing that she’s considered a second-hand citizen only because of the colour of her skin. He does not notice a big social difference between him and Fancy and her folks, but he is young, naïve, inexperienced, and it takes him a while to realise that due to the fact that he is white and has a farm he belongs in a completely different universe in the eyes of his neighbours and a big part of the society. Personally, I would have liked to follow Fancy’s story in more detail, but that is not the focus of the book. Thankfully, the ending is not typical, although it might leave some wondering (considering the character’s age one can’t help but wonder if that’s the end).

In summary, a well-written novel that fits in within the Southern writing tradition, although not ground-breaking. I’ll follow the author’s career with interest.

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review 2016-06-12 21:48
Review: Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole
Let It Shine - Alyssa B. Cole

This novella can be purchased both as a separate book and part of the multi-author anthology Juneteenth. I read this in honor of Loving Day.


Sofie Wallis was raised to be a good, docile daughter and future wife by her father after her mother died. When the story opens, Sofie is already battling the demands of her father and church against the stirrings in her heart for the resistance movement (part of the collective Civil Rights Movement). She is angry, but it is a purposeful anger. I really liked her, partly because her impulsiveness is not rooted in some stupid concept of what independent woman do/are, but rooted in her to do more than just sit and read about others' experiences in the movement. I think Cole for the most part really captured a realistic religious character in a secular story - Sofie uses her understanding of Christianity (I am assuming non-denominational variety as the church was not given a particular sect) to motivate her work with the resistance movement.


Ivan is her childhood friend that she hadn't seen since the day her mother died. He went from being a scrawny 12 year old to a handsome boxer. Oh and he is Jewish, but not a regular practitioner - although he has commendable use of Yiddish. Nope, the gym is his temple. I thought that it was a bit of a cop-out that Sofie was seen as active member in her faith, but Ivan wasn't. It seemed an easy but cheap way for a Christian/Jew relationship to be accepted if one of the characters didn't have a strong bond to his/her faith.


The only quibble I had was that Sofie went from having screaming great sex (in the boxing ring) with Ivan to walking into church for service without cleaning herself up or dousing herself in Chanel No 5. Uhm....people can smell the funky after sex scent dear authors. Especially considering Ivan worked his magic so well that her panties were soaked...and she didn't have a spare set to change into.


I read the stand alone novella version, which also came with a short story that was more like the final chapter. The story takes place in 1961 (the summer of the Freedom Riders), the epilogue takes place in 1964 (the year of the Civil Rights legislation but still marriage of interracial couples was illegal), and the short story takes place in 1973, where we find that Ivan and Sofie took their experiences and knowledge about activism and applied them to other movements going on at the time (for Ivan, the anti-war movement; for Sofie, the women's rights movement). The short story felt more like Ivan's story than Sofie and Ivan's story. But I thought it was realistic as they had been together more than a decade and had been through a lot of shit, both relationship wise and the political/social/economic upheaval the country went through.


I really like Cole's writing - her humor is spot on and her novellas take place over weeks and months rather than a mere 48 hours. Her research seeps through the story without feeling like a history lecture for the reader. 4 stars. Summer Bingo square "Romance" filled.

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text 2014-10-19 21:56
National Book Award? REVOLUTION by Deborah Wiles. Don't miss it.
Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy) - Deborah Wiles

I am currently reading this book with my ears AND by hard copy. This is a book where you want BOTH. I am so grateful that Karin Perry put both versions in my hands last week. This is about Summer 1964 in Mississippi. It is an important book for readers of all ages. The audio allows you to hear the text of publications, speeches, songs, etc. aloud, While the print version lets you see them on paper. I cannot think of another book I've read this year that is more deserving for its category. Get it. Hear it. Read it. You won't be sorry, especially if you remember 1964. I'll post again when I finish. I am so impressed by this book that I cannot wait to talk about it until then.

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