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review 2017-07-12 15:02
The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert

Dahlia Finger is kind of an asshole. She's 29 and spends her days sprawled out on her couch, smoking weed and watching movies, funded by her well-off father. One night she has a seizure and learns that she has a brain tumor. Though no one will actually say it, she doesn't have long to live.

 

This is not one of those novels of illness where there's redemption ahead or that's supposed to make you hopeful and grateful for life (beyond not having a brain tumor). For that reason, I appreciated and responded to it. Unlike all the books on cancer Dahlia and her parents buy in bulk that say "you can beat this thing" if only you have the right attitude, in effect making you responsible (and to blame) for your own illness, The Book of Dahlia illustrates how we as a culture fail to deal with mortality. Though it's not addressed specifically in the novel, I personally wonder how much that American idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is at play, which easily translates into victim-blaming when one can't.

 

One of the platitudes often given regarding illness and healing is that a sufferer must let go of old resentments and anger, that these can make or keep one sick. As Dahlia considers and recounts her past, it's clear she has almost nothing but resentments, from a mother who essentially abandoned her family to the older brother, once close, who took out his own pain on her in the cruelest ways. Throughout her life she's plainly asked for help and been ignored. Maybe it says something about me that I couldn't blame her for her stubbornness in forgiving and forgetting. It feels like the only way she's able to have any agency during her illness.

 

If this sounds grim, it's not, or not only! Dahlia's voice is often funny, enough to make me laugh out loud while reading. Her humor may be bitter, but that suits me fine. At the end of the book there was a reading group guide that asked more than one question about whether one is able to sympathize with her; I absolutely could. I often like female characters in popular culture that others find abrasive, though I often wonder how much it's about gender.

 

The toughest and most affecting aspect of this book was the relationship between Dahlia and her older brother. As a younger sister myself, I'm always interested in and more sensitive to depictions of that dynamic. It broke my heart to read about the turn their relationship takes, how long Dahlia holds out and has faith in him, even insulting herself to get ahead of his insulting her. I both wanted and did not want Dahlia to forgive him. It made me want to call my own brother and thank him for not being a dick!

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review 2017-06-15 20:38
Black White Jewish
Black White & Jewish - Rebecca Walker

Never before has a book so completely spoken to my heart. I originally found this last year when I was looking around for around for women's memoirs to be put into my Diverse Books Tag focused on that genre (a book with a biracial protagonist). I recommended it to my library but got quickly absorbed in a number of other books while I waited for it to be available or for the right time to pop up. At last, my library purchased it and I was the first one to get it when it came out.

I have to say that waiting for the right time worked out fantastically. Some books just seem to know when you need them. As I said, this one just spoke right to my heart. That's not to suggest that I "know" what it was like for Rebecca Walker to navigate her life or what it's like to be black and white and Jewish all at the same time. What I do know is that I am quite familiar with that sense of not quite belonging to anyone, but maybe belonging enough to be claimed here and there for this or that trait. I have drifted from one home to another within my family or neighborhood or group of friends and felt that change that Walker describes as "switching radio stations". I've felt the sting of being in one group while people denigrate the other part of you, the part that they don't claim, while they insist that it's not you but you know that it is, even if only in part. I've felt it on both sides of me.

We've lived vastly different lives in different times within this country and I couldn't possibly relate to all of Walker's experiences, but I had never known anyone to describe this being and not being so well, so beautifully. The idea of being a "movement baby" sounds terrifying, like for too much to live up to. Later, I found it far easier to relate to what happened when the ideas of the movement were gone and she was treated like her existence was half-oppressor and half-oppressed, when people asked her navigate those waters and explain what it felt like. I was never able to explain what it was like to be fragmented this way and now I have someone to turn to for that.

I loved Walker's style of writing and relating everything back to memory and the way that memory shifts, that way that it can be wrong and right at the same time and the way it shapes us and perceptions of us without ever asking for permission. I loved the poetic feel that accompanies most of the book. I peaked at some other reviews and it's not the kind of book that everyone loves, but I still find it an important book to read and discuss. Perhaps it would make a great book club memoir because it does bring in questions of race on several fronts and it could open conversations about sex in adolescence, the effect of divorce and/or neglect on a child's upbringing and other important issues that Walker goes through that still plague us.

The downside to that, of course, is that using the book that way invites criticism of Walker and her parents as people who were theoretically doing the best they could. I don't mean to sound like I doubt that anyone was doing their best but I also don't want to make it sound like I'm making assumptions about what could/should have been done. The point is simply that getting judgey about someone's life and story like this would miss the point of reading the book.

Despite what others might think, I found this book engaging, even at it's lowest moments. I appreciated the way it was a little episodic, moving through periods in her life and only stopping to fit in the moments that best sums up the time-frame for her rather than dwelling on incidentals. As mentioned above, what I loved the most was the way she relates what it is like to not fit succinctly into any single category of race, to be a part of something and not a part of it at the same time, close and yet removed from it. I have felt these things so many times in life when I am in Hispanic or not Hispanic depending on the way whoever I'm talking to feels about it and it rarely seems up to me to let them know who I am and how I fit into these categories and whether or not I even want to.

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review 2017-05-04 13:12
Toni FGMAMTC's Reviews > From Sand and Ash
From Sand and Ash - Amy Harmon
 
Eva and Angelo grow up together in a sort of mixed family. His grandparents take him in. They live with Eva and her father. She considers his grandparents as her grandparents. Her father considers him the son he didn't have. All of these bonds are tested by the events of WWII. Eva and her father are Jewish. Hitler has control of Italy. Eva and Angelo are getting older. They find that the love they have for each other is more than just familial. Angelo's goal has always been to become a Catholic priest. His position allows him to help people (especially the Jews) more than he could otherwise, but it also means he can never marry.
 
This book is full of beauty and tragedy. It follows two people in love and the conflict and consequences of everyone's choices. It portrays the best of worst sides of human nature. Mostly it focuses on the lengths people will go to help each other. My heart hasn't felt so much in awhile. From Sand and Ash is an experience that should not be passed up. It's an epic love story that will restore your faith in humanity.
 
 
***Copy given in exchange for an honest review***
Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents
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Website:  http://fangirlmomentsandmytwocents.blogspot.com
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review 2017-03-14 04:07
THE MYSTICS OF MILE END BY SIGAL SAMUEL
The Mystics of Mile End - Sigal Samuel

THE MYSTICS OF MILE END

Sigal Samuel

Paperback; 320 pages

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 13, 2015)

  • ISBN-10: 0062412175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062412171
  • also on Kindle

 

It took a while to "get into" this book. Set in Montreal, Canada in a Jewish neighborhood, the story follows a widowed father with his 2 children as the each deal with what being Jewish means to them.

 

Even with my slow start, I found myself liking the characters more and more. Sigal Samuel's writing style flows well as she tells first the son's story, then the father, and finally bringing everything and everyone together in the daughter's section. Even the neighbors and friends are developed well. A lot of questions, some answers, and an intimate look at each of the major characters as they look for the meaning in their lives.

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review 2017-02-24 07:00
Paul The Apostle: A Graphic Novel by Ben Avery, Illust. by Mark Harmon
Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel - Ben Avery,Mario DeMatteo,Mark Harmon

Experience the biblically based account of Paul the Apostle in COMIC BOOK format! Paul's life story, told to us in the Book of Acts, is filled with bravery, adventure, miracles, faith, and salvation, yet many people are not aware of Paul's amazing life. In Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel, the action packed Bible story of Paul is more accessible for kids of all ages, using a visual language they love and understand: science fiction comic books! This 144-page full color graphic novel uses awesome looking cartoon creatures, set in an action packed futuristic science-fiction universe.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

While you may have been told the story of Paul the Apostle in church, you probably haven't heard it approached this way before! In this clever and artistic re-imagining, readers meet Paul shortly after he has been captured and imprisoned, awaiting execution. Coming to terms with his time on this mortal coil possibly coming to an end very shortly, Paul recounts the unfolding of his life's work, beginning with revealing that he began life as Saul, a guard dedicated to thwarting the message of the very people he would later count himself amongst -- proud and vocal followers of Jesus Christ. His work as Saul meant he would often arrest, imprison, beat, stone, even in some instances kill those who would try to spread the message of Christianity.

 

 

While on a road trip to Damascus, Saul is involves in a very serious motor vehicle accident. In fact, it sends him into a near-death experience that puts him face to face with big man Jesus himself. Saul comes back to life from this experience a changed man. Remembering his conversation with Jesus, Saul decides to change his name to Paul and start anew, spreading a message of love and kindness rather than animosity and intimidation through physical violence. 

 

 

above: I found the artwork in the dream sequences especially impressive!

 

This version of Saul / Paul the Apostle travels across many of the familiar locations described in the original biblical tale, and still incorporates many familiar historical / biblical figures (such as Emperor Nero), but in a futuristic, sci-fi like era. This is a little difficult to describe, and (if I may be honest) was even sometimes difficult to completely wrap my mind around while reading, but not so much that you can't keep up. It's a different approach, that's for sure, but I think that was kind of what Beartruth Collective (the publisher) was going for -- parents want their kids to learn their Bible stories but the stock version can sometimes come off as a bit dry and stuffy to young eyes & ears, so here's this fresh, innovative approach. Take a medium kids typically eat up -- graphic novels -- and tell the stories that way. 

 

 

 

My impressions

 

The Good: The overall quality of the book design in physical form is seriously top notch. Nice sturdy hardcover exterior, thick glossy pages inside that seem to really enhance the vivid color choices for the artwork. And that artwork! Holy cow, Mark Harmon (not THAT Mark Harmon, btw... sorry NCIS fans), you go! I freakin' LOVED the detailing in all the unique character illustrations here! As far as overall aestethic, I thought the design work was gorgeous! 

 

The Meh: While I like the unique concept of the book, the actual dialogue for the characters fell a little flat for me at times. Overall decent, I still had a good time reading Paul's story, but there were parts in there where it rang a bit corny, a bit trying too hard to be cool for the kids. There were also a few pages / panels where the text bubble layout got a little all over the place, so at times it took me a minute to figure out which way the conversation was meant to flow. 

 

I also noticed that the further along I got into Paul's story, the less it got to be about this sci-fi world and the adventures Paul went on... instead the dialogue turned more scripture heavy. Now, on one hand I can understand this because the point is for kids to learn Paul's story... but the point is ALSO to get kids interested... so as I was reading, I couldn't help but imagine some kids tuning out and closing the book once the story got pretty sermon-like and started to lose the storytelling aspect. Just my two cents. 

 

 

 

If your child has expressed interest in trying out graphic novels, but you are concerned about the potentially high levels of violence or sexuality in mainstream titles, this may be an alternative for your family. Beartruth Collective, at the back of this book, mentions plans to continue on with more adventures of other biblical figures in this graphic novel format, so I look forward to seeing what their future projects look like (once available)! 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Bookcrash.com & Beartruth Collective kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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