Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday (#58) - American Panda by Gloria Chao (February 6th by Simon Pulse)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings. For more information, click here

The book I am waiting for this week is...

American Panda by Gloria Chao

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?





Let me know in the comments what you are waiting for this Wednesday!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Favorite Songs of 2017

I love all kinds of favorites lists because I always find something new to read, watch, listen to, consume etc.

Lists of favorite songs are among my favorites because even though the person who has put the list together might have a completely different taste in music than I do I usually tend to find at least one song to add to my own playlists.

For the first time in 2017, I curated monthly playlists on Spotify. Looking back at these playlists reflects my different moods throughout the year perfectly and also makes it super easy to put this list together since basically all of the songs I really loved last year and on those lists.

Without further ramblings, here are my favorite songs from 2017. Please let me know in the comments which songs you loved in 2017!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Review)

Release date: October 21st, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Pages: 336

Description (from Goodreads):

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

"The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."
This book is incredible. It is touching, comprehensive, eye-opening, fearless, heartbreaking, inspiring, and so much more.

Before you take time to read any more of my thoughts, please take a moment to listen to Bryan Stevenson:

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption wasn't the first book I've read about the criminal justice system in the United States and certainly won't be the last. I suspect, though, that it will be one of the best, if not the best, book out there on the subject of the criminal justice system and its intersections with race and class.
"This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us."
Stevenson's approach to the topic is personal and often quite subjective -- after all, he got close to the people whose rights he was defending and unfortunately often had to say goodbye to those people because there just wasn't enough time and resources to help them. Yet, despite the subjectivity, Stevenson is able to support his arguments with fact and figures. He is clearly a professional in his field and thus extremely credible.

Rather than writing about the criminal justice system from afar his approach to the topic through personal stories from his career makes the book so much more effective and page-turning. The way he writes about these people condemned by the system shows love, care, and understanding and makes Stevenson seem like a person you would one on your corner if you ever get caught in the web of the criminal justice system in the United States.

(Obviously, though, the color of my skin alone would make me highly privileged in comparison to the people Stevenson writes about. This is the kind of wrong Stevenson wants to try to set right. After all, the system should be equal for everyone!)
"In poor urban neighborhoods across the United States, black and brown boys routinely have multiple encounters with the police. Even though many of these children have done nothing wrong, they are targeted by police, presumed guilty, and suspected by law enforcement of being dangerous or engaged in criminal activity. The random stops, questioning, and harassment dramatically increase the risk of arrest for petty crimes. Many of these children develop criminal records for behavior that more affluent children engage in with impunity."
Stevenson takes quite a bit of time to discuss the intersections of mass incarceration and mental illnesses, which was not only interesting but also necessary. He brings up statistics to support his arguments and many of the things he mentions left me puzzled. For example, over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates in the US have been diagnosed with a mental illness. This means that the rate of mentally ill inmates is almost five times higher than that of the general adult population in the US.

Though the jails and prisons house such a huge percentage of people with mental illnesses the prisons and jails are often unable to treat the inmates in a way that would help them. Rather, they are left alone and often hopeless. Rather than finding ways to rehabilitate the inmates in ways that would make it easier for them to get back to their lives once they have served their sentences, the prisons and jails often do only harm.

Though Stevenson takes joy from his victories, there is a clear undercurrent of anger towards the system and the people who use it for their benefit without considering the wellbeing of others. That anger is extremely justifiable and while reading this book I felt like I got a chance to be angry with Stevenson. It is incredibly sad, yet not surprising, that people in positions of power are ready to look the other way in order to keep their status. I was glad to read that some of these people got what they deserved, but unfortunately too many of them are still in power. Just look at the fool who is leading the United States at the moment.
"In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things that you can't otherwise see; you hear things you can't otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us."
I wish I would have enough money to buy several copies of this book so I could give a copy to everyone from my family and circle of friends because I honestly feel like this is one of those books everyone should read.

While looking for info on the book from Goodreads I noticed that it is on a list called "Books White People Need To Read." I definitely agree with that categorization. I am reminded of the privileges I get just because I am white on a daily basis while reading news/social media updates, etc. All of those reminders are important, but this one is probably one of the strongest reminders I've got in a while.

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. You can find more information about the work they do from here. If you are interested in getting involved in the work they do, you can find more information on it from here.

I will end this review with one of my favorite quotes from the book.
"The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected that it's most potent -- strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration."


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday (#57) - Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (February 6th by Counterpoint Press)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings. For more information, click here

The book I am waiting for this week is...

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot

“An epic take—an Iliad for the indigenous. It is the story of one First Nation woman and her geographic, emotional, and theological search for meaning in a colonial world…Terese is a world-changing talent, and I recommend this book with 100% of my soul.” —Sherman Alexie, author of You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot “trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept.” Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, re-establishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.





What are you waiting for this Wednesday? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Expedition - a Love Story by Bea Uusma (Review)

Release date: October 1st, 2015 (published in Swedish in 2013)
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Pages: 288

Description (from Goodreads):

In 1897 three men disappeared in the North Pole—only now have their final hours been revealed with this award-winning forensic investigation of a 120-year-old mystery

On July 11th, 1897, three men set out in a hydrogen balloon bound for the North Pole. Led by engineer August Soloman Andrée, they want to make history, but are frighteningly under-prepared. Three days into their journey they make a crash landing and disappear into a white nightmare. They never return. 33 years later, the men's bodies and equipment are found buried beneath the snow and ice on a deserted glacier. They had enough food, clothing, and ammunition to survive. Why did they die? 100 years later, Bea Uusma is at a party. She pulls a book off a shelf about the Andrée Expedition. For the next 15 years, Bea will think of nothing else. This is her journey to uncover the truth.

Never ever did I think I could get this interested in a book like this.

I have a few Finnish book bloggers to thank for bringing this book to my radar (in particular Laura from Lukuisa). For a few days in November, I kept seeing this book everywhere -- Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads -- and while it didn't manage to catch my attention at first, my curiosity won and I loaned it from the library.

Thanks to my curiosity, I found one of my favorite books of all time.

At its core, The Expedition is an investigation into what happened to the members of the André Expedition in the late 1800s. Three men -- S.A. Andrée, Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel -- hopped into a hydrogen balloon with a goal to travel over the North Pole. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned and the men never lived to tell of their adventures.

While the expedition was fatal for the men, they left behind items that have allowed historians and researchers to dig into their stories and to make conclusions about what happened to them. Items like diary entries, food logs, and so on have helped in piecing together the final days of these men. What happened to them and why?

In many ways, The Expedition is like a true crime story. True crime happens to be one of my favorite genres, so it is no wonder I liked this book so much. Uusma digs into the evidence left behind the men, actually studies to be a doctor in order to better understand the medical evidence left behind, and obsessively searches for even the smallest of clues to make some sort of conclusions about the destinies of the three men.

The way Uusma intertwines an account of her own obsession with the stories of these three men is executed masterfully. Everything is in perfect balance and the pacing is out of this world. When you add into all of this the style in which Uusma narrates the story, structuring it in a manner that makes the book extremely difficult to put down you end up with a perfect package.

Really, to me, this book is flawless.

In many ways, Uusma has taken the stories of these three men who never got a chance to tell about their adventures and allowed them to tell their stories from beyond the grave. By providing the reader with diary entries, daily logs, and more, the events from the island, the last days of the men, come alive.

Uusma's isn't the first book written about the André expedition and since I haven't read the other books I can't really make comparisons. It is the most recent, though, so you can expect the information to be most up to date in this book. One of the things I appreciated most about this book are the good references Uusma provides that makes it possible for those interested in the case to research it further. I certainly want to know more now -- not only about the André expedition but about Arctic exploration in general.

If you are a true crime fan like me, I highly recommend you check this out. The Arctic exploration was so not "my thing" before this book, but it sure is now.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner (Review)

Release date: January 5th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 336

Description (from Goodreads):

A riveting, deeply-affecting true story of one girl's coming-of-age in a polygamist cult.

Ruth Wariner was the thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children. Growing up on a farm in rural Mexico, where authorities turned a blind eye to the practices of her community, Ruth lives in a ramshackle house without indoor plumbing or electricity. At church, preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world and that women can only ascend to Heaven by entering into polygamous marriages and giving birth to as many children as possible. After Ruth's father--the man who had been the founding prophet of the colony--is brutally murdered by his brother in a bid for church power, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife of another faithful congregant.

In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where her mother collects welfare and her step-father works a variety of odd jobs. Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the community into which she was born is not the right one for her. As Ruth begins to doubt her family’s beliefs and question her mother’s choices, she struggles to balance her fierce love for her siblings with her determination to forge a better life for herself.

Recounted from the innocent and hopeful perspective of a child, The Sound of Gravel is the remarkable true story of a girl fighting for peace and love. This is an intimate, gripping tale of triumph, courage, and resilience.

I have had a fascination with all sorts of cults for years. I've fed by interest with movies, TV shows, and podcasts but haven't really read that many books about the subject matter. 

I became aware of The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner even before the book was published, but it took me until the end of 2017 to actually acquire and read it. Too bad, since this book was extremely interesting and thought-provoking. But better late than never, right?

The Sound of Gravel is Ruth Wariner's personal account of her childhood in rural Mexico as a part of a religious community. She has a huge family which is a direct result of the status of women in the religion -- they are pretty much there just to make children. By allowing polygamy, the men of the religious community are able to father children for multiple women at the same time. Men do as they want while the women do what they are told to do. 

Ruth, who watches her mother bring baby after another to the world, knows that her future will likely be very much like her mother's reality. Once in a while, she gets to spend some time in the United States and comes to love her life there much more than her reality in Mexico. As a result of getting out of her normal environment, she starts to question the actions of her mother and the religion she has been thought to believe in.

I loved Ruth Wariner's approach to the topic and found her way of entering into her childhood with both innocence and the wisdom earned later in life extremely interesting and well executed. Wariner writes in a way that engages the reader and makes her care about the things that happen to Ruth and her siblings -- because of this, it was often difficult to read this book because the things that happen to Ruth are just so WRONG. 

A lot could be said about the religious beliefs of the group itself and the way it treats women and children. The women are basically treated as babymaking machines, even when it is evident that they are not well, mentally or physically, and thus not able to take care of their children in a way that every child deserves to be taken care of.

Because of the mental and physical toll, the pregnancies take of Ruth's mother Ruth has to grown up earlier than many other children as she has to take care of her younger siblings as well as, to some extent, her mother. It was really touching and heartbreaking to read what happens to Ruth (sexual abuse, violence, and so on) when she is forced to become a woman much earlier than she should have to. 

After reading this book I did a bit of research on Colonia Lebaron (or Church of the First Order.) The religion was inspired by Mormon Fundamentalism and believed in polygamy. Members of the religion still reside in Mexico, though it seems polygamy is now exercised only by a fraction of the members. 

After reading this book I found out that there is another memoir, The Polygamist's Daugher, about the same religious group written by who I believe is Ruth Wariner's cousin, Anna LaBaron. I definitely want to read that one too at some point -- the experiences of Anna are probably quite same as those of Ruth since they were both young women in the same religious environment -- since I believe it can offer a more well-rounded understanding of this religious community and the status of women and children in it. 

I highly recommend The Sound of Gravel to everyone interested in the subject matter. Please be aware, though, that the book discusses triggering subjects such as abuse, sexual abuse, and violence. 


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday (#56) - An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (February 6th, 2018 by Algonquin Books)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings. For more information, click here

The book I am waiting for this week is...

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.







What are you waiting for this Wednesday? Let me know in the comments!