THUG Life

THUG Life

As a young black millennial, I have been making efforts to consciously read more books based on the black experience. I read a lot of books, but most of the time I’m reading about people and places I can’t wholly connect with. I have only read a handful of books in my lifetime that I could relate to. I have been searching for more opportunities to read black authors and books that contain black characters.

I have been a little out of the loop in terms of new releases and I stumbled upon an advanced reader’s copy of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give by chance. A co-worker told me she found an ARC I would like that was based on the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was intrigued. I took it home and attempted to read it. At first, I couldn’t get into it. Not because the writing was bad, or the subject didn’t peak my interest, though. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to read a lot of the same types of books for a while. It just so happened that at the time I tried to read this–back in Jan/Feb–I was waist deep into a pile of thrillers. I couldn’t focus. Eventually, I got off the thrill ride and was able to pick up The Hate U Give.

Starr Carter is a sixteen- year -old girl who finds herself navigating between the world’s the Hood she lives in and the suburban Prep School she attends. Starr’s world comes crashing down when her childhood friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer. Starr is the only witness and everyone wants answers as to why an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by the police. Khalil’s case makes national headlines and the black community is furious. They want justice. Starr finds herself blurring the lines between who she is at her school and who she is at home. Is she betraying black men by having a white boyfriend? Is she betraying her Hood by wanting to get out?

I can only describe the experience I had reading this book through the perspective of a young black woman. I found that I had to read this slowly and deliberately. I had to put it down several times. Either I was too enraged, to hype (slapping my knee and hollering in agreement), or just grieving for not only the characters, but the black community as a whole.

In my opinion, this book gives a daringly accurate account of the black experience. Although I didn’t grow up in the Hood personally, I experienced many of the things Starr, her family, and her friends experienced.

“Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is non -confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.”

Starr is remarkably intelligent and insightful. She is aware of the power of presentation when it comes to “fitting in” and not wanting to be stereotyped. I still struggle with maintaining both sides of myself. As a kid, I was taught how to speak so that white people could feel comfortable–but it’s never been comfortable for me, just like it isn’t comfortable for Starr.

Starr’s family is one example of what a family looks like growing up in a poor community. I enjoyed the fact that Angie Thomas incorporated gangs, alcoholism, and blended families into the story. It made it that much richer in substance. These are issues that aren’t necessarily exclusive to the black community BUT for the purpose of this story, it worked. I loved the dynamic between Starr and her parents. Her father, Maverick, is an ex-con/former gangbanger and has educated himself and his kids about how to deal with the police. I can recall having the same talk with my Grandfather as a kid.

As for Starr’s relationships with the kids at Williamson  Prep–it’s what I would expect from a teenager. It’s difficult as it is, trying to navigate friendships in high school. But when you had the media and the pressure of social injustice–something is bound to happen. I, for one, was ecstatic when Starr molly-whopped Hailey. She deserved it.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

This book is a must read. For educational or motivational purposes, you choose. But you must read it. I mean REALLY read it. Marinate with it and let it sit. Let it be uncomfortable. Let it scare you. Allow this book to make you angry, let it make you cry. If the only thing you take from this book is that having a voice and an understanding of how to use it appropriately, then Angie Thomas has done her job. It’s up to US to make the changes happen.

The question you are asking yourself shouldn’t be “Am I racist?” It should be: “what am I doing to stop the spread of hate?” In ALL forms.
Thank you, Angie Thomas, for writing OUR story. I REALLY hope the message isn’t lost when this is made into a movie. Five Stars!

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Jagged Little Thrill: Right Behind You Review

As I’ve said many times before, I LOVE a good thriller. Anything psychology or crime related. My favorite TV shows and movies all revolve around psycho killers and sociopaths. Think: Law and Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, Hannibal, etc. I have always been fascinated by the criminal mind and mental illness. This fascination has extended to my reading activity. After reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl a few years ago, my craving for psychological thrillers has been insatiable.

A year or so ago–when I spent a lot of time at Barnes and Noble before working there part-time–I discovered the intriguing cover of Lisa Gardner’s now NY Times Best Selling thriller Find Her. I had never heard of Lisa Gardner or read any of her books, but the cover and description sucked me in. I was not disappointed. Find Her is a crime/thriller hybrid about surviving/coping after being a victim of a gruesome crime. Anyway, when I saw Right Behind You hit the shelves at work I knew that I had to get a copy. Not just any copy, but a signed copy. Thanks to working at at Barnes and Noble, I heard that Lisa would be at another store in my state. Rhode Island is an hour in any direction, so I thought it would be worth the troop. I missed the discussion beforehand, but I was able to chat briefly with Lisa, get my book signed, and take this awkward picture with her.

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In my feeble attempts to get a friend to read this with me, it ended up sitting on my bookshelf for a month after I bought it. Eventually, I got impatient enough and started reading it on my own. I didn’t really need a reading partner, did I? I didn’t really think so. I dived in headfirst and immediately became submerged in the plot. This one was immediately relatable to me.

In Right Behind You, we learn that retired FBI Profilers Quincy and Rainie are about to adopt 13 year- old Sharlah May Nash who hasn’t seen her older brother, Telly Ray Nash since he murdered their parents to save their lives. The Nash siblings endured abuse and neglect from their drug addicted, alcoholic parents. Telly had to beat his drug enraged father with a baseball bat to save his baby sister. Now, eight years later Telly is the main suspect in what appears to be a vengeful killing spree. Is he the killer? Is Telly on the path for revenge?

I hate reading reviews with spoilers, so I refuse to give any details that give away the plot. But I will tell you why I loved this book so much. I work with kids in the system so I have an understanding of the trauma that causes kids to be removed from their parents. Telly and Sharlah’s case is one of many examples. With that, the trauma they endured I have seen first hand in the faces of my clients. Telly became the parentified child when he cared for his baby sister. Even through the abuse, Telly proved his resilience when he was taking Sharlah to the library and reading to her. Sharlah handed Telly that bat to save both of them. These are the reason I love working with kids–their resilience.

Now eight years later, we learn that Telly has struggled with his identity and the kind of man he wants to grow up to be. Is a hero? Or is a he a zero? I have had the privilege of working with kids who have been subjected to endure situations out of their control in which they were exploited, abused, and/or neglected. I have seen kids come from darkness and make it out on the other side. In some ways, I’m one of those kids, too. Perseverance is a beautiful metamorphic process.

Gardner wrote this both thoughtfully and provocatively. Reading this from my point of view, she captured the emotions and struggles that kids in the system must face. Furthermore, she captured the importance of bonding and the difficulties that foster children and foster parents struggle with. What does it take to be a family? When do you know you’re a family? These are questions where I feel Gardner hit the nail on the head. She took her time developing this plot and telling this story.

I haven’t read any of the other Quincy and Rainie books, but I can see how these two profilers have influence and understanding of the human condition. Quincy and Rainie put a lot of emphasis on the importance of being able to bond. In my line of work I have seen kids who are still able to bond with staff and mentors. I have also seen kids that are unable to bond–these are the kids most at risk of resorting to crime. There was decent balance of good and bad in Right Behind You. It wasn’t rushed, it didn’t ever stagnate, and I was exhilarated with every page.

My Strange Addiction: Books

My Strange Addiction: Books

I have been reading books for as long as I can remember. In pre-school, I somehow got my hands on Jack & Jill and See Spot Run. You know, the board books with all the pictures and semi-large print? Yeah, those bad boys. I carried them everywhere I went. I would sit in corners trying to put all the words together. Even then, I was enchanted by the pages of a book. When I got to kindergarten, I recall being taught the alphabet and how to phonetically pronounce letters and words.

It was in kindergarten that I remember being introduced to the idea that “Reading is FUNdamental.” I can’t remember why I was so entranced by books. Maybe it was the fact that we didn’t have cable. Maybe it was being an only child and having to entertain myself. It could have been any of these things. I just always always wanted books. My Grandmother was always willing to buy me books from Scholastic Book orders. Do they still do those? Or am I dating myself?

By first grade, I could read fairly well on my own. I wrote my first pop-up book about a prince and a princess. By the time I got to middle school, I had written a dozen books. In seventh grade, I found poetry. English/Language Arts has always been my favorite subject in school. To be a good writer is to be a good reader first. Or at least that’s what my English teachers would say.

Books and writing have helped me keep me sane all these years. Books protected me from boredom. They have given me strength and encouraged me to develop an active imagination. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I cannot live without books.” This is true for me. Books are the security blanket I haven’t had to get rid of.

I can’t remember the last time I left my house without a book. I always have backup plans. If I don’t have a paperback or hardcover stuffed into my purse, my kindle is shoved somewhere in there, or I have several books loaded onto the kindle app on my phone.

When I first got my Kindle a few years ago, I stopped buying physical books because it was cheaper. However, I found that reading is a complete experience for me. That is, a physical one in addition to a mental one. I need to smell the paper, feel the weight of the book in my hands.I discovered that with each page turned, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Especially if the book is 500+ pages–I didn’t have that with my Kindle. So now, I don’t use my Kindle unless I am reviewing ARCs on Edelweiss or NetGalley. I work in a bookstore, so I spend a lot of time perusing through books on my breaks trying to find something new to read. The discount isn’t too bad, either. 🙂

I have accumulated so many books in the last few years. When I’m anxious or stressed out, I buy books. There are worse things to be addicted to, right? I have to tell myself (and my coworkers) that I cannot buy any more books until I am finished with at least 2 of the 150 I have sitting in my bookcase at home. The struggle is real, man. People are always telling me to borrow books from work or the library. But for some reason, that doesn’t satisfy me. I need to own the books I read–I just have to see them on my bookshelf and in my room. I covet them. And I am not ashamed.

In my defense, I am always trying to give books away or encourage others to read. I’m always buying books for other people in my life. I have converted several non-readers into fellow bibliophiles in the last year or so. I thoroughly enjoy talking to people about books. Something inside me just comes to life and I am instantly animated. I love being able to share my thoughts and hear the perspectives of others. You can learn a lot about someone just from knowing what their reading preferences are. Me? I love a good thriller, but any sort of fiction will do most of the time. I love the exhilaration of trying to figure out the plot that a good thriller should provide. Some of my recent favorites include Lisa Gardner’s Right Behind You and Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby.

I have been told that people find a hard time relating to me because I am so direct and literal. But if you can talk to me about books, I promise I’m not as scary as my facial expressions suggest I am. 🙂  Feel free to check out my reading activity over on Goodreads by clicking here!

Goodreads: In a FICKLE…or did I mean pickle?

Goodreads: In a FICKLE…or did I mean pickle?

A short while ago, I was perusing through Netgalley– this awesome site where you get free advanced copies of books in exchange for your opinion. Which in my opinion, is the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, I’m biased because my love for books in unequivocal.

I love all fiction–but within the last year I felt like I’ve read so many Gone Girl-ish type thrillers and I was looking for a change.  I wanted something new and original–something different in general. So here I am scrolling my life away when I stumbled upon the cover for Peter Manus’ FICKLE.  The cover is minimal-esque yet it caught my attention. The black and red had me thinking that it would be some sort of crime drama with murder and suspense. (I ALWAYS judge books by their cover and I am not usually wrong.) I clicked on over to Goodreads and surprise–it’s been published before and most of the reviews were decent.

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FICKLE is told primarily through blog posts and comments–definitely with the times’. I have tried to read a book that was told in a similar fashion, think Where She Went, and had to put it down because I couldn’t make sense of it. This was not that.

FICKLE is the definition of noir. I don’t think the story would be as intriguing if it weren’t told through blogs. Each character (there are a lot of them) has their own voice and personality. The usernames are comical but also practical for each personality. It didn’t feel like I was reading a book. It felt like I was reading a blog that I just couldn’t add my own comments on.

You can read my original review here on Goodreads. This was the review that got the attention of the wonderful people over at Diversion Books, which has republished Peter Manus’ FICKLE. I was fortunate enough to be offered an opportunity for a QA with the author.  Please be warned–there are some slight spoilers. But not enough to spoil the whole thing.

Finding Fenix: I noticed that FICKLE was originally published in 2008. Were there changes to the storyline and/or characters during the production of this new edition?

Peter Manus: Yes, I took advantage of Diversion’s incredible offer to put out a second edition and whittled down some elements of the book. In 2008, the kind of clubby blogging that fickel and her blog friends are into was pretty new, and so I had a lot of expository stuff in there to explain the whole phenomenon. So, I weeded and streamlined it. But the essential storyline — girl witnesses train suicide, girl blogs about it with her blog buds, girl attracts cyber-psycho — and the primary characters — l.g.fickel, Mysterious Hottie, Burly Bear, Full Frontal, proudblacktrannie, chinkigirl, etc. — are all intact.

FF: How did the popularity of social media help you decide to tell the story using this device? How do you think this influences the plot?

PM: Social media wasn’t quite as much everywhere when I wrote FICKLE, so my idea was more a case of experimenting with this new, potentially dangerous form of socializing than making a comment about the social media we know now.  The format — everything’s written through fickel’s Life Is Pulp blog or Full Frontal’s Existentialism Engorged — is essential to the plot and the whole reading experience.  It’s about the freaky world of internet friendship, flirting, stalking, and eventually terrorizing.  Without the blog device, it would be a nice retro mystery about why some stranger dropped himself in front of a train at this particular girl’s feet.

FF: How were you able to keep track of so many different personalities and still maintain the flow of the plot?

PM: The bloggies — these are the eight or nine fans of fickel’s blog who chat with her through the wee hours about her increasingly scary situation — essentially wrote themselves.  I let them come to the blog in whatever way seemed natural to them. It was a strange experience, to be honest, having these full-fleshed people in this increasingly intense, panicky, obsessive relationship that consists solely of them all typing back and forth in a comment section. But I didn’t really give a thought to the fact that I was channeling all these diverse voices, and maybe that’s why I didn’t have any trouble letting them do their own thing.

FF: Our online personalities tend to differ from our everyday personalities. How would you describe l.g.fickel’s everyday personality?

PM: I mean, that’s really the question about her, right?  She’s certainly the ingenue of the plot — this slightly snarky, self-deprecating, booky type who’s bravely trying to play detective and figure out what this Mr. Suicide guy was all about.  But we get increasing glimpses of this other girl — tougher, darker, more fierce in what she’s after and what she’s protecting. And then there’s the kinky thing.  As those hints come from the blog of a guy who seems to be stalking fickel, they’re not necessarily reliable. The reader gets to feel out where the real woman is amid all the verbal crosscurrents.

FF: The conclusion of FICKLE is a bit ambiguous and is open to interpretation from the reader. What was the purpose behind that? How do you think it affects the story for each reader?

PM: I knew from the start that if I’m writing a book about how internet socializing can screw with people, I had to be true to that.  And that meant that the ending had to throw some contradictions at the reader.  You don’t know which ending is the real one because when you chase along a story via the internet, you only have other people’s word for it that what’s happening is happening.  It’s the ultimate unreliable narrator scenario. That’s part of why I pitched it as a noir, because those old noirs played with the cheating narrator concept a lot.  Hey, I just almost wrote that the noirs introduced the unreliable narrator, but I think it was Agatha Christie in MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. I understand she got a lot of press, and also flack, for it. I thought she pulled it off kind of brilliantly.

I want to close by thanking you for these questions, which demonstrate that you really got what was different and daring about FICKLE.  It’s pretty gratifying for an author, especially with a book like this one!  I’ve got another book coming out — FIVE DEAD GUYS AND A GIRL — which Diversion is publishing (with my eternal gratitude!)  5DG&AG is also pretty different — a seemingly placid woman inveigles herself into the lives of five men and has some success in her plot to exterminate them, but a scrappy Boston cop out to prove herself starts honing in on her method.  So, a bit less challenging as a concept than FICKLE but still plenty offbeat. I hope you’ll try it when it’s available.

The bottom line is that FICKLE is a must read for anyone who enjoys a good twisty mystery and suspense. You can grab your copy today in stores and online!

A quick shout out to Peter Manus for taking time out of his busy day to answer these questions, and to the publisher Diversion books for this opportunity! 
I can’t wait for FIVE GUYS AND A DEAD GIRL to come out!