Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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“The country was big, and its appetite for prejudice and depredation limitless, how could they keep up with the host of injustices, big and small. This was just one place. A lunch counter in New Orleans, a public pool in Baltimore that they filled with concrete rather than allow black kids to dip a toe in it. This was one place, but if there was one, there were hundreds, hundreds of Nickels and White Houses scattered across the land like pain factories”

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a dramatization of real American history. Set in the early 1960s Civil Rights time and all the horrors of the Jim Crow era in Frenchtown, segregated Tallahassee, Florida. The civil rights movement is gaining ground, the bus boycott happens, restaurant sit-ins, demonstrations, Martin Luther king’s words are spreading across America. Elwood Curtis believes Martin Luther King that he is just as good as his white counterparts, he gets an early enrollment into college to take a couple of college classes during his senior year of high school but one small mistake on his first day of college gets him sentenced to The Nickel Boys Academy.

“Make a career of humanity. Make it a central part of your life.”

The Nickel Academy is a segregated juvenile reform school run by sadistic and racist Maynard Spencer. Elwood finds himself in a terrible school filled with vicious brutality, sexual abuse, torture, and actual killings. As Elwood struggles to maintain King’s higher ideals of love, trust and freedom in the face of his new reality, he meets Turner. Turner has a more cynical and honestly, quite accurate view of the world, believing Elwood to be naive, as he plots and schemes, trying to avoid as much trouble as possible.

“Perhaps his life might have veered elsewhere if the US government had opened the country to colored advancement like they opened the army. But it was one thing to allow someone to kill for you and another to let him live next door.”

I never read Whitehead’s blockbuster book, The Underground Railroad. I don’t know why, I was adequately assured that it was fantastic but I never had any interest in it. So, this is my first Whitehead book and I loved it. It’s short and still manages to convey a great deal of details and emotion. This book is under 250 pages, I read it in one afternoon. This book is an incredibly devastating story that deserved to be told. The goal at Nickel Boys is to rack up points for good behavior and graduate early or just serve your time sentenced at the school but with school officials who have it out for the boys and a corrupt system in place to exploit the students, nobody ever gets reformed. You either graduate when you’re due or you end up dead and buried in the dirt behind the school.

“Problem was, even if you avoided trouble, trouble might reach out and snatch you anyway. Another student might sniff out a weakness and start something, one of the staff dislikes your smile and knocks it off your face. You might stumble into a bramble of bad luck of the sort that got you here in the first place.”

The Nickel Boys is based on the accounts of the real life Dozier School for Boys, once the largest training and reform school in the country. Hundreds of boys died while wards of the state at Dozier, including from gunshot wounds, blunt force trauma, numerous broken bones, or being locked in solitary confinement when a fire broke out. Archaeology students at the University of South Florida have been working for years to uncover graves, document remains and try to trace them where possible to their families of origin. While Whitehead’s dramatization was intense and made me cry, the real true story is even more devastating and insane and it blows my mind that nobody has been punished for it.

“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place…. denied even the simple pleasure of being ordinary. Hobbled and handicapped before the race even began, never figuring out how to be normal.”

The ultimate sadness of this book is watching so many colored boys’ futures and potentials wiped out. This was supposed to be a school but there was no serious learning, they loaned the boys out to the men on the school boards to be practically slaves, using them to tend farmlands, house chores and in many cases, for sexual favors. The Nickel Boys packed quite a punch and was really difficult to digest considering how even worse the real life events were. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.




Book Review: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

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Three Women follows the stories of 3 American women and their sex lives and desires.

“We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.”

Lina – A suburban wife and stay at home mom who is tired of being in a passionless marriage with a husband who refuses to kiss her on the mouth. She reconnects with an old flame on Facebook, Aidan and begins a torrid affair.

Maggie – A 16 year old who gets through the scandal of dating a 24 year old Marine, begins to have an affair with her married high school teacher, Aaron Knodel when she turns 17. Years later, when she is 23, Aaron is named Teacher of the Year and Maggie is compelled to file charges against him.

Sloane – A successful restaurant owner who is obsessed with being thin is happily married to a man who likes watching her have sex with other men. Sloane feels she is genuinely happy but wonders every now and then if she really is happy with this arrangement.

So this book is marketed as an exploration of female desire and sexuality that took Taddeo almost 8 years to write and these three women are real life women who shared their stories with her. To be honest, I did not know that till I was done with the book and was browsing the bookstore and could not find the book in the Fiction section. Instead, I found it under “Women Studies” and that took me by surprise.

In delving into interviews, it would appear that Taddeo’s goal was to explore and shine truth on where women stand with sexuality and desire via these women’s stories. Well for one, these women are all white women with two of them having a Catholic background, so how diverse is it? I think in one of the Maggie chapters there is a line that talks about how even when being a victim of sexual assault, you have to be the  right kind of victim – young, pretty and in most cases, white.

I digress, my point is this book didn’t seem analytical and I don’t think I got any insight or point of view. It really read fictional and almost salacious as the sex scenes were very well detailed. In fact, based on description all the women seemed really good at sex and good for them on that.

“If people are denied certain parts of relationships they need as children, they hunt for these parts as adults.”

The best thing about this book was the writing. Props to Taddeo for her writing style. It was fully descriptive. I liked how each character got a book end description in terms of giving us background on their childhood and their present day. I felt like I understood each character regardless of whatever non traditional actions they took because Taddeo fully immersed us in their way of thinking. Each character seemed to be so clear on their exact thoughts and feelings and it was enjoyable reading through.

“This takes the air from her but then he approaches. The problem, she’s starting to understand, is that a man will never let you fall completely into hell. He will scoop you up right before you drop the final inch so that you cannot blame him for sending you there. He keeps you in a diner like purgatory instead, waiting and hoping and taking orders.”

Lina was the character I found myself most annoyed with. I mean yay for getting her groove back with Aidan but Aidan was such a jerk. The quote above described their relationship, and she gave him so much control, it was infuriating! It was so uncomfortable reading how desperate she was for his affection and attention and knowing he knew how desperate she was.

“The main problem for Maggie, which several bystanders observe, is that she is too aggressive. Victims aren’t supposed to be snarly. She is crying, but not torrentially, not as if her vagina were brutalized. She is not crying appropriately.”

I found Maggie’s story the most compelling and her story was probably the most common. It was a reminder that we tend to think teenagers should know better but it’s easy to seek affection any way you can get it especially from someone older who has picked out and groomed their prey.

“One inheritance of living under the male gaze for centuries is that heterosexual women often look at other women the way a man would.”

While Sloane seemed very into inviting other people in their bed, she seemed to be at war with herself on whether it was what she really wanted or what her husband wanted. Her background inferred this was of her own volition but as we get to learn about her past, it’s hard as a reader to understand what her head space was.

“Women shouldn’t judge each others lives, if we haven’t been through one another’s fires.”

Overall, I enjoyed this book and I went through it pretty quickly. I think if you go into it expecting a female empowerment, social experiment diving deep into women’s heads, you will be disappointed. But if you just go into it thinking of it as a fictional read and letting yourself lean into the characters and their stories, you’ll enjoy it more.


Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Book Review: Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me

“Deception takes commitment, vigilance, and a very good memory. To keep the truth buried, you must tend to it. For years and years, my job was to pile on sand – fistfuls, shovelfuls, bucketfuls, whatever the moment necessitated – in an effort to keep my mother’s secret buried.”

On a hot summer night when the author was 14, her mother (Malabar) woke her up to inform her that her husband’s best friend had just kissed her. She wasn’t sad about the fact, she was happy and giddy and demanded happiness from her daughter too. From that summer onwards, Brodeur became a very willing participant to her mother’s lies, betrayal and affair that spanned more than a decade, orchestrating avenues for her mother to cheat on her husband with his best friend.

In Wild Game, Brodeur reflects upon the very disjointed and convoluted relationship with her mother, Malabar. Our mothers leave an indelible mark on us including fingerprints of their own shortcomings and it’s left to us to either break the chain or continue in the cycle.

“I knew only what pleased my mother; I didn’t have a moral compass. It would be years before I understood the forces that shaped who she was and who I became and recognized the hurt that we both caused.”

I found this book to be an easy and short read. It is less than 300 pages and reads like fiction. I found the relationship between the author and her mother very compelling. Brodeur’s personal life suffers enormously because she spends most of her young life lying for her mother and to everyone around her who cared about her. Her mother would confide in her the most disturbing details of her affair and I just found that a fascinating thing for an adult woman to do to a girl who was barely a teenager. I also found this detail indicting of every adult who knew Brodeur. They basically played a huge part in her mother’s affairs and never called it out for how inappropriate it was.

“Don’t ever forget that you and I are two halves of one whole.”

I found Malabar fascinating. I was not wooed by her charm though and found it confusing that anyone would ever find her charming, I just thought she was very manipulative. It was obvious that she loved nobody but herself and put her own needs above everyone else’s. She was a classic narcissistic person. She dangled her love as a prize her daughter would win for helping her lie her way through life. It was also surprising to me how long her daughter put up with her antics. At 14, I felt sympathy for her but at 26? I was simply over it.

“‘Tell me what it’s like,’ I said, even though we’d had this conversation before and I’d witnessed firsthand how the volatile forces of passion and infidelity had give my mother exuberance. I just loved to hear her talk about it.” 

Ultimately, I felt very detached reading this book. Even though I was appalled at the level of involvement this 14 year old had in this affair and the unfairness of it all, it just felt like I was watching a soap opera. I did not feel an emotional connection to this book at all. I found it all very shallow. Summers in Cape Cod, living in mansions, private schools, Ivy league schools. I felt like I was reading about the life of the rich and the famous. Everything ultimately came off as shallow. I just didn’t consider this to be a memorable memoir, I think you need more than a messed up rich and published mother to create one. I gave this book a 3 star rating on good reads.




Self Help

Book Review: Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

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I know the name Malcolm Gladwell but I am not familiar with his work. This is the first of his books I have ever read. A reader of ours asked when I was going to read the book and I was hesitant because it is not usually the type of book I go for, but I figured I could switch things up a bit and go ahead and read it.

Talking to Strangers is basically a social science report written in an easy to digest narrative. It examines what happens to a society when it does not know how to talk to strangers. The book begins with the story of Sandra Bland, the African American woman who was arrested for a traffic violation and found dead in her cell, 3 days later after committing suicide.

It explores some well known stories such as stories that involved Jerry Sandusky, Amanda Knox, Brock Turner etc. and also explores some government related instances involving Hitler and Ana Montes (who even though a traitor, I low-key think was a bad ass). Gladwell’s main point is that we have difficulty communicating with a person we do not know or understand mainly because we are not privy to the full background of what makes up who they are.

One of the examples is the relationship between Neville Chamberlain and Hitler. Neville believes Hitler when he says he is not aiming for war even though he met him in person and had a chance to get a read on him, even when people like Winston Churchill believed he was. It exemplified Gladwell’s point that the people who were right about Hitler were those who knew the least about him personally and the people who were wrong about Hitler were the ones who had talked with him for hours. On the flip, Amanda Knox was innocent but was presumed guilty because her actions didn’t seem like how an innocent person would ask.

Early into the book, I was ready to drop it because Gladwell was jumping all over the place and I couldn’t quite get the point he was trying to make. It took me a second to realize that the main issue with this book is its title. It really isn’t about strangers and is really more about the different ways of communication. Gladwell seemed like he was stuck with this title or focus and was trying to make his stories fit into it. The minute I let that go and stopped feeling like I had to be convinced about something, I began to enjoy it. Funny enough, in an interview Gladwell says he is not trying to convince anyone either way.

As mentioned above, I leaned in and began to enjoy the stories and it was so informative and fun at the same time. Even though I had heard of the high profile cases, it was nice to get full picture and behind the scenes. I learned about things I did not know about and found them fascinating.

I audio’d this book and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am glad I did. I really liked how for most of the stories, we heard real audio. For example, with Sandra Bland we had real audio of her interaction with the cop and also the cop’s interaction. It added an element of realism to it. It also had Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” as its soundtrack that played at interludes.

I enjoyed the last few chapters of the book that talks about coupling and how humans are married to an idea.  For example, if a person decides to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge and a safety net is included, you’d think that they’d just find another way but Gladwell says stats show the chances of that are low, since they are married more to the how. I questioned the idea because I’d have thought people would be more married to being dead than the method of how they achieved it but the story examples he gave fit his narrative, so I guess.

Ironically, my least favorite chapter was the one that used the show, Friends as a centerpiece to demonstrate facial expressions. I liked how the book was book ended with the Sandra Bland story since it was how it began. It was a nice book end situation. Gladwell is not neutral when he speaks about the Bland story and is one of the few times you know where he stands.

Overall, even though the book kinda lacked focus and Gladwell’s point didn’t really apply to just talking to strangers, I have to say that I really enjoyed this. I think it is worth your time and you’d definitely leave with a lot more knowledge that when you started.



Book Review: A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1)

“Nothing like being wanted, is there? Wanted by someone you want. Always seems like magic, that something can feel so good but cost nothing.”

Abercrombie is a prolific fantasy author who has written a lot of his books in the same fantasy world so you already know a lot of the players and what the world’s magical or non magical setting is like. I first found Abercrombie when I read his First Law series which is absolutely fantastic and is the same setting as his new series, The Age of Madness (of which A Little Hatred is the first book), is set in. The characters in this book are descendants of the players in his First Law series. Do you need to read the First Law series to understand this book and enjoy it? No. Would reading it provide a better understanding and enjoyment of this book? Absolutely!

“Believe it or not, we all want what’s best. The root o’ the world’s ills is that no one can agree on what it is.”

In A Little Hatred, we mostly follow the perspectives of seven characters: Rikke, Leo, Savine, Orso, Vic, Broad, and Clover. These are all different characters who have been dealt different cards in life and from different economic classes so we get a lot of different perspectives.

  • Savine is the daughter of Sand dan Glokta, the extremely feared leader of the inquisition, she is a ruthless business owner who will stop at nothing to turn a profit.
  • Orso is the crown prince and heir to the throne, a burden which he both enjoys and detests.
  • Broad just got out of the military, is trying to stay out of trouble and make a good life for his wife and daughter.
  • Leo was raised with the Northmen and is obsessed with making a name for himself in battle.
  • Rikke still has a little of the old magic present in her and is trying to get a hold of her long eye which allows her see the future.
  • Vic was raised in the prison mines and has been recruited by the inquisitor.
  • Clover is a Northman who goes wherever the wind blows, he is loyal to anyone who is on the winning side.

Each character’s internal struggles, different motivations, and their characterizations were extremely well-written; seeing how their paths connect with one another made this book worthwhile.

“Call it art, you can get away with anything.”

Abercrombie continues to do what he does best. He doesn’t write cookie cutter stereotypical characters. He sets up his characters and their political game play and lets you decide which faction to cheer on. And oh, your faction might support slavery but Oh, the other faction just murdered a whole army just because and Oh, your favorite character just argued for racism. If you’re expecting a hero, you’re not going to find that here. A Little Hatred is set in a society with pockets of magic that is on the cusps of industrial revolution. People have started regarding a lot of magic as superstition and tall tales, science is taking over, and the people are waking up to how terrible the monarchy is.

Abercrombie also writes really strong female characters, the women in his books are just as ruthless and heartless as the men. He makes them multidimensional and their actions and motivations are just as complex and compelling as the men. He creates female characters that are full human beings. He creates really vivid action scenes filled with grit and blood with plenty of humor mixed in as you watch hundreds of people hanged and murdered.

“She was not a woman to be deterred by hatred: not from her workers, not from her rivals, not from the men she bullied, bribed or blackmailed to get her way. It is when they truly hate you, after all, that you know you have won. So she met the seething dislike with effortless superiority, paraded past with her shoulders back and chin high. If she was to be cast as the villain, so be it. They were always the most interesting characters anyway.”

I really recommend this book. This book was witty, bloody and just plain FUN. I also strongly recommend the First Law trilogy which was amazing and will make the enjoyment of this book even better. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads.



Book Review: Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime”

Elsie is planning to have a low key New Year’s Day and is looking to get nothing but pizza from her local pizza place but instead she finds Ben and the passion and love blossoms so quickly, in a way they had never experienced and they elope just months after meeting. But 9 days after they get married, Ben is in a fatal accident [not a spoiler] when he goes out to get Elsie cereal.

Their marriage is so new that no one except Elsie’s best friend, Ana knows. Neither Ben nor Elsie told their parents so it is very awkward when Elsie runs into Ben’s mother, Susan at the hospital. She has no idea who Elsie is and refuses to acknowledge their marriage. To make matters worse, the marriage certificate never made its way to them, so Elsie has no proof.

The book then alternates between the past – taking us through Elsie and Ben’s relationship and the present – taking us through Elsie’s grief and finding her way through healing as she gets to know Susan and they both find solace in and with each other.

“No matter how strong you are, no matter how smart you are or tough you can be, the world will find a way to break you. And when it does, the only thing you can do is hold on.”

A friend of mine gave me this book about 4/5 years ago but I couldn’t bring myself to read it since I was going through a grieving process myself. I’ve been impressed by two of Taylor Jenkins Reid books (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones & The Six) and I am now on a quest to eventually read all her books so as soon as I was ready I went for this one.

I was interested when I started this book and somewhere along the line, I became disinterested. I kept wondering what the problem was till I realized the book was just boring. This took me by surprise because part of what I like about TJR is that she creates a world that feels oh so real but this read like one of those British chick-lit books where the protagonist is childish and bratty. I know it’s unfair to call Elsie this because she was grieving and not in her right mind, but she was so mean to her best friend, Ana!

“Things happen in your life that you can’t possibly imagine. But time goes on and time changes you and the times change and the next thing you know, you’re smack in the middle of a life you never saw coming.”

I do think what TJR did well was she captured the emotions of the characters very well. Whether speaking about the rapid love Ben and Elsie shared, or the friendship between Elsie and Ana, Susan’s grief or Elsie’s very confusing thoughts. It felt very human and didn’t seem unrealistic but as I write this maybe what took away from the book was Elsie’s character.

I’ve seen a lot of people mention how this book hit them right in the feels and it was emotional for them but I think part of my disappointment was just that – I felt nothing. Obviously, I was disappointed at reading a TJR book I couldn’t gush over but I felt better when I found out that this was her debut novel and obviously she has become much, much better.

This book wasn’t for me but I can see how people would like it. Also, it is a quick read so if you just need something filler, it’s the material for it. As Leggy always says, art is subjective.



What I’ve Been Reading Lately: 4 Quick Fire Reviews

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Here are four books that I’ve read lately that you might enjoy!

  1. Ayeesha At Last by Jalaluddin Uzma:


“Just remember to pack light. Dreams tend to shatter if you’re carrying other people’s hopes around with you.”

This is a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in a muslim community in Canada. Ayeesha is a smart, liberal muslim woman who is trying to navigate the complexities of her religion, love and family. Khalid is nothing if not devout and he’s super judgemental about everything he thinks is a transgression and super outspoken about it too. They meet, they hate each other and drama ensues. This book had everything that could have made it great but I thought it was overwritten and the characters were stereotypical caricatures. The villains were super villains, the author hit us over the head with it. Nothing was subtle, she told us everything she wanted us to feel. And oh my God, the drama! So much drama and twists that were not useful at all. I gave this book 2 stars on good reads.


2. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan:


“Because every day with a book is slightly better than one without, and I wish you nothing but the happiest of days.” 

Nina Redmond just got laid off from her librarian job because libraries have been shutting down all over the UK. She decides to buy a van and start a mobile library in a sleepy village many miles from where she lives. She gets to have a lot of adventure and experience a new culture while discovering herself, falling in love and doing something she loves. I really enjoyed this one, I thought it was cute and a great coming into yourself story. What I did not like about this book is the love story. I didn’t understand why the author wrote the male love interest’s character like that- he was married, a grump and just plain ridiculous. I ended up giving this book 3 stars because the love story just wasn’t for me but it was a super sweet book with a likable heroine that I continually rooted for.


3. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan:


“The age of kings is dead, Adamat, and I have killed it.” 

This is the first book in Powder Mage series. Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and liberated the common man. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces. Also, on the dying lips of mages killed during the coup is a promise of disaster to come because the gods promised the king’s family that they would rule forever but no one believes in silly legends do they? I really enjoyed this one. I gave it 4 stars on good reads. McClellan is a fantastic story teller and I loved this book. I’m going to continue and finish the entire series. Totally recommend this one.


4. The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton:


“How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?”

This book was a mind turner. Evelyn Hardcastle will die tonight at Blackheath, that much we know, and she’ll die every night until Aiden can figure out who killed her. Aiden gets 7 days and 24 hours in 7 different bodies to figure it out. And if he doesn’t at the end of the 7 days, the clock starts all over again without any of the knowledge he gained in the past cycles. He’ll start on a clean slate every 7 days and he’s stuck at Blackheath until he figures out the answer. I quite enjoyed this book, I thought the premise was fantastic and the execution was good even though I think the author lost a hold on it a little bit towards the end. I enjoyed trying to figure out who killed Evelyn, I love a good whodunnit. I gave this one 3 stars on good reads.


I hope you enjoyed these quick fire reviews. Let me know if you’ve read or intend to read any of these books in the comments. Have a great reading week everyone!