The Weight of Blood Book Review

Bullying is, unfortunately, part of the school experience. Though it may seem normal, the after-effects can linger long after we have grown up.

The new novel, The Weight of Blood, by Tiffany D. Jackson, was published at the beginning of the month. Essentially, it is a modern reboot of Carrie with the added weight of racism.

Madison “Maddy” Washington has been a social outcast for as long as anyone can remember. Raised by her fanatical Caucasian father in a small Georgia town, no one knows that she is biracial. That is until a storm reveals the truth and Maddy becomes an ever bigger target for the popular girls/school bullies.

When a video of this incident is leaked out, the administration has some serious explaining to do. The leaders of the student body (one of whom is Maddy’s tormentors) devise a plan to hold an integrated prom for the first time in the town’s history. Feeling guilty for everything that has happened, Wendy, the class President, knows that something has to be done. She asks her African American quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to the prom.

For the first time in her life, Maddy starts to believe that she will be like any other teenager. She does not know that her peers have one more trick up their sleeves. But they don’t know that she has a secret of her own, which could be deadly if and/or when it is unleased.

I loved this book. Jackson does an amazing job of being true to the original text while taking the narrative to another level. In adding racism to the already heightened story of a girl who is teased and humiliated by her classmates, she speaks of the short-term and long-term damage that both create.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say it is in the top ten new books of 2022.

The Weight of Blood is available wherever books are sold.

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What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix Book Review

Wuthering Heights has been a beloved classic for centuries. The turbulent relationship between the orphaned Heathcliff and his adopted sister Catherine has enthralled audiences since 1847.

What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix, by Tasha Suri, is a YA reboot of the novel. It was published last month.

In the late 1780s, Heathcliff is the son of an unknown lascar (a sailor from the then British colonies who made their living by working on European ships). Taken in by Mr. Earnshaw, a landowner from Yorkshire, he is immediately labeled as an outsider. Though he tries to remain true to his Indian roots, it creates an even bigger chasm between himself and the family he has been brought into.

Catherine is the younger Earnshaw child. From an early age, she knows what her future will be: marry a man of appropriate stature (and wealth) and bear his children. Even if it means hiding her true nature in the process and slowly dying inside.

Though they appear to be completely different on the surface, they have a bond that is deep and unbreakable. When Catherine’s father dies, everything changes, and not for the better. The cruel treatment that Heathcliff receives goes from 0 to 60 the minute that his adopted father is in the ground.

The question is, will they be themselves and build a life together? Or will they give into the expectations of the greater society around them?

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I was blown away by this book. It is one of my favorite books that I have read this year. Using Bronte’s original as source material, Suri takes the narrative in new directions. While delving into colonialism, racism, gender lines, and the strict class structure of the period, she gives the reader new insights into the characters. Like its sister novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, the world expands beautifully beyond the original text.

Most of it takes place in the three years after Catherine says that she cannot marry Heathcliff. While she is flirting with the idea of marrying Edgar Linton, he is doing everything he can to make his name and his fortune. Even if that means getting involved with some shady characters.

If I had to choose a favorite part of the book, it is when Hindley (Catherine’s brother) stops being a drunken brute for a minute and reveals secrets that their father would have preferred to remain buried.

My only warning is that I recommend reading Bronte’s original novel first.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix is available wherever books are sold.

Where the Crawdads Sing Book Review

Combining genres is never easy. It takes a skilled writer to effortlessly blend each genre while making sure that the narrative is cohesive and easily understood by the reader.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, was published in 2018. Coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s, Kya Clark had to raise herself. Reviled by her neighbors in the small southern town she calls home, she is called the “marsh girl” and learned early on that the only thing she can rely on is nature.

In late 1969, local boy Chase Andrews is found dead. Many suspect that Kya is behind the murder. Like many rumors that are not based on fact, these people have no idea who the real Kya is. Though she has been independent since she was a child, the now adult Kya is ready for the possibility of romance. Two young men enter her life. They both make promises of love and devotion. What she does not know is that she will learn some hard lessons and be accused of taking one of their lives in the process.

Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age tale, and part ode to the natural world, this book is amazing. Kya is one of the best female protagonists that I have come across in a long time. She is intelligent, sensitive, strong, and fearless. Her bravery in light of the lies told about her and the accusations by law enforcement is mindblowing.

One thing I really liked was Owens highlighting how destructive racism and prejudice was and still is. This is represented by the only black characters, Mabel and Jumpin. They own the local general store and are one of the few people in town who are in Kya’s corner. Like Kya, they know what it is like to be ostracized and hated. Unfortunately, this small, but important narrative thread is left out of the film.

What got me was the ending. It made me question if I really knew Kya and if the jury perhaps made the wrong decision.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Where the Crawdads Sing is available wherever books are sold.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Book Review

There are some books that are so much a part of our culture that there is no denying their larger cultural impact.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by the late writer, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, was published in 1969. The most recent edition, with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, was published in 2009.

The book is an autobiography and the story of Angelou’s childhood. Born to a poor African American family, Maya and her brother Bailey spend the first years of life living with their grandmother in a small town in the American south. Though she is dealing with abandonment issues and the pervasive prejudice of the time (which unfortunately still exists today), Maya still finds joy and pleasure in learning.

Her life is forever altered when she is assaulted by a much older man after returning to her mother in St. Louis. Later, as a teenager who by then is living in San Fransisco, she discovers the power of literature and the strength that comes when you learn to love yourself.

Why I have never read this book, I don’t know. But I am glad I did.

Her experience as a girl is both universal and powerfully specific to the era she grew up in. Finding confidence, especially after a hard girlhood, sometimes only occurs long after we have grown up. Looking back at my own teenage years, I wish I would have had the ability to develop that same self-belief that Angelou was able to manifest at that same age. Perhaps some things might have turned out differently.

I can only imagine the emotional digging it took to excavate the crap from her youth and put it into a narrative that we can all find something in common. It takes courage to do that. When it is done well (as she obviously has accomplished), it opens the door for readers to possibly do the same with their own lives and emotional baggage.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is available wherever books are sold.

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Justice Served (For Now): Alex Jones Pays Nearly $5 Million to Sandy Hook Parents & Breonna Taylor’s Killers Have Been Charged for Murder

Justice does not always come swiftly or when we want it to occur. But, hopefully, with time and changing beliefs, it does happen.

Last week, Alex Jones finally got what was coming to him. After years of claiming that Sandy Hook was a hoax and that everyone involved was crisis actors, he was told by a jury that he has to pay nearly $5 Million dollars to the families of the victims.

Free speech is one thing. But to purposefully defame another (specifically a parent who has lost their child in the most horrific manner possible), is heartless and inhuman. What is worse is that many of his fans and followers believed him.

Jones can complain and cry all he wants. He knew what was doing was wrong. Did he think he would get away with the lies he was spewing?

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Meanwhile, the four police officers who were responsible for the murder of Breonna Taylor have had federal charges brought down on them for among other things, use of excessive force and obstruction.

Though this will not bring Taylor back, it is a huge step in the right direction. While I respect the difficult job that the police have, they cannot barge into someone’s private property without having good cause to do so. If nothing else, it sends the message that law enforcement officers better do their homework going forward.

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Justice has been done, for now at least. While it is better than nothing, we have a long way to go.

Jews Don’t Count Book Review

Intersectionality and progress go hand in hand. We cannot make this country and this world better if we only speak to or include certain groups of people.

David Baddiel‘s 2021 book, Jews Don’t Count, takes this racist concept and drops it squarely in the lap of the reader. He speaks about antisemitism on both the right and the left, referring to certain politicians in both the US and the UK. On the right, we are not accepted because we are Jews. On the left, we are seen as the oppressor because the image of the Jew is often of one of Ashkenazi descent (i.e. White). And of course, the issue of Israel is packed in and used as needed.

He also takes on Jewface and the controversy of a non-Jewish performer playing a Jewish character. Particularly when this character is a full-on stereotype without the nuances and humanity that are given to the non-Jewish character.

The problem he points to is loud and clear: if we are to move forward and create a better world, all groups must be included. No one should be left out.

There are only a handful of books that I think everyone should read. Jews Don’t Count is one of them. Especially those of us who are fighting for a future in which we are all equal and judged on our merits, not on our labels.

There was one line that has stayed with me. At this stage of his life, Baddiel is an atheist. He stated that if he were a hidden Jew who was outed during World War II, he would still be killed because he is Jewish. Nothing else would have mattered to the Nazis.

A couple of recent headlines perfectly summed up this idea. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro (whom I disagree with about everything) made the following statement about Reform Jews:

“What do you think about what former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer once said: that Israel should put its political fortune in the Evangelist community rather than in the Reform Jewish community [in the US]?” Segal asked Shapiro, who at just 38 years of age has written 11 books.

“As a matter of blunt fact, that’s true,” Shapiro answered. “It’s an unfortunate reality of life in the United States that Reform Judaism, as a branch, does not see Jewish identity in a serious way, as central.

“It’s a very simple rubric for me: If as a Jew, your values are more in line with same-sex marriage, transgenderism and abortion than they are with, for example, the safety and security of the State of Israel – I have serious questions about how you think about yourself as a Jew,” he continued, receiving a standing ovation.

Then Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano (who is also on the political right) said the following about Shapiro:

“We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.” He also added: “Ben Shapiro is not welcome in the movement unless he repents and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior

It doesn’t matter to Mastriano and his ilk that he and Shapiro have the same beliefs when it comes to this country’s identity and future. It only matters that Ben Shapiro is a Jew.

The only way to stop this kind of thinking is to stand together. Until we do, the ideals that our founders believed in will be just that.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt.

Jews Don’t Count is available wherever books are sold.

I Have a Huge Problem With the Claim that Anne Frank Had “White Privilege”

White privilege is a serious problem, both in the historical sense and in our modern era. The idea that one’s skin tone dictates our opportunities or lack thereof is, unfortunately, in 2022, a problem that we are still wrestling with.

Earlier this week, there was a debate on Twitter as to whether or not Anne Frank had “white privilege“. The person who made this statement is either uneducated about the Holocaust or is deciding to twist the historical facts to fit their own perspective.

Of course, she was white. As were all of the millions of Ashkenazi Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their co-conspirators. Their skin color meant shit, they were only seen as the other because they were Jewish.

This assertion spits on the memory of Frank and is a harsh reminder of why the Holocaust must not be forgotten.

May Anne’s memory be a blessing and may we truly for once, learn from the past. Z”l.

Is CRT Really About the Kids or is it About Politics?

Every era is marked by its own political agenda and bold-faced names. But there is one issue that unfortunately, stills holds sway over us: racism.

These days we know it by another name: critical race theory (CRT).

CRT was the subject of last Sunday’s episode of CNN’s United Shades of America. Host W. Kamau Bell interviewed experts and ordinary citizens to get a grasp on what is actually known about the subject and what has been twisted to fit one’s political perspective.

The last group of interviewees was a handful of high school kids. The message I got is that CRT (especially if you are on the right) is not about the students. It is about political gain and maintaining the chokehold that white supremacy has on this country. If anything, it hurts our children. If we do not teach them the complete history of the United States (warts and all), we are willfully condemning them to repeat the mistakes our forebears made. It is also used as a tactic to denigrate and marginalize young people who are different from their peers due to factors such as race, religion, gender, etc.

The only way to face our past is to look it in the eye and understand what amends must be made. But this cannot be done until every one of us is ready, willing, and able to do so.

United Shades of America airs on CNN on Sunday night at 10PM.

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Elvis Movie Review

There are only a handful of artists who are known by a singular name. Their image and influence have permeated the culture in a way that everyone knows who they are and what they represent. Elvis Presley is one of these artists.

The new biopic, Elvis, hit theaters last week. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the film stars newcomer Austin Butler as the title character and Tom Hanks as his manager with sometimes questionable intentions, Colonel Tom Parker. The narrative follows both of them from the early days of Presley’s career until his death in 1977 at the age of 42. The Colonel tells the story, casting himself as the manager who saw the potential of an unknown artist. As Elvis becomes a megastar, he faces criticism for his supposedly “wild race music” and its effect on the nation’s young people.

As the years pass and he becomes a has-been, Presley, and the Colonel pivot. After a very successful television special, he becomes a Las Vegas regular. But while his client is on stage, the Colonel is enriching himself. When everything comes to a head, Elvis has to choose between staying with his manager or trying to go his own way.

Though Butler does not look exactly like the King, he completely inhabits the man and the legend. Playing him from his teenage years until his early 40s, Butler is enigmatic and completely convinces the audience that he is Presley. Hanks, as usual, is up to the task. His character is a man who sees an opportunity and takes it, even if means crossing some boundaries.

What made the movie work for me was the man behind the icon. Presley was a devoted son to his parents, Gladys and Vernon (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh). He was also madly in love with his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) and a devoted father to their daughter. He respected the black artists whose music he “borrowed” (depending on your perspective) from. What Luhrmann does brilliantly as a filmmaker is to point out that while African-American musicians of the era were largely ignored outside of their community, Presley made a fortune singing the same songs.

My only complaint is that the middle of the narrative could have been trimmed down a bit. Other than that, the film is incredibly good and definitely worth the price of a movie ticket.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Elvis is presently in theaters.

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Politics Book Reviews: Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America & Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution

It would be easy to think that those who we elect to speak for our needs in the halls of power are doing their jobs. A deeper dive reveals a lust for power, the need for influence to fill one own pocket, and the lack of care/responsibility to those who put them in office.

Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America, by Dan Pfeiffer, was published last month. In short, it describes how both the carelessness of the social media companies and a right-wing conspiracy nearly led to the annihilation of this nation and our democracy. He also talks about how we can fight back and stop the lies before they destroy us.

Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution, by Elie Mystal, was published in March. Mystal takes the legalese out of the Constitution and explains them in a way that anyone would understand. Complete with pop culture references and the occasional f-bomb, Mystal points out what is wrong with the law (i.e. racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ sentiment, etc), and how we can prevent the white patriarchy from dragging us back into the past.

What we need right now are two things: hope and a kick in the behind. These books provide both. By writing laymen’s terms, both Pfeiffer and Mystal are giving the average citizens the tools we need to fight against the growing threats of theocracy and fascism.

Do I recommend them both? Absolutely.

Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America and Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution are available wherever books are sold.

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