Book Review│Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

cover174871-mediumAfia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a richly detailed narrative that takes us back to the pre and post Civil War South through the eyes of Miss May Belle and her daughter, Miss Rue. The chapters alternate viewpoints between the two women to showcase how different and still yet similar life is for women of color in the South during and after the war when freedom really didn’t mean that these women were in fact free.

For Miss May Belle, it is 1854. She is a practicing midwife and conjurer. Her special talents give her a life with benefits that she wouldn’t have had other wise or as she puts it,  “Hoodoo is black folks currency.” Other slaves seek her out for help and at times, so do the wealthy white men who are too embarrassed by an ailment to seek out a doctor. Rue is young and growing up under Miss May Belle’s watchful eyes, learning her secrets and seeing first hand what conjuring can do to a person’s body and soul.

The two live in a large plantation owned by the prosperous Marse Charles and his daughter, Varina. His young daughter becomes a playmate for Rue who is eager to act out her rebellions which usually ends in punishment for Rue. Miss May Belle knows that her talents afford her freedoms, but that she is still a slave and as such must adhere to the unspoken rules of the white-men who control her life. She makes sure Rue learns her place while learning the ways of hoodoo and conjuring to ensure that Rue keeps her place with Marse Charles long after she is gone.

For Rue, it is 1867 and the war is over. Her mother is long gone and she has taken over the hoodooing that Miss May Belle had abandoned after a horrific tragedy. Rue is intimately involved in many of the townspeople’s lives as she has delivered every baby since the war. When a fair skinned, black eyed child is born the town views the arrival more as a curse than a blessing and the praise they used to give Rue turns to criticism as suspicion begins to swirl. Suspicion is only heightened with the arrival of a preacher to town who is bent on ruining Rue because the bible marks her as impure and evil with her hoodoo and magic. However, is the preacher all that pure and truthful himself? Rue’s story is filled with suspicion and conniving scheming that fuels much of the conflict in her story.

Fear overtakes the town and trust is lost. Rue is overwhelmed by the burden of the secrets and magic that she carries. Will she ever truly be free or will she be forever bartering for other people’s well-being while sacrificing her own? Ultimately, what is the price of her freedom?

Afia Atakora’s Conjure Women is a fantastic debut novel that makes Atakora an author to watch. Her poetic prose and use of magical realism make the details of this novel come to life. You become immersed in her world–a fantastic read that brings the world of slavery and life before reconstruction to life.

Book Information

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Random House Publishing with ISBN 9780525511489. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe

cover171056-mediumStep into a  bygone era where travel was luxurious and living abroad was just a thing that young, rich couples did with Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns. It is 1933 when America Jesse Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and into the exotic world of pre-war Vietnam. Along with their young daughter, Lucie, Jesse has accompanied her husband Victor Lessage, cousin to the French rubber barons Edouard and André Michelin, for a three year period where he will over see the rubber plantations.

However, everything is not as it seems as Jesse is hiding deep secrets of her own about the life that she left behind in America. The epitome of the modern woman in most respects, Jesse narrates the novel with sympathy and compassion as her story unfolds. She explains the struggles of living in Indochina and those of her husband as he struggles to maintain the plantation while up against political and personal attacks that stem from the rise of communism in the region as well as workers who are wanting their fair share.

Outside of the politics of Indochina in the novel, you also have the politics of love and relationships fueling the novel. Similar to Jesse, Marcelle is another who arrives in Hanoi, eager to put her rural, underprivileged life behind her, but who is also bent on revenge against the Michelin family. She has come to Hanoi to be near her love, who is part of a wealthy silk family who is not her husband and she plans to befriend and use Jesse to her advantage– having studied her from afar for sometime before their paths inevitably crossed.

Karin Tanabe’s A Hundred Suns has it all: politics, colonialism, love affairs and revenge all set against the vast backdrop of Vietnam in the early 1930’s. The lushness of the setting drives the novel and turns this work of historical fiction into a thriller in most parts– eager to find out who survives, who benefits and ultimately, who falters. Tanabe’s talent for bringing the world of the elite and how it often clashes with those around them shines in her fifth novel.

It is gearing up to be a busy time for the author as Tanabe’s earlier work, The Gilded Years,  is scheduled to become a major motion picture starring Zendaya and produced by Zendaya and Reese Witherspoon for Sony/Tristar according to the author’s website. Karin Tanabe is a former reporter whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer and in the anthology Crush: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing and the Lasting Power of Their First Celebrity Crush. Currently, she works as a journalist focusing on lifestyle pieces and book reviews. This is her first novel for St. Martin’s Press.

Book Information

A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe is scheduled for release on April 7, 2020 from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250231475. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

 

Book Review│Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

jackJL Markham is a 15-year-old girl who is out of sorts with her world around her. She lives with her mentally-ill mother, has lost her best friend to a group of other girls and her dad is on a business trip that keeps getting extended. She decides to write a long-flowing letter to her friend Aubrey, letting her know what has happened since the two girls had parted ways. She is hopelessly trying to cling to things from her old life even if those things are leading her down a path of self-destruction. 

Additionally, JL is also madly in puppy love with a senior named Max who is rough on the outside, but also shows her that on the inside he has the soul of a poet. Their age difference causes problems in that Max is ready to pack up and get the heck out of town once senior year ends, but what about JL? At only 15, she’s stuck between staying and disobeying her parents to run away with Max.

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story of coming of age and the frailty of female friendships during that pivotal time in young women’s lives. JL is stuck between who she is going to become and who she is going to have let go of. It is never an easy time or decision to begin living in your future instead of your past. This is Polisner’s fifth young adult novel and she shines with it. The voice of JL is poignantly 15-years-old and not overly dramatic or overly subtle like some writers go when writing younger characters. Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a believable story of a young girl trying to find herself on the other side of adolescence while not completely losing who and what she was before. I would recommend this book for adults as well as middle-grade readers who are looking for something a little more in-depth.

While a 15-year-old’s love story might not be something most adults would pick up, I think you will find that Polisner has written this so well that it brings you back to your own time as a young girl in love for the first time, trying to navigate your relationships, your friendships and your own dreams. The darkness and the tragedies that befall JL show the strength of youth in times of adversity and how even though we may be young when we face them, we very much feel them every step of our journey through them. When you pick this one up, get ready for an authentic and emotionally raw journey through adolescence and your first love.

Book Information

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250312235. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. All thoughts are entirely my own and I have not received any compensation for this review.

Sponsored: The Hart Home│With Christmas Came Big News

Shortly after my grandmother passed away in November, we got the surprise of the year. I had been feeling off, tired and I was eating everything I could get my hands on. For someone who doesn’t eat a lot, even my husband thought it was weird and looked me dead in the face and told me I was pregnant. And I laughed and then proceeded to take a pregnancy test wherein, I was in total shock to see two pink lines staring back at me.

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The day before Christmas Eve, I had my first ultrasound and our little life puff was growing and had a strong heartbeat. We were so incredibly excited! Our Logan might wind up sharing a birthday, but I know that he is going to love being a big brother and having someone to grow up with. I still can’t believe that by this summer I will be a mom of two. I have a strong feeling that I am having another boy, but we won’t know for sure until February and it’s only slightly killing me because I can’t wait to shop for a newborn again. In honor of our big news, and because I can’t buy anything yet, I am hosting the following sponsorship. Goumi Kids is one of my favorites stores to order cute clothes from and with the code and link below you will be able to snag yourself some free shipping with your order:

Goumi Kids

Book Review│The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore

the companionIn the same vein as Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, we meet a young woman, accused of a horrible crime, but even when she begins to tell us her story, we can only help but wonder just how innocent and truthful she really is. Kim Taylor Blakemore delivers with The Companion. Set in 1855 New Hampshire, The Companion, follows Lucy Blunt as she is set to hang for a double murder. However, as readers, we are kept in the dark as to who she is actually accused of killing and the events the led up to the murders.

Instead, we spend the novel feeling tense and isolated as the story of Lucy Blunt unfolds. She is a sheltered servant who is spending a winter at a remote estate– the Burton mansion– which is almost as cold and isolating as the winter. Lucy arrives at the estate with a fake letter of reference in pursuit of employment. She is taken in by the Burtons and quickly develops a close bond with Eugenie Burton, the lady of the house who is also blind and hyper-aware of her surroundings. This happens in part because her companion, Rebecca, a rather insufferable woman, falls ill early on. When she recovers, there is a clear jealousy between the two women over the affection of Eugenie. This is further fueled by the ideas of class and placement in society– Lucy is just the kitchen help, who is she to be favored by the lady of the house?

The tension is further fueled by the nuances of a lesbian relationship that begins to unfold in the house. The sex scenes are there and they are not graphic or out of the blue. They align with the overall gothic feel of the book and lend to the tension and bleak excitement of the story. Overall, a solid read that will keep you guessing and immersed in the world of 1855 New Hampshire and the gray winter that surrounds and lends to the emotions of much of the novel.

Book Information

The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore was released on January 14, 2020 from Lake Union Publishing with ISBN 9781542006392. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Has New Jersey Become a Nazi State?

The following is the e-mail that I sent off to my district senator and assemblymen on Friday. I am just so disgusted. I urge you to do the same between now and Monday which is when they will be voting on this bill and these disgusting amendments:

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Dear Senators and Assemblymen,
I am a resident of [the Jersey shore] as well as a mother and a public school teacher. I hold a doctorate in education. I am writing to you today because I am absolutely disgusted by what is going on in Trenton concerning S2173. Many years ago, my family came to this country to escape the tyranny, but yet, here were are in 2020 being told that I will have to comply with outdated science and allow the government to dictate to me what goes into my child’s body so that he may attend a public school that I help fund through my property taxes. This is insane to me. Are we Nazis? As an educator am I going to be expected to follow the ways of the Gestapo and single out unvaccinated and vaccinated children in my school? This amendment is beyond ridiculous– posting on a school building the number of unvaccinated children? What is next? Also sharing how many kids with Hepatitis and HIV we educate? This is a gross violation of student and family privacy and has no place in public education.
This bill in its entirety is a gross example of government overreach. It is taking away rights of our citizens and of parents to make the best decisions for their children and their families. To allow this to pass will be a gross miscarriage of justice and will result in many families pulling their children out of schools all together. This will be large enough where school funding will be hit hard.
As Americans, we are entitled to practice our religion freely and our kids are entitled to a FREE PUBLIC EDUCATION that is FREE OF DISCRIMMINATION– all this bill will do is create an “US” and a “THEM.” Hitler rose to power in a very similar way– he was welcomed by the masses who slowly began to believe in the “US” and “THEM.” By removing children from public education that is funded by their parent’s property taxes and forcing them to pay for private school is just modern day segregation and also not a reality for most New Jersey families. Further, black males are the population who have shown the highest risk of vaccine injury and are often highly represented in high poverty communities. They will be forced to vaccinate because there is no way that students living in high poverty will ever be able to afford a private education. How is this not modern day segregation and enslavement??
I implore you Senator, to do the right thing and stand with the people of NJ and their God-given rights to practice their religion and their approaches to parenting in how they see fit.
Sincerely,
Dr. Katherine Kuzma-Beck Hart

The Hart Home│New Jersey Parents Won the Battle of Religious Freedom

It was 2004 when I really began working with children. I was fresh out of high school and I had began doing summer camp before I went off to college. I remember that part of my life very vividly because it was the beginning of my thinking about becoming a teacher, but more so, I remember thinking how different these kids were compared to the ones that I had only baby sat 4 years ago.

I had kids with peanut allergies so severe that they had to sit at peanut free tables and one kid, had to have an epi pen near him at all times just in case he so much as breathed a speck of peanut dust. It was mind blowing me to me and even though I was only 17 at the time, I did wonder what was causing all of this because it just wasn’t normal. Something had to be causing this whether it was in utero or something else that they were being exposed to.

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I never questioned vaccines. And that summer I also had to get vaccinated for meningitis so that I could live in a dorm.

Years later, I was a new teacher and went to the doctors to have blood work done. They did a full work up including blood panels and later called me to tell me that I had “waning immunity to meningitis and needed to get the shot again.” I remember being scared–how did I make it through living in a dorm and not getting meningitis? I had gotten the shot, how could it not have worked? Vaccines work! And I stupidly made an appointment and I got a double shot of meningitis.

That was the year I got sick with every little thing that was around me and at the time, I chalked it up to teaching, but I had been teaching for several years at that point, you’re usually not getting everything after three years of exposure to all kinds of kid germs.

When my son was born, I really went down the rabbit hole because I wanted to really know exactly what I was giving him. And it blew my mind. It scared me what we do to kids because we think we’re protecting them. We’re not. We’re injecting them with all kinds of junk that causes so many other autoimmune disorders and yes, even mental disorders. As a teacher who works with special education students, I have seen it grow worse. Kids who can not control their body, their words, their impulses…the list goes on and on. We are slamming their growing and developing brains and bodies with aborted fetal DNA, animal DNA and a host of known neurotoxins from the time they are growing in our bodies to they are adults themselves.

However, in this entire debate, what shocks me the most is how you have so many people (most aren’t even parents) that think that they have a right to berate you for so much as even questioning vaccines. I remember when my journey began with my son, a woman that I had grown up with and who I haven’t spoken to outside of likes on Facebook for many years, commented that I should “focus on my PhD in education and let real doctors research the science.” I laughed and it only fueled my journey more. We all need to come together and agree at the heart of either side of this, are parents that love their children and want what is best for them. We also really need to look at these liability free products that are manufactured by the same Big Pharma companies that gave us the opioid epidemic and wonder why it is that after they were granted immunity from the law, that they haven’t done a safety study like they were supposed to over the last 30 years? And it’s not because these products are safe. In fact, the supreme court has even ruled that vaccines are unavoidably unsafe.

So, knowing all of this, why do we have state officials thinking they have any right to our bodies or those of our children? If you watched the proceedings yesterday in Trenton, you witnessed how Steve Sweeney, an uneducated, unintelligent, puppet of the Big Pharma companies try to bully and strong arm this bill through because he has taken over $100,000 in campaign money from these very same companies. He was shaken and sweating last night as the state house shook with the chants of 6,000 parents outside who were not going to let this political thug come between themselves, their children, their pediatrician and their God.

As parents in this state, we need to repeat what we did in Trenton yesterday and make our voice heard loud and clear: our bodies are not governments to buy and sell and neither are those of our children’s. Laws like S2173 violate our constitutional rights to freedom of religion and they also violate federal law which states that everyone is entitled to a free, public education that is free of discrimination.

Pulling kids out of schools to homeschool is not the solution because they’ll just come for them next. And for those people who support these bills and think that that is the only solution, I then ask, will families who do not support vaccination then get a full refund of the property taxes allocated to schools since they are barred from entering them themselves?

S2173 will appear again in January and we parents need to fight for our rights to raise our children as, we their parents, see fit…not big government, not Steve Sweeney and not Big Pharma.

Thank you to the senators who stood on their moral ground and said no to the bullies in Trenton yesterday. Thank you Senators Joe Lagana, Mike Testa, and Vin Gopal. We appreciate what you did for us and it will be remembered in next year’s elections.