The Nickel Boys – Staff Review – Cherise

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Going into this book you know it’s not going to end well. There’s no way a story about the institutions that were once common place as the one in this book. And yet, you have a hope. Because the book gives you small peek into the future of Elwood. Elwood survived. He wasn’t one of the boys buried on boot hill out back of the Nickel Academy. You’ll go through it with him, live the trauma and abuse he experienced in the time of the Civil Rights Movement, of Jim Crow. Elwood is a smart kid who’s life was just starting, he was going to be the first person in his family to go to college, and early at that when he stuck out his thumb to hitch a ride on his first day of class. He wouldn’t know until the cop was pulling them over that the car was stolen. It didn’t matter he was only hitchhiking. He was sentenced to Nickel Academy. There, Elwood learns the hard way to keep his head down, to not cause problems even if it’s for the betterment of others. He is beaten and watches boys disappear. He sees the difference in how the white boys are treated and how those of color are treated. He befriends Turner, another boy there and they keep each other sane while watching out for the other.

This book is important, it’s part of the history we need to acknowledge and do better about. We still throw away boys of color into institutions like this, not giving them a chance to become men. We see the man Elwood turns into, how careful he is now, how he still tries to keep moving up and not let his past get him, but even he sees the patterns and knows that he’s broken and can’t exactly move past it. In the end, when the truth comes out and the bodies are found on boot hill Elwood has to face the truth and come forward as who he really is. But he doesn’t have to do it alone, though he’s avoided the boys from Nickel all this time. I highly recommend this book, though it will set your gut in knots. It’s too important to not to read. The author brought together this story that might not be fully true, but it’s true in the sense that Elwood is the boys from schools like this. He is real in the fact his trauma lives on in the others who lived this life and those now who face jail time for minor offenses at such a young age. And the end? It’ll leave you gasping and wanting to yell out at the twist you don’t see coming.

5 Stars

The Undocumented Americans – Staff Review – Maddie

The undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Karla Villavicencio grew up a DREAMER. In the undocumented Americans she shares stories of different people she’s interviewed in recent years. From a 9/11 ground zero cleanup worker in New York to a family struggling to get access to clean water without a state ID in Flint, Michigan to botanicas offering herbal remedy alternatives to medicine in Miami, Florida, Villavicencio writes in contrast to the common stereotype and shares the risks, challenges and biases undocumented Americans face on a daily basis.

5 stars.

Punching the Air – Staff Review – Cherise

Punching the air by Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam

This story will rip you to pieces. I knew it would be emotional simply by knowing the author and what they’ve written in the past. And I wasn’t wrong. This was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read all year and probably the most gut wrenching. Amal is sentenced to Juvie for something had didn’t do. Was he there? Yes. But did he throw the last punch? No. Amal was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the result he was found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and the one person who can prove him innocent is in a coma. Everyone he had relied on let him down, from his art teacher who was supposed to be on his side who instead testified about his anger, anger that might be real, but not in the way she sees him, simply because he’s a black male it means he’s “angry” because she’s constantly failing him because she refuses to listen to him. His lawyer promises that he’ll be found innocent and then rolls over when he’s found guilty. Amal is a poet, and artist. He believes he loses these things when he’s taken to Juvie. He lets that said anger go and lashes out after he’s a victim to a racist officer and is beaten by white prisoners. Because Amal is a teenager, he’s angry at how life has let him down. But he gets lucky, he makes friends while he’s there, he meets someone who sees his talent and wants to give him a chance in Amira. His mother is there every step of the way and refuses to let her son become hardened, to lose hope in the world.

This story is short but terribly important in the time we live in. It’s only at the end we find out this story is based off of Yusef Salaam who cowrites this story using his own experience, one of Central Park Five, now exonerated. It makes these details more chilling, more heartbreaking. Amal is a good kid who is treated horribly simply because he’s black, because he’s a male, because he’s Muslim, because he has no dad in the picture. Thankfully, there are people who see Amal for who he is, a kid who just wants to express himself in a way to cope with the injustice. Read this book. It’s so important.

5 stars

A Walk Around The Block – Staff Review – Terry

A Walk Around the Block by Spike Carlsen

A Walk Around The Block by Spike Carlsen is a very informative look into the nearly invisible parts of everyday infrastructure. The author goes to great lengths to interview several experts in the field, most of which are largely unknown to the public at large, as well as looking into the history of several utilities and public services. A very enlightening read.

5 stars.

Greenlights – Staff Review – Haley

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

The well known actor has taken various diary entries he’s written during his life and turned them into “a love letter to life”. He tells funny and interesting stories of his youth, his relationship with his family, and his journey through his career. Some of his storytelling can come across as self indulgent but I think he is being true to himself. My only disappointment wasn’t with the book itself, but it didn’t occur to me to listen to the audiobook instead. He narrates the audio version and I would have loved to have heard him tell the story himself.

3 Stars

The Chelsea Girls – Staff Review – Haley

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

The Chelsea Girls is a historical fiction novel beginning when Hazel and Maxine meet in Italy while touring with the USO during World War II. Upon returning to the United States, Hazel and Maxine meet once again as they both take up residence in New York’s famous Chelsea Hotel. Together they embark on a journey to put up a Broadway show while facing the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism during the late 1940s and 1950s.

I enjoyed this novel and the bonds of friendship that are explored between the two female leads who narrate the story. Having not lived through the “Red Scare” timeframe the majority of the novel takes place in, I can’t know if it is an accurate reflection of how US citizens were treated. However, from a purely fictional standpoint, it added excitement to the storyline.

3 Stars

A discovery of witches – Staff Review – Maddie

A discovery of witches by Deborah Harkness

Diana Bishop is descendant from a long line of powerful witches but has tried for most of her life to ignore the powers she wants nothing to do with. But conducting academic research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she unknowingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript that she dismisses back into the stacks after a quick glance. Little does she realize her actions send a wave of excitement and murmurs as daemons, witches and vampires alike who have been waiting centuries to get their hands on this book and will go to great length to unravel its secrets.

I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches and the way the author brought in supernatural elements and creatures in a different way than any other book I’ve read. Harkness included so many different elements into the story in a cohesive way that worked well and drew me in from the first pages. I don’t want to go into detail and risk spoilers, so I’ll just say, this was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve read in a while. Plus, if you enjoy the book, it was made into a television series that you can borrow on dvd from the library.

5 Stars.

A Cat’s Tale – Staff Review – Maddie

A Cat’s Tale: A Journey Through Feline History by Paul Koudounaris

Narrated by Baba the cat, readers are taken on a journey through time and across all seven continents to learn about feline history and how cats intertwined their lives with humans in different ways. Inserted throughout the book are short anecdotes about cats in roles such as sailors, movie stars and flightmates that will make readers smile. And of course, there are plenty of photographs of Baba dressed up in costumes corresponding to the specific sections of history.

For all the cat lovers out there and anyone interested in feline history, this is a fun, and at times, heartwarming read that also throws in some facts.

4 Stars

Eight Perfect Murders – Staff Review – Maddie

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Malcom Kershaw wrote a blog post years ago titled ‘Eght Perfect Murders’ in which he described his eight favorite fictional murders from books like Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, and Ira Levin’s Death Trap. It was meant to be a post to promote interest in the bookstore he worked at, not be taken literally. Now a co-owner of Old Devil’s Bookshop in Boston, MA, Malcolm has been approached by an FBI agent who believes someone is replicating the murders on the list. The killer also seems to know a lot about Malcom’s past that no one else knows, secrets he’d rather not come out.

Eight Perfect Murders was a good psychological suspense novel that pulled me in from early on and never quite gave me all the details until the end. I appreciated how the author wrote the relationship between Malcom and the Killer- almost like a game of taunting, show and tell. It was a fast-paced read (but in a good way).

3 stars

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