Latest Reviews

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Book Review: Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County – Kristen Green

something-must-be-done-about-prince-edward-countyTitle: Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Struggle
Author: Kristen Green
ISBN: 9780062268679
Pages: 336
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Source: Publisher

Summary:

Kristen Green was born and raised in Farmville, Virginia, and for a long time, she didn’t give a lot of thought to her local history. But as she grew into adulthood, moved away, and pursued a degree in journalism, she began to look into Farmville’s history, and specifically, the decision to close the public schools rather than integrate after the Brown Supreme Court decision (most white students were sent to a private school). Green looks at the reasons behind the decision, the people involved, and the harm it did to Farmville’s black residents.

Review:

“In 1959, faced with a federal court order to desegregate the schools, Prince Edward County’s civic leaders refused to fund public education. They locked the doors of the public schools instead.”

I’m not even going to sugar coat it: Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County is a gut punch, but it’s a gut punch all of us need. I live in Washington, DC, just a couple of hours’ drive from Farmville, but I wasn’t aware of this dark chapter in its history until picking up this book. We’ve had a lot of race-related problems recently in the United States, and Green does an excellent job showing how racism and racially motivated decisions can disadvantage an entire minority population, with devastating repercussions for generations.

Green has a personal stake in this narrative, though, which is part of what makes Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County a compelling read. Her grandfather was one of the leaders in the movement to close public schools, rather than integrate them. The grandfather who loved and cared for her, who she had fond memories of, was at the head of the charge to make this appalling decision. How can she reconcile the man she loved with this? How would he feel about her nonwhite husband and her multiracial children? It gives the book a personal facet, which invests the reader in it. This would be an interesting (if horrible) story no matter how it was told or who told it, but this helps in terms of it being an easy, readable narrative.

Words can’t express how horrible this decision was, nor how widely the repercussions were felt within the black community of Farmville and Prince Edward County. Families were torn apart, when people had to choose to send their children away to educate them. Other children weren’t educated at all, perpetuating poverty and disadvantage. It’s horrible to think about, especially when the racism is so blatantly and unapologetically displayed on the page. Green gives a voice to the black residents of Farmville, though I’d love to hear a full story from their point of view as well.

Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County is a book that everyone needs to read; it’s  incredibly important to understand our history, to understand what brought us here, in order to do better. Green turns a sharp eye to this period in her own personal history, and while she is never able to fully reconcile the grandparents who made these decisions with those she knew and loved, it’s still a powerful read that is absolutely worth every second you spend with it.

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Book Review: Invasion of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

invasion-of-the-tearlingTitle: Invasion of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
ISBN: 9780062290397
Pages: 528
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Summary:

Despite the events of Queen of the Tearling, the Mort Queen has decided to invade the Tearling, and Kelsea must find a way to protect her people. As she grapples with the most difficult decisions she’s had to make yet, Kelsea finds herself transported into the life of a pre-Crossing woman, Lily, which reveals more about herself and the queen she wants to be than she could have ever known.

Review:

Queen of the Tearling, oh did I have issues with you. It was one of the most compulsively readable books I’ve read in recent memory, and despite the serious problems I had with plot holes and such, it is a book I can say I loved. I loved that feeling of needing to know what happened next, of losing myself in it, of racing through to see what would happen. Mixed feelings, to be sure, but I also knew that I’d read the hell out of Invasion of the Tearling when I got it, and I’m happy to say it lived up to my expectations.

The overwhelming emotion of Invasion of the Tearling? Anger. Kelsea is righteously angry about the situation that she’s found herself in, about the things that have been hidden from her, about the refusal of the people around her to take her seriously, about the changes she is experiencing, about the fact that she is completely unprepared for all of this. So many conflicting emotions lead Kelsea to white-hot anger, and it’s incredibly refreshing. Too often writers are afraid of imbuing their female main character with so much anger, because they have to be “likeable.” Kelsea is scared, confused, and lonely, yes, but she’s also so angry at the world. Johansen brings up interesting social commentary with these aspects of the novel, and it’s more thought provoking than you’d expect for your typical fantasy novel.

Kelsea’s changed a lot since Queen of the Tearling, and not all of that is natural. Of course going from a hut in the woods to the queen of a realm will change you; that’s to be expected. But there are other forces at work here shaping Kelsea into what she wants to be; the question is, are these changes for the better or worse? It’s interesting to witness Kelsea’s transformation over the course of the novel; rather than softening, as you’d expect a young woman to do, she becomes sharper, harder, more brutal.

If you’re a person who needs everything in a novel to be perfect in order to enjoy it, then these books are not for you. Both Queen of the Tearling and Invasion of the Tearling have their issues, but I’m not focusing on those because these books are so compulsively readable and engaging. There’s a lot I didn’t go into in this review; the magic, issues of religion, learning more about the Crossing through the flashbacks. I thoroughly enjoyed each second I spent with Invasion of the Tearling and look forward to the last book in the trilogy.

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Book Review: Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg

modern-romanceTitle: Modern Roance
Author: Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg
ISBN: 9781594206276
Pages: 288
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Genre: Nonfiction, Sociology
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Instead of writing a traditional memoir, comedian Aziz Ansari chose to look at things from a different point of view: what dating looks like in modern culture. Teaming up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari provides a look at what dating and relationships are like today through anecdotal evidence, focus groups, statistics, and more.

Review:

I’m obsessed with statistics and data. I love poking through data, understanding trends, and understanding what our data says about us. I also find today’s dating climate very interesting, so you can bet that, when it came to Modern Romance, I was hooked from the second I heard about the concept of the book.
When I first learned about Aziz Ansari’s book, it sounded a lot like Dataclysm, a book by Christian Rudder that broke down data gleaned from OKCupid’s massive database. Upon reading it, though, these two book are very different. First of all, Dataclysm relies much more on hard statistics. Second, despite the fact that the data source for Dataclysm was an online dating site, the book tackled much broader themes. Modern Romance is narrower and more focused, and that works well for it.
Modern Romance feels very organic in terms of its subject matter. The data sources are numerous, from a subreddit to people whose texts Ansari read out during his comedy shows. It feels more personal, and thus more relatable. The writing is clear and easy to read; it draws you in completely and is an engaging narrative, though the style feels a bit strange. It’s funny, to be sure, but it almost feels like the funny parts are a commentary on the harder data; this might be an issue with the two authors’ work not quite meshing as seamlessly as one would hope.
That being said, Modern Romance is absolutely worth the read. It’s fascinating to see what dating in today’s world is really like, especially with (1) online dating and (2) texting, especially considering it’s been so long since I’ve been in that situation. You’d think this book would leave you dejected at the state of modern romance, but it actually doesn’t. It shows how things have changed, to be sure, but it doesn’t at all make the case that things are worse than they used to be. Dating has evolved, and that’s not just okay, it’s how things are supposed to work.

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Book Review: Curious – Ian Leslie

curious-ian-leslieTitle: Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It
Author: Ian Leslie
ISBN: 9780465079964
Pages: 240
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Basic Books
Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Where does our curiosity come from? Why is it important? Why do many people lose their sense of curiosity as they get older? In this exploration of the nature of curiosity, Ian Leslie takes a close look at the answers to these questions and discusses why curiosity is so crucial for our future.

Review:

As I’m becoming older, and feeling like more of an adult, I’m getting more interested in nonfiction about how we think, how we get things done, and why we think the way we do, so Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It seemed right up my alley. It’s a slim book, only about 200 pages long, but WOW does it pack a punch. I was riveted, hanging on every word of this book, tweeting out quotes from what felt like every page because it was so insightful and relevant.

Have you ever experienced that phenomenon where you learn about something that seems weird and wacky one day, something that you’ve never heard of, and in subsequent days, it seems like you’re hearing about it everywhere you turn? That’s an actual phenomenon, and something that Leslie goes into depth with in Curious. It has to do with the way our brains our wired, the way we acquire and store information, and how our curiosity feeds into that.

Indeed, Leslie grabs and analyzes data from many different sources in order to give as comprehensive a look as possible on curiosity, and he does it very well. This is such a fascinating book, mixing pop psychology, statistics, data, and all kinds of cultural research to tell the story of curiosity and why it is so important. And he 100% sells it; the reader comes away from this book knowing how important it is to stay curious, and to continue wondering why things are the way they are, and to not be afraid of trying new things, something that is all too easy with technology’s quick changes as we get older.

What’s the most remarkable about Curious, though, is how readable it is. It’s a fast read, which is rare for this type of nonfiction. The anecdotes and stories make this book incredibly entertaining; even though you’re reading about science, it doesn’t feel that way. If you enjoy nonfiction, or if you’re looking for a place to start with this type of book (Curious‘s length makes it a very attractive candidate), you should absolutely seek this book out.

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Book Review: Nimona – Noelle Stevenson

nimona-noelle-stevenson

Title: Nimona Author: Noelle Stevenson ISBN: 9780062278227 Pages: 272 Release Date: May 12, 2015 Publisher: HarperTeen Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy Source: Publisher Rating: 5 out of 5 Summary: On the surface, Nimona is just a little girl. A little girl who happens to have teamed up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the most evil supervillain that their […]

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Book Review: Lies that Bind – Maggie Barbieri

lies-that-bind

Title: Lies that Bind Author: Maggie Barbieri ISBN: 9781250011701 Pages: 336 Release Date: February 17, 2015 Publisher: Minotaur Books Genre: Mystery Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Maeve’s life has settled down since the events of Once Upon a Lie, and she’s making ends meet and providing for her two daughters at her bakery. But […]

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The 2015 Pen/Faulkner Awards

This Saturday, at 7 PM, the Pen/Faulkner awards ceremony and dinner will take place at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Being the fancy book ladies that we are, Book Riot Managing Editor Amanda Nelson and I will be in attendance. Pen/Faulkner puts on amazing events and focuses on diverse authors, so I’m a […]

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Book Review: Undeniable – Bill Nye

undeniable-bill-nye

Title: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation Author: Bill Nye ISBN: 9781250007131 Pages: 320 Release Date: November 4, 2014 Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Genre: Nonfiction, Science Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: In this book, Bill Nye discusses the ins and outs of evolution. Review: I grew up watching Bill Nye, the Science Guy. […]

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