The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

There is a curse in the Fontana family. This curse has existed for over two hundred years star crossed sisters of tuscanyand only affects second-born daughters in the family. The curse? Second-born daughters are doomed to go through life without finding lasting love. For some of the Fontana women, this is a tragedy and something that they are actively trying to change. Others say that they don’t believe in the curse, and their singleness is just a coincidence.

In this generation of Fontana women, there are two second-born daughters.

Emilia, an almost 30-year-old baker, likes her single life. She bakes at the family deli. She lives near other family members with her cat, has a male best friend, and occasionally writes pages of a novel that she doesn’t really intend on publishing.

Lucy, a waitress in her early 20s, is looking for love in all the wrong places. She’s determined to be the Fontana woman who breaks the curse, but none of her boyfriends stick around for long.

Both women are bewildered when their great-aunt Poppy (also a second-born daughter), invites them on an all-expenses paid ten day vacation to Italy. She tells them that, while they are in Italy, she is going to break the curse once and for all. But will she? Will any of these women find lasting love or will the curse win?

I noticed . . . 

One of the things that surprised me most was that there are three main characters in this book (Emilia, Poppy, and Lucy), but only two of these characters have perspective chapters (Emilia and Poppy). Even Poppy’s are set in the past, meaning that this family novel is a very Emilia-centered novel.

I also noticed that a member or two of Emilia’s family treated her horribly. Even those who seemed to love her allowed it to happen. It’s like there is one character in this book whose opinions and emotions take on an outsized importance and everyone else is running around trying to make sure that this character is happy. I found this kind of triggering because it is similar to a family dynamic that exists in my husband’s family and has caused us great pain over the years. I found it tough to read without being angry.

I Wondered . . .

I wondered how it felt to be considered second-class within your own family. These second-born daughters are considered inferior to the other family members because of the curse. I wondered, even when I was not very far into the book, how much of the curse was simply a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It Reminded me Of . . .

Because it’s only been a month or two since I read Magic Lessons, I found myself drawing parallels between the two books. Both books involve curses that keep the women in a family line from being able to be happy in love. 

I also saw some comparisons between this book and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In both cases, there are big families that are in each other’s business. There’s also, of course, romance in each. Also, both families are strongly tied to their immigrant groups in the United States (even though the Fontana family is Italian, not Greek). Unfortunately, the Fontana family is a kind of twisted, dysfunctional family, and not the joyful family of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

One Excellent Quote . . .

This book was very quotable. I stopped reading in several places and jotted quotes in my journal. The beauty of the writing and the well-drawn characters kept me reading long after I might have decided to put a book like this down.

Ultimately though, my favorite quote in the book is spoken by Aunt Poppy. She’s discussing the importance of personally experiencing all of life and not checking up and giving out. She says, 

You will find, Emilia, life is not always a circle. More often, it’s a tangled knot of detours and dead ends, false starts and broken hearts. An exasperating, dizzying maze, impossible to navigate and useless to map.” She squeezes my hand. “But not a single corner nor curve should ever, ever be missed.

I think Poppy might be right. We should try to live life in such a way that we are left with no regrets at the end about experiences that we did not have.

November 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

This month was non-fiction November, and I found myself consciously choosing to read more non-fiction books because of it. I ended up reading five non-fiction books, and none of them were the type of spiritual or self-help books that I tend towards in non-fiction, so I was pretty pleased with myself.

I ended up reading fourteen books this month, which is about my monthly average for 2020. I feel really good about the results because I have a nice mix of backlist and new books on the list.

The Stats:

  • Books Read: 14
    • Library–3
    • Kindle–3
    • Hardcopy–8
    • Audio–
  • Re-Reads: 3
  • Goodreads Challenge Progress: 164/200 (17 books behind schedule)
  • New Books vs. Backlist:
    • New Books: 7
    • Backlist: 7

The Books:

the constant rabbitI started my month with a fantasy/satire novel by Jasper Fforde called The Constant Rabbit. In this book, rabbits and a few other animals were anthropomorphized and grew to human size in an unexplainable event that occurred a little over 50 years before the start of the book. A family of rabbits moves to a sleepy English village that does not want them there and trouble ensues as the families in the village are forced to take sides as to whether they are pro-human or pro-rabbit (no one can be seen as both). This is a really good story, and the way Fforde uses it to explore modern issues of racism, in-groups and out-groups, policing and mass incarceration is quite masterful. I thought I would be reading a light fantasy, but found myself reading something very heavy and weighty. There are a few times where Fforde is a little heavy-handed with the morals, but I did not find that to be a detraction from the story. In fact, I bought the audio version for my hubby not long after I finished this book.

The next book I chose was Spoiler Alert. This was a romance with all the good stuff. Therespoiler alert was an actor/fan relationship. There was fan-fiction, cosplay, a convention, hot romance, body positivity, and even a fat heroine. I’m not sure I could have asked for anything better out of a book I was reading. This was great! It is also very open door, so if you’re not into that stuff, you should stay away. I plan to read a bunch more from this author in the future, including maybe trying some of her self-published works. 

the bodyThe next book I read was Bill Bryson’s The Body. I bought The Body last year during one of Amazon’s 3-for-2 sales, and it’s been sitting around my house, waiting patiently for me ever since. (It’s nice that books do that, isn’t it?) Bryson starts with the skin and hair and traces the body all the way through its decomposition after death. Bryson’s tone is so conversational that it is easy to forget that you’re actually reading science. Because of that, I decided to annotate this book with YouTube videos, opportunities to draw diagrams, etc., and use it as the spine of an anatomy course for my 13-year-old. She thinks she hates science, but I don’t think she’d hate it this way. In fact, my suspicion is that she would learn far more from this book than she’d learn from a traditional  middle or high school science curriculum. I know I certainly learned things. 

Next, was the third book in a series that I really love. I was anticipating Hollowpox: The Hunthollowpox for Morrigan Crow, and it was a book that did not disappoint.  There’s not much that can be said to set up this book, since it is the third one in the series, but we continue to see Morrigan’s schooling, and she really seems to hit her stride here.  There’s also a disease called Hollowpox going around that effects wunimals (or sentient animals), and that’s the inspiration for the cover image shown. I think it’s kind of funny because I don’t like animal books and this is the second sentient animal book I read this month. This was was really good, and I look forward to the next book in the series.

indigenous peoplesThe next book I chose was a buddy read for the Currently Reading Patreon group. This is indigenous peoples’ month, so we read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. This was a really revealing look at history from the perspective of the Native Americans. It was really jarring to think of things that I had thought of American triumph as being invasion, attack, and genocide. I emotionally pushed back against it a little, but overall, I agreed with the author’s perspective and found this to be an illuminating work.

The next book I picked up was a book that I read aloud to my claudia and the phantom phone callsnine-year-old. This book, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls, is the second book in the Babysitters Club book series. Ellie’s been reading the graphic novels, but they didn’t make a graphic novel version of this book, and she wanted to experience it. While she has the skills to read it on her own, she still finds long books to be daunting, so I read it to her. She says it’s a four-star book, but I have to say that it is probably not my favorite of the books, even though Claudia may be my favorite character in the series. It’s kind of got the edge of spookiness and mystery to it, but the mystery is tiny, and the solution is frustrating to me. Not that we let that stop us from picking out another book in the series for me to read aloud to her at night.

haunted historiesAnother book I read this month was Haunted Histories. This book was aimed at middle grades, and I read this one with my 13-year-old. We were hoping for romance, intrigue, and ghosts. We got history and medieval life instead, so it was kind of a disappointment. It was good at what it did, but it didn’t do what we felt like it promised from the cover and jacket copy.

The next book I chose for this month is What Were We what were we thinkingThinking?. This book is an intellectual history of the Trump era traced by the books that were published. The author read over 150 non-fiction books published in the last four years, and then he divided them into categories and used arguments from the books to trace the trajectory of thought during the Trump era. This made for very good reading if you’re into current events and that kind of thing, and it also completely exploded my TBR.

killers of the flower moonThe next book I picked up was a buddy read with a couple of other ladies in the Currently Reading Podcast’s Bookish Friends Group. We Read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. This book was about a period of history that I knew nothing about. In this case, it was about a group of people who were murdering wealthy Indians and steading their rights to money off the the oil wells that were pumping on their reservation. Fascinating. Far too many names, but a lot of great pictures and description.

I’m obviously on an indigenous American streak this month game of silencebecause I read The Game of Silence aloud to my ten-year-old and nine-year-old. We’ve already read The Birchbark House, and this is the second book in the series.  It has the same charming focus on Omakayas and her family’s daily life and the tribal customs of the Ojibwa.  Unfortunately, the white settlers are beginning to interfere in their lives in a way that may cause them to have to move from their ancestral land. That impending sense of doom permeates the book, and so we were all left with a feeling unhappiness for what was happening to Omakayas’ family.

the ghost at dawn's houseThe next book I read was the ninth Babysitters’ Club book, The Ghost at Dawn’s House. This one focuses on Dawn and her family, specifically on the old farmhouse that Dawn and her mother and brother moved into when they moved to Stoneybrook. Dawn is convinced that there’s a secret passage and that there may be a ghost. I liked this one a little more than my daughter did because I’ve always had a love of ghosts and ghost stories. 

The next book I picked up was definitely not reading material assigned a matethat you can share with a child. Assigned a Mate is the first book in Grace Goodwin’s Interstellar Brides series of erotic romance. Eva witnesses a murder and must enter the brides program. She’s assigned to a mate on the planet Trion, where women are supposed to submit to their mates in all things, especially in the bedroom. This was not literature, but Goodwin proceeds at a good place, and if you’re interested in the erotic part, this book starts out strong and continues ramping up as it goes. There’s enough romance that it feels romantic too instead of just smutty.

the kinder poisonWhile I was reading books that were low-brow, I turned to the first book in a new YA fantasy series that caught my eye at the library. I must confess though, the part that really caught my eye about The Kinder Poison was the big golden scorpion on the cover. This was pretty typical YA fantasy. Huge stakes. Almost certain death for the protagonist. Difficulty choosing between two boys. Magical powers and cool world building. I really enjoyed the story, and I felt Zahru was a pretty rich character. I also liked that the fantasy world seemed like a play on ancient Egypt. I felt like, given the moral  complexity of the characters, that Zahru played it safe in a way that made for a little less satisfying story than it would have otherwise been.

Another book that I’ve been highly anticipating is Ring Shout. I saw it on the new materialsring shout shelves at the library, and snatched it right up (I have so many holds on books that I wanted to read that came out this fall.). Ring Shout is a short, tightly-plotted novel. My library had it listed as a fantasy, but I really thought it leaned more to horror. At any rate, I found it confusing and a little overwhelming at times. I wished that the story weren’t quite so tightly plotted and that the author had allowed a few more pages of setup or backstory to be sprinkled it. I felt that by the time I reached a place where I was really enjoying the book, it was almost over.

I ended up having two standout favorite books this month. The first, Spoiler Alert, was a great romance, richly textured and body positive.  It was exactly what I needed, especially during the long, fraught election week during which I read it.

The second standout book was Hollowpox: The Search for Morrigan Crow. I really like this series. I floated the idea in front of my children that I might like it better than Harry Potter, and none of them were totally scandalized, so I think the kids who have read it really like it too. This is the third book in the series, so if you choose to read it, start with Nevermore: The Trials of Morrigan Crow. This is great middle grades fantasy!!

Ring Shout

There are so many reads that seem timely right now in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and protest this summer. In fact, a whole plethora of Own Voices literature and nonfiction has been published over the last year that really speaks to racial justice and injustice. It’s possible this literature always existed, but my eyes just hadn’t been opened to it yet. This year, I find myself grabbing these books off my library shelf, loading them onto my Kindle, and absorbing  the message within them.

ring shoutRing Shout was just this sort of read for me. A small, tightly-plotted, horror novel, Ring Shout deals with a fight against the Ku Klux Klan. The novel takes place in 1922, following a resurgence of the Klan brought about by a 1915 movie, The Birth of a Nation. (Note: The Birth of a Nation is actually a really movie and rebirthed the KKK, so Clark is weaving the historical into his fantasy/horror.)

These Klan members are full of hate and venom, but not all of them are human. Some are truly monsters, and it takes a special gift to be able to see these monsters for who they really are. Maryse and her band of resistance fighters are taking on the Klan and killing the Klu Kluxers, or monsters along the way.

However, there’s something these Klu Kluxers want from Maryse, some reason why they’ve spared her in a couple of situations where they could have killed her. Will she figure out their plan in time?

I noticed . . .

I noticed the timeliness of this book. It’s coming out in a time when a lot of people are primed and ready to think about the issues Clark raises. That seems like a really serendipitous time for publishing.

I also noticed that when it works, it really works. I found myself pondering when rage and a hunger for justice turns into hatred. I found myself thinking carefully about how different it is when someone who is enraged has power than when they don’t have any true power. I thought about how to keep anger from turning into rage and hatred. Righteous anger is a difficult line to tread, and I think Clark does a great job of exploring this theme in all its variations.

I wondered . . .

I wondered about the places where this novel did not work for me. Clark starts the story by dropping the reader into the middle of the action. There’s not much exposition given at any point during the story, and I was over halfway through the book before I really started to understand what was going on. I think this book would have been better if it weren’t so frantically paced. I needed a few more pages to help me understand this world and the characters so that I could connect with what was going on. The story itself really made no emotional impact on me, and I think it’s in large measure due to the action and confusing nature to the plotting.

This meant that a lot of the stuff that I wondered about was about the band of resistance fighters. I would have liked to have seen more of their backstories and their motivations. I would like to have understood better how they got close enough to the Klan to start seeing monsters.

It reminded me of . . .

For the musings on rage and hatred, this book actually reminded me of Esau McCaulley’s excellent work of theology, Reading While Black. He spends a lot of time pondering black rage and what a proper biblical expression and response to those feelings looks like. Reading that book was the first time I pondered black rage, and the themes of this novel paired well with that reading.

One excellent quote . . .

One of my favorite quotes on this book was one the possibility of choice. The plot of the book really surrounds whether or not Maryse will choose good or choose hate, and according to the book, the fate of the world is balanced on a sword, depending on her choice.

Here’s the quote:

Every choice we make is a new tomorrow. Whole worlds waiting to be born.

The fate of the world may not rest in our hands, but out lives and the lives of those in our community often do.  We must all hope (and pray if we’re the praying kind) that when the time is right that we make the right decisions.

The Kinder Poison

There are a lot of YA fantasy series that I have been meaning to read but haven’t quite got started yet. Some of them, I’ve either bought the first book in paperback or on Kindle, but they remain untouched. However, I’ve always been a sucker for a cover with a scorpion on it (I blame it on being a Scorpio), so when I saw The Kinder Poison in the teen new release section at the library, I decided it was worth a try.

the kinder poisonIn The Kinder Poison, Zahru is a simple peasant girl. Yes, she’s magical, but most members of their society are magical. Zuhru’s magic is a simple, humble magic. She can talk to animals. Because of her magic, she’ll be forever assigned to the stables and other servile places in society, but her stepsister Hen has a more exciting magical ability. When Hen gets invited to a royal party, she and Zahru decide that Zahru should gain passage into the party too under a false name and false magical ability. After all, it will be fun for the two sisters and best friends to hang out and gaze upon the royal opulence.

However, because of her fake ability, she is singled out for special attention from the royal heirs as they make teams to compete for their father’s favor and for the crown. As she becomes embroiled in a rivalry between brothers, the situation turns potentially deadly for her and she becomes part of the royal competition.

I Noticed . . .

First, this fantasy world appears to be based on the world of ancient Egypt. There are animal-human formed gods, priests, lotus blossoms, and rivers and deserts. The king (or mestrah) is worshipped as a god, and some of the superstition seems to be based on Egyptian superstition. I used to love ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology as a young teen, so that aspect really appealed to me.

There are also a lot of loose ends. This one pretty obviously leads into a coming sequel, and while I look forward to the sequel, I tend to dock books 1/2 star on my Goodreads profile if the storyline is too obviously cliffhangerish. This one definitely is. I hate that in a book.

The heroine is obsessed with the normalcy of her gifts and how her gifts aren’t good enough compared to everyone else’s. That drives me crazy the entire book. I am thinking about recommending this one to my 13-year-old daughter, but I’m afraid she won’t get the message that you’re not supposed to belittle your own gifts from the story.

Also, I can’t think of the last book that I read that actually mentioned human sacrifice. The human sacrifice was to appease the gods and to grant the one making the sacrifice magical powers. That felt like a completely foreign concept.

I wondered . . .

So many of the things that I wondered are tied up into a spoilers that I feel like I can’t really mention them here. There are still a couple of things that I wondered though.

First, there seems to be someone who is using the venom from different scorpions to create different magical effects. I was dying to know how he extracted the scorpion venom without harm to himself. The book gives a half-hearteded answer near the end, but I felt like it was feeble.

I also really wondered what Hen thought when all this drama was happening to Zahru. They’re supposedly the best of friends, like sisters, but we don’t get to see Hen’s worries or any attempts for her to save Zahru, and that doesn’t seem right. I hope we get to see some of that in the sequel.

Also, the ending (before the epilogue). It certainly seems convenient. Yet, I felt like it raised a whole load of questions that could mean the start of a series of more than one or two more books, depending on how the questions are answered.

It reminded me of . . . 

As I mentioned earlier, the world building reminded me of the world of ancient Egypt. There are a lot of commonalities for the reader, and I think the cover design of the book reinforces that comparison. For reasons that are beyond my logical brain, I found myself thinking of the movie Stargate and the priests and even the banishing of the people to be workers for the “god” and king.

One excellent quote . . .

I thought I was not going to have a quote to pull from the book for the majority of the book. Despite being well written, the words were just not beautiful to me. However, towards the end, there was a quote about duty that I really liked. 

One of the royal heirs is fighting his destiny to become the crown prince, despite his father’s favor for this position. As he comes to a realization that he’s choosing the wrong path, the narrator muses,

Sometimes what we want isn’t as important as what we need to do.

That’s a truth that I wish I lived by just a little more often. It would make my life, or at least my budgeting, go a little smoother.

Assigned a Mate

Content Warning: This book contains explicit content as an erotic romance with some elements of BDSM, etc. If this type of reading content offends you, you might want to just skip this post.

Eva Daily has witnessed a murder. It was a payback murder; a mafia murder. The local assigned a mateprosecutors do not feel they can keep Eva safe, so she enters the Interstellar Brides program.  The prosecutors will bring her back to Earth when it’s time for her to testify. After a quite invasive matching process, Eva is matched with Tark, a High Councilor on the planet Trion. On this planet, women are expected to submit to their husbands in every way, especially in the bedroom. Otherwise, they’re facing a painful and embarrassing spanking. Of course, as often happens in books like this, before we know what’s happening, Eva is naked, bound, and begging for more from Tark.

Soon she finds herself falling for this strong male, but there’s a problem. This mating was only supposed to be temporary. After all, soon she must go back to Earth to testify in the murder case she witnessed.

I noticed . . .

The first and biggest thing I noticed was the sex. After all, it starts from the first page, and especially in the first half of the book is pretty unrelenting. Despite this, at times the scenes are very similar to each other, except maybe some different vibrating toys, is it’s not imaginative as many of the novels I have read, even ones that were less explicit in their sex scenes.

I also noticed that this is a series of over twenty books. I decided fairly quickly that I’m going to go back and attempt to read these books in the author suggested chronological order. I found myself interested in the story and in the world around the story. These are fast fun reads, and if you don’t take them too seriously,

I wondered . . . 

I wonder more about the world and why these men are so dominant. I wonder what it is like to be a woman growing up in that culture. There’s a point in the book where Tark basically says that a daughter could inherit his high position as well as a son, but I have a hard time seeing it in a culture where women have to wear thin, nightgown-like clothing and be protected from being claimed by other men. I think I want to read a couple more in this series and decide what’s in the author’s head before I can figure how this world/universe is structured.

It Reminds Me Of . . . 

This book reminds me of the Ly-San-Ter books. These books were a trilogy of Johnanna Lindsey novels that I bought the first two of when I was a teenager and loved. In fact, the Ly-San-Ter books were some of my first romances, and so I kind of liked how familiar Goodwin’s book was to those. Although Goodwin used a lot more sex toys than Lindsey did, and Goodwin’s books are heavier on sex than Lindsey’s are.

And of course, you can’t help but think of mail order brides when you think of the whole bride matching program in this book. I’ve actually never read a mail order bride book that I can recall. That’s a missing element to my romance reading that I might should rectify.

The Ghost at Dawn’s House

My nine-year-old daughter and I have been reading some of The Babysitters Club novels together. She found and read the graphic novels at the library and has watched through the Netflix series, so we decided to buy the books and read some of them together. She’s enjoyed the stories, and I have found them to be pure nostalgia.

the ghost at dawn's houseThe most recent in the collection that we’ve read is the ninth Babysitters Club book, The Ghost at Dawn’s House. This is the second of the books that Dawn narrates, and it’s easy to see that she’s really become a part of the group, even though her mother and Mary Anne’s father have stopped dating.

Dawn’s family, when they moved into Stoneybrook moved into a really old farmhouse, a property with a barn and all kinds nooks and crannies and rattles and creaking noises. Dawn is convinced that there’s a secret passage in her house (and maybe a ghost), and she spends plenty of time looking for a passage and learning the history of a house that she thinks is their current property in the book.

There’s also a secondary plot going on with the Pike family, one of their steady babysitting clients. Nicky Pike is feeling left out by his older triplet brothers.  They exclude him from their play and they make fun of him. Dawn, especially, feels compelled to help Nicky and for Nicky to feel less left out.

I noticed . . . .

I noticed that most of the babysitting in this book surrounded the Pike family. I missed some of the other families that people the books, but having mostly the Pikes as clientele meant that we got to dive into the Pike boys relationships. I think this was one of the reasons why Ellie did not rate this one as highly as I did. She’d rather read about babysitting for little kids than for boys her own age.

I wondered . . .

I wondered if Dawn will ever find out from her parents or another competent adult whether or not their house was the house that she was reading the history of in the middle of the book. I also wondered if there was a good way to leave access to the passage and still lock it up. I felt like, from a 2020 perspective, that the passage was a security nightmare.

It Reminded me of . . .

This book is really similar in some ways to a book that Martin shouted out in an earlier book, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. It’s a ghost mystery and there’s a hidden passage, etc. I think Martin must have been a fan.

I also admit that this passage made me think of the underground railroad because my first thought was that the passage must have been used to hide escaped slaves. I even found myself pondering why there would be a need for an underground railroad passage all the way in Connecticut, since it’s so close to Canada. I still don’t know (for sure) why the passage was made in Dawn’s house, but it would have been kind of cool if that had been why.

The Game of Silence

By now, I have realized that I took Indigenous Peoples’ month seriously. So far, 30% of my reading this month has been indigenous American voices. Since I don’t pursue own voices reads, but just let them happen to me, that’s a large percentage of my November reading.

The Game of Silence was actually a re-read for me, as I shared this book that my oldergame of silence children had loved with my two younger children.  

This book is the second book in The Birchbark House series. In this book, Omakayas and her family are still living on their island, and the book details their daily life and the cycle of the Ojibwa year.

The Game of Silence, however, is set two years after the events of The Birchbark House, and at the beginning of the book Omakayas’s island is visited by a group of mysterious people that the tribe names “the raggedy ones.” They soon learn that the raggedy ones had been forcibly ejected from their land by the chimookomanag or white people who were settling in their tribal lands.

This touches of a year-long question of whether or not the chimookomanag who are settling in their area will want (or make) Omakayas’s people leave their island and move west. In that spirit, Erdrich depicts relationships between the settlers and the natives that are largely absent from the first book, and shows that the game of silence allows the adults to discuss tribal business while the children are quiet and not interfering.

I Noticed . . .

The thing I noticed most about this book is that the magical years of Omakayas’s childhood are over. She was an innocent seven year old in the first novel, but at the age of nine, Omakayas is aware of the differences between her and chimookomanag, and she is aware of her parents’ concerns. She’s expanding in her capacity to care about her tribe and in her capacity to love and understand others. Unfortunately, we still see Omakayas’s jealousy overriding her capacity to care in certain circumstances. I felt really strongly that my growing kids could relate to Omakayas’s struggle to be better and her occasional failures to do so.

I Wondered . . . 

I wondered more about Omakayas’s Deydey than anyone else in the family. We’re told in the first book that he has one Ojibwa parent and one while parent, but we never see his family at all. I hear about Nokomis and the other relatives of Omakayas’s mother, Yellow Kettle. I would like to learn more about his family and how his family shaped his views on white people.

It Reminded Me Of . . .

These books are very reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books, in that they are set in a similar time period and detail everyday life and family relationships. In fact, my children have recently read Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, and it is easy to see how similar they are. Only, The Game of Silence and other Birchbark House novels are set from the indigenous peoples’ perspective rather than the settlers.

I was also reminded of my recent reads of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and Killers of the Flower MoonThe Game of Silence really expands on what the white people are doing to the natives, and both of the other reads really share some of what the white people have put the Native Americans through.  These are all really powerful when put together as an informal flight.

One Excellent Quote . . .

There was one quote near the end of the book that sums up the loving Ojibwa approach to life that I would like to have in my own approach to life. Of course, this meek approach to live is partially what made it so easy for the white people to commit genocide against them.

You will not take leave of your beloved and beautiful home in bitterness or in anger. You will not take leave in hatred. You are stronger that that. When the Anishinabeg must give way to a stronger force, they do so with the dignity of love. You will leave your home in gratitude for what the Gizhe Manidoo, the great and kind spirit, has given to you.

When one is defeated, these are words to live by. My children and I will be continuing to the third book in the series, and this series as a whole has my full endorsement.

Killers of the Flower Moon

This month is not only considered non-fiction November on Bookstagram, but it is also Indigenous Peoples’ month. I don’t always follow these conventions, but my interest in Native Americans, coupled with this good peer pressure has lead me to pick up two non-fiction books about Native Americans this month.

The first book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, is a book that I plan to write about soon, but I found reading it to be such an overwhelming and stomach churning experience that I’m still kind of processing it. I’ll be back with that one soon. I hope.

killers of the flower moonThe second indigenous book I picked up this month was Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. This book covers a period of history that I knew very little about during the roaring 20s (i.e. between the WWI and the Great Depression).

The Osage Nation has been pushed further and further West by American settlers. They originally developed in the Ohio River valley, and were moved to Kansas. In the latter part of the 1800s, they were pushed (and forcibly moved) from Kansas to Oklahoma. There they bought a rocky, barren land from the Cherokee Indians, thinking that the white man would not want their land if it was unfruitful.

Then, they struck oil.

The Osage Nation became one of the wealthier groups of people to live inside US territory due to their ownership of the rights to these oil fields. The oil (just like gold and farmland in previous generations) brought white men to their land. Despite the Osage’s ownership of the land, the white men found an entry point into wealth through a system of managing and care of Osage money, treating the Osage almost as if they were children, not responsible enough to care for their own money.

Then, the Osage started dying.

After several failed local attempts to investigate the deaths, J. Edgar Hoover sent men from his new federal branch of investigators to attempt to figure out what (or who) were causing these wealthy Native Americans to die.

I Noticed . . . 

I noticed how the Osage were continually driven from where they were loving.  The white settlers even killed off all the buffalo so that the Osage (and other tribes) could not continue their traditional lifestyle. They cornered the Osage on a small piece of rocky land. Then, when the Osage got rich from the oil, they came in and tried to manage and disenfranchise the Osage from their money.

This book really exposed a dark racism, and I found it shocking. We also seldom highlight racism towards Native Americans, and we really have not made nearly as much progress with our racism towards our indigenous people groups as we have towards other people groups in our country.

I Wondered . . . 

I wondered if all the cases would ever be solved in the Osage murders. Many of these people still have lives that are touched by murders of grandparents and great-grandparents. There is still hurt and pain among the peoples, and still uncertainty as to what happened to their loved ones. Culturally there is a great deal of mistrust between the Osage nation and white people, and I wondered what it would take to heal that betrayal of trust.

It Reminded Me Of . . . 

This reminded me of the Indigenous People’s History of the United States that I read earlier this month because both books made me feel so angry at what our country did to its indigenous people. 

I was also reminded of the courtroom drama in the Louise Penny novel, Glass Houses.  The courtroom scenes were dramatic and overblown, and there was a lot of courtroom drama and corruption in Glass Houses. 

Another procedural novel that it reminded me of was Stephen King’s, The Outsider. Ralph Anderson is a careful investigator, letting the evidence lead rather than letting his own desires lead (except with a few exceptions). Tom White, the lead FBI investigator on this case was also a very careful and methodical investigator. Just like the fictional character Anderson, White was an honorable man that others would do well to emulate.

Two Excellent Quotes . . . 

I found two excellent quotes in this book, both of which pertained to Tom White and his father. Their virtue and self-sacrifice was a light in a world of selfish, greedy murderers.

White’s father was a prison warden, the Grann says this about the virtue of self-sacrifice that caused White’s father to give his life to the law.

Though it took tremendous courage and virtue to risk your life in order to protect society, such selflessness also contained, at least from the vantage point of your loved ones, a hint of cruelty.

As wonderful as his White’s commitment was, it could also be considered a cruelty to his family, especially when they faced the risk that one day White would not would not come home. At times those with great callings are not as kind to those who love them.

This second quote was a quote about what Tom White saw as the purpose of the law.

He came to see the law as a struggle to subdue the violent passions not only in others but also in oneself.

Perhaps this is definition is not far off. After all, Paul, refers to the law as a “guardian,” imprisoning the people until Christ was revealed (Galatians 3:24-25). While keeping someone within guardrails may not be the primary purpose of the law in the Christian faith, it definitely is one of the benefits of obedience to law in general.

What Were We Thinking

Over the past couple of months, I have ditched my weekly wrap-up for a monthly wrap-up, but then felt like I didn’t really ever sit with my thoughts about a book. I’ve been looking for a way to introduce a book review format that didn’t feel too much like a traditional book review, and I think I finally found it, in large measure thanks to a suggestion for thinking about books from one of The Unread Shelf’s subscriber emails. In the email, she suggests three questions to ask about a book, and I am going to attempt to review a few books using these three questions to see how it goes.

what were we thinkingFirst, though, let me set this book up. What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era is a book about books. Carlos Lozada has read over 150 books about Donald Trump and his presidency during his four years as the non-fiction book critic at the Washington Post. As he read, he began to see patterns of thought that were common throughout the works and to develop a feel for what concerned people, and what the trajectory of that thought was, for the Trump era. As I heard in an interview, Lozada initially sat down to write a series of articles synthesizing these books for the Washington Post, but found himself realizing that this was more of a book-length project.

The result of Lozada’s synthesis is a short, but TBR exploding book, sharing ideas from the books that Lozada has read and also sharing Lozada’s list of the twelve books that he believes will long outlast the Trump era. The book is divided into chapters based on the category book that Lozada believes it belongs to. There are the inevitable chapters on the liberal resistance to Trump, the conservative splintering around their ideology and allegiance to Trump, and about the “chaos chronicles” a.k.a. the books describing the Trump White House. However, and perhaps more evergreen and compelling are the chapters on the heartland, truth, identity politics, feminism and the me too movement, immigration and authoritarianism. These chapters shine through in both their content and the way that Lozada contextualizes them as firmly being products of the Trump era and responses to the Trump presidency.

I noticed . . . . 

The first thing I noticed is that Lozada is no fan of Trump. Very few of the books that he chooses to include in his analysis are pro-Trump. Perhaps this is because, as he says, “Even a book titled The Case for Trump struggles to make the case for Trump” (69). What seems to be true, as I read Lozada’s book, was that more writers have struggled to come to terms with how Trump got elected and who would vote for Trump than to make the case for Trump’s actual value as a candidate or appeal as a president. (I also must, in the interest of full disclosure, admit that I fail to see Trump’s appeal myself.) This grappling is most likely what has given birth to the plethora of non-fiction that Lozada reviews. The writings of the Trump era are a reflection of the difficulty that writers have had with accepting Trump as president.

I Wonder . . .

I wonder what books written about the Trump era in the future will look like. This book already seems a little dated (even though it’s brand new!) because there are few mentions of COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter protests, and there are, of course, no mentions of Trump’s complete break with reality in election fraud. Oh the books that will be written in the future. Lozada could probably come back and revise and expand this book in a year or two with just the writings produced about the lengthy year of 2020. A future book about the Trump era will not be considered complete until those things are included.

I also wonder if the issues that Lozada discusses with feminism, immigration, and identity politics will continue to consume an outsized amount of attention during the Biden era. I wonder what writings Republicans will write during the Biden era, especially if the newest polls saying that 88% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was not fair and free is really true.

It Reminds Me Of . . .

As an academic, this book reminds me of a more casual version of a literature review. I think I may have written some things like this on a smaller scale (and of course not about Trump era non-fiction). This is a good overview for someone to read on a topic to see which primary sources and other writings that they might be interested in exploring more in depth. I certainly found more books I wanted to read, and I places some of the books I have read within the context of their conversation with other books in these genres.

One Excellent Quote . . .

Although Lozada spent much of the book quoting other writers, when he adds in his own commentary, it certainly shines. This quote on the nature of America and the struggle for freedom and civil discourse in the United States is one for the commonplace book.

With passions always strained, the bonds of affection always near the breaking point, the pursuit of freedom and prosperity and belonging is an endless American struggle, an enterprise in equal measures exhausting, exasperating, and exhilarating.

This is quite an optimistic and aspirational view of the American people–one that I hope that our country can live up to.


Faith and Uh-Oh Moments

Over the past few years, I have found myself struggling on my faith journey. Various forces in my life have combined to have me feeling grave uncertainty in many aspects of my faith. I once felt a certainty about my beliefs that I find that I do not feel now. the sin of certainty

I have strongly felt the struggle between my inner doubts and fears and my faith and the dissonance that I have felt between my faith in the world. I grew up believing that even questioning my faith was a sin, and I felt as if I was the worst person ever for having these doubts.

So, I found the best way to stare at my doubts head-on and bring myself some comfort and clarity was to turn to books. I have read biographies and memoirs about the spiritual journey. I have read conversion stories, deconversion stories and apologetics. More than anything, I wanted to know that it was okay to have questions.

This spring, one of the sources of comfort that I found was in Peter Enns’ book The Sin of Certainty. Peter Enns opens up and shares more about his own struggles with faith in this book, explaining that he almost lost his faith because he was guilty of places in faith in facts he knew about God rather than in the person of God. This is something that I have found is part of my struggle, and part of the reason why I think I have had an ongoing battle for my faith.

Instead, one of the tools that Enns feels that we have in our faith is the very dissonance we have between our beliefs about God and our experiences. He calls them “uh-oh moments.” As Enns says,

Uh-oh moments serve a holy purpose–at least they have for me. They help break down the religious systems we create for ourselves that sooner or later block us from questioning, wondering, and, therefore, from growing.

While correct doctrine is important, doubts do not make you less faithful to God. They are not a reason to abandon faith. Instead, these doubts or moments of dissonance provide an opportunity for us to reflect on how much of our religious beliefs are based on what we can intellectually affirm and what is truly a part of our faith. We may find that many of the things that we think are essentials to our faith are actually simply based on man-made theologies and fallible interpretations.