Banned Book Week 2020: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The last week in September is the week set aside by readers in the US to emphasize and even celebrate those books that have been “banned” or challenged in the US. While the First Amendment of our US Constitution, soon to be a useless piece of paper that is no longer relevant thanks to the new SCOTUS, does not allow for the outright banning of books, there are challenges each year to withhold books from school and community libraries throughout the US – and the world. Although, let’s face it, the First Amendment certainly isn’t what it used to be in the US and schools are effectively banning books when they willingly no longer have their students read them and when Boards of Education vote to delete important information from their textbooks ala Thomas Jefferson and The Enlightenment as was done in Texas. Banning by omission is alive and well in the good ole USA. In my home town the local librarian selects books solely based on the local “readership,” meaning that subversive, challenging, thought provoking books never will see the light of day in her library. But hey, if you want a good Amish romance you will be in luck!

So, let’s look at some of the most “banned” or challenged books for 2020, shall we? Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” is always in the Top Ten as is “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. I read all of Steinbeck’s books and short stories in junior high, age 13-15. He still is my favorite writer, most likely always will be, and, Of Mice and Men is my most recommended book to those who rarely read. It’s quick, easy and profound. To ban a work like this is disgraceful. No, it’s ignorance. It should be no surprise that 1984, Brave New World and Animal Farm made the list this year. After all, we wouldn’t want to see any resemblances to the current administration, now would we? And it goes without saying that the majority of school boards no longer allow books like Albert Camus’ The Stranger, anything by Kurt Vonnegut or ever A People’s History of Us by Howard Zinn to see the light of day in our precious public or parochial schools. Hell, is it any wonder that I homeschooled all of children? I couldn’t bear the thought of them being culturally or politically illiterate which is exactly what we are facing in today’s version of “America.”

With that said, I had the pleasure of re-reading several banned books and adding a few new ones to my collection. I’ll share my thoughts about them this week beginning with Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Because I absolutely adore Kurt Vonnegut and always have, I’ve been teased that I moved to Indianapolis simply because that is where Vonnegut was from. His family played an integral part in the development of the Indianapolis area and their contributions were intelligent and long-lasting. However, from the moment I first read Breakfast of Champions – for literature class in HIGH SCHOOL – I’ve been hooked on his pacifism, brilliance and humor.

Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war novel that withstands the test of time. The narrator is Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran who survived the bombing of Dresden (ask how many high school graduates in the US know what the bombing of Dresden was – you’ll be amazed at their ignorance.) Billy becomes “unstuck in time” and travels to another planet where he finds peace. While the earth wants Billy to talk about Dresden, all he wants to do is talk about Tralfamadore. Brutalism meets Sci-Fi in this cult classic which allows readers of nearly all ages to read and comprehend the horrors that Billy witnessed and understand that it is those horrors that must be avoided at all cost. It is a MUST READ for everyone.

This book has been challenged in many communities and in most schools but it was actually BURNED in Drake, ND. And you thought only the Nazis burned books…well, yes, they still do.

Oh, and for the record, I am writing this review because I want to. No publisher has given me a book and no media consultant is telling me I cannot speak about religion or politics or drugs or war or anything else which might offend. If you ARE offended by this, well, I won’t apologize. There is too much at stake in today’s world to continue to remain silent!

Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison

If I could write a book, this is the one I would write!

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Deadly Waters is an anthem to the “Me Too” movement. It is for all of the women who have ever had to clean themselves up in a bathroom, dried their tears with their friends in a stall, been told they should not have been somewhere, should have worn something different, looked different, just been pleased someone noticed them. This is for women who have been groped in the workplace, who were threatened with lesser grades if they didn’t comply with professors, who batted eyelashes at their bosses to keep their jobs. This is for those who testified against Supreme Court nominees only to see that POS sitting on the highest court of the land. It is for women every where, even those too brainwashed by a male dominated culture to know it is for them.

Eight college women living in a suite at a Florida university know about all of these things. They go to bars where they are touched, groped, have to walk in pairs, watch their drinks so they don’t get tanked and still end up attacked in the parking lot. It is about someone’s revenge against the worst of the aggressors – because this world knows you cannot deal with them all – by feeding them to the alligators who are in the swamps near the campus.  The author grapples with the emotions that all of the women are going through – shock, joy, relief, horror, more joy, the “what-ifs” and we, as a reader, take that journey with them.

Admittedly, even as devout feminist, my first reaction was “why do these girls keep going to these bars!?”  Wait, back that up. WHY don’t these men stop harassing women at bars, drugging their drinks!? You see, I’m originally from the south and I know a thing or two about southern universities and specifically I know about Florida and Arizona universities because they are diving schools. They are the worst. The things written in this book are accurate. It IS this bad. I’m not at all appalled that a woman began doing something about it herself because we have all sat by over the past decade and seen what is done to the men who are accused – NOTHING. EVER. And yet, other readers and reviewers have the audacity to say that the book is about hate? You bet it is! I am enraged at what our society has become. That readers can review books about male serial killers until the cows come home and love them but because this one is about a female, about women who actually are happy that men finally have to meet justice for the horrors that they perpetrate on women,  then female reviewers have their delicate sensibilities in an uproar. Shame on you! How many of us have been in the same situation? How man of us – even on places like Facebook and Goodreads – have to block the trollers who will not leave us alone just because we have tits!? And you think this book is about hate!? No – the world men have created is about hate and it is called misogyny!

I loved the book. I think it should required reading for women just so their minds are opened because, apparently, far too many have been brainwashed by society for far too long. I also love the fact that, because I did not receive this book from a publisher I am able to write an honest review my true opinions and not some watered down version of what I really think. It’s refreshing to be able to do that for a change.

 

Clover Cottate #ChristieBarlow #HappyPubDay

Christie Barlow has rapidly become one of my favorite cozy romance writers and now she is back with a wonderful new addition, Clover Cottage.

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When local veterinarian, Rory, is gifted Clover Cottage by his parents, his significant other, Allie, is thrilled. She sees this as a new beginning for the two of them in the town in which they grew up and fell in love. However, Rory is extremely reluctant to take on the renovations of the house, to the point that Ally is worried that it is their relationship in which Rory does not want to invest. Instead, he wants to travel and study abroad, to expand his horizons – and then come back to Allie. Allie, of course, is devastated. As the book unfolds we begin to see that neither of them really knew the secret hopes and desires of one another and we wonder if there is any way this couple can survive.

Clover Cottage is the third book in the Love Heart Lane series so readers will be somewhat familiar with the couple already. What I love most about these two, and all of the residents of Heartcross, is how important their family and friends are to one another. Rather than giving rash advice to Allie – or to Rory – they support them and offer a different perspective which helps this couple get through this difficult time. There are heartaches, illness, secrets and plenty of small town happiness throughout this book for it is the type of story that draws you in from beginning to end. You come to love these people as though they were real which is due to the marvelous character building and writing skills of Christie Barlow.

Although it is the third book in a series, Clover Cottage can be read as a stand alone. To get the feel of the characters, however, I encourage you to read the series as a whole. They are short, heartwarming, quick reads and I know you will be glad that you did.

Thank you to @OneMoreChapter, #Netgalley and @ChristieJBarlow for my copy of these delightful tale.

The Cult of Venus: Templars and the Ancient Goddess

Historians Cameron Thorne and Amanda Spencer-Gunn discover a 14th-century journal which confirms a long-rumored historical heresy: The medieval Church outlawed the Knights Templar because the warrior monks were secretly worshiping the ancient Goddess.  (Based on actual historical artifacts, and illustrated. )
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I was seriously minding my own business when this FREE book caught my eye on Amazon. I loved the cover and, you know me, I never can resist a beautiful cover. What I found inside was one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in ages!

While fiction, The Cult of Venus is based on the factual artifacts and records that show that the Templar Knights came to “North America” long before Columbus was even born. This is a series of nine books thus far and this is book 7 of 9 yet I felt very comfortable reading it as a stand alone. This particular book revolved around Astarte, a young girl destined to be a princess or leader of the “new world” in modern times. You will have to read the book to understand why. However, what I found so incredibly interesting was the archeological aspects of the book as well as the goddess worship. I was, quite literally, reading the book and researching what they were saying throughout its entirety and sat with my mouth hanging open in shock at what I was seeing and reading. There are illustrations throughout the book e.g. photos of henges, ceremonial sites, all here in the US! Fascinating stuff!! If you like history, the truth about history, are interested in paganism at all, or love a good action series based on the Templar Knights then you will LOVE this series. I’ve already downloaded book one so I can catch up with all that I missed.

 

The Helios Disaster by Linda Bostrom Knausgaard

The Helios Disaster, written by Linda Bostrom Knausgaard, is an amazingly beautiful work of prose. Please do not go into it expecting your run of the mill fiction narrative for it is far more than that.

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Told in two parts, this is the story of Anna who bursts from her father’s head in full armor, we quickly discover that the birth scream is from her father who is being rushed off to an asylum for schizophrenia. Anna, first taken in by a neighbor, eventually ends up with social services and asks if it is hell. The story continues with Anna who eventually ends up in an asylum herself. This is both a retelling of the birth of Athena and a sad commentary on those with any mental illness. It is, at once, heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. A mere 128 pages, it is very worth reading.

Fab Fiction on Friday: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Let me just say that Such a Fun Age definitely will be on my Top Ten list of reads for 2020. That just goes without saying, I think, and I also think it will be on a lot of “favorite” lists this year. I have, however, hesitated to write a review of the book out of fear of diminishing its importance as well as its enjoyability.  Such a Fun Age is a cross-genre tale about race, class, upbringing and the difficulty it is to cross those barriers. Age even plays a role in this clever, well written, very timely book.

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Emira is a babysitter – not a nanny – for Peter and Alix (who changed the spelling of her name to be more relevant.) Peter is a newsreader on television and Alix is an “influencer” on social media. Emira is charged with caring for Briar, their very precocious, charming daughter and she loves it. There is a beautiful, loving relationship throughout the book between Emira and Briar. It reminded me a bit of the The Help, another book that looks at these same themes. Problems arise when Peter makes a racist on-air remark and their house is egged as a result. Alix asks Emira to take Briar out of the house to an upscale store until things can get sorted. There, however, Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar; after all, why would a black teenage girl have a white little girl at a store at 11pm? There is a huge scene and isn’t resolved until Peter arrives to clear up the confusion. Emira remarks that the security guard should be pleased since “Peter is an old, white guy.”  Things escalate from there as Alix and her extremely politically correct friends try to make things better for Emira who is more concerned about not having health care than she is about “the incident.” Things grow more tense throughout the book leaving you feeling as though you are watching a snowball grow into an avalanche until the very final page of this book.

So, after reading Such a Fun Age twice through, I realized that this is far more than a book about “transactional relationships,” – seriously, did you even know that word existed until this book? I didn’t. It is far more than a book about race, although it very clearly is that too. This is a story about the disconnect we all have with one another as we make assumptions about the people who come into and out of our lives. Do I treat the migrant differently than I treat others in my world? Do I see a person in their 30s and immediately make assumption about their “millennial” lifestyle? Do I try to make others see me as “relevant,” when, in fact, we all are. But, what I came away with most is that Emira was her own person, with her own goals and her own identity. She didn’t want to be super successful like some of her “home girls.” Neither did she want to be left behind in the job market. Most importantly, she didn’t have her life all figured out on the time-table that society set for her – few do! We forget that we are individuals and each of us – regardless of race or religion or lifestyle choices – have to allow that individuality to flourish. Stop putting people into boxes to fit your own ideas, ideals or beliefs. It really is that simple and Such a Fun Age illustrates this beautifully.

GENRE: Domestic Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Thank you to #PenguinPublishingGroup and #GPPutnamandSons

Big Lies in a Small Town #DianeChamberlain

Pendleton, Indiana – population 4,000 on a good day, maybe. I never dreamed I would live in a small town. Actually, I thought my city of 60000 was a small town. How wrong I was. Adapting to the habits of these towns, actions embedded for centuries, can be daunting. Diane Chamberlain has captured these nuances, the whispers and innuendo, perfectly in her newest book Big Lies in a Small Town.

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Morgan Christopher is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit, putting her dreams of being an artist into limbo until a mysterious visitor shows up at the prison offering her a chance for freedom and a job she cannot refuse.

The concept of the book is gripping from its opening pages and keeps you hooked until the very end. It is a mystery within a mystery with its dual timeline, set in both the present, with Morgan’s and her mysterious benefactor, and the past with the artist and the painting whose work Morgan has been hired to restore. This is very much a story of two women whose lives have been altered by fate and the town in which they are living, by lies, rumors and mental illness. It is a story of redemption for one in the present timeline and redemption of the other through her work.

I’m new to Chamberlain’s work, unsure how I survived for so long without reading it and I’m grateful to whomever pointed out her to writing to me. She is a beautiful story teller who has a gift for bringing words to life. Her characters are extremely authentic, women we know and whom we come to care about deeply. In this instance, I immediately walked down to my historical post office to see if we had one of the commissioned paintings on the wall. And, yes, there it was. How had I never noticed it there before!? Now I look at it every time I go in side and think of the artists who painted these wonderful reflections of nation’s past. Big Lies in a Small Town is a beautiful story and one I highly recommend to readers of cross genres. It’s a work of fiction that defies specific classification.

Thank you to @Netgalley D_Chamberlain and @StMartinsPress for my copy of this amazing book!

 

 

How Not to Die Alone – Richard Roper

The first time I picked up How Not To Die Alone, I simply was not in the right frame of mind to read it, constantly comparing it Eleanor Oliphant. So I sat it aside to come back to. This time, however, I was in the right place and found the book to be utterly charming, hope-filled and quite wonderful!

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Andrew is a loner – well, that’s actually an understatement – who works for the Estate Council tracking down possible relatives of people who have died alone. There is the question of who buries them, you see. His life is grim, his flat is grim, everything about Andrew is grim. So bad, in fact, that he has created a fake wife and family so others will not feel sorry for him. But the Peggy joins their office, an office filled with quirky and unusual people, and Andrew finds his life changing in unexpected ways.

The characters of How Not To Die Alone are some of the most realistic characters I’ve come across in a while. While they each are unlikable in their own right, I soon found that I cared about them despite their flaws which is, after all, what life is all about. As Andrew’s perspective changes, we see so much hope inside of him. He’s caring, thoughtful and quite marvelous. By the end of the book, as we finally learn what has happened in his past, you are cheering him on and hoping for the very best for him.

Yes, the story is similar to other books of this nature, but it is the characters who set this one apart from the others. You will love them, hate them, cry for them and, in the end, be so happy for them all. We, as human, grow and change and morph over the course of our lifetimes and, if we’re lucky, we won’t find ourselves alone in the end.

Thanks to #Edelweiss and #GPPutnam’sSons for my copy of this delightful book

FREE Book Weekend! — His Name Was Zach

I have this one downloaded and ready to read. I hope you guys will take a look at it as well and let me know what you think about it.

Get ready, because tomorrow and Sunday (September 14th and 15th), His Name Was Zach will be FREE to download on Kindle! If you’re one of my faithful followers, please share this post far and wide! I’d love to see as many people as possible get their hands on a FREE version of my debut novel!

via FREE Book Weekend! — His Name Was Zach

The Last Widow #KarinSlaughter

Enthralling, Emotional, Enlightening – these are merely the beginning of a long list of adjectives I often use to describe Karin Slaughter’s books. Thrilling and captivating, The Last Widow, was a heart stopping, engrossing read from cover to cover, something I have come to expect from this author, which is why she is on my “must read” list for every new book she writes.

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After a hiatus, Slaughter has returned to the Will Trent series which includes Sara Linton, both of whom now are working for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and who are tentatively in a relationship. The book begins with a shopping trip turned abduction and rapidly moves to a bombing at the Emory campus in downtown Atlanta. En-route to the bombing, Will and Sara become entangled in a car crash that escalates into murder and mayhem and Sara being taken hostage. Whew! And that was all in the first few pages of the book! Soon we, the readers, realize that all of this is part of a white nationalist terrorist plot that has been brewing for well over a decade. The problem is how to stop the looming attack without losing half the population as well as Sara.

What I love most about Karin Slaughter’s books is the volume of research that goes in to each and every one of them. I know that when I read one of her books not only are they going to be an exceptionally well written thriller, I am going to come away from the experience with a greater knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. She always deals with “ripped from the headlines” topics in her books and The Last Widow is no exception. As the characters are informed and updated on the standing of white nationalists in the US, we learn as well and what we learn is frightening and eye-opening. Never does Slaughter preach or make judgement calls; she is even handed and quite neutral on the issues at hand. I, on the hand, am not at all and wish that there had been more anger on anyone’s part. Those from the FBI often were apologetic over not doing more, stopping more, shutting down more terrorist groups and their reasons were not reasons with which I could agree. Too many people are dying and, unlike fiction, there is no one rushing in to save the day.

The Last Widow is realistic, sobering and frightening and I am quite sure it will regarded as controversial as many of her previous works have been. It is, however, one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. My only concern is with the first few chapters of the book. Slaughter begins by telling the same events from different perspectives. It is, at first, quite repetitive and somewhat strange. The remainder of the book continues to be told from multiple perspectives but not the same events from each character’s point of view. The shift is an odd one and I’m unclear why it was used in the first place. That isn’t her usual writing style and I found it distracting. Once she stopped doing that, the book was perfection.

If you’ve never read Karin Slaughter before now, I highly encourage you to do so. She has several stand-alone books including Coptown which is one of my all time favorite books. This is the 9th book in the Will Trent series which was merged with the Sara Linton series. You could read it on its on but I wouldn’t suggest it. There simply is too much backstory with all of these characters and it is that backstory that makes this book as remarkable as it is. Start at the beginning of the Will Trent line and work forward – you’ll be glad that you did.