Standalone Sunday: Into the Heart of Tasmania

Review: Into the Heart of Tasmania: A Search for Human Antiquity

Author: Rebe Taylor

Themes: race, anthropology, class, human evolution, culture

In 1908 it was widely accepted that the last Aboriginal in Tasmania was dead.  Enter Englishman Ernest Westlake, who planned to write about Stone Age implements and tools. Instead he wound up in the middle of a controversy he did not appreciate as he found living history all around him.

I have to admit that I really struggled with this book at first. If I hadn’t agreed to read it for Net Galley, I would have given it up. But I stuck with it, and somewhere around 10% I found it getting interesting. Westlake is not a sympathetic character. He struck me as a rather typical stuffy, pigheaded Victorian gentleman of the time. But the author, Rebe Taylor, was much more engaging when she allowed her personality to come through.

I think this could have been a more interesting book, but as it was I found it difficult to follow and rather dull. I’m not sure who the was intended for, but I doubt it was for average readers like myself. Thanks for the chance to read it.

Book Review: Allegedly

Title: Allegedly

Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

Challenge: Read Diverse Books

Setting: Modern day, not sure about place

Themes: Race, family, criminal justice system, mental illness – just wow, so much going on in here, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it.

Story:

Mary is fresh out of prison, what she calls “baby jail.” She’s been stashed there since she was convicted of murder at 9 years old. Which makes no sense, because that’s not at all what would have happened, but this is a book about how messed up things can get. As soon as she’s out, she gets stuck in a group home and given a job working at a nursing home. That’s where she meets Ted, who’s also living in a group home. Now Mary’s pregnant, and if she doesn’t do something, the state will take her baby.

Because Mary was convicted not just of murder, but of murdering a baby. A white baby. And Mary is black.

My Reactions:

This is one messed up book. It’s also really good, so I was torn between wanting, needing to know what happened and having to take break from the horror of it all and where I thought it was going. Everything in this story is so messed up. Her mother is horrible. The workers at the group home don’t care about anyone. The other girls, wow, there’s some seriously bad stuff going on there. But what really made this book good was Mary. Just when you think you have her figured out, the author changes things up and you don’t know what to believe. By the time you get to the ending, you think nothing will surprise you. But you would be wrong.

Would I recommend it? It depends. I admit that I found it so tough to read that I skipped a big chunk in the middle. Then when I got to the ending, I had to go back and read more. But I know that a lot of my friends are not going to be interested in something so dark and grim. I tried to tell my kid about the book (they’re 21), and they found it very upsetting to even hear about it. What hooked me was the mystery aspect of the story – did she or didn’t she? But this is a murder of a BABY, and I should have been more prepared for the emotional impact of that.

Book Review: Revolution

You say you want a revolution, well you know

We all want to change the world.

 

Title: Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy, #2)

Author: Deborah Wiles

Challenge: Women’s History Month, Read Diverse Books

Setting: Mississippi, 1964 – Freedom Summer

Themes: Civil Rights, racial equality, social change, blended families, coming of age

It’s the year when everything changes for three young kids, Sunny, Gillette, and Raymond. It’s a year of revolution, of violence, of triumph, of fear and of hope.

Sunny can’t wait for summer to begin. Swimming at the pool with her friends, going to the movies, listening to The Beatles, visiting her grandma, and going to see A Hard Day’s Night. It’s going to be the best summer of her life.

Until a group of “invaders” come to town and suddenly, her perfect summer becomes something else. People Sunny has known her whole life start acting in new and unpredictable ways. Tempers flare. And the colored folks at the edge of town start showing up in places they’ve never been.

Gillette has a new family, a new father, and a new sister who he just can’t figure out. She doesn’t have any idea how good she’s had it. Meanwhile, he just want wants to play baseball.

Raymond lives in the colored part of town. His parents work at one of the cotton farms, and he helps out by picking cotton in the summer. Now a group of Northerners have come to town and are trying to get everyone riled up. His parents are worried about it, but Raymond figures it’s time for a change. He might be too young to register to vote, but he’s sure like to go to that nice air conditioned movie theater.

I moved around a lot as a kid, mostly living in the Midwest, but also in the South. Never in Mississippi. And as a white woman, I’ve directly experienced racism. But I’ve grown up with it around me, in my schools, in my communities, even in my home. My parents were not overtly racist, but they weren’t perfect either. But I’ve definitely never experienced anything like this.

I loved this book. Her previous book, Countdown, introduced me to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s the same style, combining news stories, photography, and storytelling. Don’t be intimidated by the size of these books. The extra content makes them look bigger than they really are, and both books are pretty fast reads. I would definitely recommend this for kids junior high age and up. I’m anxious to read the next one, which I think will be about the Vietnam War.

 

Book Review: City of Scoundrels

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Title: City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago

Author: Gary Krist

Setting: Chicago, Illinois, July 1919

Themes: Race, Politics, Labor Relations, Crime

My parents moved to Chicago after I graduated, but I would visit them during my summer break from college. It was a great place to be single. The food, the energy, the shopping, the cultural events, and most of all, the people – I loved it. It’s still one of my favorite cities in the world.

So this book really caught my eye. I have read about New York’s history, and about New Orleans, but I didn’t know much about Chicago. This was an eye opener. So many historic Chicago figures are in here. And like the title promises, the events in this brief period really did affect the shape of the city for years to come. The roots of racial tension, of political corruption, of the rise of Al Capone – it’s all here.

The action starts with the first documented air disaster when a hydrogen-filled dirigible crashes into a bank. Yeah, who saw that one coming? But that’s only the beginning. Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson soon has to deal with broiling racial tensions, a looming transit strike, and the widely publicized disappearance of a little girl. By themselves, none of these incidents would have been that difficult to resolve. But with them all occurring in a two week period, the problems just built on one another until there were riots in the streets and hundreds left dead. The press didn’t make matters better, by whitewashing the whole the thing and inflaming the crowds.

I would definitely recommend it if you love Chicago, or if you are interested in politics or 20th century racial tensions. I liked the pictures that were included, as well as the map. They really helped set the scene. Toward the end of the book, I felt a little overwhelmed by so many names to keep track of, but it was worth my time.

 

Woman with a Blue Pencil

Reading Decathlon, book 2

Title: Woman with a Blue Pencil

Author: Gordon McAlpine

Genre: literary mystery

Themes: racism, war, patriotism, stereotypes, love

Setting: Los Angeles/California 1941

Source: Found it on Goodreads/Library

Story: Is it about Sam Sumida, Japanese American looking for the murderer of his wife? Is it about Jimmy Park, Korean American, hunting for an evil Japanese mastermind intent on destroying America? Is it about William Thorne, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and father of four, writing spy thrillers under an assumed name? Is it about Takumi Sato, young Nisei confined to a camp in California with an ailing father? Or is it about the woman with the blue pencil, who manipulates them all for her own gain?

The answer is yes, it’s about all of these and more. It’s about the power of narrative to sustain us through the most difficult times in our lives. It’s about the drive to honor our truth, no matter what the cost.

I can’t recommend this strongly enough. It’s a puzzle and a book and a triumph. I wish I had written it. 5 stars.