Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Review

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 4 of 5 star

This was the Life’s Library community book choice at the end of 2020. It is classic from the 1930s by Zora Neale Hurston. It is thought to be feminist literature because the main character is presented as a strong female character.

The story follows a woman named Janie. Raised by her grandmother who was a former slave, Janie was the product of a probable rape, which leads her mother to want very little to do with her. Janie grows up and marries the man who her grandmother sets her up to marry, but the marriage doesn’t last long. She gets married another two times in her life, and this book follows her life throughout those marriages.

People around her like to put her in boxes that she doesn’t quite fit into. While at first, she tries hard to meet the expectations of others, she eventually learns to trust herself and find contentment in the choices she makes, no longer caring about what other people may think. It is empowering, but also heartbreaking, as near the end of the book, she has to make very hard decisions that bring sad consequences. But her resilience through everything is beautiful.

This book wasn’t what I expected. Most of the classics I know are flowery in their descriptions, but Hurston really focuses on dialect, conversation, and moves the plot forward this way. This would definitely be a good audiobook to listen to (I actually listened to parts of this book instead of reading it completely). The story is meant to be read out loud. Very entertaining and definitely recommend.

There is a profanity in the book. Sexual content includes mentions of rape and kissing. Violence includes mentions of rape, whippings, there is a gun involved in a skirmish that ends up pointing in Janie’s face, and there are deaths and descriptions of dead bodies being buried after a hurricane.

Tiger: A Review

Tiger directed by Matthew Hamachek and Matthew Heineman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This intriguing, fascinating, and heartbreaking two-part documentary is on HBOMax right now, and it is a definite recommend.

Tiger Woods was a big name in sports when I was in high school. I remember all the commercials he was in, and I remember the scandal of his infidelity to his wife. But, as with all stories, there is more that what we see in the tabloids and on the screen.

The first part of this film covers Wood’s childhood. His strict upbringing with his father and mother who provided and prompted him with all the necessary tools to nurture his natural talent at golf. His childhood and adolescent years were not typical. His father was convinced he was going to be the next greatest social changer of his generation, right up there with Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. What incredible pressure to place on the shoulders of a kid.

The second part of the film covers his fall from grace. The trips to Las Vegas. The many girlfriends and mistresses, in particular they interview Rachel Uchitel. The role models who he grew up around who were not faithful to their own wives, including his own father. The way that the tabloids, the sponsors, the fans, even his own family used him for their own agendas, never really allowing him to find out who he really was. His entire identity was wrapped in golf.

And when his performance started to decline, so did he. When everything came out in the open, and he fell hard, it was just so hard to watch. But even though his upbringing was hard, his father really did love him. So does his mother. And as he finally comes into who he now is, you can see him finally enjoying life in a healthy way. At least, I hope so. I hope he has found happiness and contentment in his life after so many hard years.

This was a conviction to me about parenting, about being a good, kind friend, about caring for the people around you beyond whatever agenda you have. It’s about authenticity. And it ends on such a hopeful note. Even if you aren’t into sports at all, this is a good one to watch.

There is profanity. No sex scenes, but sex is discussed, primarily by his mistress and the tabloids. His dad’s friend hints at it as well. Violence includes beatings and navy seal training, the car accident he is involved in, and a tape of a DUI arrest.

Charity: SPCA of Texas

Throughout my entire life, I have had a connection with dogs, particularly rescue dogs. My first pets were rescues. My current pets are rescues. And before I had my kid, I was pretty involved at one of the local rescue animal sites, called the SPCA of Texas.

Of course, the organization is a little different from when I volunteered, especially after COVID, but I will share my experience with the organization and some of the exciting ways to get involved as well.

I started volunteering in 2015. I was started on basic cleaning duty – washing laundry and cleaning empty cages. But I moved on pretty quickly to walking the dogs who were in the adoption kennels. Eventually, I started fostering dogs in my home, and then began working with families who came in to adopt, matching them with dogs who were ready to be adopted.

There was no doubt in my mind that everyone who worked or volunteered at this place loved animals. And there were so many departments. There was the front-end who primarily worked with adoptions. The vet clinic that would see mainly dogs who were adopted from there but also some from the community. The behavior department that worked with dogs who need some kind of training or rehabilitation. There was even a farm section at the facility where I volunteered that housed horses, sometimes goats or donkeys. And there is what I call the “Rescue Team” who go on calls to investigate possible animal cruelty or neglect, or try to help owners who may have gotten overwhelmed in the care of their animals.

I gravitated towards the behavior department. The staff behaviorists would train us to work with all kinds of situations, but my favorite were the undersocialized, overstressed dogs. Seeing a dog come out of its shell, looking for comfort and connection was the most rewarding feeling for me. And finding homes for these newly rehabilitated dogs was a close second. I fostered 11 dogs in the two years I volunteered, and all of them found forever homes. I almost adopted my first foster, but I’m glad that I didn’t (though I think of that sweet pup all the time) because I wouldn’t have had the room or energy to work with the other 10 dogs.

My first foster. Wasn’t she a doll?

My favorite thing about this organization (other than the fact that I can play with dogs and call it volunteering) is that they really support their volunteers. We were given opportunities for training, education seminars, and some staff would even take the time to answer questions and problem solve with me. I was a part of the team, and that really made the difference.

And even though the traditional volunteering is still being put on hold, as far as I know, the SPCA of Texas is still working hard for the welfare of animals. I know the fostering program is still running (I still get all the emails from that group), and I know that the staff is still working hard to care for animals ready to be adopted. I look forward to the day I can return to the facility and volunteer in whatever capacity I can.

If you are interested in more information about this organization, you can visit spca.org. Also, they are doing a virtual Strutt Your Mutt event in May to raise awareness and funds to fight animal cruelty. You can sign up for that here.

The Fifth Season: A Review

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 star

Last year, in 2020, N.K. Jemisin showed up on my radar with her book “The City We Became” which was a big hit among some of the readers I follow online. But before I read that book, I wanted to read something off of her backlist first. So, this is why I picked up The Fifth Season trilogy.

I’ve only read the first book, but so far I am hooked. To be honest, I wasn’t quite hooked until after 100 pages. There is a bit of a learning curve with this book. It is a science fiction that is based in geology and seismology. The world keeps have these cataclysmic events that set everyone back to a more primitive time. If they prepare for it well enough, then they or their children might survive the dark years when the dust from volcanos cover the entire earth.

Not only does it have a vocabulary learning curve, but it’s a book that throws its reader into the middle of the story. There are different types of people in this world. Stills, who are just normal, every day people. Orogenes (or the derogatory name Rogga) who can create, quell, or monitor the earth’s movements and volcanos by using the energy and heat around them. This makes them dangerous to stills because that energy and heat could come from them, leaving them dead. Finally, we have the Guardians, a strange group of people who care for, train, and monitor the Orogenes.

The story follows three women (whose connection is revealed toward the end of the book). Damaya is a young girl whose powers have gotten the attention of the Fulcrum (a training facility for Orogenes). When a child shows orogene abilities, there is fear in the community. Some parents or community members can kill the child, though they are encouraged to contact the Fulcrum and have the child removed and trained. Damaya’s point of view is one who is new to the Fulcrum and to training.

Syenite is an orogene Fulcrum member who has been attached to a mentor, Alabaster. Not only does Alabaster continue her training, but they are also supposed to breed together. It really exemplifies the animal type treatment that these people receive.

Finally, Essun (her story is written in the second person which was jarring at first since each chapter basically changed POV) is a middle aged woman who is an orogene but hides her abilities. She lives in a small town with her husband and two kids. Her kids are both orogenes, but she hides that fact as well, until one day she comes home to find her son murdered and her husband and daughter disappeared. She knows that her husband killed her son and kidnapped her daughter, possibly not knowing that her daughter was also an orogene, which means she is in danger. Essun sets out on a quest to find her daughter.

It touches on dehumanization in a hierarchal society, something that evolved over time through each of the cataclysmic events (called seasons). In addition to all of the story and character development, there is also the mystery of these huge obelisks in the sky and the stone eaters, something that will probably be revealed and discussed in the following two books.

The book is excellent. There was no real information dump. The reader is just dropped into the middle of everything and must patiently pay attention to the details in order to catch up. But it is well worth it. Looking forward to the next books.

There is a profanity in the book. Sex is used for the purpose of breeding, especially among orogenes, further dehumanizing them. There are some hints to child abuse. Also there are multiple sex scenes, some described in detail, but I wouldn’t say they were steamy. There is also a lot of death. The son of Essun is very young when he is killed. There are stabbings, death by losing the heat in your body, mentions of cannibalism and turning to stone. This book is heartbreaking. I originally thought it was YA, but after reading it, it definitely felt more of an adult genre book.

Canvas: A Review

Canvas directed by Frank E. Abney III
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a nine minute short film on Netflix about love and loss and art. It is beautifully illustrated and for all ages.

None of the characters have names, but it opens with a 2-D animation of a painter in front of his canvas, painting the perspective of a woman sitting against a tree. But as she turns around, the painter wakes up in a 3-D animated world. He is alone. His granddaughter comes to visit. She is a little of an artist herself and sets out to create her own drawings while visiting him. But she comes across a place that has been shut off, and once she opens that door, it gives the painter an renewed opportunity to open his heart once again.

It’s gorgeous and sweet. It’s emotional, and the music adds to that emotion. Highly recommend this precious little film for everyone and anyone who enjoys a story of love, loss, and finding love once again.

No profanity. One chaste kiss. There is a death implied, but there is nothing too heavy in this short film.

Charity: Alzheimer’s Association

As I wrote about last week, this month I am sharing some of my favorite nonprofit organizations that I have had a personal connection to. Since this is the month of love, I thought talking about the charities I loved fit into this month perfectly.

We have been participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease since 2010. I saw a commercial while watching a show on Hulu which is how I found out about this organization. My father-in-law had, at that point, been diagnosed with dementia and I knew from my own family experience the long road ahead for my husband. I thought getting involved in an event like this over the years could give him some support and encouragement to know that he wasn’t alone in his experience.

Our first Walk experience

But the Alzheimer’s Association is more than just a walk on a (hopefully) sunny day in the fall. They provide information and support for families and caretakers walking this journey with their loved ones. They lobby government officials for policy and budget lines dedicated to finding both treatment and a cure for this disease.

They host other events throughout the year that provide people with education, even entertainment. One year, they hosted a viewing of Still Alice, a film based on the 2007 novel by Lisa Genova, about a linguistics professor who contracts the disease and how she and her family journey through her inevitable decline. It included a small Q&A at the end of the movie by the organization about new policies and research happening at that time.

But, for the most part, the biggest event for us is the Walk. We have been all over the DFW metroplex for the Walks over the years. Last year, because of COVID, we did a virtual walk, using the app created by the Alzheimer’s Association that included testimonies at different points in the walk and other information and encouragement. It was a creative way to make last year special despite having to be apart.

This year, we are planning on continuing the tradition of participating in the Walk. We will be fundraising more as we get closer to the end of the year and building our team in the meantime. We are so thankful for this organization who has provided such encouragement and support for our family as well as many other families in our community.

If you are interested in participating in the walk this year or getting involved with this organization, please visit them at alz.org.

A Song of Wraith and Ruin: A Review

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 star

If you enjoy mythology, competitions, and star-crossed lovers, this story has all three. Based in African mythology, the Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a beautiful story. It is written in a double POV of the two main characters on either side of the conflict. Malik is a poor Eshran boy. The Eshran people are very oppressed and abused. They aren’t even allowed sometimes to enter certain cities in the kingdom. Karina is the princess of the kingdom, but her mother who is the ruling Queen has been distant with her since Karina’s father and sister died in a fire.

Then both of their lives are turned upside down. Malik’s younger sister makes a wish that comes true, but in return she is stolen away by an ancient magic. In order to get her back, Malik must kill the princess by the end of the comet festival. While in the palace, another terrible tragedy happens, leaving Karina to make some hard choices and reveals truths about herself that change everything.

Other than the descriptive landscape the story unfolds, the strongest and most fascinating aspect of the book is the character development and transformation. Themes like realizing the power within and being stronger than one realizes. But also how grief may make you want to do terrible things but love can be strong enough to stop you from doing them. Really believing in who you are and what you are capable of no matter what odds are stacked against you.

The ending is a definite cliffhanger. The next book is supposed to come out this year, but I understand a lot has been delayed in the book world due to the pandemic. Still, I will be on the lookout for the next one in this series!

There is a profanity in the book. Sexual content is mentioned but not acted out and not graphic. There is kissing in the book. There is death in the book, death by falling, death by sword/stabbing, and there is fighting in the book. The author actually lists trigger warnings at the beginning of the book which was extremely helpful.

Silvie’s Love: A Review

Silvie’s Love created by Eugene Ashe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes you just want to watch a sweet love story. If you are looking for a simple storyline that is slightly predictable but absolutely precious, this is the movie for you.

The story takes place in 1950s Harlem (probably reaching into the 60s by the end of the film). It is a love story between a poor, but up and coming, sax player and a well-to-do girl engaged to a man from a prominent family (his father is a very successful doctor). The two have a summer fling, but as the summer comes to an end, something happens, choices are made, and the two are separated for years.

But fate brings them back together over time. Each time, life pressures will pull them apart, but no matter how hard it gets, they find each other again.

The cast is mostly made up of people of color, and while there are mentions of the civil rights movement, marches, the NAACP, and blatant bigotry, this isn’t the main focus of the story. In fact, neither of the main characters seem to have much involvement in the movement, though they have friends that are. Instead, the focus is on their own successes in their career and the way life bends at times, and how to move through it.

The costumes, the music, the carefree summer days bring a sense of romanticism that goes beyond just the love story. It was uplifting and simply beautiful. Highly recommend this if you have Amazon Prime.

There is some profanity. Kissing and sex scenes, though nothing too graphic. I don’t think there was any nudity. No violence.

Word of the Month: Charity

February is a month for love, since our culture celebrates Valentine’s Day about halfway through the month.

1 Corinthians 13 is used a lot during weddings as an example love, here are a few of my favorite verses.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:7

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:3

That last verse brings me to another word that can be used as a synonym for love, which is charity. I have been really blessed to have the opportunity to work with several charities over the years, through raising donations or volunteering my time or participating in events. While a lot of events have been placed on hold or have been done virtually this last year, I look forward to a time when I can play a more active role in the charities I love once again.

So, this month, I’m going to share three nonprofit organizations that are near to my heart. Also, let me know what charities you love and why you love them. I always feel uplifted knowing all the hard, tireless work being done to make this world and our community a better place.

8 Black Authors to Read This Month

February is Black History Month, and in recent years, I’ve been trying to intentionally share some Black authors that I have enjoyed. Last year, I mentioned a lot of these authors throughout the year, but here is a consolidated list for those looking for new authors to try this month.

Jemar Tisby – The Color of Compromise

The reason I loved this book so much was the way Tisby intertwined Black history in America with the American Christian Church. It was heartbreaking and frustrating at times, but fascinating to see fear seep into the pews of any denomination causing a more fertile ground for racism. It really helped me understand today’s issues with more context. (He also has another book that just came out in January that furthers this conversation, though I haven’t read it yet).

Ibram X. Kendi – How to Be An Antiracist

The journey that Kendi goes through in this book is both vulnerable and courageous. It teaches just how insidious and involved racism can be. It also is an encouraging reminder to give ourselves grace while still being vigilant within our own lives in seeking out the systemic and inherent racism that affects us all.

Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone

This YA book and her follow up book Children of Virtue and Vengeance are absolutely beautiful. Influenced by African mythology, the book follows Zelie as she tries to bring back the magic that was torn from her land, while Tzain, the son of the king, is bent on stopping her at any cost. This is an enemies to lovers story that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending yet. I have heard that this series is being turned into a movie by Disney . The second book also indicates a third book should be coming out as well.

Angie Thomas – The Hate You Give

A contemporary YA that follows the aftermath of a shooting. Starr lives in two worlds, the private, predominantly white, school and her mostly black neighborhood. After she witnesses her best friend get shot by police, the tension of her two worlds come to a breaking point and she has hard decisions to make. This was also made into a movie in 2018.

Bernadine Ernesto – Blonde Roots

This book answers the question, what if it were black people who enslaved white people? It highlights all the ways that black people have been dehumanized both in small microaggressions like changing their name or defining beauty to bigger things like tearing them from their homes and raping them. It is eye-opening in such a unique way.

Octavia Butler – The Parable of the Sower

I read this book at the beginning of 2020, so it was more of a horror book for me than a simple science fiction. The world is collapsing, and Lauren Oya Olamina loses what little security she has when her gated neighborhood is attacked, forcing her to leave in search of a new home, if there is even a possibility for one. It is a heart-breaking look at how selfish a society can be, but also shows a glimmer of hope in how community can make all the difference.

Austin Channing Brown – I’m Still Here

I read this book in 2019. Brown’s memoir of growing up and living in America is beautiful, strong, honest, heartbreaking and encouraging. She talks about issues of race, racism, white supremacy, white fragility, and white guilt, as well as the beauty and power of Black women and Blackness as a whole. I was uncomfortable reading this book as a white woman because it felt like I was listening in on a conversation not meant for me, but one I really needed to hear.

Jacqueline Woodson – If You Come Softly

This is a timely, well-written novel. The story is about a white Jewish girl and a black boy who go to the same private school and fall in love. It’s about racial stereotypes, interracial couple stereotypes, family relationships, and how we become who we are. It was originally published in 1998 but manages to stay current. Beautiful, beautiful book.

What are some of your favorite books or series by Black authors? Are there any books you are looking forward to reading this month?