Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Published by Doubleday Canada

The reason that Trevor Noah’s memoir is called Born a Crime is because he was born during apartheid to a white father and black mother, at a time when it was illegal for whites and blacks to be in relationships with each other. So his birth, the proof of his parents’ relationship, was literally a crime in and of itself.

Personally I didn’t know much about Trevor Noah before reading this book. I am not a huge TV watcher and have never seen a full episode of The Daily Show, but I knew that Noah was smart and funny, and I also knew that his book would provide some insight on life in apartheid South Africa, a part of history that I’m just getting to learn more about (my lack of knowledge on this is embarrassing). Now that I’ve read the book, I’m even more interested in South Africa and find Noah’s upbringing and accomplishments fascinating.

The stories that Noah tells in his memoir run the gamut of explaining how apartheid worked, what the restrictions were on black people and “colored” people, what the social structure was like during that time, in addition to a lot of personal stories about how he personally grew up with his mother, distant father, eventual stepfather and younger brother, and a huge network of aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members who helped raise him. Because he gives the reader a mini-education on apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa in addition to talking about his own life, his memoir is not only engaging and interesting but has a dose of educational as well. While some of what he says in regards to the history of South Africa is based on his own opinions, and other things are clearly tinged with his personal beliefs, the facts that he lays out for the reader about how society worked at that time are undisputed facts. I really appreciated learning not only the facts about this time in South Africa’s history, but about how growing up in this time affected and influenced Noah’s life – he had a lot of unique experiences being what he calls “colored” (not quite black, not quite white).

I listened to Born A Crime on audio and it was the perfect choice. Trevor Noah narrates himself, and he has the perfect inflection in his voice as he tells his own stories. There’s nothing better than having a memoir author read their own memoir to you, and this was the perfect example of how great it can be.

I highly recommend Born A Crime for those both familiar and unfamiliar with Trevor Noah’s work. His story is fascinating and inspiring, and it’s always good to learn more about life in other countries – especially when much should be learned from the history of that country. I absolutely loved this book.


Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real WorldHere We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen
Published by Algonquin Young Readers

This is a really strong collection of feminist writing geared mostly at teenagers and young adults that I really enjoyed. While it is aimed at younger readers newer to feminism, it definitely has universal appeal and the diversity of voices in the collection absolutely gives something for everyone.

I loved so many of the pieces in this collection but I wanted to highlight a few in particular that really stood out to me. “Bad Feminism: Take Two” by Roxane Gay, which I’d previously read in her book, Bad Feminist, is a super inspiring essay about her particular feminism and how certain things that Gay is interested in may make someone label her a “bad” feminist but explaining that everyone’s feminism is different and feminism has room for ALL the different voices that make up the movement. There is a conversation between Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers titled “A Conversation about Girls’ Stories and Girls’ Voices” about why “rape books” are so important and why it’s so crucial to young women to read stories told from the perspective of girls going through the same things they are going through. “Reading Worthy Women” by Nova Ren Suma, about how she had a college professor who had a syllabus of only male writers, and upon asking him why, he informed her that there are “no worthy women writers” for his students to read, and this one interaction fueled her quest to read as many women writers that she could (and of course, she found plenty of “worthy” women to read). These are just a few of the incredible essays found in this collection, and there are many more.

Here We Are is a fantastic collection that I highly recommend. Highly recommended.

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Fate of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #3)The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Published by Harper

After feeling like the second book in this series was good but not fantastic (and I had a MAJOR issue with one particular element in that book), I went into the final installment in this series with a bit of trepidation. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised – I liked this book better than the second and almost as much as the first in the trilogy.

One thing that I really liked about this book is that I felt like all of the characters really came into their own. Sure, some of the more important characters of the first two books are less so here, but others feature a more prominent role. Also, Kelsea gets inside the mind of yet another person from the past – only this time, it’s a teen girl who was born just a few years after The Crossing – and this peek into the Tearling twenty years post-Crossing was hugely transformative in Kelsea’s understanding of how the world became what it currently is and helped her shape her ideas of what it “should” be. I particularly liked these parts of the book, as the author uses this avenue into the past as a way to fill in gaps in understanding that she’d been keeping from the reader (and Kelsea) for the entire series.

One thing I feel that was missing was a better ending for the evil Queen – yes, she is evil, and no I don’t think she deserved a “happy” ending; but I felt that Johansen did an incredible job showing the humanity of this horrific woman, and there were still things about her that, even at the very end, I didn’t really understand. I felt that she did that particular character an injustice by having her story end the way it did.

Now the ending. Without giving away any spoilers I will say that I was VERY surprised by the ending. Not at all what I was expecting, or what I could have expected in my wildest dreams. However, I think I kind of liked it. It was unconventional, maybe a little too neat and convenient, maybe “easy” for the author, but I thought it was kind of cool. And again, totally unexpected.

So overall – a great series that I’m really happy I read. While not everything about all three of these books was perfect, and there was one particular element to them that enraged me, overall I seriously enjoyed the time I spent with these books and with Kelsea.

From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars by Virginia Hanlon Grohl

From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock StarsFrom Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars by Virginia Hanlon Grohl
Published by Seal Press

Virginia Grohl, mother of Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, decided to interview mothers of many famous musicians to see what similarities they all shared and what it was like to raise a rock star child.

I am a big fan of the Foo Fighters, and my boyfriend is a drummer, so when I heard about this book from a friend of mine I decided to give it a try. I actually recommended it to my boyfriend first, and he liked it so I definitely wanted to read it, too. So many of the women Grohl interviews led extremely interesting lives, and it was really fun to hear their stories. I liked that she gave a background on each mother before talking to the women about their sons and daughters – it helped to get a good picture of each musician through their mother’s eyes. It was striking how many similar experiences these women had with one another – most of their children were high-energy, super creative, incredibly smart, talented, even as very young children, and most of the mothers saw something special in them from an extremely young age. So many of the musicians had a moment when they told their mothers that they wanted to pursue music instead of being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or any other dreams their parents had for them, and it was interesting to see the varied responses the mothers had to their kids’ decision.

One thing that was disappointing about the book was that I listened to the audio and while I thought it was admirable for Grohl to narrate it herself, I wish she would have had someone else do it. She has a nice voice but it is sort of monotone and it was way too easy for me to zone out while she was speaking.

I definitely think mothers of rockstars or rockstar hopefuls should read this book; if nothing else, I’m sure there is a feeling of solidarity that would be inspired by the contents here. I definitely enjoyed the book and it was a unique experience that I wouldn’t have picked up had my friend not recommended it to me. Also, if you listen to the audio there is a conversation between Dave Grohl and his mom at the end that is really cute and interesting to listen to.

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

Deal Breaker (Myron Bolitar #1)Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben
Published by Delacorte Press

Deal Breaker is the first in Coben’s Myron Bolitar mystery series. I read one Coben book years back, a standalone, and really enjoyed it, and always meant to read more of his books but just didn’t get around to it. I wanted to read the Bolitar books in order so I started here. The basic premise is that Bolitar, a sports agent, is trying to help one of his clients, a college football star, with the fact that he recently got a call from someone who he thinks is his ex-girlfriend. Only problem is, she disappeared several years ago and everyone believes she is dead. Bolitar enlists the help of his best friend, his assistant, and his own ex-girlfriend (who happens to be the sister of the “dead” girl) and attempt to figure out what is going on and if his football star client is in on it.

I liked this book. I found it to be a fun ride and it was the perfect amount of entertaining. Like brain candy. Bolitar himself is funny, sarcastic, and even a little nerdy at times. The mystery wasn’t super difficult to figure out, but it wasn’t obvious either. It was a good mix of fun for the brain and something to actually think about while reading.

Because it is a series, it was quite clear that many of the characters are being set up for further reveals as the series wears on. While in theory I like that, in this book it was sort of annoying because there were just too many “clues” that will, I assume, lead to further development of these characters in future books. In theory, cool, but in practice it was just too obvious in this particular novel.

So Deal Breaker – pretty good, decent start to a mystery series. It’s not a series that I’m running out to buy the second book immediately, but I would read the next book if it came across my desk.

The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's StoryThe Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee
Published by Harper Collins

This is an extraordinary story of one woman who decided to escape North Korea when she was seventeen years old. The interesting thing about Lee’s story is that when she left North Korea and crossed the border into China, she was hoping to take a day trip just to “see” what China was like. Once she got there, however, she learned that coming back to North Korea would likely result in her being imprisoned or killed, along with the rest of her family. So she decided to stay in China, and after ten harrowing years of having to hide her identity from the Chinese government to avoid being deported back to North Korea, made her way to the South Korean embassy and declared herself a refugee. Several years after that, she made the terrifying trek back through China to the North Korean border to help her mother and brother escape the regime. Her story is terrifying and inspirational all at once.

With all the rhetoric going back and forth right now between the US president and the North Korean dictator, I feel like few Americans really understand just how repressive life in North Korea is for the people who live there. I have read a lot of books about North Korea over the years and am somewhat familiar with the history, but every single time I read about this country I learn more things that shock me. It’s easy as an American citizen to think of North Korea as this backwards place with this crazy dictator at its helm who may or may not bomb us if our president does one more thing to piss him off, but the history of this country and the lives of its people are so much more than that. Lee’s story is one that not only delves into her own history, but explains why it is so difficult for North Korean citizens to escape and charts some of the dangerous paths that are available to them to do so – none of which are safe or legal. She also gets into some of the history of the relationship between North Korea and China and explains that China is a very unfriendly place for North Korean defectors, and shows how next to impossible it is for them to get to the one place where they can get refugee status, South Korea. And even when reaching South Korea, many of the people Lee spoke to along her journey either died upon arrival from months or years of little food and no medical care, or were questioned in such a harsh manner that they desperately regretted their decision and wanted to go back home to North Korea.

This was a really good book that I highly recommend. In fact, especially with tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world being so high these days, I HIGHLY recommend any and all books about North Korea, particularly those from defectors, as they shed some light on the sociology and psychology of living in that country. Imagine knowing that if you left your home country, even for ten minutes, you and your family would all be killed immediately upon your arrival back, and if you don’t come back, your whole family would likely be imprisoned or killed. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for what people in North Korea live with on a daily basis. Please read about this place and about the brave people who have left it and are telling the world their terrifying stories.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Riverhead Books

This book has gotten a TON of attention over the past couple of years, so I’ll just do a quick summary and move on to my quick thoughts. It’s the story of a marriage, with the first half of the book being told from the man, Lotto’s, perspective and the second half being told from the woman, Mathilde’s, perspective. It was on a bunch of best-of lists when it was published a couple of years back, and has gotten tons of great reviews.

What did I think? I really liked it, and I definitely can respect Groff as a writer. What she accomplished with this story is something that seems like it should be a surface-level character study, a basic but good literary novel about two people and their lives together, but ended up being so much more than that. These characters are interesting, twisted, nuanced, incredibly unique, strange in many ways, and their flaws make for exciting and highly entertaining reading. The book changes a LOT when it moves from Lotto’s point of view to Mathilde’s, and while it was jarring for a minute there, I ended up really being wowed by this change in writing and execution of plot.

What’s interesting about the novel is that virtually none of the characters are likable, once you really get to know them, yet the book is compulsively readable and incredibly addicting. Even though I pretty much hated the characters, there was a point at which it kind of turned for me and I found myself rooting for people I essentially despised. What Groff did with these characters and their stories was pretty remarkable.

Overall I really liked this book and I can see why it has been raved about so much. Lauren Groff is an author I definitely plan to read more from.