Belinda’s Book Nook: Social Justice Reading Project (SJRP)

In 2016, there were two books that stood out among all the others that deeply affected me. One was, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson and the other was called, “The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race Edited by Jesmyn Ward”. After I finished each one of them, I purposely took the time to thoroughly digest the information they provided.  With the book Just Mercy, I first saw Bryan Stevenson on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and his words moved me to find his book. I listened to the audiobook for this book which Bryan was the voice talent so he could capture his meanings even better than if someone else read the book. The book opened my heart wide to the injustice in our criminal justice system, particularly how it affects the poor minority. For me growing up, I was always raised with an awareness of the inequalities within society when it came to race. So I wasn’t completely shocked when I read this book but Bryan brings the reader into the depths of the justice system and shows you just how messed up it really is at the present. Being so inspired, I decided that I want to find a way to be part of the change. But guess what? Life took over and I put it on the back burner. Then I read The Fire This Time and was blown away by all of the essays in it by such talented authors. Many of whom I read before.  I remember stopping and sharing some of the information with Leao. Again, I felt that desire to be a part of the change.  But then, life happened again and I put it on the back burner.

Recently one of my book friends from Litsy (an online social community for book lovers) said that she had started a Social Justice Reading Project for her summer reading and create a list to read and discuss on her blog.  I finally felt the pull again and reached out to her to tell her I was very interested in creating my own as well. For these reasons, combined with all of the deaths of African American men and boys by police officers, I have decided to begin educating myself. Lastly, I am a mother of two African American boys and the thought of sending them out into the world sends me to pieces. The conversations I must have with them in order to keep them safe is heartbreaking. I wish they could be young and innocent forever, but that bubble must be burst and I have to do my job as a parent and prepare them for both the good and the bad. For these reasons, I am motivated to educate myself and then make myself available to create change.

I tend to want to sit for a while after I read such dense and heavy material so that I can reflect so I will not be reading all of these books over the summer months instead I will extend mine throughout the year and when she and I overlap, I will head on over to her discussions.   Partly because I don’t like to read anything until I have read the book so I can process and form my own opinions.

Please take some time to check out her blog – The Book Babe and see the amazing list of books she will be reading over the summer. We both have a focus on the criminal justice system as it pertains to African Americans. The important part is that we can be a part of the process of creating places (on our blogs) for more dialogue and education to occur. This is why I am so grateful for books. They allow us the opportunity to keep growing.

I will be integrating these books into my other TBRs.  So you will still continue to hear about the other books that I read. But I will tag and label my posts with SJRP (Social Justice Reading Project) so they are easy to find.

The following are a list of books that I would like to read for my SJRP:

I look forward to reading and sharing my experience with you. This book blog will help me to learn to articulate such important information so that I and others might grow.

Belinda’s Book Nook Review: Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall

Hello, my bookworm buddies! I have been rather naughty and have left you in the dark of all the great books I have been reading lately. I am just coming out of a little reading slump and realized I haven’t written and posted any reviews for quite a while. So here are my thoughts on one the books I read last month.

I can’t remember where I heard about this book but I remember thinking I needed to buy it. I ordered it used from Thriftbooks.com and this spring seemed like the perfect time to read it. I took a photo of the cover next to my flowers.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Carol Wall, a white woman living in a lily-white neighborhood in Middle America, was at a crossroads in her life. Her children were grown; she had successfully overcome illness; her beloved parents were getting older. One day she notices a dark-skinned African man tending her neighbor’s yard. His name is Giles Owita. He bags groceries at the supermarket. He comes from Kenya. And he’s very good at gardening.

Before long Giles is transforming not only Carol’s yard but her life. Though they are seemingly quite different, a caring bond grows between them. But they both hold long-buried secrets that, when revealed, will cement their friendship forever.

My thoughts:

I found this book very easy to get into. I liked hearing Carol’s story and think she did a fantastic job capturing her developing relationship with Mr. Owita. Carol opened up about so much with regard to her cancer and how she viewed herself before and after her diagnosis. Of course, being a gardener myself, I enjoyed the sprinkling of gardening talk throughout the book. She had a great way of tying the plants and gardening to her story.

I don’t typically read reviews about books until I have read and written my own. However, when I was searching to get the synopsis of the book, I stumbled across a very critical review that said that Carol was whiny and I was taken aback. I can’t comprehend what someone going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment is experiencing. Therefore, I would not use the word whiny to refer to their response to a terminal illness.  In fact, I found the book to be quite the opposite. I liked how she and Giles’ relationship developed over a slow process into an amazing friendship. I always believe that things happen for a reason and I believe they were meant to meet. I would recommend this book because it is a good way to glimpse into the experience if it is not yours and to find appreciation for your own life. So I will give this book 3 1/2 butterflies.

Title: Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart
Author: Carol Wall
Copyright: March 14, 2014
Genre: non-fiction, memoir
Format: book Pages: 294

Belinda’s Book Nook Review: Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Title: Unbowed: A Memoir
Author: Wangari Maathai
Copyright: September 4, 2007
Genre: non-fiction, memoir
Format: book Pages: 368

I first saw this book at my local library and checked it out. I once again did what I have been doing lately and kept renewing it to the libraries limit and then hijacked the book for a few additional days while I waited for the book to arrive in the mail (I had to own a copy after I started reading it.) I’m not proud of holding on to books late but this bookworm had to do what she had to do!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

My Thoughts:

This book is such a very important read and even more so as we approach Earth day and the ‘March for Science’ across the country. I liked the way she told her story. She provided the readers with her background by going back to her childhood growing up and working the land with her family. Her story demonstrates how you don’t need to have a fancy education or be wealthy to make a difference in the world. One quote from her book sums it up:

“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them, even more, respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us to do what we can to protect it. As I told the forresters and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”   – Wangari Maathai

Although Wangari was able to pursue her education at a time that most girls were not in Kenya, she points out that her idea did not require her degree, it just helped the process. For her ideas for planting trees took hold and people began to help realize her dreams.  I love that although she received her degree in the United States, she didn’t choose the path to try to stay here, she chose to go back home and help her country. She ended up starting the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in response to her observation of the decimation of the local trees in her country and the negative effects it had on the land and the people of Kenya. She realized that the British colonists were cutting down vast amounts of trees for lumber to sell and that it had a tragic effect on the land. It compromised the integrity of the soil and caused droughts.  The Kenyan women told her of streams drying up, their food supply diminishing and as a result of the logging, they had to walk even farther to find wood for fencing. So Wangari proposed that the women take the seedlings and plant them to grow more trees.

The story is so amazing. It talks about her eventual marriage and the demise of their union and her on-going struggle with the Kenyan government, who saw her efforts as a threat.  Many times, I couldn’t believe how brave she was to keep pursuing her dream.  She endured imprisonment and death threats but continued her very important work. Did I also mention that she won the Noble Peace Prize in 2004? Yes, she was that amazing.

Wangari Maathai is someone we should all learn about because it is so relevant everywhere, not just in Kenya. In the photo above I am holding up the picture book version of her story that I read to Apollo. It was breathtakingly stunning and held it’s own in keeping up with all of the many important facts of Wangari’s story.

I leave you with one more amazing quote from the book:

“A tree… tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance.”

I highly recommend this book and I give it 4 1/2 butterflies for not only delivering a great story and message but concluding with ways to help. As I too will leave you with the link to The Green Belt Movement so that you can see the great work that continues even after her death.

Happy reading friends!

Belinda

Belinda’s Book Nook Review: A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins

Title: A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
Author: Susanna Calkins
Copyright: April 23, 2013
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, romance
Format: book Pages: 352

Why did I pick this book up in the first place? I enjoy historical fictions. I especially enjoy historical fiction series with female sleuths. I like using Amazon’s features especially when it comes to books. If you search for a book that you like, they will recommend similar authors.  I saw Susanna Calkins’ name and clicked on it to see what books she has written. I found this series and this searched for the first book and it sounded like a book I would enjoy. And let’s not kid ourselves, the cover was stunning.  So I switched to Bookoutlet.com where you can find deep discounted on used books and I ordered a few of them, taking the leap of faith that I would enjoy them.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself.

My Thoughts:

 I read a bit about the author and it said that she has become fascinated with 17th-century England and she uses that in her stories. This story is about Lucy Campion who is the 17th-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate. I won’t lie a little bit of me thought of Downton Abbey when I read the this so it also prompted me to give it a try. It says the book is a historical fiction mystery with romance. I would say if you enjoy historical romance this one only had a touch of romance. A bit of a slow burn romance and very G-rated. The beginning of the story gives you a sense of Lucy and the people she works for as well as the people she works with to maintain the house. Not too far in the book, the murder takes place and so begins the mystery to figure out what happened.

The author does a good job of giving a sense of what was going on during this time period in England in terms of social relations, social stations, and the political atmosphere. Religious fears at the time were also included in this book, particularly of the Quakers. The story also gives you a real sense of what it was like during the period of the plague in London. So while you’re experiencing the main story, she created an environment that allowed you to see what people did during that time and how people reacted and responded to the plague. I was curious about both irrational and rational responses to the fears of becoming sick and dying during a plague. This is where I find historical fiction’s lovely because it gives you an opportunity to learn a bit about different time periods and often inspires further research.

I think the author did a good job of the character development in the story I really was rooting for Lucy and I was very curious about the members of the household. Lucy was a strong heroine and sometimes got herself into situations that were definitely moments of nail-biting to read. I would find myself saying, “Oh no. No no no no.”

Being that this was Susanna Calkin’s debut novel might explain why I felt in the middle of the book the pacing really slowed down a bit much. Not to the point of discouragement but it picked up and the last I would say 100 pages the pacing picked up and I could not put the book down. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. I also looking to the evolution of this author’s writing. I am glad I bought a few books in the series. I would definitely recommend this book for the reasons mentioned and if you enjoy historical fiction. I would give it 3 1/2 butterflies.

Happy reading!!

Belinda

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