Book Review: The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman

Author: Chil Rajchman
Series: None
Age Category:
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publish Date: February 15, 2011
Print Length: 160

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Book Review: Jane Against the World by Karen Blumenthal

Author: Karen Blumenthal
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publish Date: February 25, 2020
Print Length: 400

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Book Review: Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin

Author: Talia Lavin
Publisher: Legacy Lit
Publish Date: October 13, 2020
Print Length: 288

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Official Synopsis

One reporter takes an immersive dive into white supremacy’s explosive online presence, exploring the undercurrents of propaganda, racism, misogyny, and history that led us to where we are now.

Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers.

Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online. Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more. By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within.

Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.

My Review

How do I even review a book like Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy? Though it’s not a long book, it certainly covers a topic deserving of many analytical volumes of text. I’m not easily triggered, but even I found this book unsettling. I must admit, after reading it I’m wary of even of posting my bumbling review for fear of attracting unwanted attention.

As the full title suggests outright, the topic covered is white supremacy on the dark web. The author, Talia Lavin, adopted various identities to infiltrate these hate groups and learn more about what drives these people into the arms of misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, and violence. To be frank, I expected more firsthand accounts of Lavin’s interactions with those she messaged on the dark web; at least, that’s what the full title suggested to me. I personally absorb more information when presented with examples. To be fair, Lavin does incorporate some exchanges, but most interactions are summarized allegorically and then analyzed in a scholarly way. Though the writing is superb and expressive, it’s also very high level and somewhat dense. I feel that makes this book overall less approachable to the layperson.

However, after reading Culture Warlords, would I want more primary examples of Lavin’s interactions? I’m not so sure. The summaries of recent news events, many of which flew under my radar but were a big deal on the dark web, made my lip curl in disgust and dismay. I just cannot fathom hating a group of people, namely Jews, so much that one desires their eradication.

I absolutely am not going to pretend I remember everything I read in this book. It explores and analyzes a lot of various topics under the umbrella of white supremacy. Some discussions stuck with me, though. For example, I don’t think I can look at the revival of Norse mythology in our culture, or anything related to the Crusades, through the same lens again. I was totally oblivious to the fact that these time periods/religion are romanticized as the origin story of Whiteness (religion, culture, fervor), to paraphrase broadly. That doesn’t mean every new Viking-related pop culture piece is tainted, but it’s something I’ll now keep in the back of my mind.

Because I don’t want to misrepresent Lavin’s excellent journalism, I’ll keep this review short. But this is a great book with which to engage to learn more about this topic. It is naturally evocative, but so is the nature of hate. The whole time I read this I couldn’t stop thinking about how awful Lavin must have felt working on this piece; she does, in fact, mention this in the Afterword. Fair warning that you need to be in a decent head space to read this.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: discussions about white supremacy, misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, gun violence
Reading format: Library hardback

Black History Month: Recommended and TBR Books

If you live in the United States, then you’re probably aware that February is Black history month. For anyone who might not know, Black history month is a “tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society” (source). You can read more about it on the website for Black history month.

To participate in this tribute, I thought I’d first share five books by Black authors that I’ve enjoyed and/or learned from. I read most of these before I started my book blog, so I don’t have official reviews to share for all of them. But trust that I truly did enjoy them. The second half of this post follows with five books by Black authors that are on my TBR.

This also proved to be a good exercise for me because it made me realize I need to up my reading game with Black authors. I seem to have read a good amount of AAPI authors and Asian authors who aren’t American, but am embarrassingly low on Black authors’ books I’ve finished. Just being honest!

If you’re interested in any of the books below, consider purchasing them from a Black-owned bookstore, if it’s within your means. In Washington, D.C., which is a 45-minute drive away from me (on a good day), here are some Black-owned bookstores to order from: MahoganyBooks, Sankofa Video Books & Cafe, Loyalty Bookstore, and Solid State Books. I believe Harambee Books & Artworks, which is outside of D.C. in Northern Virginia, is also Black-owned, but it’s not explicitly stated on their website. (Yes, those of us who live in Northern Virginia often refer to it this way because it’s economically and politically different, and more populous, than the rest of the state.)

Please feel free to share in the comments books by Black authors that you recommend.

5 Books by Black Authors I’ve Read & Recommend

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen
See my review here.
A way to survive.
A way to serve.
A way to save.

Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata—a mermaid—collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi goes against an ancient decree and does the unthinkable—she saves his life. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy the gods.

To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail . . .

Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she fails, she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

Becoming by Michelle Obama
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
 
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

5 Books by Black Authors on my TBR

Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry, and the helpless — people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

Tade Thompson’s innovative, genre-bending, Afrofuturist series, the Wormwood Trilogy, is perfect for fans of Jeff Vandermeer, N. K. Jemisin, and Ann Leckie.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

The start of a bold and immersive fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther.

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye
In bookstores on March 8, 2022.
This is what they deserve.
They wanted me to be a monster.
I will be the worst monster they ever created.

Fifteen-year-old Sloane can incinerate an enemy at will—she is a Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods.

Under the Lucis’ brutal rule, her identity means her death if her powers are discovered. But when she is forcibly conscripted into the Lucis army on her fifteenth birthday, Sloane sees a new opportunity: to overcome the bloody challenges of Lucis training, and destroy them from within.

Following one girl’s journey of magic, injustice, power, and revenge, Deborah Falaye’s debut novel, inspired by Yoruba-Nigerian mythology, is a magnetic combination of Children of Blood and Bone and An Ember in the Ashes.

The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein
In The Disordered Cosmos, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein shares her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter — all with a new spin informed by history, politics, and the wisdom of Star Trek. One of the leading physicists of her generation, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is also one of fewer than one hundred Black American women to earn a PhD from a department of physics. Her vision of the cosmos is vibrant, buoyantly non-traditional, and grounded in Black feminist traditions. Prescod-Weinstein urges us to recognize how science, like most fields, is rife with racism, sexism, and other dehumanizing systems. She lays out a bold new approach to science and society that begins with the belief that we all have a fundamental right to know and love the night sky. The Disordered Cosmos dreams into existence a world that allows everyone to experience and understand the wonders of the universe.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
 
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.

Top 6 Reads of 2021

I wish I had the time to read oodles and oodles of books, but alas, I do not. Between my reality of a full-time job; a house hunt, move, unpack; the usual daily activities, like cooking and cleaning; and making time to stay physically healthy, some days it’s tough to find time to read. And I’m not even counting the time it takes to write reviews and format them for blogging.

That said, I’m proud that I managed to read 48 books in 2021. I set my goal to be greater than that of 2020 and I succeeded. I’ll give myself a nice pat on the back for that achievement. And so, in no particular order, here are my top six reads of 2021. If you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, let me know! Otherwise, I hope this inspires someone to pick up a “new to you” book to read in 2022.

Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
The Lady of Shalott reclaims her story in this bold feminist reimagining of the Arthurian myth from the New York Times bestselling author of Ash Princess.

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change destiny–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
The seductive and stunning #1 New York Times bestselling sequel to Sarah J. Maas’s spellbinding A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Feyre has undergone more trials than one human woman can carry in her heart. Though she’s now been granted the powers and lifespan of the High Fae, she is haunted by her time Under the Mountain and the terrible deeds she performed to save the lives of Tamlin and his people.

As her marriage to Tamlin approaches, Feyre’s hollowness and nightmares consume her. She finds herself split into two different people: one who upholds her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court, and one who lives out her life in the Spring Court with Tamlin. While Feyre navigates a dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms. She might just be the key to stopping it, but only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future-and the future of a world in turmoil.

Bestselling author Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her dazzling, sexy, action-packed series to new heights.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark, sweeping debut fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose—to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood—and her world—whole.

Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
This time, Ebola started with a two-year-old child who likely had contact with a wild creature and whose entire family quickly fell ill and died. The ensuing global drama activated health professionals in North America, Europe, and Africa in a desperate race against time to contain the viral wildfire. By the end—as the virus mutated into its deadliest form, and spread farther and faster than ever before—30,000 people would be infected, and the dead would be spread across eight countries on three continents.

In this taut and suspenseful medical drama, Richard Preston deeply chronicles the pandemic, in which we saw for the first time the specter of Ebola jumping continents, crossing the Atlantic, and infecting people in America. Rich in characters and conflict—physical, emotional, and ethical—Crisis in the Red Zone is an immersion in one of the great public health calamities of our time.

Preston writes of doctors and nurses in the field putting their own lives on the line, of government bureaucrats and NGO administrators moving, often fitfully, to try to contain the outbreak, and of pharmaceutical companies racing to develop drugs to combat the virus. He also explores the charged ethical dilemma over who should and did receive the rare doses of an experimental treatment when they became available at the peak of the disaster.

Crisis in the Red Zone makes clear that the outbreak of 2013–2014 is a harbinger of further, more severe outbreaks, and of emerging viruses heretofore unimagined—in any country, on any continent. In our ever more interconnected world, with roads and towns cut deep into the jungles of equatorial Africa, viruses both familiar and undiscovered are being unleashed into more densely populated areas than ever before.  

The more we discover about the virosphere, the more we realize its deadly potential. Crisis in the Red Zone is an exquisitely timely book, a stark warning of viral outbreaks to come.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Persist by Elizabeth Warren
Read my book review here.

Official synopsis:
The inspiring, influential senator and bestselling author mixes vivid personal stories with a passionate plea for political transformation.

Elizabeth Warren is a beacon for everyone who believes that real change can improve the lives of all Americans. Committed, fearless, and famously persistent, she brings her best game to every battle she wages.

In Persist, Warren writes about six perspectives that have influenced her life and advocacy. She’s a mother who learned from wrenching personal experience why child care is so essential. She’s a teacher who has known since grade school the value of a good and affordable education. She’s a planner who understands that every complex problem requires a comprehensive response. She’s a fighter who discovered the hard way that nobody gives up power willingly. She’s a learner who thinks, listens, and works to fight racism in America. And she’s a woman who has proven over and over that women are just as capable as men.

Candid and compelling, Persist is both a deeply personal book and a powerful call to action. Elizabeth Warren—one of our nation’s most visionary leaders—will inspire everyone to believe that if we’re willing to fight for it, profound change is well within our reach.