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The Ghetto Blues

The Ghetto Blues by [Brooks, Tammy Campbell ]

The Ghetto Blues by Tammy Campbell Brooks unexpectedly won my heart. The book’s full title is The Ghetto Blues – An Autobiography of Tammy Campbell Brooks’ Trepidation, Tragedy, and Triumph, and it follows the life of Tammy from childhood through adulthood. In the opening pages of the prologue, Tammy’s daughter writes, “In this book, you will go through different stages of emotions from tears, laughter, happiness, and joy of growing up in poverty and impoverished environments, but not letting the circumstances define you.” As I began the book, I was skeptical that I would experience all these emotions, but as I concluded the final chapter, “Bells Will Be Ringing,” I found that Tammy’s daughter had been entirely right all along.

Typically, authors are referred to by their last names in reviews, but after reading Tammy’s story, I feel it only right to call her by her first name. Tammy’s story was incredibly challenging for me to read at the beginning because it is so disparate from my own experience in suburban America. Growing up in the projects of San Antonio, Tammy had an upbringing that is almost unbelievable for most readers – gunshots, emotional and physical abuse, poverty, extreme hunger – but she avoids writing about her experiences in such a way as to say, oh woe is me! Completely the opposite, Tammy describes herself as driven and dedicated. Even though she experiences setbacks and succumbs to vices that will have readers wanting to call her up and say, what were you thinking?!, she does not let her weaknesses or mistakes define her, and she is always striving for the best out of herself.

Tammy’s autobiography is written in an almost spoken format, and not at all how Strunk & White might have preferred. While the typos and grammatical errors irritated me at the beginning on the book, I came to realize that if it had been written like Faulkner, for example, it would not have truly been Tammy’s autobiography. Her story is edgy and uncomfortable, and sometimes painful to read. It is the opposite of polished, but it is honest and eye-opening. That said, the book would have benefitted from some additional editing to correct some of the simple spelling errors and word usage errors. Those glaring errors are the only reason I would give the story four stars instead of five, because Tammy’s story is undeniably a full five stars.

Describing Tammy to someone who hasn’t read her autobiography feels almost as if she must be fictional: how could one woman overcome all those challenges thrown at her? Not only is Tammy an inspiration, but she was also eye-opening to me. I knew nothing of the ghetto lifestyle in the projects that she describes, and her story reiterates the age-old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” At the conclusion of her autobiography, my overwhelming emotion was one of thinking that Tammy’s story would be amazing to share through radio or podcast. The courage and strength that it took Tammy to share her and her family’s story with readers should not be underestimated, and I hope that many readers have the opportunity to learn from her experiences.

Pages: 257 | ASIN: B07BFKCQZ9

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The Husband Who Refused to Die

The Husband Who Refused to Die4 Stars

There is no road map for how to properly deal with becoming a widow, but what if you can’t even be sure you really are? Thanks to cryonics, this is now a real question to consider. Carrie’s husband Dan is decidedly dead, gone from an apparent heart attack, but can she really be called a widow? Can she grieve like one? She laughed when he first mentioned it, but now Dan has left her in emotional limbo, having opted to have his body frozen while his life is “suspended”. The plan is to come back one day, after science figures out the other end of the process. His wife was to join him, but Carrie has other plans. As Dan’s body is packed up and shipped off to some distant future Carrie will never be a part of, she is left to pick up the pieces with her daughter Eleanor and face life as a grieving non-widow. Two years later, old, painful and mysterious flames are rekindled, but just what secrets they shed light on remains to be seen.

There are many themes to unpack in The Husband Who Refused to Die. The ethics of “playing God”, rich vs poor, the effect of death on a family, and the difficulty of moving on in grief are all touched on to varying degrees in this work. Carrie makes a valiant effort, but are there too many forces at work against her?

While Carrie tries to figure out how to grieve for a husband who is not really dead, their daughter Eleanor must navigate the same sorrow, but for a father who is also not dead but is still gone forever. She also has the added hardship of being a teenage girl who was already having a rough time, and her classmates who are happy to make it worse. Eleanor wishes she’d never heard the word “cryonics”.

Sunny, Carrie’s aptly-named sister-in-law, is an outwardly positive reflexologist with a stone, potion, or remedy always at the ready. This is a result of the crunchy-hippy life Sunny and Dan’s parents raised them in, which Sunny never grew out of. Sunny is there to support Carrie, but lately their interactions seem to be less about helping Carrie to grieve and more about pressuring her to abide by Dan’s wishes.

Two years later, Carrie has learned to get through her days, and is trying to be a good mother to troubled Eleanor. Carrie has rekindled an old flame, but even this brings more questions, mostly about the shroud of mystery surrounding the end of their previous relationship. I felt this came to a somewhat unsatisfying resolution, as Ashley was let off the hook a bit too easily.

Eventually, the circumstances around Dan’s decision to be frozen become a source of public controversy, and of course he is not here to face it. Now Carrie is left to answer for the alleged actions against her husband, regarding something she never wanted him to do, and has been a giant source of pain for her and her family. As questions about the selfishness and ethics of donating money to be cryogenically frozen begin to arise, the press begins to close in. Angry letters give way to hate mail, which eventually turn to threatening calls, and eventually Carrie finds herself in real danger. Worst of all, could the things they are saying about her husband true?

Darby has offered a humorous and unique new take on the age-old story of loss, grievance, and perseverance. Although some parts did drag on a bit longer than necessary without adding much payoff, for the most part the story moved along nicely. Anytime it started feeling at all predictable, interesting new conflicts would arise, deepening my sympathy for Carrie. This was a fun read which raised lots of questions that would be difficult to answer if I were put in the position to do so. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Pages: 320 | ASIN: B01N1KK7JI

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Hegira

Hegira (The Brin Archives #1)4 StarsA mutiny on the spaceship Hegira kills everyone on board. The ship is not discovered until thousands of years into the future, when it is found to be carrying all of the remaining DNA samples of the Brin, an extinct race of birdlike humanoids. Using advanced technology, two DNA samples are used to clone two of the Brin. The clones, Karm and Maripa, are sent back in time to save their race, before their planet explodes when its sun becomes a supernova. Karm gathers the greatest Brinian minds, to prepare a new life on a distant planet, but he must stay one step ahead of the ruling family consisting of a power hungry monarch and his brother, the leader of a fundamentalist religion, as science goes head to head with both religion and big government in this fast paced Sci Fi adventure.

Since Galileo, religious fundamentalists have asserted their violent opposition to ground breaking scientific discoveries, and time and again, history has shown their efforts to be naive. In Hegira, a new science fiction novel by Jim Cronin, a fundamentalist religious sect known as The Faith attempts to stop the work of the good guys, who are doing dynamic cloning research, which happens to be the only hope to save the entire race. Cronin sets all of this up rather quickly, while relying heavily on familiar time travel tropes, i.e. using knowledge of the future to make a fortune as an investor while not doing anything to alter future events. The pacing improves once the protagonist Karm establishes himself on his home planet Dyan’ta and gets to work on his mission: to save the entire race.

The strength of the book lies in the critique of the meddling of governments/militaries, and religion, with science. Hegira’s subtitle could have been: The Ethics of Cloning and the Religious Dimwits Who Think Their Opinion Matters. The bad guys in Hegira are a pair of power-hungry and conniving brothers. Brach, the king, kills their oldest brother to become the monarch, and Lerit, whose treachery leads to his position as the Archbishop of The Faith, team up to oppose Karm and his cloning research. In a way all too reminiscent of the way the church and right wing politicians have combined their forces to keep stem cell research, and other recent revelatory developments in genetics at bay, Hegira’s plot builds around what appears to be Cronin’s thesis: scientists should be left alone to do their good work.

Karm represents the future, both literally and figuratively, and his name being one letter short of karma does not seem to be a mistake. Such is an example of one of the more enjoyable quirks of the text: Cronin’s naming of things. He imagines alien animals like “thick furred pretzels,” and then hilariously, he creates great curse words, “I’ve got to get the strix out of here!” and my favorite: “Holy mutes!”

While Fans of more literary science fiction might be less than impressed with all of the tells in the dialogue, Hegira is fast paced and fun enough that such common errors of paperback fiction should not be judged too harshly. Written by a former middle school science teacher, Hegira contains plenty of cool science including cryogenics, cloning, and string theory-inspired time travel, to keep its Sci Fi readers interested. And it even manages a sweet love story.

With a little bit of everything, Hegira is a quick and fun read for fans of science fiction.

Pages: 292 | ASIN: B010E3EKC6

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