Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

In her debut novel, Miracle Creek, Angie Kim tells a story that is complex and layered, the way life tends to be. The story; a fire in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) chamber, which is owned by a Korean immigrant family in a mostly White area, kills two people. We enter the book on day one of the trial, and we’re tasked with sorting through the stories and emotions to figure out who set the fire, and why.

Angie Kim was once a trial lawyer and it shows. The best scenes in this book are the ones in the courtroom. They move with dexterity and never feel slow and clunky, in fact, I wanted more trial scenes, and I wanted them to last longer. When Kim was interviewed on The Short Stacks, she mentioned how when writing these scenes she felt an ease of writing that she didn’t always feel in other sections. I think that can be felt in the reading of the exchanges in the courtroom.

When it comes to power dynamics Kim does a fantastic job of keeping the reader in a suspended state, constantly trying to figure out who is on top. This is played out through race, gender, language, education levels, age, and so much more. It is really impressive and subtle. Kim manipulates (in a good way) scenes from different perspectives to give situations that seemed black and white, depth, and areas of grey.

Another element of this story that is powerful is the guilt and anxiety that many of the parents feel. So much of this book centers around children with disabilities (mostly Autism) and the parent’s own fears and hopes become paramount to the story. When we are asked to hear out these mothers as human, and not just chauffeurs to and from HBOT therapy, we see a full and nuanced picture of the challenges of parenthood, especially when that parenting comes with the fear of your child being left behind. There is a lot of vulnerability that we rarely see or discuss when it comes to parenting for fear of judgement. One scene in particular is a standout when it comes to the things parents think, but never say.

There is another side of this conversation where I think Miracle Creek misses the mark. In addition to the parental anxiety, there is the sense that the only way to release that anxiety is to “fix” the child. While thats a common way people think about disability, it isn’t based in reality. Most people who are disabled and/or who have developmental challenges are fully who they are. There is no fixing, no matter how badly a parent may want their child to be seen as “normal”. The idea that a child is exactly who they are and that that is ok, is barely present in this story. The only time this perspective is shared is by the mostly two dimensional protestors, that are portrayed as the villains of this story (not a spoiler). In a story with so many points of view (the chapters are broken up by changing narrators), it would have been easy to include a voice that contradicts or challenges the parents whose children are in HBOT and other therapies.

This book takes on a lot of complex issues, and while I really enjoyed reading Miracle Creek, there were places where I wished Kim had dug deeper or found more nuanced ways to discuss topics that are very layered and not so easy to discuss.

We read Miracle Creek for The Stacks Book Club and you can hear that conversation by clicking the link below.

Ep.68 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim — The Stacks Book Club (Rachel Overvoll)

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Hardcover: 368
  • PublisherSarah Crichton Books (April 16, 2019)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Jesus’ Son Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — August 2019 Books

August is just around the corner, which means its time to share out picks for The Stacks Book Club for August. We’ve got two very different (and very good) nonfiction stories for you!

Our first book, for the August 14th, is The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. In her memoir, Alexander shares what it is like to have loved and lost after the sudden death of her husband. She uses her skills as a poet to tell this beautiful story of love, family, community, grief, and a life well lived. This memoir was touted as Michelle Obama’s favorite book of 2015 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Then on August 28th, we’re reading The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington. This book might not scream “beach read” but trust us, this book is hard to put down. This true crime story explains how two men in Mississippi could be imprisoned for over 30 years for a crimes they didn’t commit and how the forensic experts who helped convict them have a long history of exploiting the death investigation industry and the racist history of The United States. Hold on, this one is a wild ride.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington (Amazon | IndieBound)

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

A collection of short stories about drifters, drug addicts and life on the margins. Jesus’ Son is both about the falling down and the getting back up of life. Before we recognized the opioid crisis as a crisis and before we sympathized with addicts, Jesus’ Son gave a human perspective to those that suffer from addiction. The book feels ahead of its time in this way.

I really didn’t care about the characters in this book. The stories were fine and interesting, but overall, I wasn’t interested in what happened to them. Part of it is that this book feels overwhelmingly White and male. The point of view, the insights, and the issues all felt like shock and awe for White people, but missed the fact that many Black and Brown people are constantly living at the margins without as much sympathy, let alone books devoted to the quirk of their day to day lives.

I couldn’t help but see Johnson’s ability to tell this story as a part of his own privilege. He gets to tell the stories of this specific group of users, instead of having to be responsible for all people who have ever been addicted. It is a great thing for an artist to be able to do, though I wonder if a Black author’s work would have been granted that kind of singularity.

Jesus’ Son is a well crafted collection, sparse in words but big in feeling. Johnson is a fantastic writer with a unique style. He creates short sentences that pack a huge punch. While there were moments of great emotional resonance, this book wasn’t for me, in the end, I just didn’t care about the people in the stories.

I know many people consider this book to be a modern classic, and one of the greatest books of the last few decades. I am not one of those people. Author Dave Cullen (Columbine, Parkland) however is, and you can hear us discuss this book on the podcast:

Ep.66 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson — The Stacks Book Club (Dave Cullen)

If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, share them in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 133
  • PublisherPicador; First edition (February 17, 2009)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Jesus’ Son Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

In her memoir about living with her colon cancer diagnosis and coming to terms with her pending death, Julie Yip-Williams opens herself up to her reader to share her rage, fears, jealousy, and grace. She writes this book with a sense of humor and a commitment to honesty in all its many complexities.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is approachable and human. Yip-Williams presents the many parts of her life, both before cancer as a child in Vietnam and her final months as a mother of two dying from colon cancer, as though she is just reflecting in a journal. She is candid and vulnerable, it is almost as if she forgets there reader is there.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, which comes a bit of a shock to me, because I thought for sure in a memoir about coping with your pending death I would feel the need to cry. I didn’t. I felt bonded to Julie, and of course her story is sad and unfair and painful, but she takes her reader on a journey, where we too feel as though we can accept this terrible diagnosis. That our friend Julie is getting to die in a way that she is okay with. That we too can live our lives with a little more grace. And that we too can get big mad when it comes to slutty-second wives and birthday parties we’ll never get to attend.

While I found Yip-Williams life to be fascinating. I did not connect with her story as much pre-cancer. Perhaps because I knew where it was going, I didn’t really feel like I needed to take much stock in where she had been. For me, that wasn’t the interesting stuff. I was much more compelled with her navigating her own death. I was enthralled with her love for her children. I was moved by her honesty about the challenges that this type of diagnosis can add to a marriage. These sections are what will stick with me most when I think back on The Unwinding of the Miracle.

What is special about what Yip-Willaims has done, is that she asks her reader to reflect on their own lives, their own hopes and fears, without ever once actually asking the reader to do so. She presents her life and hopes that in learning more about her, we will take the time to get to know ourselves more intimately. Especially, while we still have time to live the lives we want, and be the person we’d always hoped we’d be. She leaves her readers with that gift, even in her death.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for a much more in depth reflection on this book, hear our conversation of The Unwinding of the Miracle as part of The Stacks Book Club with author Lori Gottlieb.

Ep.64 The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams — The Stacks Book Club (Lori Gottlieb)

  • Hardcover: 336
  • PublisherRandom House (February 5, 2019)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The Unwinding of the Miracle Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — July 2019 Books

The time has come to announce our July books for The Stacks Book Club. This month there are three books, lucky you, and they are all very different from one another.

First up, on July 3rd, we’re reading a backlist short story collection called Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. The stories in this book, which came out in 1992, follow addicts, hustlers, and lost souls as they navigate life and death, rock bottom and redemption.

Then on July 17th, as voted by our Stacks Pack, we’ll be reading Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This novel is a contemporary version of the tried and true courtroom drama. It has added elements of the obligations of parenthood and the stigma of being an outsider. It is both a page turner and an in depth look at humanity.

Lastly, on July 31st we’re talking about turning dreams into careers with WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson. In this book, Johnson, the founder of Create and Cultivate, offers a rallying cry for a new generation of women who are looking to redefine working on their own terms.

As always, we want to hear from you, so please reach out with your thoughts, questions, and things you want to hear discussed on the podcast. You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:


To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler

In 1973 there was an arson fire in a New Orleans gay bar called The Up Stairs Lounge that left 32 people dead. It was the largest mass killing of gay people in history until the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. In Tinderox, Robert W. Fieseler tells the story of The Up Stairs Lounge fire, the people who were killed, the main suspect, the media’s response, the city officials’ incompetence, and how this event was part of the broader Gay Liberation Movement.

There are about ten pages of writing in this book where Fieseler takes us moment by moment through the fire itself. He recreates the scene and the terror and he is relentless in presenting every detail. These ten pages, are some of the greatest ten pages I have ever read. They took my breath away. This book has other moments that are engaging and exciting, but there is nothing like the ten pages in which we relive this fire.

This is a strong book and well researched book. The scope of what Fiesler has created in Tinderbox is powerful and a true indictment on society and how we treat those who are different from us. Fieseler draws parallels between the Gay Liberation Movement and current events in The United States and past movements that led to other groups of people reclaiming their civil rights. While some of the connections Fiesler made were spot on, other times I felt like her was reaching for parallels that weren’t always so obvious.

We covered this book on The Stacks, and for a more in depth conversation on Tinderbox, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with Joseph Papa where we dive deeper into what we thought worked, and didn’t work so well in this book.

  • Hardcover: 384
  • PublisherLiveright; 1st edition (June 5, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Tinderbox Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is perhaps the most critically acclaimed book written by one of the most prolific and celebrated authors. It is the story of a woman, Sethe, who escaped slavery, only to be haunted by her past life both on and off the plantation. The book is parts historical fiction and part surreal ghost story. The book has been turned into a film, won a Pulitzer Prize, and continues to be assigned in schools across the country. When we talk about the “great American novel” Beloved makes the list.

There is something funny that happens to books when they’re proceeded with superlatives, they become untouchable and intimidating. A fear creeps in, that the reader won’t understand or appreciate the book, and often that can start long before the reader ever starts reading. That was the case for me when I picked up Beloved for the first time as part of The Stacks Book Club. I was so nervous and intimidated by the book and what I might think of it. Would I “get” it? Would I like it? Would I be moved as so many others had been?

The truth is, my answer was mostly, no. I didn’t really “get” it, I didn’t really like it, and while I was moved by specific scenes and passages, I wasn’t over come by this book. And the more I think about that, the more I think thats allowed.

As I read Beloved I appreciated the skill and mastery of Ms. Morrison. I was impressed by her ability to create layer after layer of meaning in her story. Her ability to write nuance is unmatched in my reading, she understanding of how pain manifests itself in people is art in itself. I read Beloved and understood what makes both Ms. Morrison and the book so great, though I personally was never personally overcome. What I’m learning, especially when it comes to great work, is that both things can be true and live together. There are both technical and emotional components to any good piece of art, and you can appreciate one even if the other doesn’t resonate. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Of all the themes in Beloved, the idea of generational trauma, is what spoke to me most. Morrison connects the years of suffering under chattel slavery to the everyday manifestations of trauma on her characters. She creates characters that are complete with confidence and crazy, which is so very human. Your heart aches for the women in this story, their fear, pain, and rage is deserved, and Morrison never lets you forget that. Weather she is recounting events from years ago or writing dialogue, the trauma in this story is never far from view. It haunts the world of the book.

The book moves between points of view and events without much set up, the years skip around, and sometimes its hard to know exactly where you are in the story. This was challenging for me to connect with, though on a second or third reading, I think this complexity would add so much to my enjoyment of the book. Like in a good scary movie or thriller, Morrison is leaving us Easter eggs to pick up on, only when we’re revisit her novel.

There is a lot to unpack and look into when talking about Beloved it is not an easy read, and the subject matter is not comfortable. This book requires a commitment of the reader. The expectation of greatness from her reader is partly what makes her books so good. Toni Morrison demands you bring your full self to her work, and that you take your time, and if you do, you might just be rewarded with a story that will stay with you for life. This book is worth you time. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but if you read it with an open mind, I think there is much to appreciate about this story.

For a more in depth conversation on Beloved, check out The Stacks Book Club episode with DaMaris B. Hill where we discuss the themes, characters, and social implications of this story.

  • Paperack: 275
  • PublisherPlume (October 1 , 1998)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Beloved Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 60 Beloved by Toni Morrison — The Stacks Book Club (DaMaris B. Hill)

Beloved is a classic American novel by one of the greatest novelists of our time, Toni Morrison. It is also The Stacks Book Club pick this week, and we are lucky to have author and scholar DaMaris B. Hill (A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing) to help us break it down. We talk about the legacy of slavery on Black Americans, how to discuss great works that we don’t personally enjoy, intimacy as it relates to insanity, and Pulitzer Prize controversy.

There are spoilers on this week’s episode.

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Stacks Book Club — June 2019 Books

Its time! Our June book announcement. This month we’ve selected two nonfiction books, one, the rediscovering a long forgotten fire, the other a memoir about facing death.

In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride month, we’re reading Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler, on June 5th. This book chronicles an arson fire in a gay bar, The Upstairs Lounge, in June 1973 in New Orleans. This fire took the lives of 32 people and then was largely forgotten. Tinderbox examines this painful moment in history; the fire, the victims, the police response, and the social and political attitudes of the time.

On June 19th we’re reading The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams. Born blind in Vietnam, Julie Yip-William and her family flee to America, where she has surgery that gives her back partial sight. As the years progress Yip-Williams becomes a lawyer, a wife, and a mother. Then at 37, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is her reckoning. It explores life through the prism of death.

As with all our TSBC books, we want to hear from you, so if you’ve got thoughts or questions send them our way, they might even get featured on the show! You can email us at thestackswithtraci@gmail.com, comment on this post, or reach out to us through our Instagram @thestackspod.

Order your copies of our June books on Amazon or IndieBound:

  • Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (Amazon | IndieBound)
  • The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams (Amazon | IndieBound)

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozke Shange

Wild Beauty is a compilation of poetry from one of America’s most iconic poets, Ntozake Shange. These poems span decades of her work, from her first choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf through to previously unpublished poems that deal with modern events like The Pulse Nightclub Shooting. Shange’s themes of beauty, home, pain, empowerment, joy, and the African Diaspora are all present throughout the book.

Wild Beauty is one of my first attempts at reading a collection of poetry, and I’m glad that I was able to read this book in conjunction with The Stacks Book Club with author, poet and performance artist, Gabrielle Civil. We talk about the anxieties around reading poetry and what makes a poem “good” and what it means to “get it”. All of which I found truly helpful in my own journey into reading poetry.

My biggest take away from our conversation and this book, is that I like poems that are referential to events and people. I like to know the context of the poem. I respond to poems that tell stories and engage with history and the world as I have seen it. Those poems exist in this book, poems like “Crack Annie”, “Dressing Our Wounds in Warm Clothes”, and “Ode to Orlando” all stuck with me because I was able to find common experience and understanding with Shange.

I didn’t like every poem in this book. Many were hard to get through or engage with. Sometimes that was because the phonetic spelling Shange uses through out her work, was distracting at times, though at other times it was powerful. (I should also note each poem in this collection was translated into Spanish as well). Sometimes I couldn’t figure out where Shange was coming from. I’ve learned, that that is totally ok. I’ve learned that just because a poem doesn’t work for me in the moment doesn’t mean it won’t work for me in a year. I also learned, that just because I don’t like a poem doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me or the poem. We’re just in two different places.

I don’t know that I can recommend any book of poetry to anyone. It seems to me to be very personal. Though, I do know I recommend you check out my conversation with Gabrielle, as it is useful to anyone who loves poetry, or anyone who is hoping to add poetry to their reading life.

Hear Gabrielle Civil on The Stacks and then hear Gabrielle discussing poetry and Wild Beauty for The Stacks Book Club

  • Hardcover: 288
  • Publisher37 Ink; Bilingual edition (November 14, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Wild Beauty Amazon or IndieBound

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.