King John by William Shakespeare

One of the things I’m learning with my journey through all of William Shakespeare’s plays is that, most of his plays that are obscure, are obscure for a reason, they aren’t that good. That is certainly the case with King John.

As with many of the other history plays, King John mostly revolves around the throne and who has the rightful claim to the power that it holds. There are really only so many ways you can tell that story, and in King John it is done in a way that feels remedial and lacks creativity and excitement. Plus, the full title of the play gives away the ending, which isn’t so bad, but in this case it feels like a trek to get there, and it fizzles out when you do.

There were two characters that stood out to me in my reading, and I imagine they would be even more engaging on the stage. One is Constance, a mother, whose young son has a claim to the throne but is unable to seize power. The other is The Bastard who speaks truth to power and is sort an unhinged kind of person. The problem is these parts can’t carry the show and aren’t on stage enough to really make the narrative compelling.

If you’re planning on reading one of Shakespeare’s history plays I would suggest Richard II or Richard III long before King John. There just isn’t much to latch on to in this story of shifting allegiances and male ego.

Next month for #ShakeTheStacks Challenge, I’ll be reading The Merchant of Venice

  • Paperback: 118 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (August 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy King John 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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The Stacks received A Woman is No Man from the publisher. For more information click here

In her debut novel, A Woman is No Man, Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian women who are struggling to be their own person and still be deemed respectable in their culture. The book tackles issues like abuse, gender roles, obedience, and freedom. We watch as the characters grapple with their place in life and the future they see for themselves.

What worked for me in this book was the ambition that Rum displays in taking on this story. She is not afraid to show her audience the bleak reality that so many women who deal with domestic violence confront daily. She shows how the abuse of women is systemic inside a family and how cultural expectation can exasperate that. A Woman is No Man is not representative of all women of Palestinian descent, just as no story about a White man is true for all men who identify as White (something I feel compelled to say, and yet at the same time annoyed for feeling like that isn’t self evident). Rum has created a version of the world that is true based on her experiences and her imagination.

A Woman is No Man has the makings of something powerful, though the execution fell flat for me. I wasn’t moved by the characters. They all blended together. Their pain was collective, and thus they functioned as a chorus instead of three distinct protagonists. Of all the female leads, Fareeda was the most complex and in turn the most interesting to read about. Overall, the men and women in the story felt more like vessels to make a point rather than fully developed humans. While I loved the structure (multiple points of view through generations) I found that the plot was lacking, which led to repetitive dialogue throughout. The ending came as no surprise to me, though the book seemed to be headed toward a big reveal.

Simply put, this book wasn’t for me. I appreciate the story that Rum is telling, even if I didn’t like the execution. I wished for more complexity and depth. A Woman is No Man felt safe, even though it was telling the story of immense pain and inner conflict. It is worth noting, while I didn’t love this book, it has had much success including making it on the New York Times Best Seller list, and being chosen by Jenna Bush Hager for the her book club on The Today Show.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you’re looking for more about A Woman is No Man check out Etaf Rum on The Short Stacks.

The Short Stacks 14: Etaf Rum//A Woman is No Man

  • Hardcover: 352
  • PublisherHarper (March 5, 2019)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy A Woman is No Man 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.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

A psychological thriller that is chockfull of suspense, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of book that leaves you with way more questions than answers. This is my attempt at an honest without any spoilers (which basically means I won’t be saying much at all), but if you want my more detailed thoughts, check out our discussion of I’m Thinking of Ending Things on The Stacks Book Club with our guest, Niccole Thurman (Please take note, there are a ton of spoilers on this episode).

I did not care for this book. I didn’t care about the plot or the characters, especially the female lead. I felt that she was lackluster and a clear example of what can go wrong when a man writes from the female perspective. She was two dimensional and constantly deferring to her boyfriend, Jake. The same was true for the plot. It lacked any excitement beyond a general sense of suspense. Sure, I was worried about what would happen next, but honestly, I didn’t really care what happened, I just wanted something to happen.

Without giving away anything, the ending was a let down and I felt it came out of left field. The book ended and I was confused to what had actually happened. When I read or watch suspense, I like to understand what went down and what clues I missed. I like to go back and see where the author was taking me and how I could have solved it on my own. I like to understand the twists. In the case of I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I finished the book and couldn’t tell you how we got here. I would love to say more, but everything about this book is basically a spoiler.

I wouldn’t suggest this book to anyone. I will say, I have read a lot of reviews by a great number of people and publications that loved this book. Thriller is not my genre of choice, and perhaps my lack of exposure to the form left me grasping for straws by the end. If you want more on I’m Thinking of Ending Things, you can hear Niccole Thurman and I discuss this book in great detail, with all the spoilers, on The Stacks Episode 52.


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.

S.O.B.E.R. by Anita Baglaneas Devlin and Michael Devlin Jr.

The Stacks received this book in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

A co-authored memoir about addiction and recovery as told by mother and son, S.O.B.E.R. is one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve had. To hear the story of addiction from the standpoint of the person addicted and the family that is supporting and struggling along side him. The Devlin’s are honest and very straight forward in telling their story, and you can hear more of that story on The Short Stacks with Anita Devlin.

The writing in S.O.B.E.R. is simple and is mostly concerned with story telling, which feels 100% right for this personal memoir told by two non-writers. There are parts where they stray from the story to reference an event that is never picked back up, and there are moments that could use more intimacy and detail. The story is compelling, but the book would have benefited from an editor to guide the story in a more deliberate way.

If you or a loved one are dealing with addiction I think the story the Devlin family shares could be helpful, as is Anita’s website. It is their own story and is not concerned with universality. It is just one version of how addiction plays out. It is worth noting this book came out in 2015, and in the last four years there have been many more books, films, and TV shows to deal with the struggles of families dealing with addiction, and making S.O.B.E.R. feel like common knowledge, but at the time this book was more unique. Check out S.O.B.E.R. if you’re interested in addiction stories that involve family and recovery.

To hear more about the Devlin’s and Anita’s journey since the book was published on The Short Stacks with Anita Devlin.

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • PublisherAnita Devlin (January 14, 2015)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy on S.O.B.E.R. Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Seven Sundays: A Faith, Fitness, and Food Plan for Lasting Spiritual and Physical Change by Alec Penix

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

In preparation for having author and celebrity trainer Alec Penix on the podcast, I read his new book, Seven Sundays. The book is a 43-day fitness and faith routine, with daily assignments and reflections.

Here is more on Seven Sundays

In Seven Sundays, celebrity trainer and devoted follower of Christ, Penix explains the connection between faith and fitness, both his own and shares his clients’ success stories. When our spiritual and physical bodies are built up simultaneously, we find ourselves more likely to stick with healthier, life-changing habits, appreciate what we have, be thankful for what we’ve gained (and lost), and feel content with how far we’ve traveled.

Seven Sundays is a six-week program that shows you how easy it is to undergo your own total transformation. The book is organized as a day-by-day journey in the same manner as a daily devotional. Over the course of each week, you will work on the “6 Pillars of Purpose” that build up this strength. You will also enjoy “Faith-Full” foods and explore a new spiritual theme each week. Ultimately, you’ll undertake a meaningful journey that will finally connect your body and spirit.


Seven Sundays is a daily look at fitness with a heavy emphasis on Christianity, and one’s relationship with Christ. While, this isn’t something that I connect with at all (I am a agnostic woman, raised in a Jewish family), I do think Penix is onto something powerful, with his ideas that you can do all the exercise you want, but if you’re not settled emotionally and mentally, you won’t be able to be successful in changing your lifestyle. The book takes you through every single day of the 43-day program. And walks you through each of six categories, some of which are readings of bible verses, some of which are nutrition plans. This book will hold your hand through the process which is fantastic.

There is a huge focus on God and Jesus in this book, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me. I found myself skipping pasts the sections of each day that talked about bible verses and “Him”. I just didn’t connect and didn’t care. That doesn’t speak to me. While I think you could make some substitutions, instead of “walking with Him” you could walk to connect with nature or your greater power (if you have one). There is some sections of the program that are very specific to Christianity. There are daily devotionals that center talking to God and/or Christ. That is a lot harder to change.

The fitness portion of the book is great. It is inclusive of all levels (unlike the spirituality part). There are modifications, and concessions made for different types of people and abilities. The same an be said for the nutrition as well, though it does get a little biblical toward the end. There is also a section on offerings, or community service. The offerings range from introducing yourself to people in your life who you don’t know by name (your barista or security guard, etc) to offering to do something physical for someone who might need help. I think this part of the book is unique and really positive.

This book isn’t for people looking for a conversation about fitness and faith. This is a book for Christians looking to revamp their health and body and center Jesus Christ in that process. Which is all to say, this book isn’t for everyone. I think that is fair to write a book for a very niche audience (of course I think that my two favorite books are about the Attica Prison Uprising and the mass casualty at Jonestown). You can get to know Alec better on his episode of The Stacks, he discusses Seven Sundays and more about his life and journey, which helps to put the book in context a little more.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • PublisherHoward Books (December 4, 2018)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy on Seven Sundays Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare

4D9EB7E2-D692-4C3B-B298-41F3BF217869It is time for the August installment of #ShakeTheStacks. This month I read, the second book in the War of the Roses tetralogy, Henry VI Part 2This play sets up the reader nicely for the action of the war itself, and the fall out that is, Richard III.

I have to admit, this is not my favorite Shakespeare play, not even close. The history plays can fall victim of having too many characters, and trying to cram in too much action, Henry VI Part 2, is no exception. There are very few scenes that illicit any emotional response. The play is mostly just a really long prologue for whats to come. It is in both plot and function the set up to the war. Quiet literally picking sides and getting the troops lined up.

My favorite character in the tetrology is Queen Margaret, she is the only chracter present in all four of the plays, and she is a force that shakes up the stage from the moment she enters at the end of Henry VI Part 1 through to her last scene in Act 4 of Richard III. She is smart and politically savvy. She is not afraid of any man, and doesn’t back down from a fight. She also has a soft side, which is seen in my favorite scene from this play, Act III Scene 2. I won’t give anything away, but it is between the Queen and Suffolk, and its tender and tense and romantic and all the things. Not what you expect to find in Shakespearean history play, however they all have these scenes. This kind of scene is what makes Shakespeare one of the best. Intimate scenes between the most rich and powerful people that are explosive.

Again, like with my review for Henry VI Part 1, I don’t know that I would suggest you read this play or see a production of it on its own. I think its best as part of the four play series. Like any good TV show, you want to know how it plays out, not just watch one episode.

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • BuyHenry VI Part 2, on Amazon

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth

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The Stacks received this book for free as part of a giveaway from the publisher. See Disclosures.

This book has been on my radar for a while, but with the BlacKkKlansman movie coming out I decided I had to read the book. The book is very short, so it wasn’t intimidating at all. If you don’t know the story of Ron Stallworth, the Black Klansman here is a blurb to catch you up:

When detective Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, comes across a classified ad in the local paper asking for all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, Detective Stallworth does his job and responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. He figures he’ll receive a few brochures in the mail, maybe even a magazine, and learn more about a growing terrorist threat in his community.

A few weeks later the office phone rings, and the caller asks Ron a question he thought he’d never have to answer, “Would you like to join our cause?” Ron answers the caller’s question that night with a yes, launching what is surely one of the most audacious, and incredible undercover investigations in history. Ron recruits his partner Chuck to play the “white” Ron Stallworth, while Stallworth himself conducts all subsequent phone conversations. During the months-long investigation, Stallworth sabotages cross burnings, exposes white supremacists in the military, and even befriends David Duke himself.

I found this book a little boring. Which was shocking to me, because the idea of a Black man in the Ku Klux Klan seems explosive and exciting, and it is a pretty crazy story. However there really isn’t a plot. The title pretty much explains the story, a Black man infiltrates the Klan. There are details that come out, of exactly how, but once I got that information, I was ready for the book to end.

One of the things that really irritated me about this book, is that Stallworth seemed to feel like he had an obligation to be fair to the KKK. He would talk about something heinous they would say, and then remind us that David Duke is also a great father and husband. Or, he would talk about how dangerous groups who were protesting the Klan were. As if he, the man being called a “nigger” had to defend the humanity of members of the KKK. I think it took away from the vulnerability and authenticity of his story. I would have much preferred to hear how he felt, and not diplomatic responses.

Another thing that comes up a lot in Black Klansman is the idea that the members of the Ku Klux Klan as so dumb for being duped by a Black person. I think this is also a dangerous game, it allows those folks in the KKK to be dismissed as idiots, and not as clever spin artists who can manipulate public opinion about entire groups of people, and get elected to public office. The idea that those who spew hate are unintelligent is dangerous and lets that hatred off the hook.

There were moments that were interesting in this books. Particular details of how Stallworth pulled off his infiltration. I also loved that he had so much detail from the investigation, direct quotes and dates and more. It really lent credibility to the story.

This book is fine, but it is nothing special. The writing didn’t work for me, and I didn’t feel like I learned much about Stallworth, or the Klan, or even the time period in Colorado. I would say, if you were really curious about the story, you could read this one, but if you’re just medium on the idea I wouldn’t read it. Either way, the book is short, which is usually a good thing.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books (June 5, 2018)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Black Klansman on Amazon

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Henry VI Part 1 by William Shakespeare

A146DD7D-E97E-40CB-8CBE-98228784EA85I’m onto month two of The Shake the Stacks Challenge, my 37 month journey to read the complete works of William Shakespeare. You can read more about the challenge here. I am going in a sort of chronological order, even though the chronology of these plays is widely disputed. I’m using the list from Open Source Shakespeare. This month I took on the first play of Henry the Sixth.

In Henry IV part 1 we are joined into the world of England after the death of Henry V, and the tumult that comes with the changing of kings, the pledging of loyalties, and the battles that surround this type of activity. The play is a major set up for the next three plays that are part of this tetralogy, culminating in Richard III. Which all goes to say, this play is kind of boring. You’re meeting a ton of characters, and then they’re talking about fighting battles, and introducing you to other people and contextualizing relationships. Basically, a lot of talk an not a lot of action.

There is one character of note, who sticks out to me in this one, and thats Joan la Pucelle aka Joan of Arc. Of all the characters in this play she is the one you remember. She leads the French in winning and losing battles against the English. She speaks truth to power, and she fights like hell. We all know what happens in the end. She isa great character in mediocre play.

This play is clearly meant to serve as exposition for the plays that follow, and thats fine, but it also makes for a pretty boring read. I would imagine if you could see all three of the Henry VI plays followed by Richard III this play would be more fun and feel more purposeful. There are some really beautifully written scenes and speeches, but for the most part its all set up, The War of the Roses comes next, and that should be exciting.

If you’re interested in this tetralogy, you should certainly read this play, but as a stand alone piece it doesn’t do much.

  • Paperback: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Subsequent edition (December 1, 2000)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Henry VI Part 1 on Amazon

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer

IMG_6134For this week’s The Stacks Book Club episode, we discussed Franklin Foer’s book, How Soccer Explains the World. Our guest Aaron Dolores, founder of Black Arrow FC, and I look at this book and what is has to say about race and class.

Before I do my complete review of the book, take a look at what its all about.

A groundbreaking work—named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated—How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world’s most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

The first thing of note, is that this book was written in 2006, a World Cup year, and Foer is clearly a lover of the sport. The book has the feel of someone trying to convince us, that we’re missing out and we should like soccer too. There is an earnestness, and a romanticization of all the issues that come up in the book.

While I found the idea of this book to be exciting and interesting, in actuality it lacked. In his desire to convince us to like soccer, Foer is uncomfortably uncritical. Granted, this book was written 12 years ago and issues that are front in center today, were barely discussed then. However, Foer goes out of his way to dismiss things as racialist, instead of calling them out for their blatant racism. For example, a group of reporters calling an African player a   “monkey”. This dismissal of real issues is also present when Foer justifies violent hooliganism as a charming relic of an old way of life, instead of noting the aggressive nationalism at play. I don’t know if its all as bad as I say, but as I read the book, I kept thinking who is benefiting from this? And who is at risk?

Where the book worked for me, was that the writing style was easy and straight forward. I didn’t always agree with what was being said, I understood the points being made. It is also worth noting, that most people who I have talked to who have read this book, love it. I think that can be attributed to the Foer’s style.

If you like soccer, you should read this book. It provides insight into the world’s most popular sport. If you’re not so into soccer, I think you can skip it, as it doesn’t really speak to the world on as grand of a scale as is presented in the title.

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 11, 2010)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy How Soccer Explains the World on Amazon

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Lachesis’ Allotment:A Short Collection of Notes, Observations, Questions, and Thoughts by Diana R. A. Morris

4D2FC453-A70C-421D-9E5E-A57742A6B715As a new voice in the book world, I have been lucky enough to be approached by authors and publishers to review books. I am always honored to be asked for my opinion and perspective on new work. As with all my reviews, I am committed to being an honest voice for my readers (and listeners). All that is to say, that Lachesis’ Allotment: A Short Collection of Notes, Observations, Questions, and Thoughts by Diana R. A. Morris is the first book I ever received for free from an author, and now, here are all my thoughts.

Here is more about the book, Lachesis’ Allotment

In Greek mythology, Lachesis (lack-eh-sis) allots each of us a length of thread to weave with as we will. This hybrid collection of short essays and screenplay explores the nature of friendship and our relationships with the people in our lives over time. From the friendships we form in childhood to the adult friendships we form with our parents–even after they’re gone–this work weaves together memory, meditations on making our dreams a reality, and the evolving nature of our connections as we knot our strands together or unravel the knitting we’ve achieved.

This book was written and self-published by Diana R. A. Morris. It is her debut book. There is something I find exciting about reading someone’s first piece of writing. Like all firsts, you get a sense of the thing and the person, but you can also see potential. This book is no different.

Where Morris shines, in Lachesis’ Allotment is when she dives into the personal. Discussing her own experience with her father’s passing, her failures, and anxieties. My father passed away years ago, and I could relate to her experience and the specificity of her observations. These moments feel unique and intimate. When Morris strays more into the general advice giving, or rah-rah cheerleading, it feels strained and contrived. I appreciate the effort to cover a lot of ground, but would have enjoyed a smaller more specific piece of writing.

There are these scenes (quite literally, written like a screenplay) through out the book where two old friends are reconnecting and catching up after years of estrangement. They are fictional, and frame the coming essays. This doesn’t work for me. It gets in the way of Morris’ flow. It chops the book up, and serves only to muddy Morris’ clear voice.

Lachesis’ Alottment is a fabulous effort. There are moments of poignant reflection. There are moments of sarcasm and humor through out as well. However there are not enough strong moments strung together for the reader to fully dive in. The book is short and you can move through it quickly (as in a few hours). I don’t know that I liked the book, but I really enjoyed seeing someone’s first efforts. I also respect the hell out of anyone who writes a book and publishes it themselves. That says so much about a human in all the right ways.

The Stacks received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

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 my opinions on books and products. For more information click here