Day After #BlackOutTuesday: Dedicating Time to Reading Black Fiction Authors

woman looking at sunset
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, here we are, a day after #BlackOutTuesday. I feel like America went through one giant self-awareness “aha” moment during a difficult therapy session. And now we’re all trying to figure out how to change things for the better. It’s hopeful.

I am certainly no one to lecture, and hell, this fight is nothing new. People of color have been screaming about it for generations. All I’m doing now is trying to join as a support and ally. I’m learning what it means to be anti-racist (admittedly, a new term I learned yesterday).

#BlackOutTuesday gave me a lot to think about. I’m Jewish, so I understand on a certain level what dealing with prejudice is like, because yes, I’ve dealt with anti-Semitism. I also know what it feels like to have my non-Jewish friends stand up for me and show solidarity, and it feels pretty damn good. 

But I’m also ridiculously white, like “spend five minutes in the sun and turn into a tomato” white. Which means I benefit from white privilege, because when I walk into a store, or get pulled over by the cops, or go for an evening walk in my neighborhood, people don’t see a “Jewish woman.” They see a “white woman.” For this reason, my friends who are people of color live a different experience than me.

Yesterday, I learned just how different.

And it made me cry. My heart bled for some of the experiences my friends shared with me. I have not found it in myself to watch the video of George Floyd’s death, because the images alone are traumatizing to me. I know his last word. His poor mother.

I realized that because I have the luxury of turning off the news and tuning out the injustice for a bit means that I benefit from white privilege. Because those who don’t benefit cannot just turn off the news. This is their reality.

So now, what will I do about this new realization?

Read. That’s what I’ve decided to do. Read. And LISTEN. And LEARN. I know some stuff, but not nearly enough.

I’ve made a personal commitment to begin choosing fiction books to read by black American authors about the authentic black experience in America. Usually, I choose books to read based on the plot or writing. This time, I’m making a conscious decision to choose based on the author, because nothing transports me into another pair of shoes like reading a strong fiction novel.

And on my blog here, I’ll be reviewing these books. I’ll promote their authors. I’ll talk about what I learned, and will simply share my journey.

I’m currently reading an ARC of a new book releasing in early July, so after I finish that, I’ll begin this new path. I invite you to follow my blog if you want to learn with me, and together, we can work toward creating a more empathetic world, a more just world, a more inclusive world, and a safer world for EVERYONE.

To Those Who Mourn in Silence (100,000)

rape-victim-555259301

© To Those Who Mourn in Silence, Shari Lopatin, 2020

(written 5-28-2020)

 

I see your pain in

Silence.

As you curl

Away

Into your private world,

Lost, never found,

And missing your

100,000.

I sink with you

Alone.

And scoff at the smiles

That mock

Your loss.

If silence is your

Cry,

I will join you.

And together we

Will mourn

In darkness,

In darkness …

Does Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’ Measure Up to ‘Handmaid’s Tale’?

The Testaments cover

Book: The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Testaments-Novel-Margaret-Atwood/dp/0385543786

Stars: 3/5

A solid sequel to Atwood’s famous “Handmaid’s Tale” and worth the read for any true “Handmaid” fan

Three stars. I know. THREE STARS. Perhaps I gave Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to my favorite novel of hers only three stars because my expectations were so freaking high. And Atwood, despite how much I love her, didn’t QUITE meet them this time around. Nevertheless, I still recommend any true fan of “The Handmaid’s Tale” read “The Testaments.” Yes, you will find out what happened to Offred.

Perhaps what I loved most about “The Testaments” was how it dove into the backstory of one of my favorite villains of all time. I won’t say who, although you might have guessed. But the character development is phenomenal, in fact, perhaps Atwood’s strongest point in her novel.

What I found lacking was the plot. It was good–don’t get me wrong–but more predictable than I would have liked for an Atwood novel. Like all of her works, “The Testaments” was smart and strategic, and even a bit sly. Then again, doesn’t everyone require a hint of cunningness to survive within the borders of Gilead?

I felt satisfied at the end, like receiving closure from the end of a dear friendship after years of wondering what happened. If you loved “The Handmaid’s Tale” as much as I did, then read “The Testaments.” The book is worth your time and you will enjoy it. Just know it doesn’t move as consistently with the same urgency as “Handmaid,” but that’s OK. The closure is totally worth it.

Read My New Short Story About Mental Health for Free: ‘Pomegranates’

“They say Arizona is a place for folks to start over, and that’s what I had in mind when I landed in the high desert of Prescott. I remember, it was the year the sun rose red over the United Kingdom, and boilin’ wine flowed across the hills of Northern California.”

~ Pomegranates ~

Sometimes, a story reaches so close to your heart, you decide to publish it for free. A gift to the world.

That’s how I feel about my new short story, “Pomegranates.” I’m giving it to you for free–to read, to ponder, to share with your friends, or family, or book club.

Read “Pomegranates” now.

What is ‘Pomegranates’ About?

“Pomegranates” is very different than my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion, which was a science fiction dystopia. Rather, “Pomegranates” is contemporary realism, more akin to the styles of Where the Crawdads Sing or The Prince of Tides.

It’s about a young woman and her neighbor. It deals with themes of mental health, loneliness, and kindness. At the end of the story, in my “Note from the Author,” you’ll see why “Pomegranates” is so close to my heart.

I’ve published the story in PDF format so you can read it on your computer, download and print it out, or even save and email it to your Kindle. I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story in the comment section below.

Help #StopFakeBooks

I’m Launching a Campaign to Support Authors and #StopFakeBooks, but I Need Your Help

I recently came across an article from Vox, and then the New York Times, that (quite frankly) pissed me off. 

Apparently, Amazon has a problem with counterfeit books. I’m talking about entities that plagiarize an author’s book, print a fake copy (usually at much lower quality), and sell it as the real thing. The result?

The author doesn’t make any money, the reader receives a crappy copy, and the thief walks away richer.

The articles I’m referring to are:

What Can YOU Do?

Luckily, as a reader and consumer of books, you can help fight this! It’s an easy fix.

If you decide to buy a book on Amazon:

  • Always buy directly from either the book’s publisher, or from Amazon.
  • Do NOT buy from any “third-party” sellers.
  • Help spread the word on social media and to your friends using the hashtag #StopFakeBooks.

Many people are unaware of this issue and may purchase a counterfeit book without knowing it. Education and awareness are key. 

It’s personal for me, too.

I am concerned this might have already affected my book, The Apollo Illusion. I see several paperback versions of my book being sold by third-party sellers on Amazon that list it in “new” condition. However, the only place a reader can purchase a new version of The Apollo Illusion is directly from Amazon, not from these so-called bookstores. 

Many authors, such as myself, have invested years and thousands of dollars into the writing, editing, production, and marketing of our books. It hurts, both emotionally and financially,  to have one’s work and revenue stolen.

So help me #StopFakeBooks! Take to Twitter, to Facebook, to text, to WhatsApp, and to book clubs. Share this blog post with your friends, family, and book club members. And support your favorite writers by ensuring they’re getting paid for their work!

Would You Help Me Decide Whether to Open an Online, Used Bookstore?

Sharis Pick image
Should I open an online, used bookstore via Amazon? Help me decide, fellow readers and writers!

Happy Wednesday fellow readers, bloggers, and writers! I have a question to ask you.

I’ve recently tossed around the idea of opening an online, used bookstore via Amazon to go along with my own writing and publishing. I would carry used books from classics to recent bestsellers, and the hope would be to make pricing competitive. However, I’m trying to determine if the quest is worth my time.

Would you help me by taking one minute to answer three quick questions via the survey I developed about opening an online bookstore?

Survey-Button

Your anonymous feedback will help me make the final decision! And I always figure: who better to ask than other lovers of the literary scene? 🙂 Thank you so much for your time and help. Oh, and feel free to pass this survey along to your other reader and writer friends!

Why I’m Cutting Back on Social Media as an Indie Author

Shari on the mountain_2019
This is me on a hike with my boyfriend months after getting sick.

A week before Christmas in 2018, a virus attacked my brain stem.

Technically, it was my vestibular nerve, which is responsible for communication between the eyes, inner ears, and brain. The condition is called vestibular neuritis (yes, you can Google it).

The result of this random, weird sickness was the world wouldn’t stop spinning and the horizon constantly quivered like riding a Shake Shack. I couldn’t drive, walk, read, cook, sit in a chair at a table, look at a phone or computer screen–and worst of all, I couldn’t write or work.

I took family medical leave for two months before I could return to my full-time job. And when I started coming back to life, I realized something:

Social media was giving me anxiety.

Which is kinda a conundrum, since I’ve worked as a social media manager. And I’m an indie author, and we rely on social media to help sell books. Nonetheless, every time I jumped onto Facebook, I no longer saw my friends having a fun hike or taking a family trip to Northern Arizona.

I saw activities I could no longer do and feared I would never be able to do again.

So I Decided to Quit Facebook for a Month

I also cut back on Instagram; same with Twitter (to be fair, I stopped using Twitter regularly a year ago).

Slowly, I found myself concentrating inwardly again: on my emotions, on my relationships with close friends, family, and my boyfriend. Life became a constant state of meditation, reflection, and observation as I worked to reduce the immense anxiety that consumed me during the recovery stages of this awful sickness.

And I found myself living in the moment more.

The Science Backs Up My Feelings, Too

Today, I’m slowly working some social media back into my life, but I like the way I feel when it’s not a dominant factor. I also realized that I value my privacy. I don’t mind sharing certain personal stories (like this one), but I want to control how much of my life is discussed publicly.

Maybe my subconscious knew these things years ago, when I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusionabout a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology.

Featured Image -- 4721

Either way, even though I might need social media to help promote my book, I’ll be more conscious of how much I’m using it in the future. I like feeling better. Don’t you?

‘The Apollo Illusion’ Now on Kindle Unlimited! (Yes, Read it for FREE)

Apollo Illusion on Kindle Unlimited_Instagram

It’s true! I am so excited to announce that as of this week, my debut sci-fi dystopia, The Apollo Illusion, is now available on Kindle Unlimited.

Which means, if you have the service, you can read it FOR FREE.

[CLICK HERE  to start reading it now!]

What is ‘The Apollo Illusion’ About?

I describe it as Divergent meets Logan’s Run, an Orwellian science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. It’s targeted for young adults (ages 15+), but a lot of adults have gone kinda crazy over it.

Like this review from the Arizona Daily Sun: “The timely release of The Apollo Illusion comes in the wake of ‘alternative facts’ and attacks on the ‘fake news’ media from President Trump and his administration … It’s a dark look at a future more closely in alignment with the present than Lopatin anticipated when she completed the first draft four years ago.”

Or this review from John Coon, fellow journalist and author of the horror novel, Pandora Reborn: “This is a story that’s well-written and the mysteries contained within the plot draw you in and keep you hooked from one page to the next. The Apollo Illusion should occupy a spot on the to-read list of any true dystopian sci-fi fan.”

Enough tooting my own horn (wink). Seriously though, you can learn more about the story’s plot, and read more reviews, by checking out the book on its Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Apollo-Illusion-Shari-Lopatin-ebook/dp/B07BQHMFVP.

HAPPY READING!

Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Power’ Flips Girl Power on its Head (Book Review)

The Power book cover

The Power makes a strong societal and political statement meant for girls and women. The ending will chill you into your bone marrow and even make you question a woman’s role in ancient human life.

Book: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Publisher: Little Brown and Company

Published: Oct. 10, 2017

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Power-Naomi-Alderman/dp/0316547603

Stars: 4/5

Rarely do I find a new, recently published book that poses such a deep philosophical question, that I find myself pondering it two weeks after finishing.

I won’t lie: about halfway through Naomi Alderman’s The Power, I started wondering about the hype surrounding it. The book was good, and I was enjoying the story, but did it really deserve to be listed as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and one of former President Obama’s favorite reads?

And then, I got to the end—the final part. And OH. MY. GOD. Yes it does!

The Power turns girl power on its head and really makes us #bossbabes ask ourselves: what would we do if we suddenly became more powerful than men? What if we really could run the world?

Are we as innocent as we believe?

The Story

The plotline is simple, so I’m taking this straight from the back cover of the book.

“All over the world, women and girls are discovering they have the power. With a flick of the fingers, they can inflict terrible pain and even death. And with this small twist of nature, everything changes drastically … The Power takes us on a journey to an alternate reality and exposes our own world in bold and surprising ways.”

My Take

Here’s the thing about The Power: its strength is not in character development or even astonishing plot twists (though, there are some of those). In fact, I sometimes felt detached from the characters, which is the main reason I scored this book with four stars, rather than five.

Instead, The Power makes a strong societal and political statement meant for girls and women. The ending will chill you into your bone marrow and even make you question a woman’s role in ancient human life.

More than anything, the book strikes me as a near-metaphor for #MeToo, with young women igniting “the power” in older women. However, although the story begins with messages of empowerment, it soon turns darker and poses deeper questions about human nature. At times, it’s hard to read.

Margaret Atwood called The Power “electrifying.” I’d have to say, I agree with her.

***

Hey, guess what? I got two advanced reviewer copies of some hot new books coming out in July 2019! One is a contemporary dystopia, the other a science fiction. Don’t miss them! Follow my blog, or …

 

 

How ‘American War’ by Omar El Akkad Will Change Your Worldviews (Book Review)

american war book cover
Sharis Pick image

*This book was a Shari’s Pick for January 2019!

‘American War’ drags us through the heartbreaking toll that war causes everyday people and it makes us see.

Book: American War

Author: Omar El Akkad

Publisher: Knopf

Published: April 4, 2017

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/American-War-Omar-El-Akkad-ebook/dp/B01LXK1HBB

Stars: 4/5

“This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.” – American War

After I finished reading war journalist’s Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, one quote came to mind from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Mr. El Akkad bled all the way through this haunting, moving, and conscience-punching book that begs the question: What if the United States turned its most ruthless foreign policies against its own people in a second American Civil War over fossil fuels?

But while Mr. El Akkad draws obvious parallels to modern-day controversies—such as drones, torture, refugee camps, and the weaponizing of desperation for terrorism—his story is not a political one. Instead, American War drags us through the heartbreaking toll that war causes everyday people and it makes us see.

The Story

Part dystopia, part family saga, American War follows the story of one family ravaged by the new Civil War, the Chestnuts. Specifically, curious and adventurous Sarat Chestnut, who is only 6 years old when the book begins.

Taking place several decades in the future, Sarat’s world in the South is different than the one we know today. The coastal cities have been overtaken by the ocean, Florida is now the Florida Sea, and the Free Southern State is fighting for its right to continue using fossil fuels, which have been outlawed by the North. The rivers are dead, and food is nearly impossible to grow.

When the war drives the Chestnuts from their simple home by the river, we follow Sarat’s story through refugee camps, radicalization, massacres, and immeasurable loss. This is the story of how one innocent girl becomes the victim of so much greed, eventually turning her into a weapon that will devastate the country.

Pros Versus Cons

American War enticed me from the start, with its haunting opening from a mysterious narrator. However, the book began to slow toward the middle and dragged for several chapters. I believe this is because Mr. El Akkad wrote with too much description and narration, but not enough dialogue to shape the characters and scenarios.

However, as I began to approach the final two parts of the book, the story’s pace escalated quickly. I finally found myself connecting with Sarat and her plight with the emotion and empathy I was hoping for earlier in the book.

I’m glad I kept reading, because in the final two parts, Mr. El Akkad illustrated his immense capacity for writing effective, hard-hitting, and powerful dialogue. He seemed more connected to his writing; I’m not sure why, but the words and emotion felt rawer. Perhaps less edited to perfection?

Either way, the ending was powerful and left me dumbfounded. I finally understood why Mr. El Akkad had to write the way he did in the middle of the book. As a reader, I would not have understood the end with such potency otherwise.

The Final Note

As a journalist who’s covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, the Egyptian Revolution during the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Mr. El Akkad obviously poured his heart into this story. He has written a strong, weighty, and influential book that will force you to re-think your worldviews. It forced me to re-think mine.

The morning after finishing American War, I was scanning through my Instagram feed and came to a post from National Geographic about a Syrian father with his 2-month-old baby in a refugee camp north of Greece. I’ve always felt empathy for the plight of refugees, but this time, something else struck me—a deeper understanding, as if I knew.

If American War opened my eyes in this way, perhaps it’s an antidote for the lack of compassion across the world today, and therefore a necessary read for everyone.

Did you like this book review? Then follow me on Goodreads for more like it!

Follow on Goodreads widget