Book Review: Once in a Great City by David Maraniss

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss

This is a love story to a once-great city, told by a native son. Maraniss here chooses to focus his attention to 1962-1963, banner years for auto capital Detroit. Ford was on top of its game and looking to revolutionize the American sports car with the Mustang; Motown was hot and setting off a string of number one hits by artists who would become legends; the struggles of the civil rights movement were bolstered by a forward-looking local government and strong black community. Everything seemed poised to keep Detroit on top for decades to come.

Of course, today we know the realities of its current incarnation. But Maraniss here delivers us a loving, lingering look at a city that was a beacon for many across the country. Maraniss’ tales weaves in and out of politics, industry, music, religion, civil rights, law and order, and crime, we see how the biggest and smallest players of Detroit lived their intermingled lives, how small connections and deep alliances helped to shape the city of Detroit. This book is all the more fascinating considering the depth of the city’s fall from grace. Seeing such a vivid portrait of the city in its heyday makes it all the more obvious what has been lost.

This book is great for both history buffs and for those interested in current events. There is quite a bit in this book which echoes modern day issues and struggles. This book makes you want to root for Detroit, to hope that it’s future could hold even a fraction of the vivacity of its past.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir


Artemis by Andy Weir

Life isn’t easy on the moon. Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara has lived in Artemis, the only lunar city, since she was six years old. The daughter of a respected welder, poor life choices have led Jazz down a path of near poverty and petty crime. When one of Artemis’ most wealthy citizens offers her a ridiculous amount of money to commit a serious crime, Jazz can’t say no. But getting the job done is only the start of her problems. Big, shadowy players are operating behind the scenes, and this caper could put Artemis itself in grave danger.

I loved Andy Weir’s previous novel, The Martian. Weir’s mix of science, outer space, and sarcastic humor made his modern day Robinson Crusoe story ridiculously fun. Artemis is more of the same, but now Weir had given us a heist novel . . . In Space! 

Jazz Bashara is five and a half feet of sarcastic supergenius, a young woman who blew her considerable potential in poorly-managed teenage rebellion. Using her considerable intellect to skirt along the edges of lawful lunar society, her goal is to get away from the day to day scrape of bottom-rung existence. Bring on the “one last big job” from a ridiculously wealthy client, and the heist begins.

Weir has again based his world in (what seems to my non-sciencey self) wonderfully realistic detail. As the ins and outs of Artemis are explained, we begin to see how the first human settlement on the moon might operate (I’m sure Neil deGrasse Tyson will rip the science apart, but hey). Jazz is a very similar character to The Martian’s Mark Watney, but sarcastic, smart characters really appeal to me, so I don’t mind,

Fans of The Martian or smart science fiction will probably really enjoy this book. We’re heading into new and uncharted territory in real-life space exploration, so I for one want to read all the realistic sci-fi in can get my mitts on.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks

The Orphan Mother Robert Hicks

The Orphan Mother: A Novel by Robert Hicks

The Orphan Mother is set in 1867; two years after the end of America’s Civil War and solidly in the reconstruction era. At this point in time, the country, and especially the southern states, were poised on the blade of a knife. The hope of the newly emancipated former slaves warred with the intransigence of their former masters, each seeking to pull the country down a different path. It was a time of possibility and exquisite danger. A time when, theoretically, black men were as free as their white counterparts, but the reality of their status remained mired in the past.

Into this simmering brew Robert Hicks draws Mariah Reddick, former slave, now midwife in the small town of Franklin, Tennessee. Mariah, world weary and suspicious of the future, nevertheless seeks to build an independent life for herself in the town where she has spent most of her adult life. Mariah’s son, Theopolis, embodies all the hope and promise of this time period. He works as a cobbler, but has aspirations of becoming a politician, and representing his people and their needs in the newly reunited country. We also meet George Tole, former sniper with the Union army, drifting through life after the war, finding it increasingly difficult to live as a regular person after what he has seen and done in battle.

When a riot breaks out at a political rally where Theopolis is giving a speech, Mariah is drawn in against her will into the world of politics and corruption, murder and injustice. Where the hopes and the dreams of black men crash against the wall of white racism.

Robert Hicks writes this era masterfully and lyrically. You can almost smell the dust on the roads, feel the heat on your skin. You can see the angry men “with bricked up faces” who are pushing so hard against change, against any perceived loss of status. In this novel Hicks illustrates the tensions between blacks and whites, between former master and slave. We see how the nature of justice can warp and change, especially when race and/or gender conspire to place you at the bottom of the social strata.

This book, though a work of historical fiction,reverberates in the present day. We find these echoes in Ferguson, Missouri, in Philando Castle and Trayvon Martin, and other victims of racially-motivated violence, in the work of the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is a story that deserves to be read. That helps to link the inequities of our past to our present day. Robert Hicks has written a spectacular story, one that seems at once very far away and very, very close.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The Orphan Mother will be available on September 13th, 2016.