Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: Don't Tell Me You're Afraid by Giuseppe Catozzella

Title: Don't Tell Me You're Afraid
Author: Giuseppe Catozzella
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction (based on a true story)
Pages: 275
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map): Somalia, Ethiopia, China, and Libya

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Based on a remarkable true story, an unforgettable Somali girl risks her life ont eh migrant journey to Europe to run in the Olympic Games.

At eight years of age, Samia lives to run. She shares her dream with her best friend and neighbor, Ali, who appoints himself her "professional coach." Eight-year-old Ali trains her, times her, and pushes her to achieve her goals. For both children, Samia's running is the bright spot in their tumultuous lives in Somalia. She is talented, brave, and determined to represent her country in the Olympic Games, just like her hero, the great Somali runner, Mo Farah.

For the next several years, Samia and Ali train at night in a deserted stadium as war rages and political tensions continue to escalate. Despite the lack of resources, despite the war, and despite all the restrictions imposed on Somali women, Samia becomes a world-class runner. As a teenager, she is selected to represent her country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She finishes last in her heat at the Games, but the sight of the small, skinny woman in modest clothes running in the dust of the athletes like Veronica Campbell-Brown brings the Olympic stadium to its feet.

Samia sets her sights on the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Conditions in Somalia have worsened, and she must make the arduous migrant journey across Africa and the Mediterranean alone. Just like millions of refugees, Samia risks her life for the hope of a better future.

Review: I read this review about a week ago on Burmuda Onion's blog and had to go out and get the book right away. This is the type of story I love: sports underdog, life underdog, going against all the odds, and some triumph along the way.

Yes, this is a novel, but really it's non-fiction. Does that make sense? It is a novel based on the true life story of the Somali Olympic runner, Samia. Don't look her up before you read this book; you need to let the story unfold as it happens rather than knowing what happens to her along the way. This story is full of emotion, grit, and determination that is Samia. It will make you cry (more than once) and cheer and feel so grateful for what you have. Read this book.

Challenges for which this counts:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sunday Salon: May 20, 2018

My life in books: 
Last weekend, I participated in the Dewey 24-hour readathon for the first time in a long time and boy did that feel good!

Challenges progress:
  • Non-fiction--My goal is 20 books and I've read 24. I finished it and it's only May!
  • Literary Voyage around the world--Read books set in as many countries as possible. I have read in 20 countries so far, recently adding Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, Brussels, Somalia, Ethiopia, China, and Libya.
  • Literary Escapes--Track the US states. I have read books set in 19 states so far and in the past weeks added Indianna and Illinois.
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--I have already read 6 of these winners.
  • Motif Reading Challenge--I have done this each month so far. For May the motif is Book to Screen and I am not sure what I am going to read for this one.
My life outside books:
Work feels like it's coming to the end of the school year, which is good. 

One thing I am really excited about is a program I just pitched to our superintendent and he said yes! Elena Aguilar (academic coaching guru) just published a book called Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. I recruited a friend and we are going to run a book club that is open to all teachers and administrators in our district with monthly meetings that correspond to each chapter in the book. It also comes with a workbook that has optional daily activities. After the super tough year we've had, a year of resilience sounds just perfect.

Well, I have the house to myself for a couple weeks as my parents are off in the United Kingdom visiting family. I am so used to having people around that the house seems quiet with just me and the dog. But, it's also nice for a change. And I am sick (again) so it's good for me to just be able to lounge around.

I am vice president of the alumni board of my high school here in town and we had our end of the year BBQ yesterday where we give out the scholarships that we're awarding. This year we are giving over $220,000 in scholarships, which feels amazing! It's so uplifting to see how happy the graduates are and how proud their parents are.

Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Title: How to Walk Away
Author: Katherine Center
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 302
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (TX) and Brussels

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Margaret Jacobsen is just about to step into the bright future she's worked so hard and so long for: a new dream job, a fiancĂ© she adores, and the promise of picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in a brief, tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever been the same again. Maggie must confront the unthinkable. First, there is her fiancé, Chip, who wallows in self-pity while simultaneously expecting to be forgiven. Then there's her sister, Kit, who shows up after pulling a three-year vanishing act. Finally, there's Ian, her physical therapist, the one the nurses said was too tough for her. Ian, who won't let her give in to her pity and who sees her like no one has seen her before. Sometimes the last thing you want is the one thinking you need. Sometimes we all need someone to catch us when we fall. And somethings love can find us in the least likely place we would ever expect.

Review: I really like this cover; the colors make me happy. Actually, the whole book made me happy and I can totally see it being made into a movie. A perfect Hollywood movie with a horrible accident, tension, romance, and a happy ending. Just what I wanted in a book even though I didn't know it.

Margaret Jacobsen has a great life. She is smart, beautiful, dating a wonderful guy, has great skills that will surely get her a successful job, etc. Then the accident happens and everything changes. I liked the way we got to see how each person in her life (Margaret, mom, dad, sister, and fiancee) react to the fact that she is paralyzed, that she won't be able to do the things she could before, and that life will be different. They each have different and honest responses, each of which helps and hurts Margaret.

The thread throughout this book is what do we do when faced with adversity? Do we site back and give up? Hit it straight on and fight? Do a bit of both and hope it mostly works out? You'll have to read the book to find out how Margaret feels and deals, but it is worth it. Know you're getting a sappy happy ending and that feels good.

Challenges for which this counts:

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: Small Country by Gail Faye

Title: Small Country
Author: Gael Faye
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 183
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)Burundi and Rwanda

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): "I was born with this story. It ran in my blood. I belong to it. 

Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expatriate neighborhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother, and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. These are carefree days of laughter and adventure--sneaking Supermatch cigarettes and gorging on stolen mangoes--as he and his mischievous gang of friends transform the tiny street on which they live into their kingdom.

But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful existence will shatter when Burundi, and neighboring Rwanda, are brutally hit by civil war and genocide.

Review: I thought this book was a memoir until I finished it and looked at the cover only to discover that it is a novel! Given that the description of the author so closely fits that of the main character, I wonder how much of this novel is based on his experiences.

The first half of the book covers Gabriel's childhood, setting the scene with his parents, his sister, their extended family, their driver and houseboy, and especially his friends. It seems like a wide range of people to get to know, but they are all relevant as the civil war breaks out in the second half and we find out the fate of each person, discover how they respond to violence, and how their experiences change them.

One part that I particularly liked was Gabriel's friendship with his middle-aged Greek neighbor how had a vast library of books. After she lends him one, which he devours, they spend afternoons discussing books. Gabriel discovers how books can make him feel, help him think about feelings, and open up to others. Ah, books.

Challenges for which this counts:

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review: The Moment Before by Jason Makansi

Title: The Moment Before
Author: Jason Makansi
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 312
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (IL, MO) and Syria and Lebanon

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Tricked by the two people closest to him, Elias Haddad leaves his beloved daughter, Cheryl Halia for what he believes is a short trip home to Syria to visit his dying father. Largely ignorant of Middle East politics, Elias is detained upon arrival in Damascus and conscripted into Assad's army, beginning a forty-year geopolitical odyssey from hell which culminates in his captivity in Guantanamo during America's post-9/11 War on Terror. 

In her search for her father, Cheryl meets John Veranda, an idealistic lawyer who risks his family's land, his marriage, and his aspirations for his hometown's future for a relationship with Cheryl neither are prepared for.

Stuart Eisenstat, a dedicated federal bureaucrat, thinks he's doing an old friend a favor when he picks John's hometown as the perfect site for relocating Guantanamo detainees only to come face to face with the personal cost of America's global ambitions.

Add to Goodreads badge

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Review: When I was asked to read this book for the TLC tour, I was immediately drawn in knowing that I would read about Guantanamo, Syria, and small town America. If you've read this blog much, you'll know how much I LOVE reading books set outside the US. The prologue hooked me in and then it lost me in the next chapter when we started to know Cheryl and John.

But wait! There's more. I realized that I read those chapters at night when I was sleepy. Perhaps that wasn't fair. So I picked it up again mid-morning and things started to turn around. Amazing how our state of mind affects the way we feel about the books we read.

The intertwining stories mean that there is a lot going on in this book. Elias' life in the 1950s to 1970s in Syria and his early years in America, The 1980s cover the lives of Elias in the Middle East, Father Moody, and Elias' wife, Paula. The 1990s and 2000s is when Elias' daughter enters the picture as the main character. Her interactions with her family, her current friends, and her longing for her father are the most interesting of the book.

One thing that really threw me was all the back and forth in time. Each chapter quickly moved from present day America to the past in various locations. I found it a bit difficult to keep track of who was where and who knew what when. I wonder if it would have flowed better for me if it had been written in chronological order with fewer flashbacks.

I did care about some of the characters, Cheryl/Holly and Elias in particular. I wanted them to find one another, to renew their father-daughter love, and to find peace. I also liked Penndel and John, Holly's support system. They truly cared about her and her happiness and that's nice.

Of course, I found the portions of the story when Elias was in the Middle East interesting, with insights into the conflicts in the region over the years, the manipulation by Americans, Israelis, and Russians, and the clandestine work that all sides were doing. I could have done with more of that part of the story.

Challenges for which this counts: