Saturday, May 18, 2019

YA Review: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Title: Hurricane Child
Author: Kheryn Callender
Year Published: 2018

Genre: YA fiction (LGBTQ)
Pages: 211
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a local school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Being born during a hurricane is unlucky, and twelve-year-old Caroline has had her share of bad luck lately. She's hated and bullied by everyone in her small school on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, a spirit only she can see won't stop following her, and--worst of all--Caroline's mother left home one day and never came back.

But when a new student named Kalinda arrives, Caroline's luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, becomes Caroline's first and only friend--and the person for whom Caroline has begun to develop a crush.

Now Caroline must find the strength to confront her feelings for Kalinda, brave the spirit stalking her through the islands, and face the reason her mother abandoned her. Together, Caroline and Kalinda must set out in a hurricane to find Caroline's missing mother--before Caroline loses her forever. 

Review: This book won the Stonewall Award for 2018 for the best LGBTQ book for youth. As I read the description I worried about the haunting spirit part since I am not good with magical realism, but it turns out it isn't really magical realism, just spirits that the little girl "sees." I am okay with that.

I wanted to love this book since it won an ALA award, but I didn't. I think it's good and it that middle grade students will like it. Caroline is a lost soul who needs a complete family (her mother left them years ago) and a friend. It made me sad that the other little girls were so cruel and that her teacher didn't do anything about it. Kalinda filled the role not only of a friend, but of someone who loved Caroline and let her know that she mattered. Really, that's all we need, isn't it?

For me, the last few pages of this book are the best; Caroline discovers something about a girl in her class that could change her life. I loved that.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Nonfiction Review: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed

Title: In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom
Author: Qanta A. Ahmed
Year Published: 2008

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 454
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)Saudi Arabia

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Unexpectedly denied a visa to remain in the United States, Qanta Ahmed, a young British Muslim doctor, becomes an outcast in motion. On a whim, she accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia.. This is not just a new job; this is a chance at adventure in an exotic land she thinks she understands, a place she hopes she will belong.

What she discovers is vastly different. The Kingdom is a world apart, a land of unparalleled contrast. She finds rejection and scorn in the places she believed would most embrace her, but also humor, honesty, and love.

And for Qanta, more than anything, it is a land of opportunity. A place where she discovers what it takes for one woman to re-create herself in the land of invisible women.

Review: This book has so much going on, yet it also has a consistent theme: women in Saudi Arabia.

In some ways the book takes on too much. The author seems to want to cover everything that she encountered in her two years in Saudi, from the details of her Hajj to treating her patients to friendships to rules of the Kingdom. While I thought it was all interesting and she did a good job of weaving it all together, it was a lot. The parts that I found most interesting were her day to day interactions with her colleagues and friends as that most showed me how women were viewed in the Kingdom.

It amazes me what women (and men) do in Saudi to avoid getting in trouble or to achieve their goals. They are brave and strong and impressive. The misinterpretation of religion in the country is astounding and it was interesting to read about it through the eyes of a Muslim who thought she would understand, but didn't. The author grew up in the UK so she was used to a very different life from the one she lived in Saudi Arabia.

I do think things have changed a bit in the Kingdom over the past eleven years since this book was published. But, not enough. There is still such a long way for women to have basic freedoms and the human rights violations are well known. This book is definitely worth the read because it allows us to see the nuances of Saudi Arabia and to see beyond the news stories.

Challenges for which this counts: 

TLC Review: How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

Title: How We Disappeared
Author: Jing-Jing Lee
Year Published: 2019

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 348
Rating: 4 to 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)Singapore

FTC Disclosure: I was given this book for TLC Book Review

Summary (from the back of the book): Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving on y two survivors ands one tiny child.

In a neighboring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a "comfort woman." After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.

Weaving together two time lines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her own family's experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family, and the courage it takes to confront the past.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Connect with Jing-Jing: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Review: The description of this book is just so good and enticing and the second half of the book lived up to it. The first half is good, too, it just didn't pull me in as much as the the latter half. Wait. That's not quite right....

This fascinating novel is told by three narrators who rotate chapters: Kevin, a tween boy who is on the spectrum; Wang Di whose story as a comfort woman takes place during the 1940s; and Wang Di in present time. I LOVED the chapters set in the 1940s as they are rich in history, culture, heartbreak, and humanity. I thought the other two chapter rotations were fine. But then, about two thirds of the way in, it all came together and I couldn't put the book down as the connections and story come tumbling out.

Kevin is the character that brings it all together in his naïve way and when it happens I was so pleased that he was a boy of action, going against everything his parents have taught him about restraint, politeness, and decorum. That is something that really touched me in this book; the propensity for restraint in all of the characters. Don't speak up, don't make waves, don't challenge authority, and certainly don't talk about the past, especially when it's really uncomfortable.

The storyline of a Wang Di as a Japanese comfort woman is heartbreaking. The mistreatment of the young women and girls as if they aren't human, by both men and women, the Japanese captors and their own families after the war, is astonishing. I found this part of the novel the most compelling; it's a topic I knew nothing about.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Review tour:

Monday, April 29th: I Write In Books
Tuesday, April 30th: Literary Quicksand
Wednesday, May 1st: Lit and Life
Thursday, May 2nd: Books and Cats and Coffee
Monday, May 6th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, May 7th: 100 Pages a Day
Wednesday, May 8th: The Baking Bookworm
Thursday, May 9th: Tar Heel Reader and @tarheelreader
Tuesday, May 14th: @lavieestbooks
Wednesday, May 15th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, May 16th: Helen’s Book Blog
Monday, May 20th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Wednesday, May 22nd: Run Wright
Thursday, May 23rd: Girl Who Reads
Friday, May 24th: The Lit Bitch
Tuesday, May 28th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, May 29th: Book Fidelity

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Title: The Bride Test
Author: Helen Hoang
Year Published: 2019

Genre: Adult fiction (romance)
Pages: 296
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)Vietnam and USA (CA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but he doesn't experience big, important emotions like love and grief. Rather than believing he processes emotions differently due to being autistic, he concludes that he's defective and decides to avoid romantic relationships. So his mother, driven to desperation, takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect mail-order bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity to marry an American arises, she leaps at it, thinking that it could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn't go as planned. Esme's lessons in love seem to be working...but only on herself. She's hopelessly smitten with a man who believes he can never return her affection.

Esme must convince Khai that there is more than one way to love. And Khai must figure out the inner workings of his heart before Esme goes home and is an ocean away.

Review: Oh my goodness, this was the perfect book for me to read today. I read it in one day and loved it.

On the surface this is a romance about a woman from Vietnam being set up with a Vietnamese-American in the Bay area of California. Tensions and miscommunication ensue, will they get together or won't they?

But, in reality this novel is so much more. It's a study in what it means to be human. How do two people who are seemingly so different figure out how to get along, to court, to understand one another? What does it mean to love, to feel, to incorporate your life into that of another?

I liked both Esme and Khai; they were believable, likable, and I felt for both of them throughout the book. I loved that the surrounding characters were supportive and helped these two along in their journey together.

I found myself laughing out loud and crying at the sweetness of it. Get a copy and read it!

Challenges for which this counts: 

Sunday Salon: May 12, 2019

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz has taken over running The Sunday Salon.

My life in books over the past two weeks: 

Challenges progress:
  • A to Z Reading--I have read books with titles for 21 letters so far: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, and W.
  • Diversity Reading Challenge--I have read 29 books.
  • Literary Escapes--I have read books set in 26 states so far, adding Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, and Illinois in the past two weeks. I have read in 36 countries so far, adding Burkina Faso in the past two weeks.
  • Motif Reading Challenge--The May motif is "Read it in one sitting" and I am counting Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
  • Non-fiction--I have read 14 books so far.
  • YA Award Winners--I have read 8 of the winners
  • My Own Books--This challenge runs from March 15 to May 15, 2019 and I will try to read 10 books off my TBR shelves. So far I have read 19 books off my shelves.
My life outside books:
Work has been busy, but in a good way. I've been putting the finishing touches on the American Government course that I'll teach this summer, organizing for my first social studies leadership team meeting, and doing tech trainings in amongst all the usual meetings with teachers.

Last Saturday I attended a Social Justice in Education conference in Santa Maria (one hour north from me), which was really interesting. They began the day with a local Native American blessing and dance performance. I found myself thinking about the powwow in There There by Tommy Orange (minus the shooting)! 


I do Book of the Month and in the mail this week got a tote from them. It has a book pocket! I love it.

I am on my own for two weeks. My parents are off in Europe and my daughter is still away at college. And, with the passing of my dog last month, I am truly alone. I haven't been this alone at home for years. It feels strange. And quiet. And it's Mother's Day. Actually, I am not big into the "Hallmark" holidays as I call them. Living in a multi-generational household means I see my mother and daughter all the time so we say that every day is Mother's Day.

We had rain last week and this week. In southern California. At the end of April and the beginning of May. Unheard of! But the garden is loving it!

I read last week that every year in the Netherlands one book written by a Dutch author is chosen as the "national book of the year." and given out for free to people who sign up for library cards or buy books during National Book Week. This year, they went one step further and last weekend anyone on the Dutch trains could use that book as their train ticket. How great is that?!