Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How Dare the Sun Rise

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child
by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Abigail Pesta
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 304 pages. Young Adult Nonfiction

Sandra Uwiringyimana's biography opens with the moving retelling of a massacre at a refugee camp where her family was staying when she was ten years old.  She goes on to tell about her life as a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, playing with her siblings and exploring her neighborhood, then of the growing tension and troubles facing her people and their eventual flight, including their fear and uncertainty after the massacre in the refugee camp.  When her family is accepted as refugees to the United States, what seems like a promising new start instead turns into an ordeal of culture shock and racism.  Sandra sees the racism in the United States through an outsider's eyes, lending a fresh perspective to a pervasive problem.  As she grows older, she becomes involved in activism and works to transform her life and rise up and become a voice of her people and others with similar struggles.

Uwiringyimana's biography is a stunning story and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a new perspective or a story of rising above adversity.  So much of her tale dealt with grief, and anyone who has personally experienced it will find echoes of their own pain in her words.  I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Uwiringyimana, who does a fantastic job and has a lovely voice.  This is also a great pick fans of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.


Monday, February 25, 2019

The Cross of Lead

The Cross of Lead
by Avi
Hyperion Books For Children, 2002. pgs 262, Young Adult

On the day of his mother’s funeral a 14th century peasant boy called Asta’s Son is accused of murder and must flee his village never to return. On his path to avoid detection from the village enforcer he comes across a juggler and together they begin an adventure of a life time.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I really enjoyed the plot and the process of Crispin discovering his name and what that meant to him. This is one of the few books I would not recommend listening to. It was voiced by an older man and his tones and pace did not fit the story. So if you tried listening to it and his voice got in the way I would totally recommend trying again and just reading the book because at that point I really enjoyed the story and taking a step back in time which is very different from the world I have experienced.


The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear To Faith

The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear To Faith
By Gabrielle Bernstein
Hay House Inc., 2016. 200 pages. Nonfiction.

This is a short guide to setting intentions and shifting your energy from its natural state of fear and bringing it to the higher frequency of faith. Bernstein uses kundalini yoga meditations and principles from A Course In Miracles to empower readers to find their universal assignments and embrace the idea that the universe really does have their back.

This is a self-help book that uses the principles of positive self-talk, visualization, affirmations, prayer, and meditation to unlock personal growth. The book is easy to understand and Bernstein writes in a personal and compelling way. There is extra material available on Berenstein's website like singing mantras and meditations that compliment her curriculum. She also has some fun ideas for vision boards and vision statements on the site.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
By Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Co., 2005. 277 pgs. Nonfiction

In this book, Malcolm Gladwell examines how we think without thinking. Often we seem to make a choice in the blink of an eye, but it's really not that simple. He also examines why some people are so good at these gut decisions while others struggle and end up making horrible choices. He uses the examples of a renowned psychologist who is able to predict the success of a marriage by observing a few minutes of conversation, the art experts who can recognize a fake after a brief glance, and the tragic shooting of Amadou Diallo by police.

Malcolm Gladwell's books are guaranteed to make you think differently about life. I had never really thought much about why and how I make decisions. It was fascinating to learn how quickly our brains can interpret fleeting facial expression and also how much of our choices are based on quick judgements and predetermined stereotypes.


Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen 
by Val Emmich and Steven Levenson
Poppy, Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 358 pages. Young Adult Fiction.

Evan Hansen is not a popular kid at school; in fact, he doesn’t really have friends at all and feels mostly invisible. He struggles with depression and his therapist recommends he write letters to himself to work through his feelings, they start “Dear Evan Hansen”, and contain his deepest, sometimes darkest secrets and emotions. When a troubled classmate, Connor Murphy, commits suicide and one of Evan’s letters is found and mistaken for a suicide note, a chain of well-meaning lies and exaggerations digs Evan into a hole that just gets deeper and deeper the more he attempts to cover up the mistake without hurting anyone.

This book is a novelization of the hit Broadway musical by the same name. I listened to the audio book, which I’d recommend because it incorporates a few songs from the musical into the story. I enjoyed learning more about both Connor and Evan’s backstories; it felt like the novel was a good opportunity to get to know the characters in a more meaningful way than you get with only the play. This book stands alone well without knowing anything about the play, too, and explores the topics of grief, teen suicide, and depression in an approachable and hopeful way.


A Defense of Honor

A Defense of Honor 
By Kristi Ann Hunter
Bethany House, 2018. 376 pgs. Romance

Katherine "Kit" FitzGilbert had to make the hard choice of turning her back on London society. She never planned on setting foot in a ballroom again. Business has her return to London and soon she is forced to run for her life. She finds herself hiding behind a potted plant in a glamorous ballroom. Lord Wharton, Graham, is intrigued by the woman hiding behind the plant and decides to meet her. Kit can not give him much information about herself  because she has too many people depending on her. Kit has dedicated her life to helping women who have been ruined. She hides them away until they have their babies and can return to society. She then raises the children at Haven Manor, a remote estate away from the eyes of society, and prepares them for the future. To make ends meet she has found a clever way to blackmail the fathers into providing funds for their children. Kit never expects to see Graham again, but he stumbles across Haven Manor when he is trying to help a friend find his missing sister. Kit tries to hide the truth from Graham for as long as possible but soon they must decide if they can trust each other enough to find a future together. 

I read a lot of Regency romance and that's what I was expecting. This book was totally different, it didn't focus on the ballrooms and glamour, instead it showed the life and struggles of those who aren't accepted into high society. The characters were fantastic; Kit, Graham, the children, and the other women who help at Haven Manor all worked their way into my heart. This is the first in the Haven Manor series and I look forward to seeing what happens with all the characters in future books. 


Just Mercy: (adapted for young adults) A True Story of the Fight for Justice

by Bryan Stevenson
Delacorte Press, 2018. 277 pages. Young Adult Non-Fiction

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who established the Equal Justice Initiative (EIJ), an organization working on behalf of the marginalized, the poor, and those discriminated against due to race or ability who have been wrongly convicted, or unfairly or harshly punished by the justice system. In this book, he uses cases he’s worked on, including capital punishment cases, to shine light on the injustices and inequalities that exist and points out the flaws, corruption, and biases within the system that have led to cruel convictions, imprisonment of the innocent, and deterioration of mental health in inmates.  
Although I was largely infuriated throughout, this is a compelling and eye opening read that I didn’t want to put down. This version of the book has been adapted for young readers, and while criminal justice and mass incarceration may seem a strange topic for a book aimed at teens, the message presented and the feelings evoked by the accounts Stevenson shares are applicable to those of most any age in our society. Stories such as these can make a person feel powerless, but knowing that there are “Bryan Stevensons” in the world fighting for justice that is more equal, fair, and right, shines a hopeful light on the heavy topic.


Friday, February 22, 2019

And the Ocean was Our Sky

by Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, 2018. 158 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

For centuries, whales and men have been at war with each other. Bathsheba is an apprentice under the formidable Captain Alexandra, and they hunt to protect and provide for their pod. During an attack on what appears to be easy prey, they find the trail of a mythical monster. Following their unrelenting Captain, Bathsheba and her fellow apprentices must each come to terms with fate, prophecy, and prejudice as they face the upcoming battle.

I found this book intrigue and thought provoking, although the plot was slow at times. The illustrations by Rovina Cai are absolutely gorgeous and enhance the story.  The topics of fate and prejudice are highly relevant today and Ness’s writing encourages deeper exploration of your own thoughts and feelings. The references to Moby Dick are fairly minor, and I do not feel that it is necessary to have read it beforehand. I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys illustrated stories or lyrical writing.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico

Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico
by David Bowles
Cinco Puntos Press, 2018. 300 pages. Young Adult Nonfiction.

The stories in Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky trace the history of the world from its beginnings in the dreams of the dual god Ometeotl, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and the fall of the great city Tenochtitlan. In the course of that history we learn about the Creator Twins, Feathered Serpent, and Dark Heart of Sky, and how they built the world on a leviathan’s back; of the shape-shifting nahualli; and the aluxes—elfish beings known to help out the occasional wanderer. And finally, we read Aztec tales about the arrival of the blonde strangers from across the sea, the strangers who seek to upend the rule of Motecuhzoma and destroy the very stories we are reading.

Ask yourself- can you think of one Mexican myth? If you can, would you feel comfortable telling said myth to a friend? If you’re like me you probably answered no to both questions and have now possibly come to the realization that your public school system did you a great disservice by focusing all too much on Greco-Roman mythology and all too little on Mesoamerican mythology. To you, I recommend starting with this book, “Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mexico” by David Bowles. In it the myths of Mexico are presented in chronological order starting with the creation of the earth and its people and ending with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. I personally enjoyed the fusion of history, religion, and mythology as it gives the book less of a textbook feel and more of what I call a sit-down-storytime feel. The book also includes a pronunciation guide and glossary of people and places which is extremely helpful. One negative is that there are a few errors that were not caught before publishing that were a bit distracting. Even still, I’d recommend this book to those interested in mythology, folklore, and history. 


How to Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends and Influence People
By Dale Carnegie
Simon and Schuster, 1936. 299 pgs. Nonfiction

Have you ever wondered why you get passed up for promotions? Or why your relationships aren't improving? Carnegie gives techniques and advice to help the reader improve their relationships with others, which influences all other aspects of life. You can succeed when you know how to connect and interact with others.

Though most people would say Carnegie's advice is common sense, not very many people actually apply the principles he outlines. I like that he explained the principles and gave examples of how they look in practice. This makes application easier for the reader. His methods of dealing with conflict and building relationships are techniques I've seen in my favorite managers, friends, and former boyfriends. This is a book that one should read at least once and then periodically reread sections to refresh the knowledge of interpersonal skills. This book is a good choice for those who:
1) Want to improve their relationships
2) Want to respond instead of react to stressful situations
3) Want to gain good management skills


Monday, February 11, 2019

On a Sunbeam

On a Sunbeam
by Tillie Walden
First Second, 2018. 533 pgs. Young Adult Graphic Novel.

Mia is a new member of a team that travels through space repairing broken-down structures. As she gets to know the other members of her team, she opens up about her time at a boarding school and the girl she fell in love with while there.

The art throughout this book is amazing. The artist chose to only use colors in blue and red hues and I feel like that helps to bring the reader into an outer space type of atmosphere. One thing that is difficult is that the world isn’t explained super well. It appears that this world (universe?) is entirely populated by women, but that’s not necessarily immediately apparent. I did enjoy the slight whimsical touches that the author included throughout; like that their ships were all shaped like fish and basically every part of The Staircase. I would recommend this book to readers who are looking for a more diverse graphic novel or those who have already read and enjoyed other books by this author.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Gilded Wolves

The Gilded Wolves
by Roshani Chokshi
Wednesday Books, 2019. 388 pgs. Young Adult.

In Paris, 1889 the Exposition Universelle is about to open with its main attraction--the Eiffel Tower. Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is a treasure-hunter and a wealthy hotelier who has a bone to pick with society’s most powerful organization, the Order of Babel. But when the Order needs his help, they offer him a bargain: his true inheritance for the use of him and his crew. Séverin, along with his band of misfits, will have to use their wits and unique talents to find the artifact that the Order is looking for.

I’m a big fan of heists so I was really prepared to love this book. However, it was a little less about the heists themselves and more about the characters and the political climate with the Order of Babel. I found the writing to be confusing sometimes especially during action sequences, but the reader still gets a pretty good sense of this version of 1889 Paris. A big draw for this book is that it has an extremely diverse cast of characters. There are characters of color, characters on the LGBT spectrum, and possibly characters with mental disabilities (not explicitly stated, but implied). I would recommend this book for readers trying to read more diverse books as it checks pretty much every box.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

Cover image for The unwanted : stories of the Syrian refugees
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, 103 pages, Graphic Novel/Young Adult Nonfiction

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

This book recently won an award for excellence in young adult nonfiction, and it definitely deserves it. The story is moving and compelling. Brown’s focus on the stories of the refugee experience, instead of on the incredibly complex politics that surround the reasons why so many refugees are fleeing Syria, helps keep the focus where it should be--on the extreme human toll that is charged with any war. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand the Syrian refugee crisis a little better, and for anyone who enjoys graphic novels about complex real-life stories such as March, Maus, or Persepolis.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Cover image for The Tattooist of Auschwitz : a novel
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
by Heather Morris
Harper, 2018, 262 pages, Historical Fiction

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoner Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. As a Jew sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp fairly early-on in the war, Lale is assigned the relatively cushy task of tattooing all of the incoming prisoners. Lale uses the leverage of this elevated position to help those he can, buying food from locals in the surrounding area and smuggling it in to other prisoners. He also meets a beautiful fellow prisoner named Gita, and learns to find hope for the future through his love for her.

Stories that take place during World War II are easy to find, but one of the appeals of this story for me was that it is largely based on an actual person’s experience of being a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In order to survive, every day Lale must ask himself difficult questions like: What would you do to others in order to preserve your own life? When can you afford to help people and when can you not? When you make decisions like these, are you complicit in crimes that you abhor? I wonder if the answers for some of these questions would have different answers if they happened today.

While this book asks hard questions, it’s also a book of love, hope and courage. This book is a great addition to the growing list of excellent World War II fiction out there.

I listened to the audiobook since it’s narrated by one of my favorite audiobook narrators, Richard Armitage, and his reading skill does not disappoint.