Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

I've been reading young this fall.  It seems that the randomizer by which I lazily choose my reading has been skewing toward YA surprisingly often this year, and I've rather been enjoying having my reading seasoned with YA again.  It helps too, that I finally did Dewey's Readathon again this October, which lends itself to YA reading.

The Readathon was a golden opportunity to finally dig into Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water.  This one slipped into my collection on the occasion of my very first BEA and has been woefully neglected ever since.  A Long Walk to Water is a mere 115 pages (making it an ideal Readathon book), but it packs a punch.

Park tells, side by side, the stories of two young characters, Salva, a young boy in 1980s Southern Sudan, forced to run for his life when the war against the northern government comes to his village, and Nya, a young girl in nearly present day Sudan whose life is defined by her endless walks to and from a distant pond to supply her family with precious and hard to come by water.  When gunshots ring out near Salva's school, his teacher rushes the kids out the door insisting that they must not return to their villages and potential slaughter but flee into the bush alone.  What follows is Salva's perilous journey among strangers across dangerous terrain to the safety of an Ethiopian refugee camp.  Nya's village struggles to find fresh water that won't sicken people, but it's becoming more and more difficult, until strangers arrive in her village with an unexpected gift.

A Long Walk to Water is a short book, but a weighty one based on the true story of Salva Dut's terrifying childhood in his war-torn native country.  It digs into the harsh realities of war in Sudan caused by both rebellion against the northern government that wants to force its Islamic beliefs on the whole nation and the dangerous animosity between the rival tribes of the south.  Salva's story is both heartbreaking and often hopeless, but his refusal to give up and his coming of age under impossible circumstances are ultimately inspirational.   Nya's story seems almost out of place, at first, highlighting the practical implications of living in an area where struggling to survive is forced to be the top priority, but the dual stories come together to offer a touching and pitch perfect ending.

What's a short book that you have read that has had a big impact?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy immigrated to the United States from their home in Egypt in search of the American dream.  It wasn't always easy, but in suburban Summerset, New Jersey, they thought they had found it.  Samir's medical practice was successful, the couple found fast friends in the family next door, and their children were growing up knowing the luxuries of American life.  But, when a heinous crime is committed by their oldest son, Hossam, the family is plunged into grief and the community they once felt a valuable part of turns forcefully against them.  In the Language of Miracles is the story of the Al-Menshawy family's struggles in the aftermath of their tragic awakening from the American dream that should have been their reality.

In the Language of Miracles is a story of faith and community: having it, finding it, losing it.  Mother Nagla struggles with her loss of faith in face of tragedy, her inability to match the piety of her mother and her best friend that increases her fear that it was a shortfall in herself that caused tragedy to befall her family.  Grandmother Ehsan is steeped in faith, perpetually murmuring prayers and waving incense, providing holy water for healing.  Her faith imbues her every action and is so genuine that it can tear down cultural walls but can't rescue her daughter's family from their grief and struggle.  Daughter Fatima is seeking her own path to faith, uncertain of whether to pursue her family's more Americanized ways or don the headscarves of her more religious friends.  Son Khaled is a different story completely.  Caught between the shame and treachery brought on by his brother's act and the expectations of a father whose hopes are now pinned upon him alone, Khaled takes refuge in studying monarch butterflies, how they migrate thousands of miles south to winter only to have a new generation of butterflies return north - a practice that seems to have parallels even in his own family.

Each of Hassib's characters is fleshed out and fully realized, from Khaled who is coming of age in the shadow of tragedy to his father, whose stubbornness makes him easy for readers to dislike, but his ultimate wish and goal to preserve the life and community he had striven so hard to attain, is ultimately sympathetic.  I wished for an ending that offered a bit more closure, but that should take nothing away from this book that seems in every way to be an authentic exploration of the immigrant experience, an honest portrayal of the Muslim faith, and a compelling picture of a broken family knitting themselves back together after tragedy.

(I received a copy of In the Language of Miracles from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

So, yeah, book reviewing, I should get back on that. I've been reading a bunch of a winners lately, not exactly anything 5 star knock my socks off awesome, but a few that have had my socks only hanging on by a toe.  ;-)

I think I'd like to start with The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma today, but I'm not sure of my approach because I think the reason I loved this book as much as I did was that I had really no idea what to expect.  I mean, I read the synopsis on the back and everything, but somehow when I actually got into the meat of the book, it was nothing like I expected.

Orianna "Ori" Speerling is a teenage ballet dancer from the wrong side of the tracks.  Her mom left when she was a kid leaving her the daughter of a single dad.  Despite her circumstances, she is unarguably the most captivating dancer in her dance school, possessing a natural talent and flair that cast everyone else in shadow, including her best friend Violet "Vee" Dumont who has the upper class trappings Ori will never have, but can't quite keep up with her friend in sheer talent.  Ori is a more loyal friend than Vee deserves, always holding herself back so her friend can keep up.  The two share everything.  Ori practically lives at Vee's house.  That is, until something happens, something that finds Ori in the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center while Vee dances her last high school recital and prepares to leave for Julliard.  The rest of the story comes via Ori's cell mate Amber, a presumed innocent victim of the justice system, who has found an unexpected place to belong among the inmates of Aurora Hills.

Without saying too much, let me just say how perfect The Walls Around Us ended up being for this autumn time of year.  The story it tells wanders from guilt and crime and grief into the downright eerie, and I loved it.  The Walls Around Us is one of those books that, if the "Young Readers" wasn't attached to its publisher's name, it would be difficult to peg as a YA book.  Suma doesn't sacrifice complexity or artful prose upon the altar of the book's would-be target audience, something I always appreciate in a well written YA book.  Each of her characters are fully actualized from free-spirit Ori, to angry, insecure Violet, to the mild-mannered Amber who brings out the unexpected camaraderie she's found among the fellow inmates of Aurora Hills by narrating her bits with "we" instead of "I."

The Walls Around Us is a beautifully composed, disturbingly rendered picture of the disturbing truth behind a pair of "perfect" ballerinas that goes beyond guilt and innocence to explore the natural and the supernatural.  It easily weaves between past and present, knitting together a story that is otherworldly and unexpected keeping readers on the edges of their seats until the truth is out and justice can finally be served.

(Received my copy in a publisher giveaway.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday Featuring Bookgenie the Great!

This week at The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday, there is a special guest.  The Bookish Genie is on hand and ready to grant each of us our top ten bookish wishes.  I want my wishes to have staying power, so here are a few reading accoutrements I think would really brighten up my reading life.  Thanks, Bookgenie!  

1. Expandoshelves  - Come on, who doesn't want these?  They look like normal shelves and take up the space allotted to normal shelves, but they have hidden depths that hold zillions more books.  No more double stacking on your shelves!  No more feeling bad about those books that are still stuffed in boxes because you're all out of shelf space.  Expandoshelves, yes.

2. The Reformatter - Okay, so sometimes you want hardcovers because they look pretty on your shelves, right?  But sometimes you wish those same books were paperbacks so they wouldn't drag you down when you stuff them in your purse for reading on the go?  And sometimes you want your paper book to be an ebook and your ebook to be a paperback?  Or even audio?  So without spending lots of extra dough, I want to have the same book in all the versions.

3. The Speedier Readier Experience - I want to be able to read fast without feeling like I'm rushing.  And while I'm reading fast I want to have the same experience as if I were reading slow and savoring.  Is it so much to ask?

4. The Weight Transformer - When you put books in a box, like when you're about to move, could they suddenly become like an eighth of the weight you would expect? You know, so your friends and family will stop ridiculing you when you move?  That would be good.

5. The Eater Reader Forcefield - Some of us like to eat while we read.  Some of us are also slobs.  How about a nice little invisible forcefield to protect my books from their reader?

6. The Annotator Eraser - Sometimes it would be nice to be able to write in my books without feeling like I'm defacing something.  So I can underline stuff and write notes for reviews without leaving a messy lasting impact, once the review is written and I'm ready to send a book on its merry way?  Annotations begone!

7. The Ebook Deal Shock Collar - I mean, something has to keep me from pulling the trigger every time I see a half decent ebook priced at $1.99.  When am I ever going to read....even half of them??

8. The Bookstore Equalizer - Wherein we take a few beautiful bookstores out of the cities where they're struggling under the weight of colossal rents and magically move them to places where we're struggling under the weight of having startlingly few bookstores.  Sorry, high rent cities, how come you get to have all the fun anyway?

9. The Series Reader Time Machine - Gone are the days of waiting a year for that next book in the series.  Never again will you forget the details of books one and two while waiting for book three.  Just hop in your trusty time machine, snag copies of the rest of the series, and presto no more of those pesky unfinished series' dogging you through the years.

10. The Reading Time Stretcherator - No longer will the perils of having a job and human relationships keep you from having the time you need to read.  That's because the book genie can magically stretch, the uh oops, only ten minutes you managed to save to read before bed, into as many minutes as you want!  Yay, bookgenie!  How long I have wanted this!

Do you have any wishes for the Bookish Genie? 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Readathon - the Master Post!

Final Update

Reading Now: Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

It's been __135__ pages and __150__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 7 hours

Cumulative Pages Read: 359

Books Completed: 2 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Okay, so my dinner break turned into a longer thing than I expected and I got no reading done between hours 10 and like 14 or 15, much to my sadness.  That said I did read until almost 1 in the morning and managed to wake up for the last half hour, too.  I finished two books and put a good dent in Charlie and the Grandmothers, too, which happens to be a fun middle grade horror story that turned into great Readathon fodder after I cracked the first 50 pages.

End of Event Survey

Which hour was most daunting for you?  14.  I had a big interruption and I wasn't sure I could get back into it, but I did.  Phew.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? A Long Walk to Water was a great short book, a quick read about a serious topic.  Charlie and the Grandmothers is a fun quick read, too.  Great for the Halloween season!

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? This is a pretty trivial thing, but back in the jolly good old days there used to be a link up for all those swell Readathon TBR pile/snack pile posts in the days before the event.  I always thought they were tons of fun and always built up my level of excitement.  Can we have the link-up again?
What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  Everything, I think?  I'm pretty sure my only problem was me.  Like usual.  ;-)

How many books did you read? I completed two and read a little over half of a third.

What were the names of the books you read? See above.

Which book did you enjoy most/least? Honestly, I'm not sure.  They were all good and very different from each other, so I can't very well compare.

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? Er, cheer more people than I did this time?  Sorry folks, my cheering was pretty shoddy this time around.  :-/
How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Extremely likely.  It'll all depend on my mood, I think!  Sometimes, I swear, it's more fun to just cheer all day than to get wrapped up in my weird Readathon neuroses of not reading as much as I want to be reading.  Sad, I know.  Also, true.  

Thanks again to Andi and Heather for all they do to keep this great tradition not just alive but thriving.  I do think Dewey would be thrilled to see what the Readathon has become! 

Hour 9 Update

Reading Now: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (with a side of Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell)

It's been __134__ pages and __160__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 4 hours 30 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 224

Books Completed: 1 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

Eating?: Hot buffalo wing pretzel pieces is just about it, but it's almost time to break for a delicious roast beef sub.

I may have retired to my bed for a little this afternoon, for some more reading....most of which was done with my eyes open.  A timely text from a friend saved me from anything more than a brief power nap.  I started Charlie and the Grandmothers which seems like it's going to be a fun read for this time of the year, but then I got a little sleepy and switched over to something with less pages to keep me motivated.   I'm within a few pages of finishing A Long Walk to Water, a based on a true story novel about a South Sudanese refugee.  Break for cheering and dinner and then back to the books. 

Hour 4 Update

Reading Now: About to start Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

It's been __90__ pages and __110__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour 50 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 90

Books Completed: 1 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

Eating?: A Luna bar (breakfast of champions and/or lazy ankle break-ees), string cheese, and a celebratory piece of pumpkin pie!

Why celebratory?  Because I've finished my first book, of course!  Sure, I'm totally cheating because I was already 182 pages into Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place when I got out of bed this morning, but who cares about that?  It's 11 AM and I've finished a book already.  Shockingly, the book didn't make me cry, though I did choke up a few times.  Oddly enough, the closest I came to spilling tears was while reading the acknowledgements.  Yeah, I don't get it either.  Probably a good thing though, crying makes you tired, and I've got lots more reading to do before I even consider a nap!

Off to cheer on some readers, and then it's on to my next book!


Good morning, one and all!  Surely it hasn't escaped you that today is the day of Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, right?  I'm going to be participating fairly properly today with the snacks and the books and the Instagramming of bookish pictures.   I do believe I will stack my updates for today in the very post you see before you, in hopes of not alienating my last 2 subscribers (Hi guys!  Long time, no see!).  So on we go with the time-honored readathon tradition of....

The Introductory Meme!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?   My very own living room in Danville, Pennsylvania

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
  Hmm...  The Fill-In BoyfriendCharlie and the Grandmothers?  I can't decide.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
  I've got some delicious hot buffalo wing flavored pretzels in the pipeline.  They may be a little sloppy for reading and eating, but I'm still looking forward to them.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
  Let's see, I'm Megan.  I work in Lab IT (well, sort of) for a big rural health system.  This is the first Readathon I'll be participating in from my very own apartment without the distraction of other humans.  Well, until dinner time at least.  Oh yeah, and I'm recovering from a broken ankle and subsequent surgery so I'm stoked to have something exciting to do that isn't something I can't do because I can't really walk so much.  OK, at all.  Believe me, the number of exciting things you can do declines rapidly when you're short a leg and your hands are occupied with crutches.  So this is a good day because today it's exciting to sit around!  Yay!

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
  Read!  Haha, no, seriously.  For my last few Readathons I've dedicated myself mostly to cheering.  I haven't read for the Readathon in quite a while.  So reading on Readathon day will definitely be different.  I'm an oxymoron.  Or maybe just a moron.  To be determined.

Anyhow, that's me.  I'm off to read!  See you in a few hours!  Happy reading!