African-American History Month Reading Recommendations

February 2, 2018

As the calendar reveals February’s focus on African-American History Month, I’m eager to recommend some thematic reading! 

Linking up today with Modern Mrs Darcy: Quick Lit February.

The Gilded Years
by Karin Tanabe

Gilded Years

Genre: historical fiction

One title that I read a few years ago that might not be on your radar is The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe.

Summary: This story shares the important and compelling experiences of Anita Hemmings and her dream of attending an exclusive school for women, Vassar College, in the late 1890s. To accomplish this extraordinary feat and pursue her chance for a better life, Anita must pass for white. It is interesting to me how her family and community support her in the implementation of her decision and work to protect her as she lives it out. At first, Anita maintains a distance from her college peers. However, as the years pass and Anita becomes friends with her socialite roommate from a prominent family in New York, the risk of discovery grows greater. Can she maintain her assumed identify? Will she graduate?

The choice: For me, the most interesting part of the story is the tension that develops between Anita and one of her dear friends who decides to live fully as an African-American, embrace her ethnic identity and heritage, and openly fight for equal rights. Which one of the young women has chosen the best path? Both decisions are difficult in their own ways and filled with sacrifices and joys. Through their two stories, the reader is presented with two viewpoints and experiences. What would you or I have done given that choice? Which choice helped further equal treatment for African-Americans? Was Anita’s choice a set back for African Americans? Or did she have every right to think of her own life first? Did her success as a student help the African-American cause by proving that an African-American can compete equally at Vassar?

Bottom Line: Although the story is compelling and emotional, the writing could be better and was the weakest part of my reading experience. For me, a lack of beautiful writing is easily overlooked for a captivating story that addresses strong themes of hope, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, family, taking risks, life choices, and friendship. It’s an important, inspiring, and memorable read. It would generate an excellent book club discussion and make a great movie!

Recommended? Highly recommended for readers looking for an inspirational and  interesting read in celebration of African-American History Month, for readers who enjoy compelling stories about strong, brave, independent women, for book clubs, and for readers who enjoy diverse reads and stories written from a different perspective.

Amazon Rating (February): 4.2 Stars

My Rating: 4 stars

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Gilded Years

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Karin Tanabe

Karen TanabeKarin Tanabe is a fiction writer and former Politico reporter whose writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and The Washington Post among many other publications. Before turning to fiction, Karin worked as a journalist covering politics and celebrities. She has made frequent appearances on Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and CNN. A graduate of Vassar College, she lives in Washington D.C.

 

 



Additional Reading Recommendations

(links will take you to further information)

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (historical fiction, YA)

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (historical fiction)

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom  (historical fiction)
*This is an interesting story as it also deals with the main character passing as white.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (historical fiction, family saga)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (historical fiction)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (contemporary fiction, YA)

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (contemporary fiction)

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M Draper (middle grade historical fiction selection)

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success by Sampson Davis  (middle grade, biography/memoir)

There are so many titles; these are a few that I’ve read and can highly recommend. Can you add to these recommendations in the comments?



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



Looking Ahead:

I’m planning a review of this next week:
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI 
by David Grann

Amazon information here

I’m also continuing to read an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of A Way Out: A Memoir of Conquering Depression and Social Anxiety by Michelle Balge. (review on 2/16)

A Way Out

Amazon information here (2/27/19 release date)

Also, I’m anticipating that I’ll start Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (from my 2018 TBR) some time in the next two weeks.

Prairie Fires

Amazon information here



My TBR and the BUZZ

I’m noticing lots of buzz (great reviews) lately about two books (both Book of the Month Club selections for February): The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (author of The Nightingale). I’m adding them to the top of my TBR, so look for a review soon!

Do you belong to Book of the Month Club?

I also just heard that Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache series) will be releasing a new installment in November of this year! (no title or cover yet)
#meetmeinthreepines #threepinesgeek
available for preorder

What are you reading this week?



Links

Modern Mrs Darcy published a list of  25 Must-Read Classics for Women.
How many have you read?

I appreciated this post from The Ardent Biblio: Why It’s Important to Read Diverse Books
Please check it out.

Do you plan to reread Wrinkle in Time before the movie release on March 9?
Will you be seeing the movie?



Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



Let’s Discuss!

If you were an African-American, would you have made the decision to pass as white to take advantage of a path to help you pursue your dreams? If you are an African American, would you  have passed as white in the late 1890s? What do you think of individuals who made this choice?

Will you be seeking out a certain book to read during African-American History Month? Or do you have recommendations?

What are you reading this week?

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Left Neglected

What is your reaction to the thought: “accommodations equal failure”?

January 19, 2018

Left Neglected
by Lisa Genova

left neglected 2

Genre/categories: fiction, women’s fiction, traumatic brain injury, family life

Summary:

In this compelling story, thirty something Sarah is a career driven, over achieving, competitive type A, and perfectionist mom of three. She and her husband live near Boston and manage a frantic and fast paced life as they each pursue careers and tend to the family’s schedule for soccer practice, piano lessons, parent/teacher conferences, and day care. As they are striving to have it all, a car crash leaves Sarah with a traumatic brain injury called “left neglect.” As the story unfolds, readers journey alongside Sarah as she fights to regain her independence and seeks to answer questions about an uncertain future. While Sarah experiences relinquishing all the control she thought she had to her once absent mother and her physical therapists, she begins to envision a life apart from the world of conference calls and spreadsheets and wonders if a happiness and peace greater than the success she has known is within her grasp.

Amazon Rating (January): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Readers may recognize Lisa Genova as the author of the best-selling book Still Alice or may have seen the movie based on the book. Genova’s degrees are in biopsychology and neuroscience and her fiction work is focused on writing characters who live with neurological diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism, Huntington’s disease, ALS, and traumatic brain injury.

In addition to an unforgettable lesson in NO TEXTING OR PHONE WHILE DRIVING, readers will find an inspiring story of courage and determination in the face of a tragic and devastating traumatic brain injury.

Sarah is left with the disability of “left neglect” which means that she’s unaware of anything on her left. She even has difficulty finding her left hand (In a humorous and light-hearted moment she hints to her husband that a big brilliant diamond for her left hand might better help her to notice and find her hand!).

“The first step in my recovery is to become aware of my unawareness, to constantly and repeatedly remind myself that my brain thinks it’s paying attention to all of everything but in fact, it’s only paying attention to the right half of everything and nothing on the left.”      ~Sarah

As Sarah is able to come home, she begins to reflect about the way she and her husband had been living which up until now had meant not even taking advantage of paid vacations so that they could work more to get ahead. In a conversation with her husband, Sarah thinks:

“Pre-accident me nods, understanding the life-and-death stakes [of his job] completely. He’s doing exactly what I would’ve done. But I’m worried more about him than his job right now and can see what pre-accident me is blind to–that he and his job are, in fact, two separate things.”     ~Sarah

Given the high achieving and perfectionist competitor that Sarah’s always been in life, part of her struggle in therapy is the temptation to equate accommodations with failure. This tension is especially painful as she contemplates the dilemma of giving up skiing or skiing with accommodations.

handicap snowboarding

*photo from the NEHSA website

 

 

 

 

 

NEHSA. I appreciate information shared in the book about the New England Handicapped Sports Association (NEHSA) and the thoughts Sarah has about her experience as it relates to her disability and her therapy.

Themes: If you’ve been reading my reviews you know that the presence of substantial themes is a huge component in my final rating of a book. Important themes in this book include reconciliation, determination, courage, humor, forgiveness, finding peace, and building your best life with a visible or an invisible disability. In addition to interpreting the title on a  literal level (the disability), I began to think of the title in terms of all that had been neglected in Sarah’s life as she chases her vision of success. Perhaps there is  happiness and peace that is greater than the success one can find in competitive cooperate America.

4 or 5 stars? While I like that the author drops readers right into the action of Sarah’s busy life and readers are engaged from the beginning, I think the conclusion could have been more fully developed so that readers could experience it unfolding instead of writing it like a summary.  Perhaps the inciting incident could have been moved ahead in the story (readers understand right away how crazy her life is and some of these details were a bit tedious and could have been edited out) and more time could have been allotted to developing the conclusion. This is a minor concern and falls into the category of personal preference. The overall experience of reading the book is a solid 4 for me, and I appreciate the positive, hopeful, and uplifting closure that the author brings to Sarah’s situation. In addition, I think that reading and understanding more about disabilities is a beneficial pursuit in my reading life.

Recommended? I highly recommend this book for readers who have become acquainted with this author through reading Still Alice, who might be challenged by a thoughtful journey into living with a disability, and who enjoy stories of resiliency, bravery, courage, hope, forgiveness, and determination.

My Rating: 4 Stars
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Left Neglected

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova

(from Amazon)
Lisa Genova
graduated from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science, she is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels STILL ALICE, LEFT NEGLECTED, LOVE ANTHONY, and INSIDE THE O’BRIENS.

Lisa’s writing focuses on people living with neurological diseases and disorders who tend to be ignored, feared, or misunderstood, portrayed within a narrative that is accessible to the general public. Through fiction, she is dedicated to describing with passion and accuracy the journeys of those affected by neurological diseases, thereby educating, demystifying, and inspiring support for care and scientific research. She has written about Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, autism, Huntington’s disease, and ALS.

STILL ALICE was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish. Julianne Moore won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland.

In 2015, Lisa was named one of the U.S. Top 50 Influencers in Aging. She received The Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square in recognition of “a contemporary storyteller whose work has had a significant impact on the public dialogue,” The Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award, The Global Genes RARE Champions of Hope Award, and The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Media Award for Informing the Public about Treatment and Ongoing Research in Medical Illness.

In 2016, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bates College, The Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Award, and The Huntington’s Disease Society of America Community Awareness Award.

Her 2017 TED talk, “What You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s,” was seen by over 2.5 million viewers in its first few months.

Her fifth novel, EVERY NOTE PLAYED, is about ALS and will be published March 20, 2018.



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Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



Extra:

A book that I’d recommend for our protagonist, Sarah, to read next in her journey is Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic For a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist.

present over perfect



Looking Ahead:

This week I’m reading The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (but it’s a slow read for me), so next week look for a review of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (and possibly Library at the Edge of the World if I finish it).

(Amazon information in links above)

What are you reading this week?

 

 



Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Still Alice or Left Neglected?

Do you think it’s beneficial to read books that feature disability topics?

What do you think about Sarah’s concern that “accommodations equal failure”?

Have you read any of Lisa Genova’s other titles?

What are you reading this week?

Wonder

October 27, 2017

You were probably an ordinary kid. Did you ever experience a terrifying first day in a new school?

Consider Auggie. He feels ordinary inside but no one else sees him as ordinary. As he expresses: kids don’t scream and run away if you’re ordinary….they don’t stare.

This is the advice 10-year-old August Pullman receives from his parents on the first day of school:

“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”

Because the movie Wonder releases in theaters on November 17, 2017, it seems timely to provide a review of the book.

Movie Trailer here.

Wonder
by R. J. Palacio

Wonder

Genre/categories: Middle grade through adult contemporary fiction,  growing up, difficult discussions, family life, friendship, character traits

Summary:

On the inside, ten-year-old August Pullman feels very ordinary. But as he says, ordinary kids don’t make other kids run away screaming and they don’t get stared at wherever they go. Auggie was born with a rare genetic abnormality that affected the formation of his face. Because of extensive surgeries and an attempt to protect him from cruelties of the outside world, Auggie’s parents have home schooled him. The reader meets 5th grade Auggie as he’s being enrolled in a traditional school for the first time. Will he be accepted? Will he find friends? Will he find a hostile or friendly environment? How will adults in his life support him? The story is told from six perspectives (August, Via–his older sister, Summer–a friendly caring peer, Jack–a student leader who struggles in his role as friend, Miranda–his sister’s best friend and a close family friend, and Justin–Miranda’s boyfriend) plus a bonus chapter from Julian’s point of view (Auggie’s nemesis).  Amazon Rating: (an amazing) 4.9 Stars

My Thoughts:

If you plan to see the movie, don’t miss out on reading the book first!  It’s an easy, engaging, thoughtful, inspirational, and meaningful read with valuable discussion possibilities for the entire family.

As we venture to school with Auggie, we feel his daily apprehension and celebrate his courage and determination. Even though he thinks of himself on the inside as an ordinary kid, we know he doesn’t look ordinary and his severe facial abnormality could cause him to be the object of unkind actions by his peers and to experience bullying.

Throughout the story, the narrative changes perspectives with each chapter. This helps us get a 360 degree understanding of Auggie’s world and also allows us to see the nice circle of people who care for him and support him. In addition, it allows the reader to understand that everyone battles something. Because this is written for a children’s audience, it does have a happy ending where ‘good” people are rewarded and the “bad” get their punishment. I like that there is an epilogue (extra chapter) in the current version of the book that follows Auggie’s nemesis Julian and we see how Julian changes and grows in empathy and compassion

The story takes a dramatic turn when Auggie overhears his friend Jack’s derogatory remarks about him; he is discouraged and devastated, and everything changes as he has to fight to rebuild what he’s lost. Through these authentic middle grade voices, we learn about true friendship, risk, and the importance of kindness.

I especially admire Auggies’s English teacher who each month presents the idea of precepts to live by and encourages students to write their own…an example of a precept he presents is “When given the choice between being right or kind, choose kind.” In an attempt to establish the habit of writing precepts as a lifelong practice, he encourages students to email their precepts to him in the years after graduation. Auggie’s 5th grade  precept is “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation once in their lives because we all overcometh the world.”

The following is a sampling of the types of quotes you will find from the adults in the story:

“Kinder than necessary,” he repeated. “What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness. And what does that mean? How is that measured? You can’t use a yardstick. It’s like I was saying just before: it’s not like measuring how much you’ve grown in a year. It’s not exactly quantifiable, is it? How do we know we’ve been kind? What is being kind, anyway?”

“….If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary–the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”

“It’s not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness. The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s character. The strength of one’s courage–” 

Don’t miss out on this inspirational story filled with heart, heroes, and humor and which inspired the Kindness Movement. I expect that Wonder will become a beloved classic in upper grade classrooms and in family libraries. Highly recommended for every reader who believes in the power of teaching through a story and for every family who is in the process of building empathy, compassion, and kindness. I believe good literature can be enjoyed by all ages!

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

My rating: 4.5 stars (I tried to read this and rate it from a kid’s perspective. As an adult reader, however, I lowered the rating by half a star because it could have included more beautiful writing and some adults seem stereotypical and could have been more fully developed.)

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Buy Here.

There is an additional book, Auggie & Me. It’s not a sequel, rather a companion read and an extension of Auggie’s world with three additional points of view.

Auggie & Me

More Information about Auggie & Me Here.

The Kindness Movement and Sign the Pledge Here.

The author interviews kids about kindness here.

Movie Trailer here.

 

Meet the Author, R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio was born and raised in New York City. She attended the High School of Art and Design and the Parsons School of Design, where she majored in illustration with the hopes of someday following in the footsteps of her favorite childhood author-illustrators, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Maurice Sendak, and the D’Aulaires. She was a graphic designer and art director for many years before writing Wonder. We’re All Wonders, which is based conceptually on the themes of her novel, represents the fulfillment of her dream to write and illustrate her own picture book. R.J. is also the author of Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories and 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is surrounded by magical water towers, with her husband, their two sons, and their two dogs, Bear and Beau. Learn more about her at rjpalacio.com or on Twitter at @RJPalacio.


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
Denise J Hughes


Extra:

In my last post, I indicated that I would read and review If the Creek Don’t Rise. I did read it; however, I decided that Wonder would be the primary focus of my review this week so that I can encourage you to read it before the movie releases. Here’s my brief review of If the Creek Don’t Rise.

If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don’t Rise
by Leah Weiss

Genre/categories: Literary Fiction, historical fiction, small town, rural, Appalachia, hillbilly culture

Summary:

Young Sadie Blue lives in the North Carolina mountain town of Baines Creek and suffers abuse at the hands of her drunken husband, Roy Tupkin. When a new teacher comes to town, Sadie begins to think of finding her voice and of a life that doesn’t include Roy.

Amazon Rating: 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Harsh and hard realities of life in this remote Appalachian community make If the Creek Don’t Rise a gritty and sobering read. Young Sadie Blue is pregnant, abused, mistreated, and struggling to find her voice. Only a few chapters are from Sadie’s POV. The story is told from multiple viewpoints giving readers a good perspective of her life and the hillbilly community. Some characters offer hope and healing while others are despicable. Sadie does find her voice in a way that surprised me (but maybe it shouldn’t have given her situation and the hillbilly culture). As a teacher, I hoped to learn more about the new teacher’s contribution to the youth of the community….I’m always looking for hope and redemption in a story….but after the teacher’s strong introduction, she fades into the background of the story. This is also disappointing because she is important to Sadie. Overall, I enjoyed the read and the excellent writing; however, I hesitate to recommend it because I don’t think it’s a read that everyone would enjoy. It’s gritty and a bit dark but certainly an impressive debut novel. I would encourage you to read additional reviews.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Buy Here.


Looking Ahead:

My library hold of Young Jane Young finally came in so I think I’ll read and review that for next week. I’m a bit apprehensive because it borders on “chick lit” and that’s not my  usual genre. However, it’s a selected read for my online book club at Modern Mrs. Darcy and will be a good break from some heavier reads.

Young Jane Young

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.


Let’s Discuss!

I’m curious if you’ve read Wonder! Do you have children that have read it? I’d love to hear your (or their) reflection. Do you plan to see the movie? How do you feel about teaching character traits such as empathy and kindness through literature? What are you reading this week?

 

Refugee

October 20, 2017

Trust me: This is a great read!

See us, he thought. Hear us. Help us.

Refugee
by Alan Gratz

Refugee

Genre: Middle Grade through Adult Historical Fiction, global issues

Summary:

Refugee is the story of the refugee experience from three unique perspectives:

  • 12/13-year-old Josef and family are Jewish and attempt to escape Nazi Germany in 1938 aboard a ship bound for a country(Cuba) that will accept them.
  • 12-year-old Isabel and family are Cuban and flee riots and unrest in Cuba in 1994 on a homemade raft pointed toward safety in Miami, Florida.
  • 12-year-old Mahmoud and family are Syrian and seek to escape war-torn Aleppo in 2015 and relocate to Germany.

Even though these families are separated by continents and decades, their stories share certain similarities. Each journey is fraught with harrowing adventures, frustration, courage, resiliency, heartache, injustice, persecution, dangers, children assuming adult roles and responsibility, loss of childhood innocence and joy, and loss of family members. However, the families have hope that drives them forward. Amazon Rating (October): 4.8 Stars (this is a very high rating in which 88% of the stars are in the 5 star category)

My Thoughts:

Refugee is an important story because it gives refugees a face and a name, and the timeliness of the Syrian refugee family is relevant to current events.

I appreciated the tightly woven plot and seamless transitions between points of view. As the author worked to tie the stories together, the reader notices that all three journeys to safety involve a boat and that children are forced to take on adult responsibilities and worries. In addition, the kindness of strangers and glimmers of hope keep them going forward in each story.  Interesting parallels involve Josef fleeing Germany in 1938 and Mahmoud’s family escaping to Germany in 2015; furthermore, Josef’s family tried to gain entry into Cuba in 1938 and Isabel’s family sought to flee Cuba in 1994.

This story is engaging from page one and unputdownable. I never felt like I was reading a middle grade selection except to reflect on how middle grade readers might react to certain parts of the story. Yes, the story has 12-year-old narrators, but it’s the story of families and how they support each other in the most difficult circumstances. Even though adults will enjoy this story, it’s easily accessible for middle school readers (appropriate language, straight forward writing style, and not overly graphic or violent). That being said, the content is difficult at points (some events can be emotional and some historical perspective is probably needed). I recommend this for mature middle graders who are able to read this with a parent or teacher, and it will easily hold an adult’s interest as well and lead to excellent discussion opportunities.

The most powerful parts of the story include the author’s unique structure and smooth transitions between points of view of three refugee families. The POV from innocent children was especially powerful and moving, especially as the oldest children were forced to handle adult responsibilities and make difficult decisions. One powerful idea in the story was Mahmoud’s understanding of being visible or invisible. He learned through his life in Aleppo that being invisible helped him survive and avoid bullies; however, he quickly realized that refugees couldn’t stay invisible if they wanted help from the world. It’s only when people are visible (make waves, rock the boat) that people will notice them and take action. In his own words:

“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do,” Mahmoud realized. The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. When they stayed where they were supposed to be–in the ruins of Aleppo or behind the fences of a refuge camp–people could forget about them. But when refugees did something they didn’t want them to do–when they tried to cross the border into their country, or slept on the front stoops of their shops, or jumped in front of their cars, or prayed on decks of their ferries–that’s when people couldn’t ignore them any longer.

Even though some readers might consider the ending slightly contrived as two of the families intersect, I appreciated a somewhat uplifting ending.

Refugee rates as one of my most memorable reads of the year and highly recommended for readers age 12 through adult who are searching for a riveting histfic read, for parents and/or teachers who are looking for diverse reads to build global empathy and understanding of the effects of war and oppression and the refugee crisis, for book club members who are interested in discussing challenging themes.  *Caution: It’s my opinion that even though this is shelved as middle grade (grades 5-8), younger children in this range might find the occasional violence and harsh realities too much for them. It’s actually perfect for high school readers who already have helpful historical knowledge of the events. I would encourage parents to “buddy read” it with their younger children. It might be an especially interesting read for any families who have relatives that came to America as a result of being “sponsored.”

My Rating: 5 Stars

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A book for younger middle grade readers (but also enjoyable for adults) with a similar refugee theme might be Inside Out and Back Again (reviewed here as an “extra” in this post).

Refugee

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz

I’m the author of a number of books for young readers, including Refugee, Ban This Book, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, Projekt 1065, the League of Seven series, and The Brooklyn Nine. I live in the mountains of western North Carolina with my family, where I enjoy reading, playing games, and eating pizza.

 

 

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Extras:

Turtles all the Way DownIn last week’s blog post, I indicated that I would review Turtles all the Way Down by John Green this week. I read it, but then I read Refugee after that and loved it so much more that I changed my mind on the blog’s focus this week–because, above all, I’m committed to bringing you recommendations for the best of what I read. I’m including a brief reflection of Turtles All The Way Down here in the extras in case you were looking forward to the review and are a John Green fan!

 

Genre: YA, social and family issues, mental illness, coming of age

Strengths:  This book deals with a very important subject and I’m assuming the author represents an authentic voice…..I appreciate that the reading experience allowed me to gain additional understanding of OCD and I loved Aza and was deeply moved by her thoughts, angst, and experiences. It is important to know that the inspiration for this book came from John Green’s own personal experiences with OCD.

Weaknesses: There is a lot going on—which probably is typical of a teenager’s life and the YA genre (mother/daughter relationship, best friend, school, coming of age, boyfriend, lizard, crime solving, astronomy, abandoned/neglected boys, etc); and the plot was meh because there were too many things happening on multiple fronts and many details that didn’t make sense in the story (e.g. a high school kid gets $50,000 and doesn’t tell her mom?). Other readers have highly rated this book and/or love John Green so I encourage you to read it and form your own opinion.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars rounded to 3 Stars

For the Amazon rating, summary, and purchase information click here.


Reminder: This Christian histfic Kindle book is FREE in the month of October! (*note: I haven’t read it, but it seems interesting … and I have Viking heritage! For free, I’m trying it!)

God’s Daughter
by Heather Day Gilbert

God's DaughterAmazon Rating (October) 4.4 Stars

Amazon Summary: In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart. Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America. This novel is based heavily on the Icelandic Sagas and is written from a Christian worldview. Get the Kindle version FREE Here.

Looking Ahead:

I have a couple of ideas from recently published titles regarding my next read, but I haven’t finalized my selection. I’m waiting for Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (contemporary chick lit fic) to become available on Overdrive (library app) and I recently bought If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss (Appalachia settinh) which looks promising. Subject to change if I find something better! What are you reading this week?

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear in comments if you’re planning to put Refugee on your TBR. Does the topic of refugee crisis interest you? Do you enjoy reading diverse books? Do you seek out titles that differ from your go-to genres? Do you think middle grade and/or YA selections can be appreciated by adults? Or would you rather that I not alert you to outstanding fiction for different ages?

Out of the Easy

October 6, 2017

Have you recently discovered a new favorite author?

Out of the Easy

Genre: YA historical fiction

I first discovered Ruta Sepetys when I read Salt to the Sea earlier this year. I followed that quickly with Between Shades of Gray (her first novel). Both stories deal with similar WWll themes and loosely follow some of the same family members . Recently I read her third novel, Out of the Easy. Although I love all her works, I consider Salt to the Sea my favorite of her novels (review).

Summary of Out of the Easy:

It’s 1950 in the French Quarter of New Orleans when we meet seventeen year old Josie. A high achiever with a great deal of grit and savvy, she is the daughter of an unreliable mother who is a prostitute, enjoys the unlikely mentorship of a tough madam, and is trying to survive in the Big Easy. Although Josie has a plan to get out, she becomes tangled in an investigation that could change her dream of an elite eastern college and her future. Throughout the story, she is tried, tempted, and tested. How will her decisions shape her future? Amazon rating (October): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this fast paced and engaging story of a girl beating the odds to pursue an education and a fresh start. At first, everything that could go wrong for Josie goes wrong; but her determination, grit, bravery, spunk, perseverance, and quick thinking pull her through some harrowing experiences. The following quote illustrates her attitude:

“I still wanted to believe it was possible, that my Wings, no matter how thin and torn, could still somehow carry me away from a life of lies and perverted men.”

Josie is a memorable character and readers will root for her throughout the story.

Recommended for mature YA and older readers who love a character you can cheer for and a story filled with intrigue and some suspense. In addition, this is an excellent introduction the beautiful writing of Ruta Sepetys.

My rating:  4 Stars

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Out of the Easy

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning historical novels are published in over fifty countries. “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania. Her second novel, “Out of the Easy” is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and her third novel, “Salt to the Sea, exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee.

For more information:
http://www.rutasepetys.com
http://www.facebook.com/rutasepetys
http://www.twitter.com/rutasepetys

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books spoils you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Extra:

Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again

 

Are you looking for a diverse multicultural read for your middle grade reader or student?

Told in free verse from the perspective of 10-year-old Ha and inspired by the author’s own experiences, this is a poignant and beautifully written story of a family’s escape from Vietnam before the fall of Saigon to America. This refugee and immigrant story can build feelings of compassion and lead to thoughtful reflection as Ha experiences grief, bullying, learning English, new foods and customs, kindness from a neighbor, finding her voice, family loyalty, and the comfort of old traditions. A perfect read for older elementary or middle grade readers but, as with all good literature, enjoyable for adults too…a diverse read that builds understanding and empathy.

Amazon Rating (October) 4.5 Stars

My rating: 5 Stars

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More Information Here.

Meet the Author, Thanhha Lai

Thanhha Lai Page

 

 

 

Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam and now lives north of New York City with her family and two dogs.

Looking Ahead:

I. Am. Thrilled. to finally review Little Fires Everywhere next week if you’d like to “buddy read.” It was a Book of the Month selection for September and my library hold became available this week. I dropped everything to read. There’s been a lot of buzz about this book and,  thankfully, it lived up to my expectations!

Little Fires Everywhere

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 

 

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear in comments if you’ve read Ruta Sepetys or if you plan on adding one of her books to your TBR list. Have you already read Little Fires Everywhere? Please stop in and say hello!

 

 

Castle of Water

September 22, 2017

fall

Happy first day of fall everyone!

Every now and then do you enjoy an escapist read? Are you looking for a vacation read? Do you need to get away from tragic histfic, need a break from heavy nonfiction topics, a relief from diverse literature where we work hard to climb into the perspectives of others, or a time out from text books if you’re a student? Then this may be your next read! Sometimes you find a book at just the right time, and this is when this book found me!

Castle of Water
by Dane Hucklebridge

castle of water 2

Genre/categories; fiction, survival, action & adventure, romance

Summary:

“And so it came to pass that two utterly disparate lives happened to overlap … bound together on an uninhabited island some 2,359 miles from Hawaii, 4,622 miles from Chile, and 533 miles from the nearest living soul.
Crap, as Barry liked to say.
Putain de merde, as Sophie was known to exclaim.”
― Dane HuckelbridgeCastle of Water

Sophie, an architect and honeymooner, and Barry, disillusioned with his career in finance and seeking inspiration for his love of art end up on one very small island when their plane is hit by lightning and crashes in the middle of the South Pacific. Strangers and sole survivors and as different as night and day, Sophie and Barry wash up on a small uninhabited island and survival becomes their primary objective. Sophie and Barry draw from each other’s strengths and skills and through harrowing experiences keep the hope of rescue alive. Eventually, Sophie and Barry resign themselves to beginning a new life and creating a home on the isolated island. Amazon Rating (September): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

This book found me at exactly the right time as I needed a break from reading tragic and heavy histfic. It is truly an escapist and/or vacation read! At first glance, this might seem like a classic castaway survival story, and it is….yet it’s so much more….. it’s a charming, witty, poignant, engaging, and beautifully told story that explores themes of home, love, loss, sadness, perseverance, heartbreak, hope, resiliency, and desperation. Furthermore, the history and geography that the author weaves into the narrative is informative and interesting.  The story is easy to get into with memorable characters, unexpected humor, and it’s full of heart. The story alternates between present and past timelines, and I devoured it in one day. Unputdownable. Even though Mr. Hucklebridge has a unique style of writing that was refreshing and at times exquisite, the story has a slightly impersonal feel to it and at times I wished that I could know what Sophie and Barry were thinking and feeling from a first person point of view. The author’s decision to write from an impersonal viewpoint is at its most effective when he speaks directly to the reader because it allows us to become true cohorts in the adventure and we can appreciate all their joy and sorrow. The impersonal viewpoint is a minor concern because overall I enjoyed his masterful writing and simple telling of a complicated situation and relationship. I could easily reread this book and that is rare for me.

“He smiles and shakes his head, a smile that’s bewildered and content and still pursed by that same tender sadness that visited him by the arch, that trails him as doggedly as his gratitude and his guilt … the wonder of it all, the unknowable mystery, to serve as fleshy custodian to such a fragile flame.”
― Dane HuckelbridgeCastle of Water

Recommended for all adult readers who are looking for a masterfully written tale of adventure, escapism, or a vacation read. Rating: 5 Stars (rounded up from 4.5).

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Castle of Water

Buy Here

 

Meet the Author, Dane Hucklebridge

Dane Hucklebridge

Dane Hucklebridge

Dane Huckelbridge was born and raised in the American Middle West. He holds a degree from Princeton University, and his fiction and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Tin HouseThe New Delta ReviewThe Wall Street Journal, and The New RepublicCastle of Water is his first novel, although he has also authored two historical works on American whiskey and beer, respectively. He lives with his wife in Paris, France, and New York City.

Extra:

Read an interview with Dane Hucklebridge here.

(Thank you to Top Shelf Text.)

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J. Hughes

Looking Forward:

Next week, I’m eager to review The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (a YA diverse literature pick dealing with racial issues currently in the news) if you’d like to “buddy read.” Lots to discuss here. *Language alert

The Hate You Give

Get more info and/or buy here.

 

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

What have you been reading lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments on Castle of Water if or when you read it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before We Were Yours

September 1, 2017

Before We Were Yours

by Lisa Wingate

Before we Were Yours

Genre/categories: historical fiction, adoption, family

Summary:

Two timelines reveal this sad and heartfelt story which is based on one of America’s most tragic real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped, mistreated, and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

In 1939, twelve year old Rill and her four younger siblings live with their free-spirited parents aboard a Mississippi River shanty boat near Memphis, Tennessee. They were poor but surrounded by fireflies and well loved by their creative parents. One stormy night, the children are left alone when their father rushes their mother to the hospital. Strangers arrive and forcefully take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, misleading them that they will be returned to their parents. The children quickly realize the disturbing truth and fight to survive and to stay together while enduring the cruelties of the facility’s director.

In the present day, when Avery returns home during her father’s health crisis, she is disturbed by her encounter with a woman at an assisted living facility. This event leads to her determined journey through her family’s long and hidden history for the answers to some uncomfortable questions. Amazon Rating (August): (an impressive) 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Although this is an emotional and difficult read (it’s always difficult when innocent children are involved), it’s receiving great reviews and is a well told gripping story recounting the documented capture and mistreatment of children by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage around 1939. What it lacks in beautiful writing (the narrative seemed stiff at points and involved a lot of “telling”), it makes up for in inspiring themes of family loyalty, caring for the elderly, privilege, and truth-telling. In addition, this page turning story is filled with memorable characters. Of the two story lines, I thought the past story line was the better written and more engaging. Overall, the story was riveting, the characters are memorable, and the ending was redemptive and uplifting.  Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction and stories of redemption. My Rating: 4 Stars

Before we Were Yours

 

Buy Here

 

 

 

Meet the Author, Lisa Wingate

(love her emphasis on kindness and her tribute to teachers)

Lisa Wingate

“Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of literary works. Her novels have garnered or been short-listed for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the LORIES Best Fiction Award, The Carol Award, the Christy Award, Family Fiction’s Top 10, RT Booklover’s Reviewer’s Choice Award, and others. The group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with six others for the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who promote greater kindness and civility in American life. She’s been a writer since Mrs. Krackhardt’s first-grade class and still believes that stories have the power to change the world.

IN THE WRITER’S OWN WORDS: A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, made a writer out of me. That may sound unlikely, but it’s true. It’s possible to find a calling when you’re still in pigtails and Mary Jane shoes, and to know it’s your calling. I was halfway through the first grade when I landed in Mrs. Krackhardt’s classroom. I was fairly convinced there wasn’t anything all that special about me… and then, Mrs. Krackhardt stood over my desk and read a story I was writing. She said things like, “This is a great story! I wonder what happens next?”

It isn’t every day a shy new kid gets that kind of attention. I rushed to finish the story, and when I wrote the last word, the teacher took the pages, straightened them on the desk, looked at me over the top, and said, “You are a wonderful writer!”

A dream was born. Over the years, other dreams bloomed and died tragic, untimely deaths. I planned to become an Olympic gymnast or win the National Finals Rodeo, but there was this matter of back flips on the balance beam and these parents who stubbornly refused to buy me a pony. Yet the writer dream remained. I always believed I could do it because… well… my first grade teacher told me so, and first grade teachers don’t lie.

So, that is my story, and if you are a teacher, or know a teacher, or ever loved a special teacher, I salute you from afar and wish you days be filled with stories worth telling and stories worth reading.”

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, if you’d like to “buddy read,” I’ll review Louise Penny’s Glass Houses, the recent installment (#13) of the Inspector Gamache series. In two weeks, I’ll review America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (also my IRL book club pick!).

Glass Houses

 

Buy Here

 

 

 

America's First Daughter

Buy Here

Sharing is Caring:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections of Before We Were Yours or share what you’ve been reading lately or plan to read next in comments.

EXTRAS

Check out Top Shelf Text’s post where she queried 21 bloggers (Reading Ladies participated!) about their favorite reads of the summer. Click here.

If you are interested in challenging yourself to read more diverse books, Top Shelf Text has created a Diverse Books Club. Check it out here.

Do you want to take a fun reading personality quiz? Modern Mrs. Darcy has a new book coming out soon called Reading People: how seeing the world through the lens of personality changes everything, and she has created a fun free quick quiz to determine your reading personality (with no obligation to purchase the book). When you complete the quiz she will email you your results (then if desired you can choose to unsubscribe from her mailings) along with 5 recommended titles for your personality type. Try it here. 

 

Hillbilly Elegy

August 18, 2017

Do you love memoirs?

Hillbilly Elegy
by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact
that spiritual and material poverty has
on their children.”

Genre: memoir, nonfiction, biography, sociology, poverty

Summary:

This is an observant, powerful, and sincere memoir about growing up in a poor white working class family in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. A Yale Law School graduate and a former marine, J. D. Vance was originally from Kentucky’s Appalachia region. His grandparents who were “dirt poor and in love” moved the family to Ohio in the hopes of escaping devastating poverty. Throughout the memoir, we learn that despite a geographical move, the family was never able to entirely escape the hillbilly culture of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Even though J. D. Vance beat the odds and graduated from law school, he still struggles to come to terms with his chaotic family history. The memoir is filled with detailed, humorous, dramatic, and colorful examples of what his life was like. Amazon Rating (August): 4.4 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Book clubs and friends could discuss this book for hours. The following personal thoughts represent only a few of the many discussion topics this book offers.

Love

Primarily, it struck me that the impact of his grandparents’ love affected his life. All through school, he was a bright student; however, when his grades started falling in middle school he states that it wasn’t the teachers or the school that was at fault, rather it was the chaos at home (living with his mom)  and in his community that affected his school performance. After he went to live with his grandparents officially, this is what he writes: “What I remember most of all is that I was happy–I no longer feared the school bell at the end of the day, I knew where I’d be living the next month, and no one’s romantic decisions [mom’s rotation of boyfriends or husbands] affected my life. And out of that happiness came so many of the opportunities I’ve had for the past twelve years.” J. D.’s description of the stability his grandparents offered him caused me to reflect on the importance of the home in a child’s life and education. His grandparents were certainly less than perfect, in fact they had serious flaws which would make one question his placement in their home. However, J. D. Vance lied to the case workers so that he would be ensured of being placed in their home because he didn’t think he could make it in life without their love and the stability they offered. Children can endure a lot if they feel loved. This doesn’t make the neglect right but it does make a difference. This reminds me of the story of Jeanette Walls in The Glass Castle…even though she suffered extreme neglect, I think she felt that both parents loved her which most likely made a great difference in her ability to achieve success. Another similarity between the authors is that both Jeanette and J. D. had an older supportive and nurturing sibling which added to the love and stability in their lives.

Upward Mobility and the Family

Hillbilly Elegy offers an in-depth look at the struggles of America’s white working class. J. D. Vance describes one incident when he was in a primary grade (I think 2nd but I don’t have the book here to look it up) that helped the reader think about how important  family support is in upward mobility. He recounts sitting in class while the teacher was asking students to solve mental math problems. He felt great about his answer and was delighted when the teacher recognized his brilliant thinking. However, the next student to offer an answer explained how “times” could be used to reach the same answer. J. D. was shaken. How did this child know about “times” when he had never heard about “times.” He knew it couldn’t have been taught at school because he would’ve remembered and learned it. After some thought, he realized that the child who knew about “times” must have learned it somewhere other than at school and realized he must have learned it at home. He offers this profound reflection, “There existed a massive ignorance about how to achieve white-collar work. We didn’t know that all across the country–and even in our hometown–other kids had already started a competition to get ahead in life.” As a result of his classroom experience, J. D. went home and asked his mom and grandparents why he didn’t know about “times,” and grandpa spent the weekend teaching him “times” and division. His point in explaining that situation is that the competition starts at home with the support and “extras” that parents offer. He realized as early as 2nd grade that his poor community was already finding it difficult to compete in this area.

No Blame for Public Schools

J. D. Vance is clear that neither public schools nor public school teachers were to blame for his declining grades in middle and high school. He describes the situation as follows: “We didn’t live a peaceful life in a small nuclear family. We lived a chaotic life in big groups of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.” He describes again and again how this chaos affected his education, “The constant moving and fighting, the seemingly endless carousel of new people I had to meet, learn to love, and then forget–this, and not my sub par public school, was the real barrier to opportunity.” Officially moving in with his grandparents provided the stability he needed to succeed in school.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

J. D. Vance related throughout his stories the pessimism that permeated his community. Not only pessimism but blame. People he knew were always blaming someone else for their situation (the president, the government, taxes, etc.). When he came home from the military, one of his first observations was that he felt like an outsider, “For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider in Middletown. And what turned me into an alien was my optimism.” He goes on to reflect that perhaps getting out of the community and entering the military and going away to college was the action he needed to take to achieve success, “It’s no surprise that every single person in my family who has built a successful home…married someone from outside our little culture.” The culture strongly defined by pessimism.

The Message From Home

Even though his chaotic childhood was filled with turmoil and trauma, J. D. Vance states, “Despite all the environmental pressures from my neighborhood and community, I received a different message at home [his grandparents’ home]. And that just might have saved me.”

Yay for grandparents!

Companion Reads

As I read Hillbilly Elegy I thought of two memoirs (among several) where the authors were able to rise above poverty and their communities: The Glass Castle and We Beat the Streets.  In The Glass Castle, we also see the hillbilly culture mentioned as Jeanette’s family moved in with her father’s mom in Appalachia. From this move, we see that the way her father treated his children could in part be due to an influence from the hillbilly culture. We Beat the Streets is a middle school read and I often referred my boys who were reading at grade level to this inspirational story about three kids who “beat the streets’ and became doctors. Theirs wasn’t a hillbilly culture but they were from a poor black community.  Information about The Three Doctors Foundation can be found here.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to talk about in Hillbilly Elegy! If you read it, I’m certain you’ll need to discuss it. In fact, at times your discussions might be heated because of different reactions to one person’s analysis of a culture in crisis. I love that the insights and ideas in this book can be applied to communities around the United States. The discussion is much broader than simple hillbilly culture.

Finally, this book gave me additional insight into the chaotic lives of students at my Title 1 school. It’s difficult to learn when children are preoccupied with what drama is going on at home and in the community.

Recommended for women and men (especially those working with poor communities) for its thoughtful themes, discussion possibilities, and its ability to build empathy and understanding for different cultures and communities. Rating 4 stars.

Hillbilly Elegy

Buy Here

Meet the Author, J. D. Vance

J. D. Vance.jpg

J. D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will reflect on our reading roots…and in two weeks we’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.”  In three weeks I’ll review the long anticipated (at least by me!) Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date: 8/29 …. happy birthday to me!)

Before we Were Yours

Buy Here

Please Share:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. It helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections on Hillbilly Elegy in the comments section. Did any of the themes mentioned challenge you in your thinking? How does this book compare with other memoirs you’ve read with similar themes? In addition, I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite….

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Glass Castle

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography

Summary:

This is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York city choosing to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness. Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that is remembered years later, one in which I learned something new, and/or one that allowed me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has appeared for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allowed me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allowed me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminded me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more alarmed by the family situation or notice her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for the parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her after she initially refused but Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat, and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend. ”

The Class Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances. My rating 4.5 stars.

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Glass Castle
Buy Here

The movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a film and a movie

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children in spite of their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

Movie Trailer

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.

http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Jeannette-Walls/19723841

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

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Discussion:

Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!

Linked Up:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit here.