Book Review: “Sold” by Patricia McCormick

This book. Just wow.

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It’s poetry. Literally. The whole book is a series of poems all telling the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution.

It won’t be any surprise when I say that this book was hard to read. It’s Young Adult and not atrociously graphic, but it’s well written enough that it nearly shattered me. I barely slept after I finished it, because it made me feel so powerless. The author went to India and Nepal to interview girls who were saved from child slavery and sex trafficking. It didn’t matter that Lakshmi’s story was fiction; the whole book just feels far too real. It made me feel miserably uncomfortable and helpless, like when you get an alert on your mobile that there has been some global catastrophe, and you know that there is little you personally can do to help.

I think that telling this story through poetry was especially effective, because of the vivid visual nature of poetry. Yes, this can also be accomplished through prose, but I wonder then if the story would have needed a lot more excess description of movement and action. In poems everything is cut back to sensations, sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. This made the book able to talk about something as horribly graphic as child brothels by preserving the essentials and making the trauma palpable.

All I could think was, this girl is only thirteen. This girl is only thirteen.

This book meant a lot to me. It was one of those books that forces your eyes open, drags you from your comfortable life, and screams, “Don’t waste your life. People are suffering. This is real.” These are the kinds of books that deserve medals and awards, because they bring awareness to the world about ugly things. If you can stomach the ugly, read this book.

I spent a day or two looking for organizations that work to stop sex trafficking in Nepal and India. I have placed two links below if you want to read up on the work they do, or donate to help.

World Vision
MountainChild

 

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Book Review: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

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My “Readings in Global Literature” class was not at all what I expected it to be. The literature chosen for class focused mostly on the transatlantic slave trade. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and I learned so much, but when I read the course description I thought we would be reading novels from all around the world. I hoped to read a book from China or India, then maybe some from Russia or the Middle East. Basically anything but American or European, which is what most of the literature courses seem to concentrate on.

This was my only complaint with the course. Otherwise, the professor was phenomenal, and we read several wonderful books. One of my favorites was the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The title apparently comes from an old African-American belief that when they died their souls would journey across the ocean, back to their homeland of Africa. The author herself was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, and says that the character Marjorie has very similar experiences to herself. Which is interesting to know once you get to her chapter and the chapter of Marcus at the end of the book.

In my opinion, Homegoing is epic. I say this because the purpose of the novel is to try and trace the effects of the slave trade across generations, starting back in the 1700’s all the way to present day. Gyasi does this by following the story of two half sisters born in Ghana. One is sold into slavery, one remains in Ghana.

Each chapter is almost like a short story. A portion of a character’s life is relayed, giving key information about the family and about important events regarding slavery during that time period. The next chapter switches to the other branch of the family, so you go from Ghana to the United States and back to Ghana.

In some ways, this could be a bit confusing. Often times you meet a character once then see very little to nothing of them ever again. I did find myself referring back to the family tree at the opening of the book, just so I could gage where I was at generationally, but it helped that any chapter that takes place in the United States is one sister’s descendants, and the others are still living in Ghana. Gyasi also weaves in recurring themes of fire and water, which help to tie the story together.

The scope of the story is just incredible. It’s so ambitious, to try and condense so much history into one novel, but I truly think that the author did an excellent job. I’ve read some reviews that remark on how her characters have “all the things” happen to them just to make reference to important historical events, but personally this did not bother me. I liked that it was there to remind you that these things did happen to real people. It made the story all the more compelling to me in a historical sense.

I found this book absolutely breathtaking. Every chapter, every generation that brought me closer to present day had me more and more wrapped up in the story. I didn’t feel disconnected at all from the geographical or character jumps. I just wanted to see how the author was going to tie it all together. Her prose is pretty straightforward, except for now and again she breaks into a kind of poetry that always made me stop and reread the sentence.

Definitely one of my favorite reads this semester.

March Reading Summary

My blogposts tend to be pretty random in content. I started with a ton of poetry which slowly morphed into a sort of random-anecdotes-from-my-life thing. I sometimes think I blog mostly just to exercise my writing muscles, and I’m thankful for anybody who takes the time to read my random blatherings.

With Little Baby on the way, and only one year of school left, I find myself frequently considering what I want to do with my post-school time. This has left me wondering if I might not want to refocus my content hereabouts.

One of the things I’ve been toying with is posting more book reviews. I read a lot, and my taste in books is wide ranged and random, so I’m not sure this is my best idea. But with books being one of the only things I know, I figure blogging about my opinions regarding them can’t be any more yawn worthy than the other stuffs that I post here.

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To that end, I’ve decided to do a recap of all the books I read in March. It was a light kind of month as I still had a ton of school work to do, but near the end I had a few pregnancy induced sleepless nights that I devoted to reading.

  1. Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

urlThis book was one of the novels I had to read for school this semester. While I appreciated Evaristo’s storytelling abilities, I struggled to enjoy this book. It is a “what-if” dystopian satire that turns the transatlantic slave trade on its head: Africans have enslaved white Europeans. The story is about Doris, a white slave, and her attempts to escape her black masters.

After discussion in the classroom, I was able to appreciate Evaristo’s aims in this rewrite of history. By flipping the familiar, she is trying to show how racial bias has warped our thinking in so many ways. She even reinvents the map of the world, shifting different countries above and below the equator. And while I understand what she’s doing, and believe she does it well, I think, for me, I would much rather read a non-satyrical account of slavery or a true life slave narrative. But, all in all, well written and if the idea piques your interest, I’d say dive right in.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

2. Passing by Nella Larsen

url-1This is another novel I had to read for school this semester. This one I loved. Larsen’s writing style is so poised, gentle, straightforward, and beautiful. The story is about Irene and Claire, two black women from Chicago now living in Harlem during the 1920’s. The story is dark and beautiful and deals with issues of race, racism, and jealousy. It’s also a short read, the kind of book I like to take to the beach because I know I can finish before it’s time to go home. I definitely recommend it for Larsen’s poignant themes and lovely writing abilities.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

4. Twitter: The Comic by Mike Rosenthal

url-2This one was a just for fun quick comic that I stumbled across while at the library. Rosenthal collected a bunch of goofy tweets and began to illustrate them. His tumbler account got popular, leading to this collection in this book. It was nice to flip through as a cool down after school one day. It made me chuckle. For a taste, you can find Rosenthal’s tumbler here.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

5. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

url-4Yet another book I read for one of my classes. This book is the coming of age story of a young girl in Antigua. It heavily discusses the relationship between the girl and her mother, and all the complications it develops as the girl’s childhood fades into adulthood. Kincaid’s writing style was straightforward, but the story itself had layers of imagery within it that deepened the themes to a satisfying level. It was also a short easy read, another book I’d happily take to the beach.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

6. My Point…And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres

url-5OH MY GOSH! This woman is hilarious. Really. I read Seriously…I’m Kidding a few years ago, and she’s just so freakin’ funny. The book has no plot or anything. It’s just chapter after chapter of hilarious anecdotes and stories about her life, some of which you know have to be majorly exaggerated for comic effect. I read multiple chapters of this aloud to my husband and my brother-in-law and we were all cry-laughing at it. Seriously, if you need a pick-me-up then pick this one up.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

7. Welcome to Dead House by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps, #1)

url-7This series was excessively popular when I was a child. I never read any, one: because I didn’t enjoy horror back then (even the covers freaked me out) and two: if I’d tried to take one out of the library my parents probably would have slapped it from my hands and called the elders over to pray the demons out of me.

It was about what I expected, a creepy book for kids with kind of light corny humor interspersed throughout. The writing was strictly meh, but typical of a lot of serial books aimed at elementary/middle schoolers. Now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I feel no urge to ever read something by Stine again.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

8. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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This has been on my to-read list for a while, so when it popped up as required reading for my Harlem Renaissance class I was super excited. This was one of those classics that absolutely lived up to the hype. Hurston’s story of Janie’s search for self revelation was deep and beautiful, full of breathtaking prose and delicious poetical imagery. Please, do yourself a favor, if you haven’t read this, DO IT!

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

That more or less finishes out March, except for my favorite read which I’m saving out to write up a separate review for. Hope I tickled the fancy of a few book nerds out there, and maybe gave you a title or two to check out.

Cheers!

Spoiler Filled Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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This review of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD contains MAJOR of spoilers. If you want to read this book, do not read this post. 

You’ve been warned.

Disappointed. That’s the word. And not like those people who were shocked and dismayed to discover the hefty hardback they’d preordered was a play instead of a novel.  When I bought my copy I knew what I was getting. The play itself isn’t even written by J.K. Rowling, but by Jack Thorne (which it says right on the cover by the way). But even the knowing of these things did not prevent me feeling cheated as I read the script, nor did it prevent me from directing my disgruntled emotions toward J.K. Rowling, because it was the plot that I found lacking. That, I believe, was all her.

The opening scene of the play is a dramatized version of the prologue in Deathly HallowsThis didn’t bother me at first, because it made sense to me as a springboard into the new story and would appeal to fans of the books. But that wasn’t the only old scene that was put into the story.

The plot centers around the use and misuse of a time turner. Now, time travel is tricky any way you slice it, and in my reading/viewing experience, often leaves approximately 458,290,002 plot holes behind that you need to caulk and spackle. Kudos to anyone who does it. But this rolling back of time, plus the occasional nightmare of Harry Potter, had multiple scenes thrown in from the original books. While this is a lesser complaint, I was hoping for more new content.

I was also frustrated by what seemed to me like a whiny violin play for sympathy over characters that I most often see mooned over by fans. Namely Severus Snape (who by the way is my favorite), Cedrick Diggory, and Neville Longbottom.

The initial jump back into time is all in an effort to save the tragically killed Cedrick Diggory. This screws up life and the world because Cedrick apparently turned Death Eater and killed Neville at the battle of Hogwarts. If Neville dies, then Voldemort lives, because Neville is responsible for destroying one of Moldy-Volde’s Horcruxs.

Now, we can rush past the whole Hufflepuff Cedrick becoming a Death Eater issue and play the “Author knows best” card, but by the time I hit this part of the play my eye was already twitching. Then when Severus Snape turned up alive in this new world, and gave his life AGAIN to make it all be right, I felt like I’d been roped into crying over the same crap I’d already been through with Deathly Hallows. Plus, there was this whole emotional moment when Snape is told that Harry named his child after him. Snape’s dying words are, “Tell Albus Severus Potter, that I’m proud he bears my name.”

But by far the worst part for me, was when I found that Voldemort was the father of Bellatrix Lestrange’s child, a little girl born just before the battle of Hogwarts. Sex? Voldemort? No. That is an oddity that no amount of “author knows best” can excuse in my mind. I just don’t buy it. I felt like I was reading fan fiction. Nothing wrong with fan fiction! I’ve written some myself. Except, I just think that Rowling doesn’t need to do that.

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I’ve read The Cuckoo’s CallingI’d give it a solid 5 stars. I heard mixed reviews on it, some harping on the fact that it didn’t really sell until the news popped out that Robert Galbraith was J.K. Rowling. Of course that made it sell. J.K. Rowling had already been tested in the fires of unknown authordom and found brilliant. Rightfully so. She is utterly fantastic. Nobody knew Robert Galbraith. Why risk picking up his book instead of John Grisham’s? I call it courage to go through those fires again when her name would have sold it easily without the initial rejection.

But that’s just what I mean, she’s too good to have to repackage the old franchise. She’s a true writer, and probably has a thousand untold stories dancing in her head. And while I love Harry Potter, I think she deserves to work on the new and not fall under the hypnosis of the MORE HARRY! MORE HARRY! chant from fans and publishers. That’s what Pottermore is for. She has there the blessing of a forever fandom, where she can post endless anecdotes and updates on her characters to the eager approval of all. Most authors just have to walk away from their favorite characters when the story is done being told.

And stories do end. Harry’s mortgage, petty marital arguments, and eventual aging arthritic knees will not make for compelling sequels. Harry has now saved the world for Voldemort TWICE. How many times can a person save the world from a super-villian that they’ve already vanquished? Is Harry a Saturday morning cartoon of a DC comic now?  And if I have to believe he is going to save the world THREE times from He Who Shall Not Be Named…well, I just won’t.

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In case this post sounds utterly negative and like I hate the continuing Harry Potter franchise, I LOVELOVELOVED Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  The world she created in the Potter books was bigger than just Harry. Give me more new characters like Newt Scamander and I’ll come back forever. Also, the play is scheduled to open in NYC. If by any chance I could secure tickets, I would sure as anything still go, but it wouldn’t be because I was in love with the plot. It had some very fascinating special effects written in, which I would love to see worked out on stage.

Falling in Love with Pooh

My mother has always claimed to be a bookworm from her youth, but sometimes I wonder10572249_10153375877852963_645569118810842334_o how it can be possible. The only childhood book she’s told me she loved was Charlotte’s Web. She once told me she read Flowers in the Attic, I know she used to read Nicholas Sparks, and she has this horror story she sometimes tells me about possibly throwing away some first edition Dickens novels because she couldn’t read Great Expectations due to the use of old English *cocks head in confusion, then shudders and hugs the nearest book*.

Along with these coflicting anti-booklover traits, for we all know a true book lover NEVER throws away a book, I can’t recall her shedding much light onto my reading 51Pr1yvjS9L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_pathway. Once she’d recommended Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, I’m fairly certain it was school librarians and my Grandmother who did the rest, hooking me on Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and even poor Mister Dickens *shudders again and kisses the nearest book*. My mother read to us a lot growing up, but the books I remember were Hank the Cowdog, Bible story picture books, and What Would Jesus Do?. Never the classics like Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, or even Charlottes Web. Mind you, we saw all the movies, but never read the books.

About three years ago, I started picking up children’s books on my own. It was just last year that I read A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh for the first time. It was so much better than I’d anticipated. I thought it would just be a collection of sweet stories about a mismatched group of stuffed animals living in the Hundred Acre Wood, like the Disney movies I’d watched as a child, and never imagined how witty and hilarious they’d be. Even my husband was surprised when I began to read passages to him, and we ended by reading the last three chapters aloud together.
776407I just got the second book The House at Pooh Corner from the library and love it as much as the first. Some of the humor is almost reminiscent of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s a sample passage, where Piglet is imagining a conversation he’d have with a Heffalump.

HEFFALUMP (gloatingly): “Ho-ho !”
PIGLET (carelessly): “Tra-la-la, tra-la-la”
HEFFALUMP (surprised, and not quite sure of himself)“Ho-ho !”
PIGLET 
(more carelessly still): “Tiddle-um-tum, tiddle-um-tum.”
HEFFALUMP (beginning to say Ho-ho then turning it awkwardly into a cough): “H’r’m! What’s all this?”
PIGLET (surprised): “Hullo! This is a trap I’ve made, and I’m waiting for a Heffalump to fall into it.”
HEFFALUMP (greatly disappointed): “Oh?” (after a long silence) “Are you sure?”
PIGLET: “Yes.”
HEFFALUMP: “Oh!” (nervously) “I – I thought it was a trap I’d made to catch Piglets.”
PIGLET (surprised): “Oh, no!”
HEFFALUMP: “Oh!” (apologetically) “I – I must have got it wrong then.”
PIGLET: “I’m afraid so.” (politely) “I’m sorry.” (He goes on humming.)
HEFFALUMP: “Well – well – I – well. I suppose I’d better be getting back?
PIGLET (looking up carelessly): “Must you? Well, if you see Christopher Robin anywhere, you might tell him I want him.”
HEFFALUMP (eager to please): “Certainly! Certainly!” (he hurries off.)
POOH (who wasn’t going to be there, but we find we can’t do without him): “Oh, Piglet, how very brave and clever you are!”

The entire chapter had me giggling aloud, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to get the rest. Honestly, I don’t care what your age is, these books are a treat that you should not deny yourself. Along with the humor, he has a gift for making poignant moments of tenderness that warm your heart.

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Every writer has authors they idolize and dreams of what they could one day become. One of my dreams is to be able to write like that. To be able to make people laugh, smile, and cry all at once. Yeah, yeah that would be fantastic. ❤

Text ©Rachel Svendsen 2016
Quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

Book Review: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls

I have been working my way through a reading list on Buzzfeed called, 35 Books You Need to Read in Your Twenties. Many of them were books that I had never read, by authors I’d never heard of. Most people get this kind of forced exposure in school, but since the only English class I took in college was a short story class, I haven’t been made to read much since the 12th grade.

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One of the many treasures I found was a book called “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls.

It’s about the life of Lily Casey Smith, Jeanette’s grandmother. It’s really nonfiction, but Jeanette calls it “a true life novel,” reason being that many of the facts were word of mouth and unverifiable, along with the added dialogue. It did not read like historical fiction. To me it was a mix of novel and memoir. I loved it. Lily was an amazing woman. She was born in 1901, in a time when women were mostly wives and mothers. Watching her look squarely in the eye of society’s expectations and spending her life fighting to find out what she was meant to be, was intensely inspirational. She broke stereotypes and learned to fly planes, break horses, and even sold moonshine during the Prohibition to help keep her family fed.

Here’s one of favorite quotes from the book, hopefully to whet your appetite. It takes place after she and her husband lose everything and end up becoming caretakers of a backwoods ranch. This is her first trip to the outhouse.

A distinctly malodorous aroma arose from the hole, and for a moment I missed my snazzy mail-order toilet with the shiny white porcelain bowl, the mahogany lid, and the nifty pull-chain flush. As I sat down, though, I realized that you can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to think they’re necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don’t need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things — though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart — and at the ranch, I could see we’d have pretty much everything we’d need but precious little else.”

Pick it up and give it a look, if for no other reason than to learn a little more about life on a pre WWI ranch in the American Southwest.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Quote from “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls – Simon and Schuster Inc. 2009

Book Review: “Creeping Shadow” by Caroline Peckham

I usually post on Monday, but today is a special Thursday. It is the release date of indie author Caroline Peckham’s YA Fantasy Novel, “Creeping Shadow.”

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Here’s a quick no spoiler synopsis:

Siblings Oliver and May Knight find themselves moving in with a grandfather they’ve never met, after their mother’s strange disappearance. As they look for clues to their mother’s wereabouts, they end up finding that their grandfather is a mage and that Earth is one of seven existing worlds. One night, May is attacked in her sleep. A deadly curse cast over her sends both of them on an adventure into new worlds they didn’t even know existed a few days before.

This book is well imagined and beautifully written. I loved the original and magical settings, from the grandfather’s house to Vale, one of the other seven worlds. This book only took you into three of the worlds, one of being Earth, and I can’t wait to see the other ones. That’s not the only reason I’m dying to read the sequel.

To me, this book was part fantasy and part murder mystery with elements inside reminiscent of “Hunger Games” and “Interworld.” I stayed up late two nights to finish it and when I reached the cliffhanger ending, my first thought was: “Wow, this is one of the best Indie books I’ve ever read!” My second thought was: “I can’t wait to read the next one!” My third thought was: “…crap! This isn’t even being released until December…how long am I going to have to wait for the next one?”

Please Caroline, don’t make us wait too long.

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Get your copy here for amazon US and here for amazon UK! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

And stop by Caroline’s website to wish her a happy release day! ❤