Write About it Wednesday: The Berlin Wall

“Then the East banned the sale of rope and twine that was strong enough to hold a human being.”

The Berlin Wall is a staple of recent history. The day it came down was celebrated around the world and many families and friends were reunited for the first time in close to thirty years. I knew very little about the wall going into reading A Night Divided, so I decided to dig deeper. As I was reading, I started to develop opinions about our current wall endeavor in the United States. This isn’t some far off history.

The biggest thing that stood out for me was the Allied involvement with Stalin. I do not know a lot about him, but I know he wasn’t a great guy. I’m guessing the United States chose the lesser of the two evils when it came to the division of Germany. Although the division was meant to be temporary, it took 44 years to reunite. Also, NATO was created as a defense alliance in peacetime. The split of East and West Germany led to violent revolts and the loss of freedom for East Germans. Soviets ruled with an iron fist and shot many who tried to escape. The plan for the wall was kept secret until action was taken at 15 minutes past midnight on “Barbed Wire Sunday.” The Allies wanted negotiations instead of military intervention to solve the division. Meanwhile, methods of escape were formulated. Many chose to jump, climb (most dangerous), go through or under the wall or swim across the water. One couple even tried to use a hot air balloon to cross over. If you were unsuccessful or caught by the guards, you were likely shot. Would you risk your life for freedom?

Once the Cold War ended, talks to reunify began. There was a distinct move toward democracy. When the wall came down, families were reunited but the problems did not stop there. The German reunification agreement was 1,000 pages with many details still to be decided. The government needed to decide the fate of the Stasi (East German secret police) files, amnesty for spies on the Western side, restoration of property to original owners, and who was to pay for all the updates necessary in East Germany. The West felt burdened by the drain of the East. The Germans began selling off the wall, watchtowers, even the guard dogs to pay for restoration projects.

That this wall ever existed is beyond my realm of understanding. It screams misguided ignorance. Fear of a German take over led to a physical barrier but what did it achieve? No one thought, hey people might try to escape? A barrier is an obstacle to stop an enemy. Was the enemy intellectual freedom? The right to pass freely? This was a power play by a government that was encouraged by others including my own. No one stepped up to say this is wrong and offer a solution. We watched as families were torn apart, people were shot for trying to escape, and people were starved and brainwashed.  What will happen with a new wall?

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Book Review Saturday: Akata Witch

“Free agents are the hardest to understand, predict or explain. Learning will not come easy to you. You are a Leopard person only by the will of the Supreme Creator…”

I have been a bad book blogger recently. I have been reading piles of books but haven’t sat down to write and share them. Life gets busy, work gets overwhelming and my writing and reviewing falls to the wayside. I want my reviews and writing to be a priority, but life gets in the way. If only I could win a million dollars, right? Or the house would clean itself? My paperwork for work would fill itself out? My reflections for grad school would write themselves? This is wishful thinking so it’s up to me to reevaluate my priorities. How do you make time for the things you love? I would love to hear from you!

I had been on the hunt for new Podcasts for my commute and stumbled upon 88 Cups of Tea. I tell myself that listening to writers, book reviews and writing advice will keep me in the loop. One of the episodes was an interview with Nnedi Okorafor about her many writing endeavors. I knew that I wanted to pick up one of her books but had trouble deciding which one. Akata Witch happened to be on the recommended shelf at my local library in the young adult section, so it seemed like fate.

I read this book in two sittings and that was solely because I needed rest in between a recent lupus flare up. Akata Witch is about Sunny and coming of age in Nigeria. She moved from New York City and has a hard time fitting in with her peers until she finds Orlu, her classmate and his friend Chichi. They all share the common bond of developing magical powers. I do not usually read this type of book, so it’s a testament to my love for her interview that I picked it up. What I found was that it didn’t read as a science fiction fantasy, but almost realistic in nature. Sunny is thrown into this new world of magical history and spells and dimension travel but must keep it a secret from her family. She has to learn how to maneuver her new abilities quickly as she is tasked along with her group of friends to track down a criminal and save the world. Again, that sounds a bit cheesy, but it isn’t. Okorafor does a fantastic job of blending the magic with real world experiences.

I have recommended this book to my students and to fellow teachers. It pulled me in early and never let go. This is the first in the series and I hope there are many more books to come! I’m happy that I found the interview and stepped out of my comfort zone for this one. It will probably stay high on my rated reviews for this year.

Write About it Wednesday: Graphic Novels

“We must die on this godforsaken island.”

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge is FULL of graphic novels. This was intimidating for me because I have never read one, nor did I know how. Anyone can read a book, right? Wrong. I felt like a book lover fraud with this new endeavor. I believe interest is a major factor in success when trying something new. I picked Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths which is a fictionalized memoir set in the South Pacific during World War Two which appeals to my inner history nerd. I opened the first page, which is actually in the back. This was as far as my knowledge of graphic novels went. I read the introduction and turned to the second page…only to find that I was already confused. Why are the pages backwards? I’m now going to tell you the truth: I had to YouTube how to read a graphic novel. After several useless videos, I finally landed on one that taught me something. I’m feeling confident at this point, only to turn to the first page of the novel. I start reading, and then I’m distracted by the pictures. I look at every picture before reading the dialogue which completely ruins the presentation and design. I start reading, but then I’m reverting to my old habits. At this point, I’ve made it three pages and have no idea what is going on. It’s time to regroup.

I have a solid obsession with Post It notes. I decide to write a game plan on reading: Start at the top right-hand corner and read from right to left. Then, continue to the next row and repeat. This lasted until I closed the book when life interrupted. I would open the book again to continue reading and completely forget how to read every single time. This seems ridiculous looking back but I would have never made it through the novel without the Post It reminder. My brain just could not process the information. I read all the time, but the moment I changed the routine and expectation it was a full-on breakdown.

I enjoyed what I comprehended of OTOND. It is a personal story and gives insight into the experiences of soldiers during this portion of the war. There is dark humor, vivid imagery, and the illustrations blended for a comic-like experience, but this was a true challenge for me. I’m sure there are scientific studies well beyond my range of knowledge about routine and comprehension that explain how this change in pattern completely threw me for a loop. My hope is the next novel will be a bit easier on me.

Have you read graphic novels? What was your experience? I’d love to hear some other novels to try!

Write About it Wednesday: William Henry Harrison

“Sir, I wish you to understand the principles of the Government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”

William Henry Harrison was born a Virginia aristocrat, but was marketed to voters as a humble soldier in a cabin. He is best known for the Battle of Tippecanoe which didn’t result in a large military victory. Harrison screwed up the defenses resulting in high American casualties. This somehow landed him as a military hero in the eyes of most Americans, secondary only to Andrew Jackson at the time. I am still baffled this falls as a victory for Harrison since he led his men into a trap, most of the Indians escaped to wreak havoc on neighboring towns and resulted in Tecumseh allying with the British in Canada. His time spent in battle did lead to an advocacy for fellow veteran rights, a fight that would last his entire career. My main issue with Harrison is not only his misguided hero status but his blatant attempt to stay in the middle of the road with his opinions. The man said whatever needed to be said to the audience in front of him. It is hard to know what he truly believed on any major issue. He declared himself opposed to slavery but voted with Southerners when it came to prohibiting slavery in new territories. He presented himself as anti-bank but insisted that the Supreme Court had final say in these matters. Harrison did not believe in alcohol, but his campaign promoted drinking with souvenir whiskey bottles. At what point do you have to stop and think, why am I doing this? Did he only care about getting elected?

Most notably, he was the first presidential candidate to campaign which is where my interest lies. The voters of this period wanted change. They didn’t care who it was if it was different. Does this sound familiar? They were willing to pick Harrison even though his entire campaign platform was false. He never addressed real issues. His previous government posts were minimal, and he was reliant on the campaign strategies and his speeches to win over the voters. This was the first election that women were urged to take part in and voters turned out in record numbers to elect Harrison. Unfortunately, Harrison dies shortly after his inauguration. Some believe the length of the address in the cold weather brought on pneumonia, but others believe it was his constant campaigning and the pressure of his new position. His Vice President was never questioned on his beliefs because many assumed that he would never have the chance to make a difference. No one else would accept the position, and now Tyler found himself President. I am eager to begin his biography as well as several other key names that continue to pop up on my journey through the Presidents.

The perceptions of Harrison versus the true Harrison are drastic. I am reminded of the saying, “History repeats itself,” as I read about these voters compared to the recent election. Sometimes change is needed so badly that we allow people to be elected that seem improbable. What do we really know about presidential candidates? Most of our news is secondhand sources and we rarely meet the person. What change are we expecting when we only see what we want to see?

Book Review Saturday: The Couple Next Door

“No! What are you saying? That I killed her? Is that what you really think?”

Reading a book with someone is like discovering it twice. This was my first buddy read of 2018 and it went by so quickly that we were both left with a sense of now what? It’s interesting to see the things that each person finds important or interesting. I feel a better sense of understanding and depth from a book when read with another person. Plus, it throws in an added excitement of text messages that went something like: O.M.G, wait, can you believe that? I knew that person was shady, this can’t be happening…I did not see THAT coming. This has led to a new goal for the year of adding more time reading with friends and my book community.

The Couple Next Door is appropriately labeled a thriller. Anne and Marco leave their baby next door while they attend a dinner party. They check on her every 30 minutes and have a baby monitor to listen for any problems while she sleeps. Well, the baby is kidnapped. You can probably see that coming, but the rest of the book is a series of twists and turns. It became evident who kidnaps Cora about a third of the way through the book, but the motives and back story present themselves much later. It is an interesting dynamic of what occurs when a child is kidnapped, how the parents are usually the first to blame and how the investigation unfolds from the perspective of the parents, detective and grandparents. It also looks at how far a person will go when faced with utter devastation and ruin. The entire family begins to unravel based on unfounded judgements that present themselves. The ending is the kicker. I did NOT see THAT coming, and I usually do.

When I finally recovered from the ending and moved on to another book, I kept going back to the question: Who leaves their baby alone in a house with no supervision? I wonder if I’m being judgmental since I do not have children. Her husband needed a night out, and she went against her better judgement to please him. The emotions that Anne experience post baby seem very relatable. Although this is every parent’s worst nightmare, there rings so many truths that this book would appeal to many mothers. I recently spoke with a friend who is staying home with her first child about not having anything to say to her husband. Anne was experiencing this same dilemma along with depression. I had never put myself in their shoes and this gave me new perspective and insight to some of the struggles that new mothers must face. Does my husband still find me attractive? Why will my baby not stop crying? I know this is only a small portion of the book, but it spoke volumes to me. Another great reason to have a second opinion while reading because my friend questioned everything from the father’s perspective. What was he giving up? How must he feel with a wife at home that is depressed and pushing him away? There are always two sides to the story and Lapena did an excellent job adding additional elements to this story.

The first two chapters of A Stranger in the House, also by Lapena, are included at the end. I look forward to reading it!

Write About it Wednesday: Rubio Murders, Brownsville, TX

“If the building stays behind, it will always be a landmark of three children who were never given an opportunity to live, to see the sun rise one more time, to see the moon.”

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts dives into the city of Brownsville, Texas and the repercussions of a horrendous murder of three children and what happens to the building where a crime of such nature is committed. This true crime novel is written in a unique way that focuses outside the murder itself and shows what is left behind. The author was asked to cover the potential demolition of the site of the murders but saw a story that went much deeper. This led to a six-year journey into the effects on the city in the aftermath, the larger significance of such crimes and an exploration of social issues such as poverty and mental illness. John Allen Rubio, with the aid of his common law wife, murdered his three children after voices told him to. These were not simple, point and shoot murders but were gruesome in nature. These children suffered at the hands of their parents. My first question is always: Could this have been prevented? Were there signs?

Rubio had a rough childhood. His mother would use his disability checks to pay their rent instead of providing therapy and assistance. He was pushed into prostitution and moved in with girlfriends to get away from the abuse. He had dreams of going into the military after high school but failed the aptitude tests required for entry. He became addicted to drugs and was homeless on and off. He could not hold down a steady job. Tillman spoke with past teachers, coaches, neighbors, shelters that Rubio visited about his childhood and disability. She left no stone unturned. She even corresponded with Rubio through letters and visits to the prison. He sent her pictures and school reports and painted a picture of a loving father, dedicated to his children. So, what went wrong?

The neighbors believe the building where the crimes were committed is cursed, it has a bad energy that passes to those that come near. Tillman made countless visits to document the changes occurring in and around the building, but didn’t truly grasp the murders until she walked into the Rubio apartment. Her description of not being able to wear the shoes she walked through the apartment in anymore shares how deeply involved she became while covering this crime. She spent six years of her life on this project and it shows. The research is impeccable. As she describes the building, the community, the neighbors, the reader can truly feel the effects of the murders and begin to question their views and opinions on major issues such as poverty, mental illness, the death penalty and many more. These are uncomfortable topics that she doesn’t skip over but instead brings to the forefront and makes you think. He murdered his children. He is a monster in the eyes of most because that is how the media portrays him. Who could kill their own children? He deserves to die. What if you had to look him in the eye? What if you knew his whole story? Would it change your mind…?

I have been lucky in my nonfiction choices lately. I would easily add this book to my favorites list, not only for the content but the writing is something to learn from. As always, I did further research and considered various aspects of the story, the city itself and the coverage of the crime. It made me reflect on issues that I’ve always felt my mind was made up on. Isn’t that the power of good writing?

Cheers to another year of reading, writing and continuing to fly through a million pages…

Special Sunday Edition: Christmas Reads

“It’s curious how a few lines can cheer one so greatly over a cup of tea and a slice of toast.”

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Lori Wilde- This was a quick read that I picked up when I saw Twilight, Texas on the front cover. I’m a native Texan, and a visitor of Wilde’s real hometown which made this a cozy start to the Christmas season. This is a spin off the movie “The Holiday” but Texas style. Gabi is a runaway law student. She wants to spend Christmas in a small town, like the one in the snow globe her brother gave her before he passed away. She trades places with a woman that she speaks with online but has never met. She finds herself living in a yurt on a Christmas tree farm in Texas. Of course, this wouldn’t be a romance without a hot man that she finds irresistible so in walks Joe. Gabi finds herself and her love along the way. It was cute and worth the read around the holidays. The descriptions of the town were perfect and there are some elements of intrigue scattered throughout.

Last Christmas in Paris by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor- This was hands down one of my favorite reads for 2017. I couldn’t put it down! First off, back to the hopeless romantic in me: there is nothing like a well written letter. We live in a digital age of text/type/email that has lost that grand gesture of time spent pining over what to say, how to say it, and then sending the envelope waiting for the response while you stare longingly out the window as time passes. This book takes you back in time to World War One staring out your own window waiting to devour the next letter. We follow the correspondence of strong willed, ready to spread her wings, Evie Elliott as she deals with the war and its repercussions for her friends and family. She longs to be a part of the war but must serve her roles at home until the time arrives. As the years pass, her growth as a woman is seen through her letters and the hardships she and so many others are forced to face. The love and loss make this a must read for historical fiction fans. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed some tears. I needed 100 more pages of letters, and then 100 more because it would never be enough. These authors did an amazing job of blending the characters and stories and providing perspective on the women’s views of the war. Besides the romance, the coverage of the newspapers and how the media reported on the war was enlightening. I hope to do research on this subject soon.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas! Enjoy your holidays and curl up with a good book!