Write About it Wednesday: Rwandan Refugees

“It’s strange how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.”

The Land of a Thousand Hills used to house tens of thousands of mountain gorillas. The country was known for its multitude of lakes, national forests and chains of volcanoes. This all became the backdrop of one of the worst massacres of the 20th century as a plane crashed down in 1994, killing President Juvenal Habyarimana. Calls were made throughout Rwanda to incite violence. Death, destruction, and powerless victims remained while others fled. My first impression of Rwanda was the 2004 movie, Hotel Rwanda. I didn’t notice the landscape over my own tears.

Clemantine Wamariya, author of The Girl Who Smiled Beads, wrote about her experience fleeing the Rwandan massacre. People asked questions of her after the movie premiered, but she did not feel they had a right to her pain. This memoir shares the journey of that pain as she travels through several countries, refugee camps, all the way to the United States where she begins to heal. Almost a million Rwandans were killed, and hundreds of thousands raped. The weapon of choice was a machete, a tool that had previously been used to support the economy. The refugees fled to surrounding countries but feared returning after the massacre came to an end. The country is still recovering and relies heavily on foreign aid. The bravery behind this memoir is heroic. It truly puts a face to the Rwandan genocide, even if Clemantine does not agree with that term.

The actual writing was a bit faulty due to repetition. Also, her appearance on Oprah would have been better towards the middle of the book once we know Clemantine, instead of the appearance setting the tone for the book. Her perspective feels like the minority of refugees because the opportunities she was blessed with allowed her to receive a private school education then acceptance into Yale University. I would like to take the fresh perspective of this memoir and compare it to other refugees who returned to Rwanda after the crisis.  There are many complaints that the book is whining about her circumstance, but wouldn’t you? Have you slept on dirt, had bugs climb into your skin, been forced to give up all your possessions, and had no contact with your family to know if they are dead or alive for many years? I think the complaints aid the belief that the world is smaller when you are young. You have fewer wants and needs but the loss of them seems larger. I do wonder how her family felt of her portrayal of them, especially her sister Claire. It would be interesting to see the family reunited after the release of the book to discuss their diverse perspectives on the events.

Overall, this wasn’t a five-star read but it made me THINK. It made me really think. Honestly, isn’t that a reason to read?

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Book Review Saturday: The Star-Touched Queen

“Father once said the real language of diplomacy was in the space between the words. He said silence was key to politics.”

Some believe in fate, that our choices have been decided and our lives mapped out. Our deaths, marriages, children can be seen in the stars through horoscopes and fortunes. I have always hoped this to be untrue because what is the point of life if I can’t change anything? Chokshi dives into these questions and more in a folklore tale, full of Indian culture. Maya’s horoscope shows that her marriage is linked with death and destruction. She is an outcast amongst her family and peers who believe association with her will only curse them as well. She believes she will never marry until her father decides to use her as a pawn in the game of politics. She feels her fate was already settled with a life of research and knowledge ahead, but this throws her into a spiral of uncertainty.

The author almost lost me here. I’ve read too many books with a daughter being pawned off, but I decided to keep going and I’m glad I did! This book has twists and turns and such rich descriptions. She is saved by a choice to marry an unknown man that makes promises of a better life. She becomes queen of Akaran, but things are not quite what they seem. There are secrets lurking behind every door and she is kept in the dark about the truth of the realm until the moon cycles. The time she spends with her new husband brings her closer to him, but she is torn between the voices that try to lead her away from him. Chokshi presents the question of love despite all odds.

This is a page turner. I had a hard time putting it down. Even going back through it to write this review has left me ready to read it again. I had an inkling of what the ending might look like but there were a lot of twists that surprised me. I ordered the second book in the series as soon as I turned the last page. It truly was magical as you are drawn into another realm and watch as her decisions lead her down new paths that will ultimately affect everyone’s future.

Write About it Wednesday: Book Giveaways

“To open a book, turn its pages, inhale its odor if one is alone- what an exquisite bundle of sensations.”

How many of you have hosted a book giveaway before? I recently hosted one for a new release, The Devil’s Reward. It documents three generations of love, loss, and complicated family memories. I was excited to receive an advanced copy from the publisher and share it with my followers. I am still semi-new to the giveaway world. My hopes are always to gain new followers, connect with people, and learn more marketing techniques. So far, I feel like I’m failing. First, I didn’t love this book. When I’m not engaged, it feels like work. I do book marketing on the side because I enjoy reading. I want to promote authors and help expand the book world. It’s hard to justify the time spent when I don’t feel something for the words. Second, I like to promote authors that don’t see as much traffic but that can be detrimental to my own account. I don’t mind that I may never have thousands of followers, but I want the giveaway to draw more people in to new books they may not have seen before or thought to read. This approach doesn’t always draw in the crowd. Lastly, there always seems to be that one greedy person that takes over your account. We all know the one. The follower to unfollow that tags a million people and then never engages with you again, oh wait! Until your next giveaway, and there they are again. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in respect and proper etiquette.

The Devil’s Reward is not my cup of tea. It felt like a long-distance relative telling me all her stories, out of order, while her life is moving along in the background. The relationship between mother and daughter is complicated, as most are. The relationship between husband and wife is complicated, as most are. The author just dives into philosophical ideals about life which feel a bit preachy and reflective. I might have enjoyed it if I was a bit older, but right now it just felt like the daughter whined and complained about her life, her daughter engaged only to gain more insight into her thesis and the grandmother was just happy for company. There isn’t much more to say, except that I’m just not in a place in my life where this appealed to me in the slightest.

Are your giveaways a success? How do you promote new books that others may not have heard of? Even if you do not love a book, do you still share your reviews and opinions? Writing is hard work. Even if a book isn’t for me, it doesn’t mean it isn’t for you! I try to share my honest opinions. I hope to hear yours!

Reviews on the Way!

Where Have I Been?

These past few months have been quite a whirlwind. I was tasked with a pilot writing program at my school, started my second semester of graduate school, had some difficulties with lupus, and decided to start writing not one, but two books. Did I mention that I am also launching a book marketing business? Because I did not have enough to do! I have been a TAD busy. I miss blogging, but time has not been on my side. With my two books on their way, only a few assignments left, and quite a bit of reviews piling up I am ready to get back to it. I hope you will forgive me for this absence and continue to follow my reviews and rants. Summer is just around the corner and I am excited to devote more time to my first love. In addition to reviews, I will be sharing some insight into my writing process and my new venture into book marketing. Thank you for sticking with me! I cannot thank you enough for your time and dedication to my LOVE of all things books.

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?

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!