Write About it Wednesday: The 57 Bus

“It’s over in seconds. The driver pulls the bus to the curb. Sasha scrambles to a sitting position, dazed and in shock. Oh lord. Fuck.”

The 57 Bus is a true account of a teenager being set on fire by another teenager. Richard was given a lighter by a friend. Sasha was minding their own business with a book open on their lap. Sasha was born a male but does not identify as either gender and uses the pronouns they. Sasha was wearing a skirt. The skirt is the instigator behind the fire. The boys behind the incident didn’t think the skirt would ignite like it did. Sasha didn’t see it coming. Third degree burns followed. Recovery was slow. Richard was incarcerated and tried as an adult. This is their story, and the story of their friends and family.

There is so much going in this book, that you must pause and consider how you feel about a range of topics. It’s controversial. It dives deep into new social customs. It hits on terms for gender and sex, statistics for juvenile offenders, how many people are being shot each year, how schools handle discipline and how individuals choose to identify themselves. Call me naïve, but I didn’t know that people used different pronouns to identify themselves. I didn’t know that there were more than three ways to describe your romantic inclinations, or that restorative circles were being used widely in the California education system. This is the type of discipline we are implementing in my own school, so it was interesting to read about their take on it. Gender neutrality has achieved major milestones in recent years, but this book has been my only solid news coverage.  As Sasha said, “How is this a thing that happens…?

After you absorb all that information, then you must begin thinking about sides. Should Richard be charged as an adult? Should his friends have gotten off free? Do youth correctional facilities really rehabilitate instead of lead to more incarceration? Should you forgive someone who has caused you so much pain? Can you move on from terrible tragedies?

Most importantly, the part that hit me was the account of the events from both sides of parents. Richard’s mother just wanted a better life for her son. She didn’t believe him capable of his actions. Sasha’s parents do not want discrimination to rule their life. They try to promote acceptance and individuality for their child. They worried that Sasha would be a target and their worries came true.

I highly recommend this one to anyone that wants to ask themselves how they feel about the bigger world around them.

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Book Review Saturday: Beautiful Disaster

“Consider yourself the opposite of a foregone conclusion.”

Contemporary romance novels are my guilty pleasure. I read such heavy material that I need a break, probably more than I give myself. I devoured this one in a day. Like I said, I needed a break. Beautiful Disaster is the first in the Beautiful series with multiple spin-off titles. It’s listed on several sites for books recommended if you enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey, but I would venture to say that fans would be disappointed. This isn’t smut filled with vivid sex scenes, but rather a book about unexpected love.

Abby is the good girl, or so it seems in the beginning. Travis is the bad boy covered in tattoos, that girls long to change. Abby is adamant that Travis will only be a friend, but he has other ideas. There are mixed signals, emotions and circumstances that stand in their way. Abby escaped to this small-town college to run away from her past, but Travis brings all of it back to the surface. He makes money by participating in floating fight rings, while she tries to avoid standing out. After Abby loses a bet to Travis, she is “forced” to stay with him for a month at his apartment. They grow closer, but Abby keeps her guard up and Travis makes some terrible choices. I think we all know where this is headed, but I’ll save you the spoilers. I didn’t care that I knew what was coming. I just enjoyed reading something that took me away for a bit. It made me miss college. I miss the days of only having to study, going out on dates to dive bars and restaurants, getting ready at 10pm to go out on the town, and kissing a boy for the first time. It was really a magical time, but now I’m narrowing in on 30 and it seems like centuries ago. Instead, I curl up with my boyfriend and our puppies, in pajamas that slightly resemble plaid, well before 10 o’clock because that is past my bedtime, and read these stories that take me back. Luckily, he’s better than anything a book could have imagined for me. Aren’t our own love stories always better?

A few of my friends and I added this to our book club list. They loved the book! Unfortunately, I have found that discovering similar titles in the contemporary romance genre can be rather difficult. They are dying to get their hands on another book like this one. In the meantime, they have started reading the next title in the series and have fallen for Travis’s side of the story in Walking Disaster. I would love to hear from you if you have any suggestions. Happy Reading!

Write About it Wednesday: Philip Roth

“Is that what eternity is for, to muck over a lifetime’s minutiae? Who could have imagined that one would have forever to remember each moment of life down to its tiniest component?”

Philip Roth is a legend, a literary icon. You can’t follow the New York Times Book Review without hearing his name. It was his passing that ultimately led to my picking up Indignation, and a fellow writers review of his classic American Pastoral. She was pitching her article to a magazine and I felt compelled to learn more about this mysterious Roth. I consider myself a bit of a reading rebel.  I never go for the book everyone talks about. What is the fun in that? My preconceived notions will just get in the way. This was Roth’s 29th book and reads as a coming of age novel set in the second year of the Korean War. When I think coming of age, I think figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. Instead, this is sexual frustration, blow jobs, and a realization that you get along with no one and want to run away from the possibility of the front lines of war. Marcus, a sophomore at a conservative college, finds himself in the exact trouble that he tries to stay away from. The first 200 pages of the novel describe experiences at college that lead Marcus to his untimely death. The reader knows he is dead from the beginning but isn’t wise to the circumstances until the final 15 pages. It is a ton of build up but pays off in the end.

I can respect Roth as a writer on so many levels. Could I have used a few less sexual references for my taste? Yes. His descriptions are unparalleled though. You can tell he devoted time to his craft. There is a scene where Marcus is reading to his mother as she falls asleep from one of his textbooks and I thought to myself how real this moment feels. Roth chose a relevant book from the period, that Marcus would have been studying, and quotes the book as if Marcus is reading to you as well. I’ve never read a book with extensive detail that added to the experience instead of making the reader feel overwhelmed with information. It was perfect. He uses the backdrop of butchering (Marcus’s job back home) to relay large moral issues that still hold true today. Why a butcher? If only I could ask him the questions that stirred in my brain as I finished reading.

Roth won the National Book Award twice, a Pulitzer Prize, and multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His degrees were in English, he taught literature and his career was successfully entitled “novelist.” He lived the dream of many writers. He quit writing for a time and reread all his works. He kept writing. In this aspect, he is someone to admire and study. I’m glad I picked this one up, but I hope my next Roth is less on the sexual awakening side…Any recommendations? Happy Reading!

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?

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.