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.

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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.

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…

Write About it Wednesday: Start Writing Your Book Today

“Most successful authors began their writing career in the margins of their normal life.”

I thought I would cover a few books about writing in honor of #nanowrimo. Although I am not participating this year because of graduate school, I still have been writing here and there and planning out my ideas. This book helped me get over the fear of sharing that I want to write a novel one day. Why is it so hard to say that out loud to people? Are we afraid of their judgement, afraid that we will never accomplish it or just lacking confidence in ourselves? I’m over it. I know this is something that I want to do and I don’t want to wait until I “have more time,” “all my research is complete,” or “when I become a better writer.” This book is 103 pages of pure motivation with excellent advice and easy to follow steps.’

The most important first step is writing your WHY. Why is this book important to you and why are you writing? This should be written down somewhere for you to return to when you lack motivation or feel like giving up. It is an excellent reminder. Setting weekly writing goals and tracking word count progress is vital to completing the project. If the book truly matters then you will make time in between your daily life to meet the goals. The author suggests using Pomodoro sessions working in small chunks of time with short breaks in between. Intention for the writing should be set along with a timer so the writing is meaningful and not wasted. She outlines a seven-week process for completing your first draft. At first, I thought this seemed way out of reach but I believe if her system is followed it would be possible. She even allows time for free writing which will eventually become the basis for the rough draft. After the rough draft, she describes ways to deal with criticism, revisions and helps you develop good writing habits.

I like the direct approach of this book. She is straight to the point and provides easy to follow steps to becoming the writer you want to be. She includes several resources in the back that assist with tracking your progress to stay accountable, advice on the creation of a reverse outline, and guides to developing the habits that will get you closer to your dream. This book was worth the money and just what I needed to get in gear. There are so many books out there for writers and it can be overwhelming trying to decide which ones will help you. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was quickly developing my why and creating outlines for future work.

Good luck to everyone who is typing away at their word counts. I’m proud of you! I hope to join you soon. If you have any books that have helped your writing career, please share! I would love to hear from you.

Book Birthday: Skavenger’s Hunt

“And the one thing that each of those three hunts had in common? Every riddle, every clue…was put together by one mysterious, very secretive man who put his very own name on it.”

Happy Book Birthday to Mike Rich!

I found this one on Net Galley while searching for a book to read with my class. I flew through it but didn’t LOVE it. It is a cute story. I am very hesitant of books that bring in historical characters to this age group. They see the history as fact even if labeled fiction. I wish that wasn’t the case but it affects my review of books in this genre.

Henry is cooped in the house and lacks any sense of adventure since his father’s death. His mother tries to keep him safe at all costs, even going so far as to suggest he wear a coat in the house to prevent a cold. What Henry doesn’t know is that his grandfather is about to bring him an adventure beyond his wildest imagination. His grandfather shares an ancient scroll with him and eager to find out the meaning, he sneaks into his grandfather’s study and is transported to the past. The Skavenger hunt is on! He must solve the clues to find his way back to his mother while keeping an eye on the scroll. If the scroll runs out, he will be locked into the past forever.

It sounds kind of cheesy. I will admit. I did like the story but some of the journey is a bit farfetched. I know times were different back then but I can’t see several children traveling by boat to Paris without a bit more difficulty than they encountered. It plays out like most treasure hunting stories by traveling on a journey to find the prize and ending up finding yourself along the way.  There is some added intrigue with Hiram Doubt and his Four Men of Darkness chasing the kids while they hunt for the clues but not enough to give the element of mystery and suspense. I knew what was going to happen early on but I finished to see what characters from history would appear next.

The entire time I was reading this novel I kept thinking Hunter S. Skavenger is based on Hunter S. Thompson. I need to email the author and ask. I wound up reading Thompson when it clearly stated Skavenger throughout the entire book. I’m always curious where inspiration strikes. On to the next review!