Book Review: A Journey to the Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil

Accidental Journalist: Joseph Kony, Hollywood Heart-Throbs, and Other AbominationsA Journey to the Heart of Nameless Unspeakable Evil by Jane Bussmann
Publisher: Nortia Press
April 22, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard to sum up in a few words what this book is all about. I think the best characterization is a real-life Bridget Jones turns activist.

When the book opens, Jane Bussman is an English entertainment journalist working in Hollywood. Her encounters with Ashton Kutcher and other celebrities are hilarious. Her whole take on the American entertainment industry is cynical and sarcastic in the best way. One day, she’s had enough of interviewing vapid celebrities and decides she wants to become one of the Useful People. She comes across John human rights activist John Prendergast’s photo in a magazine. He’s very attractive so she decides that getting an interview with him would serve a double purpose – writing an article about a Useful Person and getting to meet a hot guy.

She gets so wrapped up in trying to engineer ways to spend more time with John, that she ends up in Uganda. She comes there very ignorant of the political situation and starts out as a fairly spoiled foreigner. The longer she’s there, the more she uncovers about the corruption in the Ugandan government and the United States’ role in it. She maintains her British wit throughout though and it helps the reader stomach the atrocities that are going on in that county, like kidnapping children and turning them into soldiers and using rape as a weapon of war.

I thought this was a unique concept for a book. On its face, it seems contradictory – how can a memoir about time in a country that has child soldiers and uses rape as a weapon for war be humorous as well? In this case it works. And while Jane is self-deprecating and funny, she takes the situation in Uganda very seriously and is just as shocked as the reader by the goings on. Because she starts her journey with such little knowledge, her explanations are very easy to understand. I learned a lot about Uganda from reading this book and was thoroughly entertained as well.

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

Kids Say (And Do) The Darnedest Things

Cash: “In the olden days, did you have to type in the https when you were typing in a web address?”

*****

Cash, after Travis popped the cork on the champagne, “Whoa, do people use champagne as guns sometimes?”

*****

West: We don’t know yet if Monday will be a snow day. I hope it is.
Me: Wouldn’t you rather have more days off in the summer when we can play outside, go swimming, ride roller coasters and stuff like that?
West: I can do all that on Minecraft.

*****

We may need move to Utah. Neve jtold me she married everyone in her class.

*****

West told me he wants to be an adjudicator when he grows up.

Book Review: Three Little Words by Sarah N. Harvey

Three Little WordsThree Little Words by Sarah N. Harvey
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Release Date: October 1, 2012
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Sixteen-year-old Sid barely remembers his birth mother and has no idea who his father was. Raised on an idyllic island by loving foster parents, Sid would be content to stay there forever, drawing, riding his bike, hanging out with his friend Chloe and helping out with Fariza, a newly arrived foster child. But when a stranger named Phil arrives on the island with disturbing news about his birth family—including a troubled younger brother—Sid leaves all that is familiar to help find the sibling he didn’t know existed.

What he discovers is a family fractured by mental illness, but also united by strong bonds of love and compassion. As Sid searches for his brother, gets to know his grandmother, and worries about meeting his biological mother, he realizes that there will never be a simple answer to the question, Am I my brother’s keeper?

As a foster parent myself, I am always intrigued with books about foster care, both fiction and non-fiction, which was the reason I chose this book. Three Little Words is set in Canada which is great because I know nothing about the Canadian foster care system. I could fully enjoy the book without analyzing whether or not that’s how things are really done like I do when I read an American novel about foster care.

I liked that this book shows the positive side of foster care. Sid has been in foster care since he was two years old and it has definitely been the best place for him. His foster parents, Megan and Caleb, are wonderful, yet not perfect ,like a lot of foster parents I know. At the same time, the grief and loss inherent in foster care is addressed as well. Sid hasn’t forgotten about his biological family and when his parents take in a new placement, Fariza, she definitely has issues adjusting.

I struggled with the beginning of Sid’s journey. Why would his grandma think he could find his brother, Wain, when Sid has never even met him? Sid asks that question as well but I don’t think a realistic motivation for the grandma was offered. I think there could have been a better way to start off Sid’s relationship with his brother. Once I let that go, I liked reading about their evolving relationship and Wain’s personal evolution as well.

This book is intended for young adult readers ages 12 and up. it does have some swearing in it but I didn’t think it was anything that an average teenager hasn’t heard or said themselves. I enjoyed this book and think that it will appeal to both teens and adults.

(I received this book courtesy of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

Book Review: The Ordinary Truth by Jana Richman

The Ordinary TruthThe Ordinary Truth by Jana Richman
Publisher: Torrey House Press
Release Date: November 13, 2012
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

When Nell Jorgensen buried her husband, she buried a piece of herself—and more than one secret. Now, thirty-six years later, the rift between Nell and her daughter Kate threatens to implode as Kate, now forty-six and a water manager for the Nevada Water Authority, plans to pipe water from a huge aquifer that lies beneath the family ranch to thirsty Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Nell’s twenty-one-year-old granddaughter Cassie intends to unearth those old secrets and repair the resentments that grew in their place. Throughout the novel, sparse and beautiful landscapes surround an emotional wilderness of love, loss, and family.

The three women central in the book – Nell, Kate and Cassie – are all struggling with their own demons. Nell and her daughter Kate have a strained relationship and Kate has repeated the pattern with own daughter Cassie. The novel is told in first person narration, which alternates between characters. The title of each chapter is the name of whomever is telling the story for that chapter. This worked well to develop the character of each woman and give insight in to the choices they made in their lives that led them to the point they are now.

Even though Nell and Kate aren’t that likeable, I was still able to muster up some sympathy for them. It was especially hard with Kate. I just wanted to shake her at times. I think it’s a sign of good writing when the author can stir up emotions in the reader. However, I thought the family secret driving Nell and Kate’s relationship was fairly obvious. I feel like this particular plot twist has been used several times before. That being said, I still enjoyed this book as a character study of the three main women and an exploration of their relationships with each other.

Kids Say (And Do) the Darnedest Things

Neve: How did I get in the other Mommy’s tummy? Did she swallow me?

*****

West: There’s a boy on my bus who’s really mean but his name is Christian so I thought he would be nicer.

*****

Neve told me that she went to the store with Daddy and saw piggy rabbits. Translation: Guinea pigs.

*****

Cash, how do you know you don’t like mushrooms? Have you ever tried them?
No Mommy, but it’s imprinted on my brain that I don’t like them.

*****

West bought a Magic 8 Ball and he told Cash to ask it a yes or no question. Cash asked what his lizard’s name was. I told Cash that a yes or no question means a question you can answer “yes” or “no” to. So he asked “What does Y-E-S spell?

Flamingo Sunset by Jonathan London

Flamingo SunsetFlamingo Sunset by Jonathan London
Publisher: Two Lions
Release Date: July 23, 2013
Genre: Children’s Non-Fiction
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Flamingo Sunset tells the story of the life cycle of a flamingo, starting with the mother flamingo laying her egg up to when the baby flamingo grows up enough to fly on his own. Although this is a non-fiction picture book, it is written in a story form. Kids probably won’t even realize they’re learning something by reading it! The gorgeous illustrations also give it the feel of a story book. I liked the fact that there is an author’s note at the end of the book that gives more detailed information about flamingos. If your little ones have questions while you read this book to them, the author’s note comes in very handy.

I love flamingos and this is a great book for children to learn about these beautiful birds.

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

(I received this book courtesy of Amazon Vine.)

A Conversation with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Yesterday I reviewed Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Today, I am pleased to present:

A Conversation with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni about Oleander Girl

How did you become a writer? Did you always know you wanted to be one?

Growing up in India, I never thought I’d be a writer. I didn’t believe I had either the talent or the drive or a special story to tell. But immigration thrust me into a whole different world which was at once exciting and disconcerting in its newness. I wrote to make sense of my new life, and to remember the life that I had left behind.

You often set your books in India. What attracts you to the Indian landscape?

The landscape of one’s childhood imprints itself upon the heart. In my case, that was India. Add to that the fact that Indian culture is old and complex and currently, due to globalization, undergoing a rapid transformation, and you have possibilities for many stories. In Oleander Girl, for instance, the two protagonists, Korobi and Rajat, come from very different families. Korobi’s is steeped in tradition; Rajat’s is westernized and newly rich. When Korobi and Rajat fall in love, this will lead to many complications.

A family secret lies at the heart of Oleander Girl. What made you decide to focus on this?

My own family had a dark secret of its own. When I discovered it, it turned my life upside down. I felt betrayed by the people I had trusted all my life—and yet I couldn’t stop loving them. I wanted to explore these painful, contradictory feelings through Korobi’s situation. She is braver than I was—she traveled across the world in search of that secret.

Do you write your books in English, or in some other language?

I write all my books in English. My mother-tongue is Bengali, but English was the language of my schooling. I read Bengali fluently, and when my mother was alive I wrote letters to her in that language. She told me once that it was a good thing I didn’t write anything else in Bengali! (I think my vocabulary is at the 6th grade level). I do participate, though, when my books are translated into Bengali.

Oleander Girl is set in the year 2002. Why did you decide on this time period?

An important question in Oleander Girl is how can we live in amity with difference, both racial and religious? The year 2002 illustrates the price we have to pay when we choose not to do so.  In 2002, in the U.S., people were suffering the aftermath of 9/11—both the tragedy of the deaths in the Towers and elsewhere, and the violent fear and prejudice that swept the nation and affected the lives of many Americans who looked like I do. In India, 2002 was the year of the terrible Godhra Riots that led to deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

How did you come up with the title of this novel? In what way is it central to the theme of the book?

The heroine Korobi’s name means Oleander in Bengali. From childhood, Korobi wants to know why her mother, who dies in childbirth, would want to name her after a flower that is beautiful but poisonous. She will discover the answer at the end, and along with that she will understand what kind of woman her mother wanted her to be. And this—how women need to balance between what they owe others and what they owe themselves—is an important theme in the novel.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel that is a re-working of our famous epic, The Ramayana. I am re-telling it from the point of view of Sita, the central woman character. The teller of the tale changes the meaning of the tale. By putting a woman at the center of an epic adventure, I hope to draw attention to different issues and make readers re-evaluate their beliefs about what is heroic.

About the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of three acclaimed novels, The Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, and The Vine of Desire; two short story collections, Arranged Marriage and The Unknown Errors of Our Lives; four volumes of poetry; and an award-winning novel for young readers, The Conch Bearer. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times. Winner of an American Book Award, she teaches creative writing at the University of Houston.

Book Review: Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Oleander Girl: A NovelOleander Girl: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Paperback Release Date: March 4, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Though she was orphaned at birth, Korobi Roy has enjoyed a privileged childhood with her adoring grandparents, spending her first seventeen years in a beautiful, crumbling old mansion in Kolkata, India. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ mysterious death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she stumbled upon years ago, hidden in her mother’s book of poetry. Just when she believes she has found true love herself, she discovers a devastating family secret that impels her on a courageous search across post-9/11 America, transforming her in ways she cannot imagine and presenting her with the most difficult choice of her life.

If you’re a regular follower of my reviews, you know that I have a special place in my heart for India. I’m intrigued by Indian culture and jump at the chance to read most any novel set in India or with Indian characters. Oleander Girl did not disappoint.
One of the conflicts Korobi faces is the clash between her traditional family and her fiancé Rajat’s modern family. Korobi is caught in the middle, not sure where she fits in. Most of the Indian books I’ve read in the past focus on traditional Indian culture so I enjoyed learning what modern Indian culture and life is all about. I found it interesting that what is considered modern is not that modern compared to life in America. Marriage to a suitable boy or girl is still very much a part of that life. The class system is entrenched in modern life as well, although not the extent that it is with the traditionalists. And of course there is still tension between Muslims and Hindus.

The driving conflict of the story is Korobi’s desire to find her roots and her trip to America to do that. It is still considered taboo in India for an unmarried women to travel by herself, especially to somewhere so far away. This book is not a thriller but even so the author does a fantastic job of building suspense. There are several incidences of huge misunderstandings and tension between various people that could end up having devastating outcomes if not resolved. I had knots in my stomach through most of this book, hoping that these situations could be overcome. There are also a few twists that stunned me

The author’s prose was beautiful as well. Her use of metaphors was brilliant. I found myself rereading passages I as I went, amazed by the creativity of the author’s descriptions. The author weaves a couple of mystical elements in that were believable and in keeping with the story.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Divakaruni but she has several previous novels that I can’t wait to get my hands on. I loved this book and highly recommend it.

Come back tomorrow for a Q&A with the author Chitra Banerjee Davakaruni!

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher.)

Kids Say (and Do) the Darnedest Things

Cash: Mommy, next year I want you to be an active member of the PTA instead of checking your email and
chatting on Facebook.

*****

West: When I’m 18, I’m going to live with you and say cuss words.

*****

Neve: “I know that dog’s a boy because it doesn’t have a shirt on.”

*****

West: Daddy is not the boss
Me: Daddy and I are co-bosses
West: I know who the real boss is – SANTA!…and God
Cash: No, the president is

*****

Neve: Mommy, will you play with me?
Me: After I have my coffee.
Neve: But you had coffee yesterday.
Me: That’s not how coffee works, Neve.

Book Review: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, #1)Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is the first book in the new middle grade series, Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. The second book in the series is due out in September.
I loved that the main character is a girl who wants to be a pirate. She tries hard to be very fearsome and doesn’t really have any feminine qualities. Hillary’s best friend Claire is feminine though so it’s a good balance. Because of that, this book will appeal to both boys and girls.

This book is very funny for kids but also had some dry wit that probably only parents would get. So if you read this book with your child, you will be entertained as well. My favorite character was Hillary’s governess, Miss Greyson. The things she said made me smile. She’s very prim and proper and nicely tries to keep Hilary in line. But pirates aren’t prim and proper so she has a tough time.

While this book doesn’t have any pictures, it does have drawings of letters and scrolls. Some of these are written in cursive so if your child can’t read cursive, you can help them with that.
This was a very fun book to read and my nine-year son loved it as well.

For more reviews of books for children and teens, check out Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, you can go to her site to leave a comment and your link .

(I received this book courtesy of Amazon Vine.)

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