Saturday, April 17, 2021

#atozchallenge #BookReview O for Plunge: One Woman's Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter O

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog.
Today's post is late because I have had a *Day.* 😒
You can check out my interview with this awesome author here: Interview



4 star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog
This was an interesting book to read. It's sprinkled with sailing lingo (such as mooring balls). Anyone planning on taking up sailing, or going on long-term travels across continents, should certainly read this book first. It's realistic and honest, a behind-the-scenes that shows the grit, not just the glory. I rarely read travel memoirs.

I feel it was brave of Liesbet to share so much with the audience. Parts of this are like reading a diary. There are some relationship ups and downs that not everyone would be so comfortable sharing. And there are worrisome parts, like some of her descriptions of Mark. She talks about his habit of criticizing her in public in front of their friends. "When Mark is in these frustrated moods... I feel their anxiety... we all lower our heads." He was willing to wear a ring in his previous marriage, but argues (though caves) about doing it for this one. "Fact is, each time he yells or boils over with frustration, I can't focus on things I enjoy, like writing. All I do is cower." 

I interviewed this debut author at Operation Awesome, and was given a free copy of this book. This is my honest and unbiased review. We are both members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, which is thanked in the acknowledgments. 

There are a lot of great excerpts I could share. And the pictures at the end of the book are absolutely stunning. "Happiness comes from within. It's presented in fleeting moments; it's found when you feel at peace with the decision you've made." That's a really profound quote.
"When we arrive in (spoiler location), we're homeless." That's something to really take in, something people don't really think about. It matches chapter 18, where she mentions the difference between buying things for enjoyment instead of things to survive and prevent sinking. 
"I chose travel over stuff."
"What does luck have to do with making decisions or shaking responsibilities to pursue freedom?" The author has such a strong and unique mindset, it's very inspiring. 
Mayonnaise with fries... I've never had that. 

The scene with the sea lions was my favorite. I read the whole book to see how it would turn out. Having interviewed the author, I know where she was and how she was living in 2020, so I wanted to know why she "got off the boat" so to say. The book is tragic at times (cancer, cancer, more cancer, freaking cancer again, oh look- it's cancer). Mini-spoiler but also trigger warning: the dogs do not survive in this book. The book has as many plot twists as life can throw at a person. But it's inspirational and entertaining, and makes one think about travel and all the places there are to go on our "blue marble." The author is certainly an authority on the subject, having lived it and getting magazines to publish her articles about her various adventures. The book is well-edited and the author's voice is strong.

"The Pan-American highway does not connect the American continents." I never knew that. Or really thought about it. I always assumed that it was possible to travel directly to South America from North America- but apparently, it is not simple. (The highway ends in Yaviza. I just looked it up on Google Maps.) 

Liesbet briefly mentions that being from a socialist country is the reason she wasn't broke and could travel. And how it saves her country money. Fascinating. It doesn't cover everything, but it certainly helps. 

The book is hard to put down because the chapters each end with a reason to need the next one. Good suspense! If Liesbet ever gets into writing mystery novels, they'll be excellent. 

I couldn't relate to sailing, as I've never done that on this scale. But I've dumped and been dumped, I've traveled, and I've lost loved ones. The animals and wildlife were the best parts of the settings. There's a scene in the book where they make a friend who has the same name as my spouse! That was fun for me, "Hey, what are you doing in this book? Sailing without me?" Haha.

The book is beneficial to society because it gives the reader a reason to think about how a different mindset and choices can result in an entirely different life. Not an easier one, but certainly a different one. 

GOODREADS Review

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What genre do you hope Pass or Pages will use this year?

Friday, April 16, 2021

#BookReview of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

 


The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!


N is for Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A friend sent me a copy of BINTI as a gift last Christmas. Both of us were looking to support more Black creators, and since this novella had won several awards, it seemed like a good story to pick up. 

BINTI is an Africanfuturist science fiction horror novella about the titular character, Binti, a Himba girl who is the first of her people to be accepted to the prestigious Oomsa University elsewhere in the Milky Way. She gives up her traditional life to travel on a spaceship to Oomsa, but along the way, the ship is attacked and taken over by the jellyfish-like Medusae. The Medusae kill everyone but Binti, and their next target is Oomsa University, where their chief’s stinger is on display in a museum. Using a mysterious piece of technology called an edan, Binti acts as a go-between for the Medusae and Oomsa University and manages to negotiate the safe return of the stinger without loss of life. 

Before I really start on my review, I just need to say off the top that I did not enjoy this novella. There were a lot of elements that didn’t work for me, even though I really wish they did. 

I had a hard time with Okorafor’s style, especially in the first half of the novella. Events would go from the present, to Binti explaining her culture, to random events in the past, back to the present – the narrative was constantly bouncing around. For example, when the ship is attacked, an extremely dramatic moment that will change Binti’s life forever, the narrative is told in a very broken way, with Binti jumping around from the event itself, to the weeks leading up to it, to her running out of the room, back to when the Medusae first attacked…it would have been much more impactful if it had been told straight through. Additionally, every two to three pages there would be a section break that implied time had passed, but not how much. Sometimes these breaks would be between a long section about culture or history and the present, a stylistic choice that seemed like a lot of telling and very little showing. I would much rather have seen the info integrated into the story, revealed slowly within the narrative. 

The second half of the novella flowed better with little interruption, although for me this was when the suspension of disbelief became far too much. There were just so many coincidences that centered on Binti: she found an edan – a mysterious piece of technology – in the desert several years previously and she never figured out how to use it until the Medusae attacked, at which point she realized it could be used as a translation device. Somehow the edan protects her from the Medusae – they say that the edan is “shame,” but that’s never explained. It’s also referred to as a godstone, but again, no explanation. Later in the novella, when Binti has to give up the edan, she somehow is still able to understand the Medusae. She says it’s because she’s a “master harmonizer,” but never explains what that means. At one point it's said that her father passed down this oral tradition to her about circuits, currents, and math, but what that means for harmonizing is...unknown. Then there’s the otjize, a mixture of clay and oil that Binti’s people coat their hair and skin with. For Binti, it’s a part of her cultural identity. For the Medusae, however, it has magic healing powers, although the reader never finds out why. Somehow Binti is stung by one of the Medusae and grows tentacles from her head like hair, but again, it’s not explained. There were simply too many coincidences and questions left unanswered. 

There was also a lot of repetition that seemed wholly unnecessary. The reader never gets to know Binti’s friends – there are six of them – but their names are recited over and over, as if they mean something to the reader. When Binti learns she can understand the Medusae with the edan, the Medusae ask her over and over “How do you understand us?” and her answer is always, “I don’t know.” And because she doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t know. That never changes. There's no info that lets the reader figure it out before Binti does, so why have this question be asked so many times? If Binti suddenly understood, she’s the type of character who would volunteer that information. She repeats how important otjize is to her, but that information had been given to the reader many times already and I started to wonder if Okorafor thought the reader wouldn’t be paying attention.  

The pacing was both too fast and too slow in turns. This could have been better as a stripped-down version and turned into a short story – toss all that needless repetition and just start with the Medusae attacking the ship – or fleshed out into a full novel, where at least there would have been better space to introduce other characters and see more of Binti’s friends, family, and journey. Binti mentions that she’s received a lot of messages from her family back on Earth, but we never find out what they say. She says she’s a master harmonizer, but we don’t know what that entails. She repeats the names of her friends so many times, but we don’t know them. Even the ending dragged on, going through Binti’s process of applying otjize to herself yet again – we know how this works already – then her having to find clay to make more once she runs out. 

Binti is clearly clever and wise, able to come up with a way to save herself and Oomsa University and appease the Medusae. She is scared and alone, and those feelings are made clear. The best I can say for it is that Binti is a relatable, realistic character in a story that felt new. This novella won several awards, including a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, so clearly there’s something about it that other readers liked that just totally went over my head. 

Have you read BINTI? What did you think of it? 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

#BookReview of Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson #atozchallenge

 

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter M 

Here at Operation Awesome we don't usually review books, but for this year's #atozchallenge we decided to focus on the books we love to read instead of our usual mission - helping authors navigate their writing and publishing journey.  I'm delighted to be able to share this review of a book by one of my all time favourite authors.


 


I loved this book.  It was one of those stories I picked up to read a few chapters in the morning, and didn't put down until I had read the whole thing. It's about friendship and loyalty and deception and delusion and unfolds so delicately that the ending is a complete surprise.

Claudia and Monday have been best friends forever, so when Monday doesn't show up on the first day of school, Claudia is concerned.  As the days pass, with no sign of Monday, she becomes increasingly worried.  Especially since she can't seem to get her on the phone either.

Claudia has always depended on Monday, to champion her, to help with her schoolwork, and to run off the bullies who torment her.  Yet she remains gone.  And Claudia's mother doesn't seem as concerned about it as she should be, considering Monday practically lived in Claudia's room for years.

And April, Monday's sister, isn't any help either.

As Claudia searches for answers to her friend's disappearance, it becomes clear that no one can really remember when they last saw Monday.  Or where.  It's like she's vanished through a crack in the space-time continuum and left no trace behind her.

This book was real and raw and compelling.  The MC is flawed and has her own, real issues and problems to suffer through.  Her parents are protective and struggling with their own problems.  They are hard-working people who want the best for their daughter.  They stay in touch with their roots even as they forge their way to a better life and social class.

The ending was devastating, but I won't go into that here lest I ruin the book for you.  Just know that it's a complete surprise without feeling like it has come out of nowhere.  Once it has been revealed, the clues are all there through the rest of the story.  I'm almost tempted to re-read, just so I can enjoy those moments.

Highly recommended!

But you don't have to trust me.  Here's the blurb:

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

#BookReview Summer of L.U.C.K. #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter L

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog.
Yes, this is the second week in a row that I'm reviewing a children's book with a main character who has a dead parent.

Summer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman

(See the interview: https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/2020/08/operation-awesome-20questions-in-2020_26.html)


three star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog

In some ways, I enjoyed this book; but because of my own life experience, my enjoyment was depleted. 

Three children (all who have trouble related to vocalization) become friends at summer camp, help a ghost to unify his broken family, and grow as people. 
In the year 1999, three city kids are lured away from summer camp, multiple times, to an abandoned building in the woods that is filled with music, games, and candy. 
(Same story. Same kids.)

The book is interesting within its genre because the odds are that the reader will be able to relate to at least one main character. 
I got a copy of this book when I interviewed the author about writing a debut book. This review is honest and unbiased, all opinions are my own.

I would not recommend this book to school libraries. I feel that a parent or guardian should read it first, then have a long discussion with their child about not following random music, going off alone into the woods at night, taking food from strangers, breaking into abandoned buildings, talking to strangers (including ghosts), and wandering off without telling an adult where you're going. Once those warnings are drilled into their heads, then carry on with reading this book and enjoying the happy magic of a world where breaking all of those rules goes perfectly fine. 

I don't read a lot of middle-grade novels. I do like books about self-acceptance, especially as it relates to vocalization. But I don't encounter many books where horrific-sounding situations all turn out to be peachy fine. Darby sometimes bugged me because I felt she had "poor little rich-girl" problems, which I tend to find annoying. I nearly didn't finish reading this book. My spouse kept taking it away from me because it triggered me too much. The reason I finally did finish this book was because I talked to a teammate (Dena) who assured me that the children would all live happily ever after. (I honestly thought someone was going to die, possibly be eaten.) 


I don't think I'll read the next books in the series. I'm sure they'll be just as good as this one, but it isn't my cup of tea. 
The book has a happily-ever-after. It's a good story of friendship.  (It isn't meant to be scary or haunting, but for me it was absolutely edge-of-my-seat panic-induced terrifying.) It's not predictable. It is a bit spiritual and meaningful. In some ways, it's fun and entertaining. Chapter 13 had a tear-jerker moment.

It might be a diverse book. Naz is from Morocco. Darby has a stutter, and her mother tells her she'll never get anywhere if she doesn't overcome it. (I love that I read this book after Biden became President. I want to shove that in the mother's face. Though eventually, the mother becomes a sympathetic character. But still, she never taught her daughter not to wander off alone in the woods in the middle of the night and not to take candy from strangers, so I'm gonna keep judging her harshly because she's fictional and I can.) Visually, Katie Usher and Darby have reddish-brown curly hair. Geoff Usher (and possibly Chad Usher) and Justin have sandy hair. Geoff Usher and Naz have olive skin and blue eyes. Mrs. Usher had dark skin and was born in India. Chad Usher has dark skin. Leroy Usher has wavy black hair and blue eyes. The Usher family has a totem pole (so someone is a Native American from a tribe of the Northwest Coast of the United States or Canada - though they live near Chicago). 

Chad and Katie have names with initials that could also be used in the word LUCK. Their brother, Geoff, does not. 

There are minor characters in the book, such as a set of twin girls. One twin, Jessica, grows as a character and a person, but her sister does not. 

An excerpt that caught my attention:
~No one listens, so what's the point? Eventually, it was natural to simply remain silent all the time.~ 
Justin thinks that, and it's the reasoning he used when he decided to stop speaking after his father's death. 
 

I learned about calliope music from looking it up because of this book. I had also never heard of Johnny Rebeck before. (It's a song.) I've never heard of Jack Sprat before. I learned that headlamps are another word for headlights. 

The book cover is okay (the one with the orange building, neon Ferris wheel, and silhouettes of three children), but I wish it showed the trolley so I'd have a better idea of what that looked like. The title makes sense, and L.U.C.K. is used many times in the book. The book is well-edited.

The book's life lessons are about believing in yourself and seeing things from the point of view of others. The main setting is Camp Inch, which seems like a very expensive camp with absolutely no security and minimum supervision for the young children. The magic of the book reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (but without a parent accompanying their child), or Mary Poppins (but without the parents having ever met Mary), and Hansel and Gretel (but thankfully without the cannibal witch). 

If the children had proper supervision, a camp counselor going with them perhaps, or an older sibling who knew what was going on, I would give the book five stars. If any of the adults at Camp Inch had at least noticed three children under their charge going missing (it happens several times) and searched for them, I'd give the book four stars (five if the kids got a lecture about not being lured off into the forest by music, candy, rides and games in an abandoned building, why trespassing is illegal, how dangerous walking by a highway can be - especially at night, that an adult should always know where you are...). As it is, I worried my head off for these three fictional children, and that the dangers are never addressed bothers me enough that I'm giving it only three stars. The writing is excellent, the characters are well-developed, the plot is interesting-- it's just the things that didn't go wrong and could have (the real "luck" of the story, in my opinion, is that no children were seriously injured in the woods at night, not kidnapped while so near a highway alone, not arrested for trespassing or breaking and entering, and that interacting with a stranger didn't have tragic results). 


GOODREADS review

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QUESTION:
To what website do you think Operation Awesome should give our next recommendation award?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

#BookReview of How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter K

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books that I have been itching to read that corresponded with the letter.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

This book is an excellent choice for everyone who is learning more about racism and how to be antiracist. Kendi shared his background, facts, and definitions throughout the book. I appreciate the conversational and supported approach. The definitions that Kendi provided further illustrate the facts and narratives. I found the quotes and facts profound and eloquently stated. Words matter when describing racism. The key term is that the opposite of “racist” is not “not racist,” but “antiracist” (p. 9). How can I as a white person promote antiracism in a conscious way with my cognitions, emotions, and behaviors from this day forward as I advocate and reduce my personal bias?

I would recommend this book for everyone who wants to learn more about racism and how to be antiracist. I will caution that some of the material may be difficult, especially if this is the first time facing discussion of race. As a white woman, I am eager to continue my cultural humility journey and do the work of educating myself as I work toward how I can be more antiracist and dissolve my biases. The book is an excellent starting point for the antiracist journey.

The theme is captured by the following sentences: “racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas” (p. 6).

Overall the book was easy to read and informative. I appreciated learning about racism, antiracism, and my own biases. I look forward to rereading this book and reading more of Kendi’s work as I continue to learn and grow. 

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 Also on my reading list is Stamped from the Beginning and Four Hundred Souls.

 

How are you approaching antiracism? What resources have you found helpful?

 


Monday, April 12, 2021

#BookReview of The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick #atozchallenge

Our theme for this year's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is BOOK REVIEWS.  We don't normally post book reviews but it was fun to review some of the amazing books I've read in the last year.

J is for The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The night before he starts sixth grade, Maverick rides his bike home and right into a nasty fight between his mother and her current boyfriend.  Once the boyfriend packs up and storms off, Maverick gets his mom some ice for her bloody face, and after she goes to bed he cleans up the living room.  The next day, on very little sleep, he grabs the sheriff star his father gave him before he died, and runs off to catch the bus to his new school.  The star reminds him of his father and of trying to make your corner of the world a better place.

Sixth grade has its own set of problems, from uncaring teachers to the school bullies, which includes the assistant principal. Maverick tries to always do the right thing, even when it might cost him.  And he spends quite a bit of time in the assistant principal's office for his good deeds.  Sixth grade isn't starting out all that great.  

Maverick is short and scrawny, but also spunky and smart.  He knows his good deeds are likely to be misunderstood but he does them anyway, because he wants to be like his late father who died doing a good deed.  The author does a great job in giving each character a different personality and backstory.  The plot has good pacing and some nice twists/surprises.

This is an excellent story about a kid overcoming a not-great home life, and standing up for himself and others even at a cost.  This book is actually a comp title for my current WiP.  I hope my story is half as good as this book is.

Five stars.



Saturday, April 10, 2021

#BookReview of Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter I

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books that I have been itching to read that corresponded with the letter.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

This book is an excellent choice for adults. The story follows Cameroonian couple Neni and Jendi with their time in America working, going to school, and trying to stay in America. The narrative addresses themes of marriage, immigration, class, race, and the American Dream. The story demonstrates the values of family, love, and hope. The pacing is fantastic and fits well into the chapters.

I would recommend this book for adults who want to learn more about the American Dream and immigration. I will caution that there is some drug use and domestic violence. The book is an excellent choice for those who are looking for a story with Cameroonian protagonists. This is the first novel I have read by Mbue, and I am eager to read How Beautiful We Were. I am reading more diverse books as part of my journey of cultural humility. As a white woman, I am eager to continue my cultural humility journey and do the work of educating myself.

I finished the book. Jendi's and Neni’s struggles with parenthood, family, work, school, and immigration were engaging and intriguing. I anticipate reading more by Mbue, and I will happily follow Mbue's future work. One of my key factors for reading books is if I would recommend it to others, and if I would reread the book. I would do both for Behold the Dreamers, with high recommendations and I would definitely read it again.

The theme is captured by the following sentences: “Our people say no condition is permanent, Mr. Edwards. Good times must come to an end, just like bad times, whether we want it or not.”

Overall the novel was hard to put down and easy to read. I appreciated the Cameroonian protagonists as experienced in this book and learning about Cameroon and immigration in a way that I have not encountered before. I appreciate Mbue’s portrayal of Neni and Jendi and their story. 

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What books have you read with protagonists from a culture and country different from your own? What did you learn about the culture and country you read? What did you learn about your own culture and country?


Friday, April 9, 2021

#BookReview of People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins

 


The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!


H is for People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins

I’m a big fan of Ellen Hopkins, have been since I was a teenager. I love her free-verse poetry and how much she can destroy you with so few words. FYI, this review does not contain spoilers.

PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE is a multi-POV contemporary fiction novel in free-verse that follows six characters whose lives are impacted by gun violence. It opens with a man accidentally shooting his wife to death with a gun he bought to use against "punks" (read: his Muslim neighbors). After killing his wife, he sells the gun to one of these six characters: There's Rand, a nineteen-year-old with a toddler, who has some serious trauma from his past that he'd like to avenge; Cami, Rand's wife, who secretly deals weed to make money for their family but fears a drug deal gone wrong; Silas, a white nationalist with a love of violence; Ashlyn, Silas's on-again, off-again girlfriend who is new to the white nationalist movement; Noelle, who sustained permanent brain damage from a road rage incident involving a gun; and Daniel, who just wants to protect his new girlfriend from Silas's stalking behavior. One of these people will kill people. 

Overall, I found PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE to be an enjoyable dive into six very different characters. The conceit of the novel is that you are being spoken to directly by “the voice of Violence,” interspersed with slipping into the heads of the six POVs. The guessing game about who bought the gun was a bit fun, but in all honesty, four of those characters were easily dismissed as the purchaser – too obvious, nothing to gain by having a gun, hates guns, doesn’t have a real reason to buy one. So by the halfway point, I’d already narrowed it down to two, although I didn’t figure out which character would die until the page before. On that note, as soon as we were in the killer’s head, it was obvious what was about to happen. I’m not sure if this was an intentional move by Hopkins, or if she couldn’t come up with a satisfactory way to narrate it otherwise. 

The six POVs – seven, if you count Violence – could be a bit much at times. All of these characters’ lives were intertwined, which initially made it a challenge to remember who was related to who by blood or by marriage, and who had dated who vs who had broken up, etc. but it didn’t take long to sort everyone out. I loved how Hopkins wove in little jabs and nudges from Violence into each character’s narrative, showing how their rage or fear was building in a believable way. I’ve certainly had bad days and then one more thing happens that makes me want to lash out, and Hopkins perfectly captures that feeling, that moment on the edge. At the end of the novel, she gives a short blurb about what happens to each character afterward, and all but one were satisfactory. 

PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE is a great read for teens and adults. It may be a good choice for parents who want to talk to their kids about gun safety and gun violence: it’s not preachy, it has believable characters, and it contains situations that could very well happen in real life, like a convenience store robbery. However, please be aware that it contains racial slurs and descriptions of sexual assault against a child. 


Thursday, April 8, 2021

#BookReview of The Goolz Next Door - A Bad Night for Bullies by Gary Ghislain #atozchallenge

Our theme for this year's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is BOOK REVIEWS.  We don't normally post book reviews but it was fun to review some of the amazing books I've read in the last year.

G is for The Goolz Next Door - A Bad Night for Bullies by Gary Ghislain

12yo Harold Bell moved from England to Maine and lives a quiet life by the ocean, reading books, cruising along the boardwalk in his wheelchair, and trying to stay away from the town bullies.  One day, horror author Frank Goolz moves in next door with his two girls – Ilona is around Harold's age and Suzie is a little younger.  Harold meets the girls when the bullies roll his wheelchair to the edge of the pier and threaten to push him off, but the girls toss the leader of the bullies off the pier instead.

Later, Harold sees a zombie woman in the attic window of the Goolz house, and Ilona gives him a “Stone of the Dead” to keep watch over.  Bullies start disappearing, which makes Harold wonder if Frank Goolz is an author of fiction or non-fiction.

The book has several funny scenes and is spooky/scary in places but not terrifying. Frank Goolz is a quirky, eccentric, absent-minded author [aren't we all?!] who chases after paranormal sightings for “research”.  There are graveyard scenes, and the zombie woman is yikes!

It's a fun read and would appeal to readers of the Goosebumps series by RL Stine.  I'm a wimp and I don't like horror [I've never been able to finish a Stephen King book] but I did like Goosebumps and I did like this book.  It's the first in a series so I'll probably check out future installments.

Four stars.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

#BookReview of Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter F

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog-- the team loves to read!). I've selected books by Debut Authors that I've interviewed on this blog.

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Kitty Felde -- see the interview here!

 

4 star rating image on the Operation Awesome blog #WeNeedDiverseBooks #DebutAuthor

This is a good book for young people. It covers the difficulty of moving, loss, and the pain of being apart from family. It shows the value of hard work, making friends, patriotism, and research. It's interesting as a mystery book for young people, as the mystery being solved is a curiosity rather than a dangerous crime. I received a free copy of this book from the author; nevertheless, this is an honest, fair, and unbiased review. This author was interviewed by me for the Operation Awesome blog in Feb 2020. I would recommend this book for young people age eight and up who enjoy a mystery, have endured family dramas such as moving or loss, or are looking for a book with a strong female Latinx main character. I do not often read books in this genre or audience-age. 

There is a long mention about two Washington Monuments on a National Mall model. Google offered nothing, but the book does eventually answer the mystery. What isn't clear is why Gabby believes the age for a learner's permit is six months more than what any website I've found lists it to be (the book was published in 2020). 

I read the whole book because I wanted to know how the mysteries would be solved. I would read another book from this author, especially if it were a sequel to this one. It's mostly realistic fiction, has a mostly happy ending, is a tear-jerker at times, has good twists, is fun and entertaining, and is diverse. The title makes sense because it has the main character's name and the location to which she's moved. 

"Papa said Capitol Hill was safer than Fort Knox with Capitol policemen on every corner." - This line may bother those who think about the attack on January 6, 2021. (And those who prefer the gender-neutral term of police officers instead of policemen.) Likewise, there's a line about the statue of Ulysses S. Grant seeming to protect the Capitol from any Confederate soldiers. Probably a reference to the Battle of Fort Stevens, but it could trigger some people because of the 2021 attack.

Chapter 19 and 25 are heartbreaking, especially if you've lost a close family member. The themes of this book are about the importance of family, believing in yourself, and the value of being brave and honest. The plot is well written and makes sense. 

Like any good mystery book, it was hard to put down because I wanted answers. I could relate to the painful feelings of loss experienced by the main characters. The book gave me an appreciation for what it's probably like for the children of Congress. The settings were all well done and absolutely vital to the story. The goals were difficult for Fina, but her older sister seemed to deal with much more insurmountable problems. 

The current Congressman for the 10th District of Pennsylvania, where Hershey is located, is Scott Perry. (In case anyone is curious upon reading the book.)



GOODREADS

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What 2021 debut authors have books with Latinx main characters?

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

#BookReview of With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo #atozchallenge

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter E

The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews (even though we're a blog about the publication journey, not a book review blog--the team loves to read!). I've selected books that I have been itching to read on my cultural humility list that corresponded with the letter.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

This book is an excellent choice for young adults. The story follows Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Latinx who takes care of her daughter and her abuela while finishing her senior year of high school. The story demonstrates the values of family, love, and perseverance. The coming of age narratives addresses adolescent concerns of sex, loss, and insecurities in the high school setting. There are recipes included and great descriptions of Emoni’s cooking and spice choices. As a cook and baker myself who is obsessed with Great British Baking Show, Nadiya’s Time to Eat, and Nadiya Bakes, I appreciated the recipes and the cooking and baking portions of the story. The pacing is fantastic and fits well into the small chapters.

I would recommend this book for young adults who can handle discussing sex. I will caution that there is some kissing, and there are two sex scenes in the first and last quarter of the book. The book is an excellent choice for those who are looking for a story with a strong female Afro-Latinx protagonist. I have also read The Poet X and Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, and I love both of them. I occasionally read books in this genre and for the young adult audience. My goal is to read more diverse books and as a white woman, I am eager to continue my cultural humility journey.

I finished the book. Emoni’s struggles with parenthood, family, love, and school were engaging and intriguing. I anticipate getting copies of Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths and Write Yourself a Lantern: A Journal Inspired by the Poet X. I will happily follow Elizabeth Acevedo’s future work.

The theme is captured by the following sentences: “I close my eyes. I don’t want to miss another word. She sings about how everything changes, the shallow and the profound, the shiny and the old; everything but the love for home changes. I’m tapping my foot to the rhythm, and when the song ends Mariana gets up and plays the song again.”

Overall the novel was hard to put down and easy to read several small chapters. I appreciated the Afro-Latinx protagonist as experienced in this book and teen motherhood in a way that I have not encountered before. I appreciate Acevedo’s portrayal of Emoni and her life. The cooking terms and phrases fed my kitchen aficionado heart. 

Elizabeth Acevedo's website

Goodreads 


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What books have you read with Afro-Latinx protagonists?

Monday, April 5, 2021

#BookReview of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling #atozchallenge

Our theme for this year's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is BOOK REVIEWS.  We don't normally post book reviews but it was fun to review some of the amazing books I've read in the last year.

D is for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Aven Green tells people imaginative stories about how she lost her arms wrestling alligators or how they were flattened by a train.  But she was actually born that way.  She was adopted at age 2, lives in Kansas, and has attended the same school for many years.  She has friends and pretty much everyone knows her and no longer stares at her lack of arms.  Then her father receives a job offer to manage a desert theme park in Arizona.  Now in middle school, Aven has to navigate all the staring and avoidance and rude questions all over again.  She meets two boys with their own differences and together they work to solve a mystery about the theme park.

I was a middle school student with differences.  Mine weren't obvious like having no arms, but I still had difficulties, trouble making friends and avoiding bullies, etc.  The author does a really good job realistically portraying what I'll call the mixed up lives of middle school students with differences.  I like that Aven takes positive steps to reach out and connect with others and try to make friends, but it's a lot of work and she's conflicted about just wanting to retreat and eat her lunch in the bathroom so people don't stare at her.  Been there, done that too.

The adoption angle in the book was not as well done, and in fact certain parts of it caused me a small amount of gnashing of teeth.  [Please don't mention that to my dentist.]  Fortunately, I never felt the desire to throw the book against the wall, which is good because I read an audio book from the library.  Some of the adoption storyline is okay and even cute, but other parts are not and can even be considered insulting.

It's still a good book and I recommend it.  Just be aware that nothing's perfect.  You can apply this to your own writing too.  Just because your manuscript isn't perfect, doesn't mean it won't be published and it might even earn awards too.

Four stars.




Saturday, April 3, 2021

#BookReview of Hair Love by Matthew Cherry #atozchallenge

Our theme for this year's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is BOOK REVIEWS.  We don't normally post book reviews but it was fun to have a chance to review some of the amazing books I've read in the last year.

C is for Hair Love by Matthew Cherry


My introduction to Hair Love was by the short film.  I watched this online and it was amazing!  Love love love it.


If you haven't yet watched it, do that now before reading more.  It's less than seven minutes long.

The story starts with a young girl waking up, which generally is a big no-no but it works for this story.  Today is an important day and she wants her hair to look just right.  Unfortunately, her father is the only one available to help her, and he doesn't know how to style her hair the way she wants.  He tries just pushing a cap on her head, which doesn't go over well.  When he makes an attempt to comb it, her hair fights back!

If this was a query, we'd have:
Protagonist – young girl
What she wants/stakes – to look just right for a very important appointment
What's stopping her – her father doesn't know how to style her hair the way she wants

Or conversely:
Protagonist – father of young girl
What he wants/stakes – to be on time for a very important appointment
What's stopping him – his daughter wants to look just right and he doesn't know how to do her hair the way she wants

The film has basically no dialogue, but the music and visual lets the viewer know that this is a very important day for both of the characters.  No, I won't tell you why.  You'll have to watch it yourself!  All the characters, including the very opinionated cat, have great facial expressions, and the film has some hysterically funny scenes.

Several weeks after I saw the film, I read that Blue Ivy Carter was selected to narrate the audio book.  No, I haven't read the audio book, but if you want to hear a short selection, there's a link on the Amazon page.



I checked out the book from my library.  The illustrations by Vashti Harrison are excellent.  I learned the girl's name is Zuri.  She has an active imagination, which is cute.  The story in the book is slightly different than the story in the film, which kept the book interesting to me because it wasn't just a book version of the film.

I enjoyed the book.  I'd rate it four stars.  The short film is amazing.  Five stars for that.

Did you watch the film?  Have you read this book?  What did you think?

 

Friday, April 2, 2021

#BookReview of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Graphic Adaptation by Nick Bertozzi



The Operation Awesome theme for the #atozchallenge 2021 is book reviews. I had the chance to re-read some old favorites to see how my perspective has changed over time, as well as some new loves!


B is for The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Graphic Adaptation by Nick Bertozzi

This was an interesting read because Buck was a white woman who spent the first forty years or so of her life (approximately 1890 to 1930) in Zhenjiang, China. She could fluently speak both the local dialect of Chinese and standard Chinese (though I couldn't figure this out for sure, I think this refers to Mandarin). Many of the events detailed in her book were events she witnessed, or lived through. 

The book dramatizes family life in a Chinese village in the early 20th century, beginning with farmer Wang Lung marrying his wife O-Lan. The plot centers on Wang Lung, who tries to build his family's fortune by buying up land from the wealthy House of Hwang. Over time, his fortunes rise and fall, as with years of drought that force the family to move south to beg, and back to years of plenty when their farm produces a great deal of food. Wang Lung is portrayed as hardworking and cautious, though not without his faults - he struggles to be faithful to his wife, and as his wealth grows, he becomes consumed with outward appearances. In the end, though he built his entire family's wealth and wellbeing on the land he bought, Wang Lung's sons go behind his back to sell it. 

I have never read the original text of THE GOOD EARTH, so it was an interesting experience to read it for the first time as a graphic novel. The story encompasses a time and place I know very little about. I would like to track down a copy of the original work, but before I do, I want to learn more about China in the early 20th century. It's hard to judge whether the book is accurate in its portrayal without that kind of information. I would recommend this to older teens and adults, but it would probably be helpful to have the background on the setting before reading. 

THE GOOD EARTH really called into question the same thing we've been grappling with as a community for years now: Who gets to tell what story? Buck was a white American woman, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for this work. It was even re-popularized by Oprah in the early 2000s. It's not as if there weren't Chinese Americans living in the United States at the time who could have told their own stories or the stories of their parents' or grandparents' generations. However, she did grow up in China - is her experience being Chinese as valid as someone born in the US to Chinese parents, but who doesn't know the culture or speak the language? Maybe her work and her fame were simply due to the privilege of being white. Maybe it was because she was well-educated. And yet, at the same time, her privilege made this work famous. Maybe it wouldn't have been as well-received coming from another writer. Maybe I never would've heard of it. There is some evidence to show that THE GOOD EARTH paved the way for Americans to acknowledge China as an ally during WWII, so it can't be condemned for that. Buck founded the first interracial, international adoption agency in the US. Are good works enough to overcome someone writing about a cultural or ethnic group to which they don't belong? I still don't know. 

What do you think? Do you think people should only write about characters that are like them? Or do you think writers are free to write any character of any background? 

Goodreads (original novel)

Goodreads (graphic adaptation)