The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches From Syria

51rahiqp-pl-_sx327_bo1204203200_It’s hard to avoid the ongoing conflict and violence in Syria.  This small country, rapt by civil war, has become a tragic humanitarian crisis. Janine Di Giovanni is a seasoned journalist, who had reported from Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia. Born in New Jersey now living in Paris, she has spent several weeks in Syria witnessing almost the same thing in there as she once had reported on from Sarajevo.  The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches From Syria is a long report of what she witnessed there. Abuse, systematic rape, starvation, devastation.  I picked this book up from the library, committed to knowing more about what is really happening there. It’s a compelling story, and goes way beyond anything I had heard or read about Syria.

In my husband’s multiple trips to the Middle East, he has been all over the place. The closest he’s been to the Syrian conflict is Jordan.  I’ve never feared for his safety more than while he was there. Jordan continues to take in Syrian refugees, and after reading this account, I believe that many more countries could follow their example.  Di Giovanni visited a few places in the country, and each place she visited faced similar situations. The situation in Aleppo may be the most reported on, and she went there. But she also went to Damascus, Latakia, Homs, Darayya, and Zabadani.

In the beginning of the conflict, Syrian rebels were inspired by the Arab Spring. Bashar al Assad inherited his position from his father, something average Syrians weren’t happy with.  His father had actually picked a new name when he rose to power – assad actually means lion, which is an accurate description of his and his son’s leadership style.

If the Arab Spring was about democracy, and it could’ve meant other things to other people, Syrians believed in this promise.  What this civil brought to average Syrians is years of suffering – of torture under Assad’s regime. Even though Syria has been all over the news the past few years, I knew very little of what was really going on – and how the conflict started. The story Di Giovanni is an important one – and will either change opinions on the conflict in Syria, or strengthen them. There is so much heartbreak there, yet the saddest part of the story of Syria is that it is still ongoing.  I hope that it ends soon, but I’m not hopeful.


New Fiction Friday: Tell Me Something Real

51eywojnzdl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Cancer does not discriminate. It takes the young and old, the rich and the poor, anyone from any background or part of the world. It always seems tragic when cancer strikes the young, and the parents of young children. Cancer is at the center of Calla Devlin’s story, Tell Me Something Real.  Vanessa and her two sisters are incredibly close, and their family was rocked when their mother was diagnosed with cancer. They are brought even closer together, working to take care of each other, and their father who was already grieving.  They are also being pulled in many different directions, physically and emotionally, as they are frequently helping their mother to and from her constant doctors visits and cancer treatments.

The middle of the book drops a big bombshell, one that came completely out of the blue. Mentioning anything about it will certainly ruin the story – and it’s such a good one!!  It changes the trajectory of the book, and it changes the trajectory of this family’s life. As Vanessa and her older sister grow, they are close to leaving the house for good.  Yet, at the same time, they seem to have never been closer.  Adrienne, the oldest girl, might be going away to college soon, and Vanessa really wants to go to a conservatory and play the piano. In chasing this dream, she begins to move on. Physically and emotionally.  Their younger sister Marie remains, and seems unable to cope with even the thought of her two older sisters leaving.

I lost my father to cancer almost 6 years ago, so parts of the story seem so familiar. Watching him struggle, and continue to decline before his death was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. These three sisters have each other, and their dad, and this helps them to cope.  There is no real healing in the story – either for their mom, or for the girls.  Yet they carry on.  I admire their bravery, and I am jealous of their closeness – this sisterly bond they have is unbreakable.  This is such a great story – and I was surprised by a  YA book that wasn’t driven by romance!

Enjoy and happy reading!




51qngjneijlHappy day after Valentine’s Day everyone – the best day of the year to buy candy!!  This is the second month of the #TBRChallenge, being hosted by The Misadventures Of Super Librarian.  Each month, there are posted themes and “due dates”, like assignments, challenging participants to read and get outside their comfort zone.

This month’s assignment was an author new to me.  In the past month I’ve read two of JoJo Moyes’s books – Paris For One and After You.  I loved both of them and am looking forward to reading more of her books.  Up next is her one of her newest books Sheltering Rain. Again, I feel like I’m the last one to read 514wbfezdml-_sx281_bo1204203200_her books.  I guess better late than never!!

After You is the sequel to Me Before You, and picks up exactly where the first book left off.  I haven’t read the first book yet – but I want to now, and I’ve heard the movie is really good.  Without reading the first book, it was still immediately clear what had happened.  No spoilers, but Me Before You has a very sad ending.  In After You, Louisa is trying to carry on with her life, has done some crazy and exciting things.  Her family is puzzled, but they never really understood her relationship with Will Trainer (which is kind of what Me Before You is all about).  Having not read the first book, I wasn’t sure how they were connected – but they were deeply in love.

This was such a great story – and I also really loved Paris For One.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her other books.  Next up in the #TBRChallenge for March is a comfort read – which sounds perfect for right now!  The past few weeks have been super busy and I’d love nothing more than to relax with a great book and some Valentine’s Day candy!!

Black History Month

9780812993547_p0_v4_s192x300February marks the celebration of Black History Month.  I feel it’s so important to recognize diverse voices, perhaps now more than ever.  Last year, we shared our list of notable books that we love – some of which I use in the classroom every semester.  We still love those books, and believe that they are worth reading – and not just in February, but all year round.

Celebrating black history and black culture extends beyond the books that we’ve shared before, black history isn’t just the study or celebration of the past – it’s still happening, still evolving, and always relevant.  Don’t be daunted by heavy subject matter, or 5138ynpfqnl-_sx332_bo1204203200_indifferent to the history.  These books represent so much in black history and culture – each for different reasons.

Between the World and Me – After I read this book, I was completely changed by the experience.  It challenged every idea I had about race, and what being an American means – not just to me, but to anyone who grows up in this country.  Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a legitimate voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, having lived through the experience of having a friend, a Howard University classmate, shot down by police for no good reason.  This experience has shaped him as a writer, a father, and as an activist.

61ocvx9uu3l-_sx328_bo1204203200_Native Son – This was written by Mississippi-born writer Richard Wright, an incredible writer giving voice to blacks in the South.  This is his best work, exposing the hopelessness and poverty experienced by so many blacks of his generation.  He also bravely tackles the issues of race and class and his work.  The story focuses on a young white woman who was murdered in Chicago by a black man.  It’s such a sad story, that seems to show, sadly, that the main character Bigger Thomas had been destined for nothing in his life.

The Warmth of Other Sons Focusing on a unknownfew individuals and their own experiences, Isabel Wilkerson tells the tale of the Great Migration, which involved millions of African Americans moving out of the rural south.  In order to escape the segregated south, they endured so much – violence, discrimination, poverty.  This story is beautifully, painfully told through these voices.  This is honestly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University, takes on the controversial topic of mass incarceration.  Comparing this experience to a new wave of segregation, in which African American men have lost their constitutional rights en masse, this is a provocative unknownsubject.  Not all will agree with her argument, but it is backed up by an immense amount of research, making it hard to disagree.

Up From Slavery Born a slave in Virginia a few years before the start of the Civil War, Booker T. Washington was an important leader in the early Civil Rights movement.  Martin Luther King Jr would later be compared to him, as they both had a non-violent, non-confrontational approach to their leadership in the movement.  Not only was he able to overcome his past and lack of early opportunity, he was able to educate himself, and help many others achieve that same dream.

51vyzgf58l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Just Mercy – I just finished reading this book last week, and I absolutely loved it.  It correlates with what Michelle Alexander argues, and tackles another side of mass incarceration.  Bryan Stevenson is a criminal defense attorney, who has worked all over the south, working on some of the toughest cases.  It is heavy reading, no doubt, but worth a read.   It’s a scathing review of the American justice system, and a story I think everyone should hear.

These books are worth the read, worth the time, and deserve recognition.  Black history and culture should be celebrated every day, all year round.  The month of February is a special time of reflection and remembrance.  Through these voices, the tale of African American history is told – through slavery, segregation, discrimination, mass incarceration and violence.  A struggle that is still real and relevant today.

The War at Home

51honkwwpul-_sx325_bo1204203200_As a military spouse, I’ve experienced a unique kind of loss in my life. Yes, my husband and I have been married for 11 years. Yes, we have a beautiful 6 year old daughter. Yes, we own our home and our daughter goes to a wonderful school that she loves. What’s missing is him. He’s on yet another deployment, he left in January and will make another one next year too!  For us, that’s 3 deployments in 4 years. Yes, this is our home, and this is our life, but he’s not here. These are the same experiences Rachel Starnes has had. In The War at Home she talks about life as a military spouse, and explains how this is the life that she never wanted.

It’s not a life she was unfamiliar with. Growing up, her father worked on oil rigs. He spent weeks – sometimes months – away from the family. She watched what she calls a dance between her parents – and even between her parents and her and her brother. Comings and goings, goodbyes and homecomings. It was a constant emotional rollercoaster – one that she didn’t want to be a part of, one she didn’t want to continue in her adult life. As a military spouse, she does this dance with her husband – a dance that just gets harder to do once her son is born.

There are so many parts to this story that I identify with. As a Navy wife I have gone through struggles similar to hers, and this book was even more personal because her husband is an F-18 pilot and my husband has worked on F-18s for 24 years. We have been stationed at the same bases, probably even in some of the same squadrons (though probably not at the same times).  I understand her struggle to support his career, while still trying to have a normal relationship.

She talks openly and honestly about what its like to be a military spouse, and that’s refreshing. Reading stories like this, and hers isn’t the only one that I’ve read and loved, are somewhat reassuring.  Military life is hard, being a parent in general is hard, but being a single parent while your spouse is deployed is seriously challenging. It’s okay to feel like you’re not going to get through it. It’s okay to feel like giving up (though hopefully get through it). Outsiders may not understand what military life is like, but Starnes offers a window into this world.

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo

51j10qkqfsl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Amy Schumer is one of the funniest women in the world. Her brand of feminist comedy is bold, brave, and hilarious. I was so excited to finally get my hands on her book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo. In it is a collection of humorous essays, and a few of her journal entries from different stages of her life. She talks about her family, her relationships, her career, her crazy upbringing, and her love of New York City. I laughed out loud a few times – and found it very therapeutic. I actually had the book on election day and had a hard time sleeping that night. I got up, grabbed the book and finished it before I was able to go back to sleep. It was welcome comic relief, something we could all use right now.

Schumer is known for her comedy, but is also an outspoken feminist. She talks about being a woman in comedy, which seems like well-covered territory.  She adds to the argument though, not just repeats what others have said. Her experience is unique, and she tells all about her rise in comedy. One of the most hilarious skits from her show Inside Amy Shumer is one in which she addresses growing older in Hollywood. That’s something she talks about in the book too – and how she rejects the whole idea. She’s never really been in “Hollywood”, she’s a lifelong New Yorker. For this, and many other reasons, she’s doing her own thing.

This is one of my favorite parts, her belief that just because she’s not a size 2 and 20 years old, doesn’t mean that she can’t be funny, or entertain people:

“I’m sure no one is too shocked to hear that it’s an industry of people who judge most women almost solely on their appearance, and where every day women feel themselves barreling toward death and decay while smaller, hotter actresses like Selena keep appearing like Russian nesting dolls. It’s an industry where you go from playing a lead love interest to a turtleneck-and-knit-vest-sporting grandmother who, despite missing her husband, still has a lot of love to give to pets, in half the time a leading man turns into a grandpa”.

This is so spot on, and at the same time hilarious. She’s so honest about her experiences and who she is, and is also unforgiving. She is not perfect, and of course no one is, she admits lots of really embarrassing stuff here, and apologizes for none of it.

A Handful of Stars

51kylxczcql-1-_sx342_bo1204203200_I love a good dog story.  I also love a good cat story.  In a Handful of Stars, which I just finished a few days ago, Lily’s dog is blind and she is his only guide.  Cynthia Lord, the author of Rules, which earned her a Newbury Honor, released Stars last year, and it is such a great read.  Lily lives in Maine with her grandparents.  She doesn’t know her father, and her mother passed away when she was really young.  All she has left of her mother is this dog which she had before she died.  During the summer, in preparation for the blueberry festival, she befriends another you girl named Salma.  Salma is the daughter of migrant workers, in the area to pick blueberries for the season.

They are introduced when Salma saves Lily’s dog from being hit by a car.  They have little in common, as Lily has lived in Maine her whole life, and Salma has lived all over the place.  Though she calls Florida home, Salma and her family move up and down the east coast, following spring and summer harvests.  Lily’s grandparents own a story that locals and tourists frequent.  In order to raise money for a surgery that could restore Lucky’s eyesight, she paints bird houses to be sold at the store.  When Salma hears of Lily’s work, she spends the summer helping paint more, and as a talented artist, her work becomes quite popular.

Salma was strong and brave, and helped Lily to raise money for Lucky’s surgery.  This story about these two young girls really got to me.  Maybe I was having a rough day, but when I got to the end of the book I just cried.  Her grandfather and Salma have a very close relationship, and though he supports her mission to save Lucky, he has some advice for her.  He tells her this:

“Giving up and letting go are too very different things, Lily.  Giving up is admitting you’re beat and walking away.  Letting go means you’re setting something free.  You’re releasing something that’s been keeping you stuck.  That takes faith and more than a little courage.”

The summer is life changing for this 12 year old.  She learns about love, friendship, and letting go – in ways that she couldn’t have expected.  I loved this story, and the way that these two girls, from very different backgrounds, were able to connect.

Where Do We Go From Here?

unnamedLast Friday was a tough day for me.  I know I’m not alone in feeling disappointed and hopeless.  This past year has been filled with shock and fear, and through the election cycle I thought he’ll never get the nomination, he’ll never win the election, he’ll never really be inaugurated.  Well, here we are.  It’s still so hard to process, and as rough as Friday (or honestly, this past year) was, I am so incredibly proud of the women across this country who participated in the women’s march on Saturday.  I know that to most of us, this seems like a small consolation.  To help process these feelings of desperation and loss, and to help us all move on, we have to find a way to continue on.  These books may help.

It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis was the progressive voice of a generation.  Not our generation, but one which faced similar challenges.  The story charts the rise of a dictator, and the demise of democracy.  It was written as satire, but still feels very current.  It’s such a strong message, and a cautionary tale, calling us all to protect our democracy.

House of Cards – The book the TV show is based on is a behind the scenes look at national politics.  The show takes a slight departure from the book, and I’m constantly wondering who the main characters are supposed to be based on.  Part of the story is frightening – making it seem like there is no one in Washington politics who is honest.  The main character is ambitious (and his initials just happen to be FU), stopping at nothing to get ahead.  Sound familiar??

Hillbilly Elegy This is one of the best books from 2016.  To understand just how anyone might be interested in a Trump presidency, read this book.  If the explanation of Trump’s win comes from the idea that there are average Americans – living in the “flyover” region of the country who don’t feel represented in national politics (or anything for that matter), this is the idea that this book represents.  I would never have voted from Trump, but there’s still something so powerful in this message.

Between the World and Me – “Black Lives Matter” has become another political issue dividing our country. Unfortunately, while some within the African American community use this as a unifying and empowering statement, that their lives are just as important as anyone else’s, others criticize the movement and this slogan, in that it might suggest that not all lives matter. This is not the message at all – let us not forget that there still is real racism in this country.

We Should All Be Feminists – This is a really quick read, but it’s an important one. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote Americanah, which I really loved.  This essay is based on a Ted talk that she did about feminism.  Feminism isn’t just for women or about women, women’s rights are human rights.  That’s her major argument here – and one that we all need to hear.

Undocumented – Undocumented immigrants seems to be the focus of every immigration policy.  Could there be reoform?  Yes.  Dan-el Padilla Peralta was just that, an undocumented immigrant.  Yet, he lived a real life, and succeeded despite his immigration status.  This book challenges readers to look beyond that, and remember that these undocumented immigrants are people.  People who are not worthless, people that may have something to positively contribute to society.

Let there still be hope.  Let us start to heal.  We will get through this, this is not really the first time the country has been so divided.  We can work together.  And though it seems that Trump isn’t interested in working together, we can!


New Fiction Friday: Fantastic Beasts

61ks08br-el-_sx311_bo1204203200_I cannot get enough Harry Potter – and I know I’m not alone.  As soon as I got my hands on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I devoured it.  That came out last year, and around the same time another piece to the Potter world was released – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  It’s an original screenplay, written by Ms. Rowling.  So not an official Harry book, it does tie into the series.  The title actually comes from the name of a textbook used by students at Hogwarts.

Newt Scamander is the main character of the story, the character played by Eddie Redmayne in the movie.  He is a magi-zoologist (someone who takes care of magical creatures – kind of like Hagrid).  The story takes place in 1920s New York, and it seems as if these beasts are taking over the city.  The imagery in the book is amazing, and the movie takes it to another level.  No one has quite the imagination as Ms. Rowling, which is why she is unnamedhands-down my favorite author.

What’s also interesting is that in the story (screenplay??), there is a peek into the wizarding world of New York City.  There is a large and thriving magic community in the states, with a wizarding school that rivals Hogwarts.  Newt is British, and is definitely an outsider.  He’s trying to blend in, not just with American wizards, but in a bustling NYC.  He seems to be on the run, and he claims to be looking for a certain species, yet is accused of coming to New York and setting some of these beasts free.  This again is an amazing visual – even without seeing the movie.

There is dark magic, and in one part of the story Newt faces an execution committee.  It was a fun and quick read, and I can only hope that Ms Rowling keeps writing, and keeps taking us back to the wizarding world!  Side note – when is the next Cormoran Strike book coming out??


51i88vwotol-_sx330_bo1204203200_2017 is already in full swing.  Though I am enjoying the new boots and comfy sweaters I got for Christmas – I am already over the winter weather!!  We got 6 inches of snow here last week, and that is about 5 1/2 inches too many for me.  Luckily, before being snowed in I was able to make a quick trip to the library.  In front of the fireplace, with a good cup of coffee and a new book to read is the perfect place to be!  One thing I’m excited about this year is participating in the #TBRChallenge, being hosted by The Misadventures Of Super Librarian.  Each month, there are posted themes and “due dates”.

First up is for the month of January is romance (or a novella, or short stories).  I don’t normally read a lot of romance, but finding a good romance wasn’t too hard.  I am a fan of Meg Cabot, and have been looking forward to reading her latest book!  The Boy Is Back, which is kind of romance, is all about a small-town scandal and a reignited romance.  I picked the book for this particular part of the challenge, and after reading it, decided that although it was a good read, it really wasn’t that romantic.

Reed and Becky once dated in high school, and had one hell of a prom night.  The night had ended in a crashed golf cart and a dislocated shoulder for Becky.  Reed’s father is a prominent judge in the area, and to him this was an embarrassment.  Fast forward 10 years, neither have seen each other.  Reed has been traveling the world on the PGA circuit, Becky and her sister have started their own business locally.  He’s back in town to help his parents, and along with his siblings needs the help of Becky’s business.

The flame between them is almost immediately reignited.  The story wasn’t as romantic as I expected, but it was a fun read.  One thing unique about the story is Cabot’s writing.  The story is told strictly through a series of texts, e-mails, transcripts of interviews, and a few newspaper articles.

Next up in the #TBRChallenge is a new-to-you author.  I’m super excited about that – there are two series that I’ve been dying to read!!