In-Between Days ~ Teva Harrison

Date Completed: 2/14/16

Rating: 8/10

Harrison’s style was really effective for the subject matter. A graphic memoir, Harrison displays a comic on one side of a spread and talks out her feelings and thought processes on the other. Her essays cover every topic I could imagine asking someone who I knew had cancer. She explores the good and the bad components of having cancer, as well as all of her feelings. She shares small moments of joy and silver linings as well as the days when she feels like a fraud. She talks about menopause and being unable to get out of bed because of the pain of her cancer.

This is not a book about getting better, recovering from cancer, and getting your life back. No, Harrison’s point (I believe) is more to share how it feels to have incurable cancer, to know one day you will probably die from it, and all the components that take place in life along the way. She’s amazingly optimistic about her life. I actually had a lot of really great insights about myself thanks to reading it, mostly having to do with my anxiety and how I perceive it vs. how I think others perceive it.

The only part I didn’t quite like was her drawing style – that is to say, I find the facial structure of her cartoons to be a bit intimidating and scary, overly wide and pointy. At the same time, though, why do cartoons have to be beautiful? The drawing is not the point, the drawing is a way to get the brain thinking differently, and the story told in words is more the point.

Teva Harrison is an artist, writer, and cartoonist. She combines all three in this beautiful graphic memoir. You can find out more about Teva’s life by reading her memoir, to be published in March, or visiting her website!

When Dimple Met Rishi ~ Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi

Date Completed: 2/10/2017

Rating:10/10

This book is pretty near perfect. When Dimple met Rishi is an adorable telling of a modern arranged marriage, and it touches on all the questions, pros, and cons that I can think of when I hear the term “arranged marriage.” Dimple is 18, attending a summer program for app design where she expects to make some new friends and head out on her own for once in her life. Rishi wants an arranged marriage, and he’s all in on wooing her at a summer camp. The only problem is, when Rishi meets Dimple, she has no idea their parents have been working on an arranged marriage that Rishi’s in on.

This is at times both a light-hearted comedy and a book that sinks down to the true nature of love. For me, their romance felt real. Full of real doubts that oftentimes have little grounding in reality, but feel like big insurmountable decisions. Is it better to choose your career or choose love? Can’t you have both? Can someone else’s opinion guide you in a productive way, or should you listen only to what you feel is right for your career? These are the main topics that were covered and questions that were brought up for me, ones that I’ve been thinking about for years.

I love the feminist undertones present throughout this story as well. Dimple is very obviously a strong, yet stubborn, independent woman who knows what she wants and that’s a career in web design/app design. She’s not interested in a long term relationship, she wants to explore her options. She breaks away from Indian traditions. Rishi on the other hand is very traditional and willing to work in a career that’s not his passion in order to find success. Their very meeting calls into question what success means, and helps them both reevaluate their values in life. It’s honestly a very hopelessly romantic story!

I loved learning more about Indian and Indian-American culture. I do read books about people who are Indian or Indian-American from time to time, but they are not often quite as youthful and pop-culture as dear Dimple and Rishi are. I really liked getting that vibe from them, young and pop-culture, but also traditional Indian culture; their cultural heritage is rich and ebbed and flowed throughout the story of their youth.

Menon’s writing style flows with ease, and she switches POV effectively. Readers are always made aware what Dimple and Rishi are thinking with regards to an event, and I appreciate that insight into their person-hood. My only complaint with the writing style was that there were several moments that felt a little rushed and contrived, moments where it seemed the author was creating these big morals in the story that the characters might not have believed or provided by themselves.

Sandhya Menon was born in Mumbai, India and is living in Colorado, US. She loves her cat and Bollywood movies. She seems like a great new voice in YA lit and I’m so excited to read more of her books! You can visit Sandhya Menon on her website for more information.

Q & A with Michele Swiderski, author of A Joyful Life

Q&A with author Michèle Swiderski:

  1. What prompted you to write a book about your experience battling depression?

My most recent healing experience from depression and generalized anxiety was unique. I felt I had stumbled onto a huge secret that I was compelled to share with the world. I had been through bouts of depression before and never felt strong once over the hump. Even though I was well enough to return to work, I remained extremely fragile and vulnerable. But this time was different. This time I felt strong because I had discovered the right mix of “ingredients” for my self-designed treatment plan. I knew specifically what I, Michèle, needed to maintain balance in my life. And much of it did not fit under a traditional medical approach. I hoped that others could benefit from what I learned.

 

  1. What did you learn in the process of writing the book? Was it therapeutic for you in some way?

Yes, it surprised me how very therapeutic writing my story was. I never expected that, because it was not the reason I wrote this memoir. But it was a nice bonus. It was as if writing my story released me from a huge weight, as if I had given it wings to go inspire others. It was a beautiful thing, looking back. Maybe I could liken it to a musician who writes a musical score and until the piece is finished and made public, it only exists in her head, but once the music is released into the world it no longer consumes her head. And there is now room in that creative part of her brain for other scores. Does that make sense? It was extremely freeing for me.

 

  1. How do creativity and spirituality relate to a person’s mental health and well-being?

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that much of what I learned during my healing year, how creativity took a central role in my healing, could be applied more broadly. My experience with the healing power of creativity has certainly changed the way I look at the act of creating; engaging in creativity was always a natural inclination for me, but now I understand that it is a must for my mental health! The same is true regarding Spirit—that if we allow Spirit to take up residence in our lives and we keep it well nourished, it can most certainly have a healing effect, that Spirit is important for our overall life balance. I would not be the first to suggest the healing power of prayer, for example. I think it is universally understood by those who care to explore spirituality.

 

  1. Do you still use the principles in your book in your everyday life?

Absolutely! If I don’t, my well-being becomes shaky and I find myself dragging through the day wondering what is wrong, why I am feeling down, or why I have lost my get-up-and-go. If I omit morning meditations, don’t get exercise or don’t see my friends for a while, it’s amazing how quickly the mood can sink. Equally important is how suddenly it can be lifted with the needed correction.

Perhaps more significantly, I experienced a full-on relapse in June and it took me several weeks to realize I was not implementing my personal prescription for wellness. My depressed brain had forgotten what I used to know. That was a bit weird, actually, being inside the body who used to know yet no longer knew. But once I became aware of what was missing in my “prescription for wellness” by talking it through with a good friend who has seen me through several depressive episodes, I was able to put a plan in place for myself. I was amazed at how quickly my mood began to lift – within 24 hours I felt significantly improved. Honestly, it felt like magic. And it was so very simple to trigger the upward spiral. That experience blew me away—me, the person who discovered the “secret recipe” for my wellness had forgotten. It brought home how very vulnerable our mental health can be and how important it is to look after it with the same care we do our physical bodies. That’s why I included a template for developing a personal action plan in my book, something to create when feeling well so that it is ready to guide us back when we are unwell.

 

  1. What do you hope readers take away from “A Joyful Life”?

I would like readers to come away with hope in the struggle with depression and anxiety. The battle is not easy; I know that. It might be the biggest challenge of our lives, but it is still possible to heal from depression and it is worth investigating a different approach. It is possible to have depression and still lead a happy life – but it is a constant work in progress.

For me, it was a matter of trusting Spirit and relinquishing control for my day-to-day existence, plus needing to be disciplined in integrating daily creativity as part of my wellness plan. If readers think they don’t have time to “play,” I would ask, how much do they value mental health?

I also want them to understand that I am not suggesting an alternative to medication. Personally, when I was finally prescribed the right medication, one that worked with my particular brain chemistry, it was like being given back my personality dipped in sunshine, something I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. It was a very joyful reunion indeed. But in my view, medication alone is not enough. It works best when combined with Cognitive Behavior Therapy or something similar, as well as with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and limited intake of alcohol and caffeine or other stimulants. Depression is a serious illness, and we need to treat it with respect.

Top 6 books that made me cry

I’ve been reading a lot of really good books lately. Some of these books have even been tear or sob worthy. Here’s the short list of the best books that have made me cry:

  1. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert  

Why: Moloka’i is one of the most devastating books I’ve read. About the exile of people with leprosy to the island of Moloka’i in Hawaii.  This book spans generations, gives us a picture of what life looks like before the island and what it looks like once on the island, and it is incredibly heartbreaking.But it is so worth reading. Books that give you these kinds of emotions, the kinds the have me ugly-crying on an airplane for an hour, are the kind that deserve more attention.

Goodreads            Amazon

      2. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Why: First of all I have to say I’m a little biased because I have a dachshund-beagle mix named Holly and she’s the cutest thing I’ve ever met. So of course this is the story about a dachshund named Lily who has a tumor (brain cancer) and one man’s course of grieving his dog. I love dogs and thinking of my dog let alone any dog dying fills me with sadness and sparks some tears instantly (I’m even tearing up a little right now just typing about dogs dying). So of course ultimately this book resulted in ugly-crying for at least the last 100 pages.

Goodreads            Amazon

      3. What is the What by Dave Eggers

Why: Okay, I mean, this book is about the second civil war in Sudan. This is a story of death, orphans, loneliness, the resiliency of a people. This book was bound to make me cry. The fact that the story within this book took place during half my lifetime so far and I’ve only heard tiny bits and pieces about it makes me cry.

Goodreads             Amazon

      4. The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Why: The Leavers is the story of a mother and son emmigrating from China to the United States and all of the trials that take place in such a move. It’s about the struggle of growing up not knowing who your parents are in a foreign country where hardly anybody looks like you and all the white people around you either try too hard to make you feel comfortable or make you feel like an outcast. Either way seems off-putting to me. My heart really goes out to mother who are displaced, especially single mothers who are unable to care for their children as a result of this displacement.

Goodreads              Amazon

       5. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Why: Detention camps are incredibly sad. Then we talk about children in detention camps and all they have to deal with, almost Lord of the Flies-esque in a way, it just gets even sadder. Middle grade novels that are really well-written have been hitting me in the feels lately, such as One Half from the East. Authors have been getting simple yet bold with their multi-dimensional works for kids that I’m really impressed by.

                                                                                                          Goodreads            Amazon

      6. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Why: Yet another story about racism to add to my list of incredibly sad books, Fried Green Tomatoes is a classic historical fiction about the South, a beautifully told novel that takes my breath away with the innocence and yet bold truths this story contains. A story within a story, there’s a lot going on in this novel in terms of feminism, racism, sexism, classism, and more (if that’s even possible!). This story truly seems to span the course of a life and all that can be found in a person’s life. Beautiful, beautiful read.

Goodreads            Amazon

Guest Review: The Diviners and Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)      Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2)

Being a fan of Bray’s earlier A Great and Terrible Beauty series, I was excited to pick up this book and get lost in her writing again. This book was “interesting”. By that I mean the plot and story were mostly new and inventive, but some of the characters felt contrived, and many of the characters’ mannerisms felt forced. This did not prevent me from picking up the second book and eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series, which is scheduled to drop some time in May this year.

This series follows a few characters, but the character we get to know the best is Evie. The typical 1920’s wild-child flapper, Evie gets into trouble in her Ohioian home town and is exiled to New York City to live with her uncle. Her uncle runs a museum affectionately called The Museum of Creepy Crawlies. The museum houses all kinds of artifacts pertaining to supernatural and obscure cult societies. Evie holds what some would say is a super natural power: she is able to touch objects to see their history as well as the owner’s past.

In the first book, she employs this skill to help catch a not-so-corporeal serial killer who is trying to bring about the end of the world. The other main characters in this book also possess varying supernatural gifts. The characters are thrown together but create some great bonds through the course of the story. It’s wonderful to read the differing points of view of each character while they don’t know each others secrets.

Lair of Dreams left me thinking that the first book was better planned out. Evie gains notoriety from the press for her special abilities as a diviner and gets her own show on the radio as well as a certain amount of sensationalized fame. She becomes disconnected from her friends and all their interpersonal relationships start to unravel from there. In the meanwhile, a new threat approaches New York. A sleeping sickness spreads through parts of Chinatown, and the inhabitants of this hamlet are starting to be targeted based on race, similar to what happened to the Japanese community in the 1940’s.

In the second book, after the main conflict has concluded, the main characters realize that some kind of “storm” is coming where there will be battles with other supernatural forces and they must band together to fight back. This plot device can be a bit tired in teen literature, but I am nonetheless excited to see where this series will go with the final installment and what kind of statements Bray will make about the world through these characters.

I did not notice until I reread A Great and Terrible Beauty that teen literature has been changing since around 2011 to encompass bigger issues than just the hardships of interpersonal relationships and trying to find a place in the world. The Diviners and Lair of Dreams tackle issues of racism, sexism and  homophobia that are relevant to today’s society and injustices.

 

 

In the Pond ~ Ha Jin

In the Pond

Date Completed: 2/8/2017

Rating: 6/10

The Pond is the Commune, and Shao Bin is in the pond. This story about communism and fascism, is designed to shed light on the injustices and corruption present in China (as they would be anywhere). Shao Bin is a young man with a wife and young daughter, working at a fertilizer plant. This story seemed along the lines of Animal Farm, but from a Chinese perspective.

This novel is chalk full of imagery as metaphor. Bin often finds himself thinking things like, “You shouldn’t play the lute to a water buffalo, he said to himself. Without doubt Song was ignorant of the fine arts, unable to appreciate real work.” He seems to feel he has more artistic talent and appreciation than everyone around him.

Bin writes/draws political cartoons to shed light on the faults of his supervisors. However, he often finds that political corruption runs so deep among the higher ups in the commune, that his supervisors give rewards and take punishments seemingly on a whim. In fact, the response from his superiors with regards to his attempts to uncover their injustices was,”An ant can’t shake a tree. If a mantis tries to stop a tractor, it will only get itself crushed. Please have second thoughts before you try again.”

And, of course, this is the story of rage. This is the story of how angry one man can become when it feels like he is not treated equal to his peers when the basis for all of their existence and persistence seems to be based on achieving equality through communism. Ha Jin expresses his anger very explicitly at times, saying things like, “I screw your ancestors! I screw them pair by pair!” He waffles back and forth between threats, subversive publicized messages, and sucking up to the officials, yet it seems nothing works, so he often gets angry.

Ha Jin is a novelist and poet, and a professor of English at Boston University. Some of his more famous works include Waiting, Ocean Words, and Under the Red Flag.

What is the What ~ Dave Eggers

What is the What, Dave Eggers (F, 20s, blue ear buds & zebra tote ...

Date Completed: 2/6/2017

Rating: 9/10

What is the What is a true-life story about Valentino, a young Sudanese-American man, and follows the journey and experience of many of the Lost Boys. Valentino is a 30-something living in Atlanta, taking readers on a tour through what his life currently is. Meanwhile, he shares his story with everyone he sees, narrating throughout the novel. His words flow as he remembers his tragic past, wrought with the strength of his endurance and the sadness of all the people he knew who were injured or died.

During the Sudanese civil war, where did all the orphans go? Achak, a.k.a. Valentino, a.k.a. Dominic is one such orphan. He journeys through Sudan to Ethiopia only to be threatened and turned away. He walks, with a Red Army of Lost Boys, to Kenya where they erect a city of refugees called Kakuma.

I needed this story. I hadn’t heard anything about the Lost Boys, and I knew of Darfur, but nothing more about the tragedy of the Sudanese civil war. I need historical novels like this, historical novels that paint such vivid pictures of such a difficult life. I need historical novels that prove that people can make it through the worst of times with courage, perseverance, and optimism, three qualities that kept Valentino moving when I cannot even imagine continuing on. I need historical novels that, at the same time as they educate, prove that people are resilient, and although all of the situations in this novel are beyond the fathomable course of my life, that survival is possible.

I need stories like this that are told in ways that force me to recognize the impact of history on people and cement the trials that people in this world have experienced.

“I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don’t want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run.”

I’m not sure how I feel about Dave Egger’s writing style. While I very much needed to read this book, I have not come to a conclusion about Egger’s role in this story. I am intrigued enough to want to read another of his works, but I also felt like this story was so dense and I had to put it down for so many months which may be due to Egger’s writing.

Dave Eggers is doing his best to make an impact with folks living in the US. He’s the author of 10 books and founder of McSweeney’s. He is co-founder of several non-profits and works with other non-profits to donate the proceeds of some of the books.