memoir

The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman

Another book from my wandering-the-library-with-no-list day! The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit In by Ayser Salman called out to me right away from the New Arrivals shelf- with a title like that, how could it not? We’ve all felt like we’ve been sitting at the wrong end of the table at one time or another in our lives, as Ms. Salman points out; I’ve definitely been there (#socialanxiety #awkward #thisiswhyIstayhome), and so this jumped off the shelf and into my book pile. 🙂

Ayser Salman was born in Iraq.. Her family moved to the US when she was three for her parents’ jobs (as well as to flee the growing fascist regime), living first in Ohio and then moving to Lexington, Kentucky, which did have a small Arab community (very small, from the sounds of it). Ms. Salman never felt like she fit in with the other kids: the food she ate was different, her religion was different, her hair was different, her family’s customs were different, even her name was different from those of her fellow classmates. There’s no angst, no whining or woe-is-me style of writing here; on the contrary, Ms. Salman displays a level of humor and good-natured acceptance of her far-too-often outsider status in her youth that would be difficult for most to achieve. When her family spends a few years in Saudi Arabia, though some things ring familiar (she’s finally with people like her!), there are still plenty of times she remains on the edges.

Ms. Salman covers a variety of topics from her life, from her primary education, her love life (and occasional lack thereof, which isn’t always a bad thing!), her parents (you’ll love her mother) and her relationship with them, siblings, her work life and her struggle to get where she is, how September 11th affected her community, and much more. Over the course of these many essays, she grows from a child who can’t quite find the place where she’s supposed to fit in, into a woman who’s fully able to forge her own path, create her own place, and embrace all that her history and her culture mean to her.

The Wrong End of the Table is a fun read. Ms. Salman’s comical way of explaining her childhood antics had me smiling as I turned the pages, her relationship with her mother charmed me to pieces, and the family’s move to Saudi Arabia, coupled with her fear, fascinated me. I’d read accounts of adults moving there, but never that of someone who moved as a child, so this book was worth the read for that alone, to better understand what that experience is like.

She does get into politics a little, including the Muslim ban; I don’t think there’s any way for that particular subject to be avoided these days, nor should it, especially since it affects Ms. Salman’s community and most likely affects people she knows personally. Her tone is optimistic, more so than I would have been, and so I’m only mentioning this so that you keep it in mind when you’re choosing what you can handle reading. There’s an awful lot in the news that I’m currently not handling well at all; I’ve had to put a few books down because I’m not in the right headspace to be able to carry the emotional weight of those books as well as everything else right now. (And that’s not to say that I won’t ever go back to those books at a different time.)

So this was a great modern take on living in the US as a Muslim immigrant, by a woman with a gift for storytelling. I enjoyed reading such a refreshing take on American life through Ms. Salman’s eyes.

Visit Ayser Salman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

blog tour · fiction

Blog Tour: Bloodrush by Ben Galley

Hey guys! I’ve got something pretty wild up on the block today: I’m part of TheWriteReads and TheWriteReads OnTour blog tour for Ben Galley’s Bloodrush (BenGalley.com, 2014). If you’re not familiar with Ben Galley, fear not! Check out this bio:

Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Victoria, Canada. Since publishing his debut The Written in 2010, Ben has released a range of award-winning fantasy novels, including the weird western Bloodrush and the epic standalone The Heart of Stone. He is also the author of the brand new Chasing Graves Trilogy.

I love helping to promote these hardworking authors (writing books is no joke!), and as I wasn’t sure if Bloodrush would be in my wheelhouse, I signed up to do a first chapter review. Opening the book on my kindle was, much to my surprise, a fascinating and nostalgic trip back to my childhood, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s discuss what’s going on in these beginning pages.

Following a brief yet creepy prelude about how the old magic and old darkness still exists today, barely covered by our ego-filled technology and new-world shininess, Bloodrush begins with death- the death, the murder, of Lord Karrigan Bastion Hark, that is, Prime Lord of the Empire of Britannia, perpetually disappointed father of thirteen-year-old Tonmerion. Merion is posturing among the adults in the room, attempting to cover his lack of confidence with the surgeon and the constable, until the bastard lawyer Witchazel shows up to drop a bomb about Father’s will. To his shock, Tonmerion won’t be inheriting his father’s assets until his eighteenth birthday; instead, he’s being exiled to his aunt’s. Lilian Rennevie, an undertaker, lives in the New Kingdom, in middle-of-nowhere Fell Falls, Wyoming, forty miles from the nearest town.

As one might expect, Merion is less than thrilled, but his friend, Rhin, an armor-wearing, winged faerie with over two hundred years of life experience under his belt who has been on his side since Merion was 9, is more optimistic. Rhin is up for adventure, and it’s his friendship and trust that Merion clings to as he grimly acquiesces and turns toward this unexpected future in America.

author Ben Galley

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I began clicking my kindle buttons to open Bloodrush. Even the title sounds outside my usual reading norms, but I’ll give anything a try, and I’ve got to say, this book is deeply intriguing. Ben Galley placed me smack in the middle of that macabre first scene, with Merion’s father lying dead, and Merion confused, unsettled, frightened, and desperate to seem more grown up and in control than he truly feels. His writing flows beautifully; even as I paused to take notes, I never once left the world Galley had constructed, and the first chapter left me wanting to know more about Merion’s future. What kind of adventures will he and Rhin find in America? Who IS this Aunt Lilain? Who killed Merion’s father, what will the repercussions of that be, and what’s going to happen when Merion turns eighteen?

Back when I was younger, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper was a perpetual favorite. I read this book, along with the others in the series, over and over again, and this first chapter of Bloodrush flooded me with a wave of nostalgia for these books of my childhood: both are stories of young boys learning their lives have changed in an instant, both are stories of young boys on journeys of sorts, both stories have magical undertones. It’s not often that I pick up a book that makes me feel the same awe I felt reading a favorite book as a kid, and although it’s been years since I lost myself in a fantasy novel, I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of this book. Faerie-infused Old West? Much like with Sarah Gailey’s saddled hippos in the American South, I’m intrigued.

Ben Galley’s Bloodrush seems to be, from the first chapter, solidly written fantasy (one scene in particular caught my attention, where Tonmerion stares at his father’s blood drying on a set of stairs, while clutching tickets for his passage to America. What a striking visual contrast between his past and his future. This was an image that I sat with for a few moments, and to which I keep returning for its poignancy ). At some point in my future, I’m definitely going to work the rest of this book into my reading schedule, because I need to know what happens next. From the title, I expected blood and gore from the beginning; instead, I found a captivating story of a young boy set upon an unexpected new path, one rife with uncertainty, but with plentiful adventure ahead.

If epic and/or dark fantasy is your bag, baby (or if you’re looking to expand your reading genres!), check out Ben Galley’s other books:

Huge thanks to TheWriteReads and Ben Galley for including me on this epic blog tour!!!

Check out Ben Galley’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir

On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life- Rupinder Gill

Last week, I ordered four books via interlibrary loan. Two of them came in; I’m still waiting for the other two, and so I ordered four more yesterday. I try to read mostly adult titles during my library’s Summer Reading program- in the past, the sheet has said that only adult titles count, not YA. It doesn’t say that this year, so I’m letting one or two slip in there, but I’m mainly trying to keep to the spirit of it all. That said, most of the books at my library left on my TBR are YA, and I haven’t had a chance to head to an out-of-town library, which means *cue ominous music* I was left to wander the stacks without a list of books.

GASP.

That’s not a bad thing, but sometimes I just wander and wander and get so overwhelmed by all the choices that I have no idea what to choose. And wandering the stacks was how I came upon On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life by Rupinder Gill (Riverhead Books, 2011).

Rupinder’s parents were strict, so strict that she and her three sisters spent most of their childhood cleaning and watching TV, unable to leave their basement and participate in school activities or visit with friends. Dance lessons, field trips, class camping trips, piano lessons, sleepovers, all requests were denied for reasons both cultural and economic, leaving Rupinder and her sisters feeling alienated from their classmates for more than just being the only Indian faces in town. Turning 30, Rupinder begins to realize how few chances she had taken throughout her life, how small her life had become. Making a list of all the things she’d wanted to do during her childhood but hadn’t been able to, she sets forth to finally tackle some of those things.

Tap class. Swimming lessons. Getting a dog. A Disney vacation, a move to a big city, attending camp and a sleepover. Rupinder’s life slowly fills throughout the year, and she begins to bloom with newfound self-confidence and understanding of some of her parents’ past reasoning. It’s not perfect: swimming is scary, she comes to the conclusion that maybe her parents were right about getting a dog (no worries here, the majority of her dog experience comes from dogsitting her sister’s dog, not getting her own and then regretting it. Getting a pet is something she puts a lot of consideration into, moreso than most pet owners, I think!), and she takes a few leaps that will change everything, but it’s worth it. Reliving the childhood she never had forces Rupinder out of the box she’d become far too comfortable in.

This was fun! I really enjoyed reading about the Gill family dynamics and what their particular version of two immigrant Indian parents and a passel of Indian-by-heritage-but-more-culturally-Canadian children looked like. While I was allowed to visit friends’ houses and attend sleepovers when I was young, I wasn’t allowed to join softball or take karate, two things I very much wanted to do, so I could definitely relate to her frustration there. Her joy (and occasional discomfort) at learning new skills like tap dancing and swimming and the major leaps she took (the move, her job, emailing someone at Disney about free tickets) were a pleasure to read and made me wonder what I’m missing out on by not trying.

There were a few parts where this skipped around in time and threw me off, particularly a description of a trip to India with Ms. Gill’s mother, which left me flipping pages and wondering if this was taking place in the present or the past. There’s no major final conclusion to the end, no life-changing realization or calming sense of closure earned by finally being able to participate in such long-denied activities, but Ms. Gill seems satisfied by the path she’s started down, and it seems to have worked for her: throughout the course of the book, she decided that she wanted to leave her career as a television publicist and instead write for TV. As I was doing a Google search to find her online, I learned that she’s one of the writers for Schitt’s Creek, which I watched and very much enjoyed earlier this year. Well done, Ms. Gill!

While this wasn’t my favorite memoir of all time (and I think a lot of the Goodreads reviews are a little too harsh), it was relaxing reading, although at times wistful and occasionally saddening when it came to the racism Rupinder and her sisters experienced (seriously, people? CAN WE NOT ACT LIKE THAT???). I admire anyone who has such follow-through, and as Schitt’s Creek will end with its sixth season, I’m thinking we’ll see more awesome things from Rupinder Gill down the road.

What are some things you weren’t allowed to do when you were young? Have you ever considered doing them now??? (I have zero desire to play softball these days, and I’m not sure my back could handle any kind of martial arts, so I’m good there. The dream of one day attending Concordia Language Villages is still there, however…)

Follow Rupinder Gill on Twitter.

fiction · YA

Raising the Griffin- Melissa Wyatt

I’ve been working my way through my TBR lately (which I *cannot* seem to get below 80 books! I read and read and read, and then you guys post about super interesting books, and it just fills right back up again! It’s the best problem to have, I think), and Raising the Griffin by Melissa Wyatt (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004) is another one that’s been sitting on the list since I first began compiling a TBR, probably around 2004 or 2005 (yikes!). Thank goodness for interlibrary loan!

Alex Varenhoff has always known his family’s story: royalty from the country of Rovenia, his grandfather should have been king, but the country was taken over by the Soviet Union, and his family has lived in exile in England ever since. Alex, born Alexei, hasn’t ever even stepped foot in Rovenia. Tucked away at boarding school, he doesn’t hear the news until his parents send for him and he finds out: post-revolution Rovenia has voted to reinstate the monarchy, and Alex’s father has made the decision to return to his ancestral homeland to rule.

Alex is less than thrilled about this; uprooting his life, leaving his school and friends and horse, and stepping into the spotlight in order to become a prince and future king, wasn’t exactly in his life plans. His handler, a cranky man named Count deBatz, is all over him, all the time, in order to turn him into the kind of young man Rovenia needs at the helm, but Alex is having none of it. Despite forging a friendship with another family employee’s daughter, Sophy, Alex can barely stand to be in the castle or in his role as prince; the first chance he gets, he sneaks off with a fellow royal with a bad-girl rep. After finally understanding the error of his ways, tragedy strikes Alex in a big way, and life may never be the same again, for him, his parents, and maybe even Rovenia.

Long before Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series, there was A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford, and it was with that book that I developed a love for the ‘Wait, you mean I’m royalty???’ trope- that’s how Raising the Griffin ended up on my TBR list in the first place. Overall, this book was just okay for me, not bad, but not spectacular, either. Alex is a bit on the spoiled side and occasionally acts like a jerk, but his entire life has just been upended (in a way that his parents didn’t handle well at all), so I was able to cut him some slack for his attitude. His parents, who sent him away to boarding school in order to get him out of the way so that they could deal with and make decisions about Rovenia’s asking them to return, aren’t even present when he’s told that his whole life will be changing. They have endless tasks to complete in order to assume the Rovenian throne, and while they tackle their massive to-do list, Alex is tossed aside and expected to adjust solely with the help of his assigned handlers. It’s ultimately Alex who pays the price for their decision to return to Rovenia, and I wish there would have been more remorse shown on his parents’ part for how their choices affected their son. Even after the tragedy, they left him behind, and while I get that they had responsibilities, I was often left feeling cold about them and wondering how realistic their actions really were.

(Something else that stuck out to me: Alex mentions that his family spoke Rovenian at home, but also mentioned that his mother was Danish. He never mentioned where/when/how his mother learned Rovenian- a language from a small country- well enough in order to be able to converse fluidly with her husband and feel comfortable enough with in order to use this language with her child. Why would she speak Rovenian with him and not Danish? As someone who understands her husband’s first language but who knows that, not being a native speaker, I very much run the risk of teaching my daughter all my grammatical errors and unnatural ways of using the language and thus usually speak with her in English, I want to know!!! I do switch to French if I want some conversational privacy; it’s nice being able to privately ask your child if they need to use the bathroom, or if they’re warm enough/had enough to eat/ready to leave, etc, right out in the open, but it’s not something I use with her on a daily basis.)

Some of this felt a little rushed, especially the last quarter, post-tragedy. I would’ve liked to have seen more of how Alex heals and how he mends bridges with Sophy and corrects his former bad attitude; unfortunately, the way it’s set up left me wanting a little more, emotionally. However, it’s not a bad story; it makes a fun addition to the ‘suddenly royal’ trope booklist, and it’s the first I’ve read that’s narrated by a male character, so that’s definitely a plus. The way it ends, the author could have returned with a sequel, but since this was published in 2004, that’s unlikely at this point.

(Content warning for gun violence, discussion of war and revolution and all that entails, and some mild allusions to sexual conduct.)

Do you enjoy stories where characters learn, to their shock, that they’re actually royalty? Got any suggestions?

Visit Melissa Wyatt’s website here.

nonfiction · religion

Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith with the Poor Clares- Kristin Ohlson

Another one bites the dust!

Another book that’s had a longtime place on my TBR list, that is. Fitting right in with my fascination with cults and closed groups is a fascination with nuns. I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic grade school. We were taught by regular teachers, but our school librarian was, until she retired after my third grade year, a nun (Sister Grace!), whom I loved- I even wrote her a goodbye letter and cried a little when she left. She was a dear, sweet lady. The only other nun we had at school worked in what I think was the religious education office, and she was…not so sweet. I was never, ever interested in becoming a nun, but as an adult, I’ve definitely been interested in their lives, and thus Stalking the Divine by Kristin Ohlson (Plume Books, 2003) ended up on my TBR list (and, uh, stayed there, for far too long).

One Christmas, when her children were visiting their father, Kristin Ohlson finds herself longing for…something. Something she can’t quite name. A lapsed Catholic, she decides to attend Christmas mass and ends up at St. Paul’s in downtown Cleveland, home of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, an order of cloistered nuns whose mission it is to pray around the clock. She develops a deep fascination with the sisters, and though it takes some time, she’s able to gain access in order to write a newspaper magazine article on them, which becomes the basis of this book,

One by one, Ms. Ohlson interviews the aging sisters, whose order is shrinking. The sisters have faith, though; the Poor Clares have seen tough times before, and they know they’ll bounce back. Alongside her interview and writing, Ms. Ohlson involves herself in the life of St. Paul’s, attending mass, volunteering for different events and happenings in the parish, and contemplating her own faith- or lack thereof- the whole time. Ms. Ohlson isn’t quite a believer: she’s trying, and she hopes that her involvement with the sisters will help. Although she never quite reaches the level of true believer, the message from the sisters rings loud and clear to her: sometimes, you just have to keep showing up, even when the faith isn’t there.

Boy, this was captivating. It’s been a while since I read anything about nuns, and though I was a little nervous at the beginning about this being the right book at the right time (have you ever just not been able to read a book you really wanted to read, and it sent you into a reading slump? My brain’s been a little wonky lately, so I’ve been living in fear of this), but Ms. Ohlson’s light, yet informative style was exactly what I needed. Being able to slip behind the grates and listen to what life is like as a cloistered sister, living communally with vows of poverty and chastity, hearing about their struggles, their crises of faith, their difficulties living with one another, how they spend the majority of their days in silence, all of this had me absolutely riveted, and I blew through the book in less than two days.

Ms. Ohlson is honest about her struggles to believe; as someone who is fascinated by and drawn to religion as a whole without fully believing either, I found this refreshing and honest. She comes to a slightly different conclusion than I have in regards to the practice of faith (so far, that is; who knows what the future will bring?), but I enjoyed reading her journey and how she reached this place. I don’t have to share someone’s faith journey to appreciate and respect what they believe and how they come to believe it; reading about different beliefs never fails to keep me in a state of awe at what a wondrous place the world is. 🙂

If you’re interested in closed-off groups, this is a great read, and along these same lines, I highly recommend Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns by Cheryl L. Reed. This book covers many different orders of nuns, from the ones so service-oriented that they hardly find time to sleep or eat, to those who are so cloistered that they can barely manage to refuse an interview. I read this book back in…somewhere around 2005 and still think of it often.

Are you interested in closed-off, secretive groups? Do nuns fit into that category for you? As a child, I wouldn’t have believed that this would be a subject of interest for me as an adult, but, well, here I am. 🙂

Visit Kristin Ohlson’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

romance

Tikka Chance on Me- Suleikha Snyder

Is there any better feeling than the one you get when your phone signals an email, and you check it and it says, “Your library book has automatically been downloaded to your account”??? This is the second time this year that I’ve gasped, loudly, in sheer, unadulterated excitement due to one of those emails. I’d been on the waiting list for Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (published by Suleikha Snyder, 2018) for…probably over a month, although it was on my TBR list for longer than that. I never mind waiting for library books; it makes me happy that other people are reading and enjoying the book as well, but I was reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally looking forward to this. So when it showed up in my email, I had to squee more than a little!

Pinky Grover came home to work in her family’s middle-of-nowhere Indian restaurant when her mother got sick, but now that Mom is better, Pinky is…still there. She bides her time fantasizing bout bad boy Trucker Carrigan, head of the dangerous Eagles motorcycle gang, who comes in constantly to eat with his crew at the restaurant and make eyes at Pinky. On the surface, they’ve got nothing in common and both of them know they should stay away from the other, but the chemistry between them is incendiary. Trucker’s not quite what he seems, and after Pinky figures out his secret, she’s even more all-in, even though she knows the only destination for the two of them is heartbreak in the extreme. Trucker and Pinky ride it out (literally…) as far as their fledgling relationship can go, but when the time comes to say goodbye, how can either of them move on?

Whew, this is spicy and delicious! (Much like my favorite local Indian restaurant, which I haven’t been too in far too long and where I could eat every single day of my life. Indian food is my favorite of all the cuisines.) This is about as far away from a chaste romance as you can get, so choose something else if you prefer that genre. Pinky as a character is an absolute delight; she’s dutiful to her parents but still determined to be her own person and live her own life. Her goals are, for now, on hold, but she hasn’t abandoned them. Trucker (whose real name is Tyson), is an enigma with a surprisingly enchanting center, a not-*quite*-so-bad boy with a heart of steamy, molten-lava sexiness. They’re two people from two entirely different worlds, but Suleikha Snyder has crafted some scorching chemistry between the two of them, and Pinky and Trucker are instantly believable as a couple.

Ms. Snyder has absolutely gained another fan with Tikka Chance on Me. I’m so looking forward to reading more from her. Not only do I admire her writing, she’s so open and honest on Twitter about suffering from anxiety and depression. There have been a few conversations lately between different writers, talking about their struggles, and, as someone who has dealt with lifelong anxiety as well as bouts of major depression that started when I was thirteen (which went mostly ignored by my family, since it was 1993 and no one really knew what to do about such a problem where I lived at that time), seeing people discuss their issues so openly is still such a balm to my soul. I hate that Ms. Snyder has to deal with this, but I’m so, so grateful that she uses her voice to heighten awareness and make others, including me, feel not so alone. It really does help.

To sum it up, Tikka Chance on Me combines the sweet and the spicy in a way that will warm every last cell in your body, and leave you craving both more from the author as well as a plate or twenty of tikka masala (make mine tofu, please).

Visit Suleikha Snyder’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story- Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

During the month of Ramadan, BookRiot came out with a list of memoirs by Muslim women, and, always eager to learn more about the world and my neighbors (we have a good-sized Muslim community in my town and the surrounding towns), I pored over the list, adding several to my Goodreads TBR. Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh (Simon Schuster, 2016) sounded interesting, and I was happy to find that my local library branch had in on the shelves (though not in stock; I had to return several times before it was available. As a reader, you’d think that that would be frustrating, but honestly, I’m not ever frustrated by that- I’m happy that my fellow townsfolk are reading, and they’re reading the same awesome books that I want to read! I live amongst great people, you guys).

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder of MuslimGirl.com, but before she began to change the internet and make its first real space for young Muslim women, she was a nine-year-old girl whose entire world changed the day the Twin Towers fell. Life for American Muslims altered dramatically that day; while Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh does recount a few positive experiences with kind people offering support, she and the members of her community were collectively assigned blame for horrors perpetrated a group of individuals who shared little more than their label. For a while, she and her family returned to Jordan, but ultimately came home to the United States, where she found she needed a deep sense of courage and self to even leave the house some days (and not without reason; a quick Google search is showing me multiple stories about Muslims, both men and women, pushed onto subway tracks and down subway stairs, while being called terrorists).

Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh recounts the lack of self-confidence she had growing up, and how that began to change as she matured. Founding MuslimGirl.com, first on LiveJournal and then moving it to its own domain, changed her life and launched her as a public personality, able to speak out for young women who work incredibly hard to make places for themselves in a society who, far too often, view them only as a single story.

Muslim Girl is a slim tome, but it speaks volumes, and I’m grateful to Ms. Al-Khatahtbeh for sharing her story. Despite living in such a diverse community, my world is pretty small right now (home, driving kids and husband places, running errands, and that’s pretty much it). Now that my daughter will be going to school soon, I’m hoping to be able to become more involved in my community (although I’m not yet sure how; my terrible back limits my abilities), but until then, it’s important to me to read books written by people who have experienced the world differently than I have, and this book absolutely fits the bill. I’ve known that the Muslim community has suffered terrible treatment since September 11th; I’ve read the news stories and been horrified, but this is the first first-person account I’ve read of the discrimination they’ve endured. I’m saddened, I’m angered, I’m bewildered that so many people, instead of learning and understanding, lash out in ignorance. Why aren’t we better than that?

I always feel a little out of place reviewing books by marginalized authors. My job as a random white woman blogger who has read and enjoyed this book, I feel, is merely to amplify the existence of Muslim Girl. Don’t read my words; read Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s. Hers are the important one here, hers and those of others that are routinely pushed to the side and ignored or shouted over; listen and work to understand to what she has to say, because it’s the only way we’re going to achieve a more compassionate and accepting society, where everyone can thrive.

Visit MuslimGirl.com here.

Follow Amani Al-Khatahbeh on Twitter here.

fiction · middle grade

Mandy- Julie Andrews Edwards

One of the best parts of having kids is getting to reread my childhood favorites. I don’t believe in ‘girl books’ or ‘boy books,’ just different books for different kids. That said, Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards (HarperCollins, first published 1971) (and yes, THAT Julie Andrews! The hills are alive with the sound of beautifully written children’s books, y’all!) wasn’t something that would have appealed to my son when he was young, so I was delighted that I was able to share it with my daughter. Hopping back into the world of a favorite childhood book is always a little scary; will it have held up? Will there be cringeworthy moments that have you wincing and thanking the literary gods that we’ve moved on from that? I’m happy to say that Mandy, fortunately, has stood the test of time.

Ten-year-old Mandy has lived almost her entire life in an orphanage, under the care of Matron Bridie and the other staff. Despite the obvious affection of the people tasked to care for her, it’s a comfortable but emotionally barren life, and Mandy often finds herself falling into depression, desperate for something to call her own. An adventure over the orphanage wall and into the woods leads to the discovery of a long-abandoned cottage, and Mandy is elated. Here is the place she can turn into her very own refuge, a place of quiet and solitude amongst her life lived with so many other children.

Mandy immediately sets out to turn the cottage into a home, clearing the garden of weeds, planting flowers using money she earns working Saturdays at a store in town, and cleaning away years of dust and grime. It’s not always easy to get away- although she’s allowed more freedom than most girls, she still has to account for her time and constantly give her best friend the slip. More and more, she’s finding it difficult to live a double life, but it all comes to a head when notes begin appearing at the cottage from AN ADMIRER, and Mandy comes down with a terrible chest cold. Tragedy is barely averted, but the outcome will change Mandy’s life forever.

Mandy has remained a delightful read. After the first few chapters, I turned to ask my daughter what she thought of it. Eyes wide, she whispered, almost reverently, “I love it.” We sat in our giant reading chair in the living room, sometimes reading for nearly an hour at a time, she enjoyed it so much. Mandy is a plucky little girl: she works hard to turn her run-down cottage into a place of calm and comfort, sneaking away, engaging in some petty theft (which she feels terrible about and eventually owns up to), and she’s a fabulous problem-solver. Julie Andrews Edwards doesn’t shy away from going heavy on the emotions in this story; Mandy is described as falling into dark funks from time to time, and though she’s only ten, ultimately the word ‘depression’ is used, which is pretty amazing for a book that was first published in 1971. Mandy is desperate for closeness and a sense of family, and Andrews Edwards masterfully suffuses Mandy’s every action with these desires, making Mandy an incredibly sympathetic character.

I was a little worried my daughter would find Mandy’s orphan status upsetting (there is a mention of her parents dying, but only one; Mandy remembers nothing but the orphanage her whole life, so there are no tragic or distressing death scenes), but she handled it just fine, though she did require an explanation of what an orphanage is. I seem to remember reading a lot of books set at orphanages when I was younger, but I can’t put my finger on any more titles…

If you’re looking for a lovely middle grade book with a determined female character searching for a sense of home, Mandy makes a fabulous choice, and I hope there are still little girls (and boys!) out there who find their way to this book. I’m so happy that it retained the charm I remember it having during my own childhood.

Visit Julie Andrews Edwards’ page at HarperCollins here.

nonfiction

Living More With Less- Doris Janzen Longacre

Sometimes reading one book brings another to mind, and that was the case with my last read that featured an Amish woman as a main character. The descriptions of her routine and the simplicity she incorporated into her daily life reminded me of a book on my own shelves, one that I’d started reading a few years ago but hadn’t finished. It was time to pick that book up again. Doris Janzen Longacre is probably better known for her More With Less Cookbook, the iconic cookbook that taught people to use meat more as a flavoring or an ingredient, and that soybeans could be satisfying when cooked well (I own a copy of this too!), but she also wrote Living More With Less (Herald Pr, 1980), an inspirational book that seeks to aid the reader in simplifying their life and feeling the better for it.

Published posthumously after Longacre’s premature death from cancer, Living More With Less is written primarily for a Mennonite audience, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from reading. While religious belief and practice is woven throughout this book, its goal isn’t to convert or proselytize, more to remind its reader of their responsibility to their fellow humans. Why should we have so much when so many have so little? Regardless of your religious belief or lack thereof, it’s an important question that will have you thinking twice about what impact your every decision has upon the earth and your neighbors.

Ms. Janzen begins with chapters on ideals- doing justice, learning from the world community, nurturing people, and so on- then follows up with stories, anecdotes, and suggestions from others who have discovered how to incorporate these principles into their lives in sustainable, caring, and beneficial ways. While Amy Daczyzyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette, though partially outdated (yet still invaluable!), will give you a better rundown on thrift for the sake of thrift, Living More With Less is more about adjusting your entire attitude, a kick-in-the-pants, if you will, for your mindset about your relationship to this planet and all the people on it. Why do you need a fancy new car when there are people who have to walk miles in the burning sun in order to procure a day’s clean(ish) water? Why do you need ten pairs of shoes when there are people who struggle to afford one? How is it justice that you have more food than you need when your neighbors are starving?

While every suggestion compiled by Longacre isn’t going to fit your needs (you probably aren’t in the market to build a geodesic dome house, for example, although I’ve seen a few of these and they’re pretty cool), it’s enough to read and consider how to implement the theory behind these suggestions into your own life. Could you walk more? Carpool? Implement a brown-bag lunch day with friends instead of spending money on restaurant food? Make your clothing last or trade with friends instead of buying new? There are hundreds upon hundreds of ideas and recommendations in this book that something is sure to strike a chord in you, that will make you sit up and think, “You know, I could be doing that a little better…” One suggestion even talked about making ice outside when the weather is below freezing in order to not force the inside freezer to work so hard, and I sat back in my chair, wondering why I’d never managed to consider that before. Cripes. What else am I missing???

Doris Janzen Longacre was a visionary before her time. So much of what she includes in this book could come straight out of any hot-off-the-presses new release on simplicity and sustainable living. While some of the statistics in Living More With Less are surely outdated, the odds are that things have only become more dire, with more need to cut out, reuse, repurpose, and cut back so that the resources can go where they’re needed. Much like the recent, heartbreaking death of Rachel Held Evans, the world lost something special when Ms. Longacre passed away far too early.

This is a book that will have a permanent place of honor on my shelf, and I feel like I’ll turn to it when I need an attitude adjustment, to remember why I do the things I do. We have a Mennonite church in my town (right across the street from the community garden, as luck would have it! They’re Mennonite USA, as opposed to the groups who are one step up from the Amish, and are indistinguishable in dress from anyone else in town), and it warms my heart that there’s a group of people nearby who are so committed to the ideals and principles in this book, which I live by as well. Always nice to better understand your neighbors. 🙂

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough. Goodreads claims it’s out of print, but you can purchase a used copy on Amazon. I bought mine for a dollar from a used book store several years ago (the previous owner left the receipt in the book; they paid $10.95), and it’s still available at several branches of my local libraries. If you’re looking for a mental wake-up call as to the whys of simpler living, this is the book you’ve been looking for.

Two quotes I found significant in the book:

‘That way of living makes other people poor.’

‘The hard facts are that in order to raise significantly the standard of living of the many poor in the world it is necessary to lower the living standards of the rich. This means giving up some of the advantages the rich and powerful have in favor of the poor. It means a kind of political action and courage that has not yet been shown among nations.’ -Gordon Hunsberger

And I’ll leave you with a story which has vastly made me consider and reconsider what resources I’m using, why I’m using them, if I could use less, and how I could use everything more wisely:

‘In 1952 I was studying the Hindi language with my teacher Panditji. From his philosophic mind, which probed the meaning of events and circumstances, I learned more than Hindi.
I especially remember one lesson. It was Christmastime and as I awaited the arrival of Panditji, I quickly opened stacks of delightful cards, discarding the envelopes in the wastebasket. When Panditji entered the room, he sat down soberly and studied the situation. Then he solemnly scolded me in perfect English with these words, “The reverberation of this wasteful act will be felt around the world.”
Stunned, I asked, “What do you mean, Panditji?”
“Those envelopes,” he said, pointing to the wastebasket. “You could write on the inside of them.”
Chagrined, I apologized and began taking them out of the basket. He carefully helped me, almost caressing each one. For every Hindi lesson he taught thereafter, I took notes on the back of an envelope. Our class also began sharing envelopes with his growing family, for he could not afford [paper] tablets for his children. Today I still carefully save paper in my home and office.’

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday June 12, 2019

Here we are again, another Wednesday! Halfway through the week. I’m feeling mostly alive and still struggling to catch up with everything, but that’s what happens when you’re down for the count for so stinkin’ long. But everyone loves WWW Wednesday, right???

WWW Wednesday is a superfun bookish meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Hi, Sam! Thanks for hosting! It’s all about answering three very important questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Are you ready? Let’s do this!

What are you currently reading?

Based on a suggestion from a Book Riot article, I added Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh to my TBR and grabbed it from the library yesterday. It’s a slim tome, but it’s giving me a different perspective on the aftermath of September 11th, one that I’d thought about but had never read any firsthand accounts of, so I appreciate that. I’ll most likely finish this tonight.

What did you recently finish reading?

Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre has been sitting on my shelf for a few years. I finally got around to finishing it this weekend, and I’m SO glad I did. It’s thrift, frugality, and sustainability with the express purpose of better caring for our neighbors, and it was exactly what I needed to read to reset my brain. My review will be up tomorrow. And also…

I don’t always review the books I read out loud to my daughter, but I’ll probably do a write-up of Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, THAT Julie Andrews, she of The Sound of Music and The Princess Diaries fame). This was a childhood favorite of mine and I was beyond thrilled to be able to read it out loud to my daughter, who loved it as much as I did. 🙂

What do you think you’ll read next?

No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court by Edward Humes has been on my TBR list for…let’s not discuss how long. I picked up a copy from a local library branch and will start reading this next. My one reservation is that it was published in 1997, which means it’s pretty dated- the kids who were teenagers at the writing of this book are now in or nearing their forties, so… I may skip it and move onto the next thing if it’s not working for me. I have a few books on their way via interlibrary loan, and if they’re not here yet, I may dive into the book that got me into reading romance, which I’m sure will be all sorts of hideous and hilarious. I’m looking forward to seeing just how terrible it is!

And that’s it for this week! What are you reading???