middle grade · nonfiction

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster- Deborah Hopkinson

Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feeeeeeeeeeeeel you…

Okay, not THAT kind of Titanic. I didn’t actually see the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio movie until it had been out for something like three or four years (I’m never in a hurry for new releases!). I’ve never been a huge movie buff, but I do enjoy history, and I was in awe when we visited the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri this summer. It’s an odd choice for a museum in a landlocked state, and I was worried it would be a little cheesy, but it really wasn’t. (No pictures were allowed of the inside, so I don’t have any to share.) The entryway to the upstairs is an exact replica of the one on the Titanic itself; looking at pictures of the Titanic’s grand staircases weirds me out a little, having walked up and down these staircases multiple times! The museum itself is a fascinating, yet somber adventure; everything about the tour is respectful of the lives lost and devastated, and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re looking for something to do in Branson.

All that is to say that as soon as we got home, I started combing Goodreads for books about the Titanic (because, let’s face it, I’m a huge nerd). One that looked interesting, was well-rated, and was available at my library was Titanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press, 2012). Some of the best, most informative nonfiction books I’ve read have been meant for younger audiences, so I had zero qualms about picking this 289-page hardcover up from my library’s children’s section.

The book does start out a little dry; it’s heavy on information on the company that built the ship and on shipbuilding itself, but it does pick up quickly, as the main focus is on the people- those who built it, those who steer and command it, those who are passengers on it. Ms. Hopkinson paints a stunning picture of a grandiose ship so massive, both newspapers and its builders claimed it to be ‘practically unsinkable.’ (Famous last words there, folks…) Drawing from interviews, letters, and historical documents, she recreates its journey in its entirety, from its brief sail from Belfast to Southampton, to its terrible sinking in the icy waters of the Atlantic. She then follows a handful of its survivors, briefly chronicling their lives after the tragedy and how they carried on.

The descriptions of the disaster are utterly sobering. The descriptions of the sounds, the horrible roaring sounds as the ship broke apart and people screaming as they fell or jumped to their deaths are absolutely devastating, a testament to both Ms. Hopkinson’s skill as a writer and the strength of the survivors that they could even bear to recount such horrors. I stopped to reread several times, and a few of the passages had me close to tears. What a terrible, unspeakable tragedy, with such a monstrous loss of life.

I learned a few new things from this book that I hadn’t know about the Titanic disaster before. The New York Times achieved status as a major national newspaper due to its early breaking coverage of the tragedy, which I thought was interesting. And Violet Jessop, a stewardess who survived the sinking, continued to work as a stewardess at sea, returning to serving on board another ship just weeks after the Titanic went down. She later barely survived the sinking of the Brittanic, Titanic‘s sister ship- not only that, but she still continued to work at sea until she retired in 1950. Brave? Foolhardy? I’m not sure, but she definitely made different choices than I would have!

One quote had me rolling my eyes practically down the road:

‘The United States Senate lost no time in calling for an investigation of the Titanic disaster. After all, some of the wealthiest men of business and most prominent members of society had perished.’

An investigation was definitely necessary; the lack of lifeboats on board was appalling (and is something I think of often whenever someone is moaning about how regulation is killing us. Perhaps if there had been more regulation on board the Titanic, those 1500+ people would have lived…). But jumping to it because wealthy and famous people died? Just another reminder that so often in society, our worth and how much the powerful care about us is determined not by the contents of our character, but by the contents of our bank account.

I’m working my way through another book on the Titanic right now, and the more in-depth content of that book makes me realize that this book definitely is meant for a younger set, but it’s still a fabulous overview of the disaster and its aftermath, told in the voices of the survivors. If you had a childhood interest in Titanic that has carried over to adulthood at least a little, or you have an older child who has discovered this deeply fascinating catastrophe, Titanic: Voices From the Disaster should be on your list.

Visit Deborah Hopkinson’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI- David Grann

2019 has been a year of often reading outside my regular genres, and it’s really been an enjoyable experience overall. It’s really pushed me to explore new topics, forgotten favorites, and expand my understanding and appreciation for marginalized voices and little-known stories, and I suppose this book fits into that category, too.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday, 2017) isn’t something I’d normally pick up. Although I do enjoy history, I’m not hugely into reading about murder, and writing about police or government organizations such as the FBI don’t normally interest me (unless the topic is undercover investigation; I’ve read a few books by people who engaged in that and they’re pretty wild). But I’m fortunate enough to live in an amazing community that chooses great books for community reads and then invites the authors to come speak. Last year, I was lucky enough to read The Things They Carried and then hear author Tim O’Brien speak about it a few weeks later; the year before that, I listened to David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, speak about his life and work. David Grann is visiting our community in September, so I wanted to prepare for his visit by reading this, as Killers of the Flower Moon is our community read.

After being ousted from their original tribal territory and dumped onto what the government assumed was a barren wasteland of a reserve, the Osage grew rich- ridiculously rich- when their land was actually discovered to be brimming with oil. And of course, instead of letting it go and pretending like they weren’t all jealous dicks, the government refused to leave well enough alone and instead began treating the adult Osage like incompetent children, assigning them white guardians who were in control of the Osages’ bank accounts, often limiting the amount of money each Osage could withdraw to several thousand dollars per year, max (no exceptions, not even for a child’s school or medical bills or ANYTHING). Lest you begin to wonder if this was for any reason other than racism and jealousy, read this quote from a figure who helped set this entire filthy system in place:

“The day has come when we must begin our restriction of these moneys or dismiss from our hearts and conscience any hope we have of building the Osage Indian into a true citizen.”

A true citizen. He’s speaking of the original inhabitants of this country, but sure, a true citizen. I have zero kind words for the man who said this.

Anyhoodle, the white people couldn’t stand to see Native Americans doing well, and over a period of thirteen years (and most likely longer), at least sixty and possibly hundreds of Osage were murdered, via gunshot, poison, and explosion. The Osage had to fight to even get these murders investigated, first because the police weren’t quite taking them seriously, then because anyone investigating the murders ended up dead themselves. Even the county sheriff ended an investigation out of fear. That’s when the organization that would eventually become the FBI, headed then by J. Edgar Hoover, stepped in.

The book begins with its focus on Mollie Burkhart, whose three sisters and mother are murdered. She’s not the only one affected in such a manner; entire families are wiped out, and it was almost by sheer luck that Mollie remained alive, as she was also being poisoned. The amount of death in this book is, frankly, staggering, and it’s all intentional. Given that this was less than one hundred years ago, I’m thinking that nostalgia-fueled attitude about how we were so much better and so much more moral in the past is a bigger pile than you’ll find in any barnyard.

Killers of the Flower Moon is an information-dense book, but Mr. Grann writes in a style that keeps the story moving and keeps the reader wondering what the hell is going on. This is a story of pure, evil racism, plain and simple. Racism, jealousy, and filthy, filthy greed. So many times while reading this, I had to suppress a scream and wonder if we as a species have learned anything at all over our time here on the planet, because far too many of the attitudes that caused these murders are far too prevalent today (friendly reminder to never read those comments on news websites or social media. Yikes). The conclusion of this book is beyond horrifying, and I’m not entirely unconvinced that something similar won’t happen again in the future, especially given all the nightmares that are happening now.

Despite this being outside my usual genres, I’m glad I read it. The Osage’s story is one that needs to be heard, to be known, to be remembered. So much unnecessary anguish and destruction of life due to baseless hatred and envy. It’s a good reminder to always check our own attitudes, to always be working towards better understanding and acceptance, and to demand that of others as well. Because hearing these stories play out over and over and over again, in history and still in the news today, shouldn’t be happening. We owe each other that, at the very least.

Visit David Grann’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.


Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy- edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi

While I’m not much of a series reader, after having read Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, as soon as I found out there was a companion version from the men’s perspective, I knew I had to read it, too. Fortunately for me, my library also had a copy of Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi (Beacon Press, 2014), so I happily grabbed it on my next library trip. (Which is pretty much every day, hence the name of this blog. Odds are, if I’m not at the library, I was there earlier in the day or will be there later on. Today, I was there twice. Why yes, I have no life!)

Just like Love, InshAllah, Salaam, Love is a collection of essays, this time written by American Muslim men on their perspectives on the search for love, dating, Muslim courtship, sex, the difficulties and joys of marriage, and all the happiness and heartbreak that come about in the search to find and live with a partner. Once again, this book highlights a unique perspective in romance; Muslim men aren’t necessarily the go-to voice when it comes to affairs of the heart, so each essay feels fresh, a novel (though it shouldn’t be) but welcome change from the usual, everyday take on love.

The essays, just as in Love, InshAllah, run the gamut on experiences: there are straight men who date, gay men who hide their relationships from their families (and one who grows in his faith after an encounter with a particularly devout man, which I found both charming and heartwarming), converts, Muslims from birth, men who submit to their parents’ wishes for a traditional Muslim courtship, men whose search for love continues, men whose loves died (both metaphorically and literally), love that works out, and love that doesn’t. Interspersed with it all are struggles with faith, culture (often the straddling of two or more cultures), and how to incorporate both fully into a relationship that may have ties to neither.

It’s possible I may have enjoyed Salaam, Love even more than Love, InshAllah (and I really enjoyed that!). I don’t read men’s writing as often as I read women- not on purpose, I tend to enjoy female writers more, especially when it comes to fiction- but reading about men’s thoughts on love and emotion and the struggle that goes with each, THAT was absolutely a breath of fresh air. How often do we hear about men’s feelings on anything? Men in our society- in most societies, sadly- are taught to not feel things, hide whatever they do feel, and never, ever discuss it, especially not in public. Hearing these men talk about having their hearts broken, about crying after being dumped by a girlfriend or the fear they felt over a loved one’s frightening medical diagnosis was a balm to my soul. (Are you listening, men? MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.)

The authors vary by background: many have ancestral roots in Africa, the Middle East, or south Asia (and many of these authors are first generation Americans); others are white converts who grew up Christian or Jewish and found a home in Islam, but often struggled to find a spouse. Several are bi- or multi-racial. It’s a beautiful mixture of people and places, and their stories had me wishing for more when I turned the final page.

I can’t recommend these books enough, and if you read one, you definitely need to read the other. I’m so glad to have a better understanding on some of the many Muslim American perspectives on relationships.

Reading these two companion books reminded me how much I enjoy essay collections, whether by a single author or multiple authors like these. If you have a favorite collection of essays, I’d love to hear about it!

(In writing this out, I discovered a few typos on my post of Love, InshAllah, namely, my failure to capitalize the A, and a misspelling of Nura Maznavi’s last name. I apologize greatly for these errors and have corrected them.)

Follow Love InshAllah on Twitter.

Nura Maznavi’s tweets are protected (and given the climate on Twitter some/most days, I can’t blame her).

Follow Ayesha Mattu.

memoir · nonfiction

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard- Laura Bates

It isn’t often that my tired, tired brain remembers exactly where a certain book recommendation came from, but today is finally that day! The always insightful Susan from Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books (if you don’t already follow her, FOLLOW HER IMMEDIATELY, she’s fabulous!!!) recommended Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates (Sourcebooks, 2013) on another one of my posts about prison- which, if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ll know that’s one of my pet subjects. Onto the TBR list it went, and I was lucky enough that my local library had a copy (and yes, I write out constantly updated lists of what books from my TBR are available at every local library branch. Doesn’t everyone? *shoves taped glasses up nose, then snort-laughs*).

It’s hard to imagine anyone in this day and age not knowing who Shakespeare was, but that was Larry Newton, a convicted murderer housed in solitary confinement at Indiana Federal Prison. Earning her service hours and hoping to better a few lives, college professor Laura Bates created the first Shakespeare study program in a supermax prison, and it didn’t just change the inmates- it changed Laura, too.

By all counts, Larry Newton looks pretty terrible on paper (the book claims that it was never proven that Larry pulled the trigger; it makes no difference under Indiana state law, however. All that matter is that he was present and was, at the very least, an accomplice). The tragedy of his life stretches back into his childhood, where, after a beginning full of abuse and neglect, he spent years in juvenile detention centers and on the streets. Imprisoned for life at age 17, he then spent years in solitary confinement, almost never seeing another human being until Laura Bates included him in her Shakespeare in Supermax class.

Ms. Bates, who had been studying Shakespeare’s work for years, learning from some of the most well-known Shakespearean scholars, is almost immediately blown away by the insight Newton offers on plays even lifelong devotees struggle with. Far from being the uneducated monster he appears on paper, Larry Newton is sharp, asking penetrating questions, and making shrewd observations that change the way Ms. Bates sees Shakespeare and prison inmates. Along with inspiring other inmates to expand their horizons with Shakespeare’s writings, Larry writes curriculum and study guides for each and every play, guides that Ms. Bates uses not only in prison, but in her college courses as well. THAT is how astute his work is.

Under Newton’s tutelage and Ms. Bates’s supervision, the inmates rewrite Shakespearean plays and have them performed by other inmates (ones allowed in General Population), even filming videos for juvenile offenders that actually appear to reach them. The power of Shakespeare to transform lives seems almost limitless in this book, and it will have you questioning everything you know about punishment, human nature, and life in prison.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

-Walt Whitman

This Whitman quote ran through my head over and over again throughout this entire book. Nowhere is it more apparent that we as humans contain multitudes than in Larry Newton. You wouldn’t suspect that a man who is either capable of murder or of accompanying friends to a murder would also be what amounts to an absolutely brilliant scholar of Shakespeare, making stunning insights that impress not only Laura Bates but even professors more seasoned than herself, but that’s exactly what he does. No play daunts him; he dives right in, makes connections that others have failed to make, and, possibly more importantly, he takes what he’s learned and uses it to improve himself. He grows, he gains insight into his own past and his misdeeds, and he allows the Shakespearean lessons to change him for the better.

His brilliance astounds me; it also saddens me. What could he have become, what strides could he have made for humanity, who could he have been, if he had been privileged enough to live in a healthy family, if society had stepped in early on, before he went down such a devastating path? How many more Larry Newtons are out there that we’re just throwing away because they’re too poor, have been abused for too long, aren’t worth our time to try to rehabilitate? What is the world missing out on? Far too much, I fear.

This is a bittersweet book. Laura Bates works some serious magic in Supermax, but it’s not enough, it’ll never be enough as long as we as a society continue to be hellbent on the non-evidence-based, punishment-over-rehabilitation method for the people we imprison. Larry Newton, of course, has something to say to that, and not only do I agree with him, the research agrees with him one hundred percent:

We cannot risk not helping. The vast majority of prisoners are going to return home. They are going to be our neighbors and they are going to be around our loved ones. The question really comes down to: what kind of prisoner do you want living next to you? No matter how you feel about the subject, the reality is that these prisoners are indeed coming home, and you do have the power to help shape what kind of neighbor they will be. Why education? Because it is the one science that overwhelmingly works.

-Larry Newton, imprisoned for life

Sadly, Larry had to give up his pursuit of earning a college degree when, despite the sky-high mounds of evidence that it cuts recidivism rates like nothing else, Indiana axed all funding for prison college courses. It does appear that they’ve recommenced some college programs; hopefully Larry and the other Shakespeare students can continue, but how terrible to keep yo-yoing back and forth like this. What kind of neighbors are we trying to create here?

Shakespeare Saved My Life is heartbreaking, yet inspirational, and I felt as though my brain grew several sizes as I read this. The last pages were also a stark reminder to never, ever judge a person by how they look: Ms. Bates includes Larry Newton’s picture (at what seems like his request). ‘Shakespeare scholar’ isn’t the first thing that comes to mind at first glance…but why not? We contain multitudes, my friends.

Many, many thanks to Susan for recommending this one to me; I thoroughly enjoyed every page!


The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali- Sabina Khan

I’m not sure the route by which this ended up on my TBR. Was it from a Book Riot article on Muslim authors? Due to a fellow book blogger’s review? Could go either way on this, but I knew that I wanted to read The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (Scholastic Press, 2019) almost immediately; the premise of the story ticked so many of my ‘THIS IS FASCINATING; MUST READ’ boxes.

I love when that happens. What didn’t happen was this being at the library the first two or three times I looked for it, which is both frustrating (for me!) and wonderful, because it means other people are reading it. Hurray for you, other local people! You have awesome taste in books.

Rukhsana Ali is seventeen, Muslim, Bengali-American…and a lesbian. Having a secret girlfriend isn’t something she can share with her uber-conservative parents, so she sneaks around, sneaks out, hides who she really is, nods and smiles and grits her teeth when her mother talks about Rukhsana getting married (seriously, Mom! College first, especially now that Rukhsana has a full ride to Cal Tech!). Her stress levels aren’t helped by her friends, who don’t get how uptight her parents are and how difficult it is to hide such a huge part of herself. Even Ariana, her girlfriend, doesn’t quite get it.

But all good schemes must come to an end, and when Rukhsana’s parents learn of Ariana, they hustle her off to Bangladesh (no matter that it’s near the end of senior year. Exams, what???), supposedly to visit her ailing grandmother, but the longer they’re there, Rukhsana begins to suspect their motives weren’t quite honest. And when arranged marriage becomes very real and very immediate, Rukhsana will have to dig deep, find all the strength she’s gathered from reading her grandmother’s diary, and fight for who she loves and who she truly is.

Remember that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where the dude thrusts his fist into another man’s chest and rips out his beating heart? Reading this will make you feel like the second guy, your heart torn from your chest and paraded around by the author for everyone to see. At times, Rukhsana’s options are so limited and her parents, especially her mother, so dictatorial and insensitive, I felt claustrophic about her situation and her future. Her friends are both wonderful and frustrating, in that they don’t fully listen to her concerns and don’t try to understand the difficulties her cultural ties present in coming out; her relationship with Ariana is a typical teenage romance, in that they’re obviously in love but still learning how to communicate and navigate more mature emotional territory. Sweet, but also occasionally frustrating for both Rukhsana and the reader.

But Rukhsana’s parents. Hooooooo boy. Her father doesn’t get as much air time as her mother; Mom is…an uncomfortable-to-read character for the majority of the book. She’s the main source of homophobia and bigotry, and some of the things she says to her daughter and the ways she tries to remedy Rukhsana’s homosexuality are horrifying. Her grandmother, however, is an absolute gem; everyone should have a grandmother who loves them so unconditionally.

Content warnings: there’s a lot of homophobia and anti-gay slurs in the book; a character is murdered because he’s gay; there’s a diary entry that details marital rape and spousal abuse, and a later one that, quite chillingly and almost unexpectedly, includes child molestation (if not child rape; it’s not specified). Ms. Khan’s style is light, which helps the book stay away from Dementor-style darkness, but it’s still not a fun or safe-feeling read.

There’s a massive turnaround that I don’t want to spoil; some readers have complained that it felt a bit whiplashy and unrealistic. I totally understand that, and I also get how said turnaround could have happened, when the characters who experienced it were confronted with the consequences of the exact same attitudes that they had. It’s understandable, and personally, while I wouldn’t have been quite as forgiving as Rukhsana was, at least not so quickly, it did make for a pleasant ending.

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a gut-punch of a YA novel, and was definitely worth the wait. I hope the other library patrons who checked it out before me enjoyed it as much as I did.

Visit Sabina Khan’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · science fiction · time travel

Kindred- Octavia Butler

I’d heard of Kindred by Octavia Butler (Beacon Press, 1979) before; it was the first science fiction novel written (or published, maybe) by a black woman, which is huge. Since I’ve never really been a big sci-fi fan, I never really considered reading it until Anne Bogel recommended it on an episode of What Should I Read Next. As soon as she started to describe the plot, I sat up out of bed in the dark, looked Kindred up on Goodreads, and hit that Want-to-Read button. I. Was. In.

Dana, a black woman, has barely moved into the new house with her white husband when she finds herself thrown back in time to antebellum Maryland, just in time to save a young boy from drowning. The act of doing so nearly gets her killed by the boy’s parents and she returns to her own time with seconds to spare. She’s barely back before it happens again: she’s thrown back to the past to save this boy’s life again, and she comes to realize she’s there to keep him alive, distasteful as he and his slave-owning family can be, long enough to father the child who will become her great-grandmother.

The biggest challenge is, of course, learning to live as a slave. The literal backbreaking work, having no power or control over one’s life, the whippings, the constant disparagement, watching families split apart when someone is sold, it’s almost more than Dana can bear, but she just has to hold on until this despicable boy can become her great-great-grandfather…

What a mesmerizing book. During one of the trips, Dana’s modern day husband, Kevin, is dragged back with her. He poses as her owner, and there are unforeseen consequences that I won’t spoil that really make this novel shine. The descriptions are, on occasion, stomach-turning, and they should be; slavery was a horrible stain in American history and its consequences live on today, so Kindred and books that depict these horrors definitely need to be more widely read. I’m sorry that it took me this long to get to it.

Ms. Butler does a fantastic job at portraying Rufus, the boy who grows up become Dana’s great-great-grandfather, as both a decent human being and a hideous monster. I didn’t quite understand how Dana was able to keep herself from fully hating him, after seeing all the pain he and his terrible father inflicted on the slaves; I’m not sure I could do that, and maybe I’m all the worse for not being that kind of person, I’m not sure. Maybe it was what Dana did in order to survive her time in the past. Either way, though Dana tried her best to influence Rufus to be a better person, both for her sake and for the sake of the slaves on the plantation, for whatever reason, it didn’t take, and his behavior, along with that of his father, is often monstrous.

There’s a lot going on in this book. Race relations, class, women’s issues, politics, I think I could reread this and still miss quite a bit, because it’s an absolute tapestry of complexity. This is one of those books that I feel like almost anything I say will result in a massive spoiler; if history intrigues you, this is your book. Don’t let the sci-fi label fool you. There are no aliens, no space ships, no dystopian societies with robot overlords. This is time travel, pure and simple and terrifying, and it makes for a powerful novel that everyone should read.

Octavia Butler passed away in 2006.

Visit her website here.

memoir · nonfiction

A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming- Kerri Rawson

I’m not hugely into true crime, but I’ll pick up a book from that genre now and then. I am interested, however, in unique experiences and the people behind them, and the second I heard about A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming by Kerri Rawson (Thomas Nelson, 2019), I added it to my TBR. Kerri Rawson is the daughter of Dennis Rader, the serial killer known as BTK who terrorized the people of Wichita for seventeen years.

The memoir begins on the day when an FBI agent knocks at Kerri’s door to inform her that her father has been arrested under suspicion of being the serial killer who called himself BTK, short for Bind, Torture, Kill. Between 1974 through 1991, Rader murdered ten people. By the time Kerri was born, her father had already murdered seven of those people (as far as I can calculate, not having the book in front of me). He was a moody man who, Rawson later realized, emotionally abused his family and physically abused Rawson’s brother, but there were many good times together as a family as well, hiking and fishing in both Kansas and vacation destinations such as the Grand Canyon. Her father being a serial killer certainly wasn’t what she expected to learn when she opened the door that day.

The news is almost unbearable to Kerri, who feels a mixture of helplessness, revulsion, anger, panic, grief, and more; there’s no manual on how to deal with news like this, no instructions on how to heal or dodge the public’s accusations that you must’ve known all along or were party to it. Along with developing a terrible case of PTSD, Kerri both clams up about who her father is (no longer living in Kansas and having taken her husband’s last name, anonymity isn’t difficult) and finds what strength she can in her Christian faith. There’s no major breakthrough for her, no moment where suddenly, everything is okay; what Kerri realizes is that her grief and anger and survivor’s guilt will be ongoing, but she can learn to manage it and live alongside it, thanks to therapy, the support of her husband, and her faith.

Ms. Rawson’s PTSD plays a massive part in this book; she constantly relives the agonizing moments in which she learned her father is a serial killer. Her justified anguish over her entire childhood being a lie overflows each page and is at times painful to read, so if you’re not in the mindset to stand there with her and carry some of her pain, maybe wait a little while until you’re ready for this book.

She writes of her father occasionally getting moody and everyone else in the family learning to walk on eggshells until he calmed down; while he absolutely strayed into emotionally abusive territory, I don’t think his behavior was all that uncommon for men of that era who had no outlet for their emotions, no way to discuss how they were feeling, and instead took out their stress and anger on their families. It’s not at all healthy, but not indicative of a serial killer, and Kerri was utterly stunned, as was everyone else in her family, to find out that the man who had taken her camping and always checked to make sure her car was safe had orphaned a few children and murdered others.

Books published by Thomas Nelson tend to vary wildly on how heavily Christian their content is, and this is one of their heavier books. Kerri attended church as a young girl, but didn’t truly become serious about her faith until a nearly disastrous hiking trip to the Grand Canyon. It helps to pull her through some extremely dark times after the news breaks about her father, but in terms of this book, the amount of real estate that it takes up in the pages bogs the book down more than a bit. I wasn’t in love with the writing style to begin with, and while I’m glad Ms. Rawson’s faith carried her through such a life-shattering tragedy, I felt there was too much repetition of similar content when it came to her beliefs.

I found it intriguing that she does come to forgive her father for what he did to her and her family. I understand that her faith helped her come to that decision, and that she did it in order to move on with her life (while she does occasionally write to her father, she no longer speaks to him and does not visit him in prison). I…am honestly not sure I could have done that; that may make her a better person than me, and I’m okay with that! I’m glad she’s found what she needed to move forward; I assume that whatever that is would be different for everyone, and there’s no simple solution to how to live with this kind of knowledge about a parent or close family member.

If you’re looking for insight on serial killers in general or on Dennis Rader, this probably isn’t the book you’re looking for. I didn’t feel as though it offered anything of particular interest in those areas, but it does highlight the struggle that family members go through when one of their own turns out to be a monster. While Ms. Rawson wasn’t the kind of victim most people think of when they hear the words ‘serial killer,’ she and family absolutely are victims of his behavior; their trauma deserves to be heard as well. My heart goes out to them, and to the families of the people Dennis Rader murdered. May they all find peace and healing.

Visit Kerri Rawson’s Facebook page here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


Burma Chronicles- Guy Delisle

Another book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a bit. I found this copy of Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle (Jonathan Cape, 2007) at a thrift store a few years ago. It had all sorts of paper clips marking different pages. I never did figure out what those clips were marking, but it intrigued me enough to pick the book up, leaf through it, and say, “A graphic novel for a quarter? Heck yeah!” I have major thrift store privilege; the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store near me has tons of books and their prices are amaaaaaaazing.

Guy Delisle followed his wife, a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to Burma/Myanmar (he covers the discrepancy between the names right away; if you’re interested, check out the Etymology section in the Wikipedia article on the country), along with their infant son. He chronicles his adventures in the country, pushing his son’s stroller along the streets, in markets, taking him to playgroups with other foreign parents, sending him to some sort of school, visiting a monastery, shopping for food, interacting with the locals and the local people they’ve hired to work for them. Occasionally Delisle and his wife travel within the country; he also writes of living within walking distance from Aung San Suu Kyi but, as she was on house arrest at the time, he was never able to approach her house.

Burma Chronicles is a graphic memoir and doesn’t have a plot or overarching structure to it; it’s a portrayal of one man’s experiences in the country in his time there. It’s not comprehensive enough to give the reader a good feel for the country, but it did whet my appetite to learn more (which is good, because I have another book on Myanmar on my TBR). His drawings are simple; it’s a style that meshes well with the complexities of the country and the difficulties his wife deals with at work, red tape for miles and miles and miles.

This is a bit difficult to review, since there’s no story to recount, no plot to pick apart, no characters to ponder, but I enjoyed the book. I was impressed by Mr. Delisle’s constant wanderings around town with his son; I’m pretty anxious and wouldn’t really feel comfortable pushing a stroller around an unfamiliar place where I didn’t speak the language (and most locals didn’t speak mine). That’s either serious courage or brash foolhardiness right there; I’m a little envious and wish I were more adventurous, although unfortunately, the stakes are probably a little different for me as a woman than they would be for Mr. Delisle.

I’m deeply curious about his other books, however. Guy Delisle has also written a book about the time he spent in Pyongyang, North Korea, appropriately titled Pyongyang, and I absolutely smashed the Want-to-Read button on that. He’s also lived in China and Jerusalem that I can see; what a fascinating life! If I can’t live in all those places, traveling there through books is the next best way, so I’m looking forward to more travels with Guy Delisle.

Do you have any graphic memoir recommendations for me? I love memoirs, so graphic memoirs are nice way to get my memoir on and add a little art into my life. 🙂

Visit Guy Delisle’s website here. (En français!)


Icebreaker- Deirdre Martin

During the same library trip where I picked up a copy of Their Pretend Amish Courtship, I also grabbed this copy of Icebreaker by Deirdre Martin (Berkley, 2011). I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but I love hockey. I have a love-hate relationship with it, somewhat; I love the rush of it all, the sounds, the skaters flying down the ice, the hard-won goals, but I hate the concussions, the injuries, the lost teeth. It’s a great sport and it’s an absolute rush to watch (especially live; I’ve been lucky enough to see two NHL games and a minor league game in person), but no professional sport is worth permanent injury in my book. So hockey in books is a lot safer, although there’s no cool sounds of skate blades and sticks on the ice. Unless they have those in audiobooks on hockey, in which case I’ve been going about this all wrong.

Sinead O’Brien is as single as it’s possible to get. That’s not without its benefits; she’s worked her way up to being the only female partner at her law firm, and part of that is because work is pretty much all she does. Her newest client, Adam Perry, a professional hockey player who’s been charged with assault after a rough hit on another player, is a man of few words, so few that Sinead’s about ready to rip her hair out whenever she’s around him. He’s barely willing to say anything at all, even if it means saving his butt. It’s a good thing Sinead is as good of a lawyer as she is.

But this is a romance, so you know there’s something simmering under the surface. It takes her a while to admit it, but Sinead is attracted to Adam from the start, and the feeling is mutual. With so much to lose if her bosses find out, Sinead’s not sure how far she can let this go, but Adam’s not interested in going back to being just friends…

Icebreaker is actually the third book I’ve read in the series; all the novels work well as stand-alones and the series doesn’t need to be read in order. This was just kind of okay for me. Adam was so reticent at times that he fell more into the ‘dumb jock’ stereotype; I never saw much evidence of more going on upstairs, especially with some of his throwback, caveman-style ideas (that another character rightfully took him to task on, multiple times). Sinead was fine, although her weird obsession about not connecting with her infant nephew became tiresome. He’s a baby. You’ll get there, don’t force it. Babies are weird and scream their faces off when their parents leave; it’s probably not you. (AKA my daughter every time I did something heinous like try to take a ten minute shower while my husband held her. SCREAMED THE ENTIRE TIME. See, Sinead? NOT JUST YOU. My poor husband. He was so frustrated, haha. And lest you think I’m exaggerating:

Her onesie says ‘Princess Fussypants,’ purchased specifically because she never stopped screaming when I handed her off to Papa.)

So this was just okay, not my favorite book, nor my favorite series about hockey (I preferred Mister Hockey by Lia Riley and See Jane Score by Rachel Gibbons). Not a bad read by any means, though, for a sports romance.

Are you a sports fan at all? Hockey is pretty much the only sport I enjoy watching, other than Olympic sports (swimming, gymnastics, track and field… I could sit and watch the Olympics all day. I don’t care about teams or countries, it’s the skill that amazes me!), but we don’t have cable, so I rarely get to watch (not that the Blackhawks have played all the well recently, but let’s not discuss that…). If you’ve got any suggestions for hockey romances, I’m all ears!

Visit Deirdre Martin’s website here.

graphic novel · middle grade

Awkward- Svetlana Chmakova

Fun story about this book.

A year or so ago, my daughter and I were cleaning out the car, and she pulls a copy of Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova (JY, 2015) out of the pockets on the back of one of the front seats. “Mama!” she gasped. “Is this Brother’s book???” (Even looking at the screen right now, she said, “Hey, Brother has that book!”)

“Probably,” I said, and tossed it in the bag. Apparently my son had left it stuffed in the seat pocket at some point. It looked new-ish; in 2015, he would’ve been 12/13, so this book would’ve been perfect for him back then. Since he’d already read it (we asked him about it later on), it went on my shelf, and I picked it up one night after I’d run out of library books. (*horror music*)

Peppi’s the new girl in town, and right away, she makes a major flub, tripping and falling into a nerdy guy in the hallway, earning herself the nickname of “nerder girlfriend.” And how does she handle it? By shoving the nerdy guy so hard that he falls. NOT one of her finest moments, and Peppi feels terrible about it, so terrible, in fact, that she can’t figure out how to apologize, even after Jaime- that’s the nerdy guy- is assigned as her science tutor.

But Peppi’s got bigger problems. Her school home is Art Club, and the problem is that this year, Art Club isn’t being allowed a table at the school’s club fair because, the principal said, they haven’t contributed enough to the school. SO not fair, especially since Science Club, Art Club’s arch rivals, will be getting a table. Or, uh, they would have been getting a table, until the Art Club/Science Club shenanigans got Science Club booted, too. A competition to regain a table gets heated in ways that Peppi never expected, and along with learning about friendship, hard work, and support, she and the other members of Art Club will learn a lot about compromise.

Awkward is an adorable graphic novel that captures the weirdness that is middle school and places it in a not-so-likely-but-still-fun-to-read scenario. Svetlana Chmakova’s style is reminiscent of Raina Telgemeier, so if you enjoy her books (and I do!), this is definitely in your wheelhouse. Peppi is a typical middle schooler, making wrong decisions, feeling terrible about it, and then having no clue how to remedy the situation. She’s scared, she’s brave, she’s terrified, she’s outgoing, she’s all of us at that age, a million different people in one ever-changing body. The lessons she learns aren’t necessarily ones that most middle schoolers are often ready to take to heart in their own lives (it’s really, really not easy having to be the odd man out in order to stand up for a friend or a stranger, for example), but reading them in entertaining graphic novels like Awkward that aren’t at all preachy certainly helps foment better understanding of the consequences and outcomes.

The Art Club/Science Club rivalry was fun to read, although not all that realistic in terms of the club rivalry (at least in any school I’ve ever been to), but who says that needs to be a thing? Kids form all sorts of rivalries in school and take just about any chance to ‘other’ kids for any reason- cool kids verses the losers, jocks verses nerds, etc- maybe this rivalry will mean something to a reader who sees themselves on one side or the other.

(Very small content warning for a secondary character whose father calls said character’s mother a bitch in front of the child, without the mother present. There’s some marital fighting spoken about, I believe- I don’t have the book in front of me right now. I don’t *think* the fighting is depicted, but I very well may be misremembering- and the character and her mother end up leaving. I mention this not as a spoiler, but if you’re passing this book along to a younger child to read, you may want to read that section first- the name-calling is somewhere around halfway-ish through, and the fighting and leaving is towards the end- so that you’re prepared for any questions, or to bring it up and discuss with your child.)

Awkward is primarily written for middle schoolers, but this really works for all ages. Ms. Chmakova really captures that awkward middle school feeling, when you’re responsible for so much but in control of so little, and the future seems both blossoming with possibility and like something out a horror movie, all at the same time. Super fun book, and I’m glad I spent an evening curled up with it.

Visit Svetlana Chmakova’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.