logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: inspiring
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
review 2018-03-07 18:15
Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Mambo in Chinatown: A Novel - Jean Kwok

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher. But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel briefly touches upon the themes of sexual assault and rape culture.

 

  

Cha Lan "Charlie" Wong, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, has never been outside the city limits of Chinatown in New York City. Now 22, she's spent years keeping mostly to herself, working as a dishwasher in the same restaurant where her father is employed as a skilled noodle maker.

 

Life has been a constant struggle for Charlie. She did poorly in school and even now in adulthood is described as homely, uncoordinated, no domestic skills to speak of, not tech savvy in the least... in short, nobody expects much of her. Knowing this, Charlie is stunned when her younger sister Lian Hua ("Lisa") urges her to apply for a receptionist position that just opened up at a local ballroom dance studio. 

 

Charlie is awkward during the interview process but one of the co-owners sees something in her and decides to give her a chance. The reader is then given a front row seat to Charlie bumbling through this receptionist position. Still, she becomes fascinated with the world of dance -- the studio instructors, the different students and their backstories -- it undeniably leaves her feeling very much out of her element, yet she persists in making this job work so that she can keep her grasp on this new and beautiful world she's been brought into. 

 

When one instructor is suddenly unable to teach a beginner's class, Charlie is shocked to hear she's been recommended to pose as the teacher. Just for that one class... but still! As it turns out, the students in this class interpret her uncertainty in her abilities as Charlie actually being very down-to-earth and relatable. Suddenly, Charlie is approached with requests to teach more classes! Though she accepts, she quietly starts taking dance lessons between classes so she can move from imposter to legit instructor. This move turns out to be empowering and life-changing. For one, in the past whenever tomboyish Charlie would make attempts to get all girly and pretty, someone in the family would immediately shoot down her efforts, so she would quickly go back to her old routine. NOW, after getting a little rhythm and soul in her bones, she finds the boldness to snap back and inform people that such "primping" as some might call it, makes her feel good... and it's her right. So, there. 

 

Through Charlie's journey, author Jean Kwok explores not only the hard truth about the world of dance -- the discomfort that comes along with training your body to move a certain way; the surprisingly high cost of the proper shoes; ruined, blistered feet; certification exams, etc. -- but also family hardships. We see Charlie tackle emotions surrounding the process of emotionally letting go of familial or societal expectations (her family finds a multitude of ways to try to guilt her into staying the same rather than encouraging emotional growth or pursuing soul-fulfilling dreams), finding courage to forge her own path, discovering and embracing who she truly is. Kwok also weaves in themes not uncommon to many immigrant experience novels: she, through her characters, asks "How does one blend old and new? How do we move with the tide of modernism while still properly honoring one's heritage... can it be done?".  *Note: Though Charlie is American-born, much of the immigrant story is told through the experiences of her immediate & extended family, as well as Charlie's own observations of what comes along with being the child of immigrants. 

 

 

When a family member falls seriously ill with a mysterious illness that doctors can't seem to successfully diagnose, Charlie feels helpless as she watches her loved one fall victim to bouts of bed-wetting, nightmares, dizziness, and migraines. She wants to continue pursuing modern methods of medicine, even while fearing the expense. Conversely, her father prefers going to an old world style herbalist in Chinatown, simply known as The Vision. Charlie doesn't want to go against her father and leave him feeling disrespected, however due the seriousness of the symptoms of this illness, she (with a dash of guilt) admits that she's nervous to leave this matter to Eastern medicine. 

 

While maybe not every reader will relate to the immigrant experience aspect of this novel, the familial themes will likely ring relevant to most that pick up this book. Who hasn't had to face the struggle of making our family proud versus following our own heart's passion? While the story wasn't always particularly gripping, there was something to Charlie's world that I felt comfortably, breezily invested in. Recommended for those always on the hunt for underdog / ugly duckling type stories. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-06 14:58
The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix
The Space Between Words - Michele Phoenix

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy. During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution. 

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand. Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

Amazon.com

 

 

American tourist Jessica is recovering in a Paris hospital in November of 2015, the day after the Paris attacks.

 

"Did a lot of people die?" I asked. I had to know.

 

The nurse nodded, and I saw tears in her eyes too. "Many," she said. Then she took a deep breath and added, "But many survived." She patted my hand where it still gripped her wrist. "I know you are americaine, but you are French now too."

 

 

Trying to heal from the injuries she sustained as an attendee of the death metal concert, Jessica is encouraged by friend Patrick to return to their apartment in town to continue her recovery. As time passes and she begins to show signs of physical strength returning, she feels compelled to return to the States, but Patrick thinks it would be good for her, mentally, to go on with their trip as planned. He stays insistent through her many refusals until he eventually wears her down and she agrees to his idea. 

 

There was a muddiness to mature adult friendships -- the expectation that they would lead to something more. That they should. And after that night, with our relationship more clearly defined, we'd moved forward more freely, autonomous and intertwined, an unusual duo bound by similar passions and complementary interests. Patrick and I knew what connected us was rare. It didn't matter anymore how others wanted to define it. 

 

One stop on their journey takes them to a little out of the way antiques shop where Jessica comes across what turns out to be an old sewing box, a box she later discovers dates back to the 17th century. Inside a hidden compartment, Jessica finds the journal of one Adeline Baillard, whose writings explain her fight to escape the Huguenot Persecution. Their crime: being Protestant in a Catholic nation.

 

There are only a few scant entries to Adeline's journal, giving the impression that she was hurriedly writing an account of her experiences in secret during the time of the persecution. A driving need to know how Adeline's story ended gives Jessica something to focus on other than her PTSD induced nightmares / hallucinations. The process of going on a hunt for the truth also gradually brings Adeline around to a modicum of healing in regards to her own traumatic experiences & memories. 

 

I'll just get this upfront right now -- this will likely be a tough read for PTSD sufferers. Chapter 17 is especially intense. Being a sufferer myself, I can tell you a number of passages in this book had my nerves on edge or me suddenly in a puddle of tears reading of Jessica's (fictional) account of the attacks. Also, imagining the fear someone in Adeline's position had to live with on a daily basis... this novel was one whopping emotional drain! But in a good way! 

 

"I want to believe that there's a force for good in this world and that the force won't let the bad have the final word. It doesn't explain or undo the darkness, but... I think somehow it covers it with light." 

 

~~ Grant

 

Note for sensitive readers: Within the excerpts of Adeline's journal, there are some brief scenes of brutality depicted, as Adeline writes of the torture endured by those who refused to convert to Catholicism. There are also some gruesome scenes illustrated during Jessica's descriptions of the shootings that occurred at the concert venue. 

 

Some of my favorite bits: 1) OMG, I ADORED Nelly, the tour guide at Canterbury Cathedral! Her wit and grandmotherly sweetness!  Also neat that in her author notes at the end, Michelle Phoenix reveals that the details of the adventure to the church that Jessica and Grant go on is based on a trip Phoenix herself took to the same church. 2) I found myself moved by little Connor and his visions of "shiny ninjas" (you'll understand this once you read the book).

 

The one knock I would give this story is the "common misconception" conversation about Grant and Mona. Just found it annoying that all these little things going on between them gave the impression that they were a couple and then they casually explain they're brother and sister, but people often get it confused. Well, dang. Introduce yourself as siblings at the start and we won't have a bunch of confused readers later! But Iater on I kinda saw why Phoenix might have written it this way... we need the brother available for confused feelings / possible romantic tension between him and Jessica! But still, annoying. 

 

I'd definitely recommend this one over Phoenix's Of Stillness And Storm. I found the plot here much more complex, entertaining and emotionally moving. I'm strongly anticipating her future works! 

 

Enduring with courage, resisting with wisdom, persisting in faith... 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-03-06 11:26
Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan
Circus Galacticus - Deva Fagan

Trix can deal with being an orphan charity case at a snotty boarding school. She can hold her own when everyone else tells her not to dream big dreams. She can even fight back against the mysterious stranger in a silver mask who tries to steal the meteorite her parents trusted her to protect. But her life is about to change forever. The Circus Galacticus has come to town, bringing acts to amaze, delight, and terrify. And now the dazzling but enigmatic young Ringmaster has offered Trix the chance to be a part of it. Soon Trix discovers an entire universe full of deadly enemies and potential friends, not to mention space leeches, ancient alien artifacts, and exploding chocolate desserts. And she just might unravel the secrets of her own past if she can survive long enough.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Taiwanese-American teen Beatrix "Trix" Ling is an orphan who is sent to Bleeker Academy, a boarding school, as a charity case. Trix is struggling to find her place not only at Bleeker but just in the world at large. Conflicts with school bullies (as in, her trying to defend herself) lead her into a heap of disciplinary action scenarios with the school admin. 

 

When the Circus Galacticus comes to town and the ringmaster (conveniently known just as Ringmaster) offers her the chance to join the crew, it seems like a nice little escape from her social hell. That is, until she comes to find out that she's just signed onto an intergalactic circus. That's right, this roadshow hits up the whole galaxy and then some! 

 

"Please, let me go. I won't cause any trouble."

 

"I find that hard to believe," says the Ringmaster, casting aside his lighthearted humor with such absolute saddness it catches the breath in my chest. "You've been causing trouble all your life, haven't you? Asking questions that weren't in the textbooks. Saying things other people were afraid to say. There was always something off about you, something different, something that made other people stare and whisper and maybe even laugh.. Isn't that right?" His eyes pull on mine, demanding an answer.

 

Trix comes to find that her new gig surprisingly holds answers to the mysteries of her own origin story. What's the deal with the meteorite her parents left her, this hunk of rock that came with enigmatic instructions to guard it with her life?

 

I was six years old the first time I really saw the stars. They hung sharp as broken glass in the desert sky. I jumped, trying to reach them -- they looked so close. I begged my dad to hoist me up on his shoulders, but even he wasn't tall enough. God, I can still feel that ache. I'd never wanted anything that bad. 

 

Dad smiled and tried to make me laugh away my tears. But Mom understood. She held me so tight I can almost feel her arms, even now, nine years later. I think she was crying too. You'll reach them someday, Beatrix, she said. I promise. Then she spun me around until my head swam with stars. That's all I have left of my folks now. 

 

The stars... and the rock. 

 

 

 

Trix also gets caught up in intergalactic politics --  the battle between the MANDATE and the TINKERS, the Mandate being those in power who determines rules and regulations for the whole universe. They want to keep status quo through strict order and conformity. Meanwhile, Tinkers are those on the outskirts, the social outcasts who advocate for diversity, culture full of color and variety of all kinds, artistic expression, all that is beautiful and wild in life. Nyl, one of the main characters from Team Mandate, likes to argue his stance that there are dire consequences that come with allowing people to have differences within society: wars, religious persecution, crime, etc. 

 

The battle between these two groups began generations ago. In what is now a post-war era, though the intensity of the battle has lessened some, the descendants from both sides of the original war still quietly fume. The reign of the Mandate has been replaced with the Core Governance. Different name, same desire for conformity. But Core Governance maintains that they don't support either faction (Mandate or Tinkers), their main goal is just to establish and maintain laws for the betterment of society in general. Very PC of them! 

 

A note for teachers or homeschooling parents: the whole plot conflict regarding the divisive beliefs of the Mandate vs. the Tinkers serves as nice social commentary for today's world problems. The way author Deva Fagan handles these hot button ideas is admirable, not overly in the reader's face or preachy, just simply entertaining examples to get discussions going among middle-grade readers. Something else for educators to note, there are a few instances of very mild cursing within this story. 

"Another fabulous word: BRUNCH. Not quite one thing or the other, but sometimes it's exactly what you need..."

 

I watch in alarm and fascination as he piles a mountain of avocado and beans onto a chip, all while balancing the book atop his baton, defying both gravity and common sense. Maybe that's his superpower. That and the ability to wear a bazillion sequins without looking like an ass.

 

Attentive readers may also notice the subtle ways Fagan recreates Trix's Earth problems throughout various points of her space travels. Just one example: the school bully Della and the prickly Headmistress Primwell vs the ship bully Sirra and the prickly ship instructor Miss 3. This gives readers some food for thought -- not only can you not escape your problems by running away, but also, think on the importance of learning to adapt to life's obstacles. You have to work on your own personal growth, not wait for others to change.

 

This is a perfect read for lovers of middle grade fiction, Star Trek adventures, Dr. Who humor, and Firefly, as there are elements of all of that in here! In fact, Nola, the mechanic on the Big Top ship very much reminded me of Kaylee, the mechanic from Firefly.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-02-28 06:55
Found Things by Marilyn Hilton
Found Things - Marilyn Hilton

One morning, River Rose Byrne wakes up talking like nobody else, and she doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s because her beloved older brother, Theron, has abruptly vanished. Maybe it’s because that bully Daniel Bunch won’t leave her alone. Or maybe it has everything to do with the eerily familiar house that her mind explores when she’s asleep, and the mysterious woman who lives there. River has to puzzle through these mysteries on her own until she makes a strange new friend named Meadow Lark. But when she brings Meadow Lark home and her mother reacts in a way that takes River by surprise, River is more lost than before. Now all that’s left for her to do is make wish after wish—and keep her eyes open for a miracle.

Amazon.com

 

 

For quite awhile now, River Rose Byrne has been wondering about and searching for her missing brother, Theron. In the meantime, she befriends mysterious, somewhat odd Meadow Lark Frankenfield, "her name was one of the only pretty things about her." Author Marilyn Hilton's description of Meadow Lark includes "a popped out eye" and "a strange way of walking".

 

"People make fun of my eye," she say, "but I can see better than some of them." 

 

As the story progresses, there are quiet character traits of River that the reader comes to see as a result (side effect?) of the trauma of Theron's disappearance, one being her taking up the habit of intentionally filling her speech with poor grammar. To help heal River's spirit, Meadow Lark teaches her the trick of writing down wishes and sending them down the river near the town library. Sidenote: I loved the imagery of a library set up next to a river!

 

One of the fun elements that keeps this story moving is the sense of mystery Hilton writes around the character of Meadow Lark, all the questions around her origin story. Is there some true magic to her? Why does River's mother respond so powerfully to her? 

 

One of River wishes is for the school bully to disappear. When said bully ends up in the hospital, River is surprised... maybe gives a glance in Meadow Lark's direction, but then reminds herself that she doesn't believe in things like magic / angels / miracles, so it's just a wild coincidence! Right? 

 

As River's emotions regarding her missing brother continue to escalate, overflowing to the point of affecting other aspects of her life, Meadow Lark is there to teach her the importance of maintaining hope & faith -- even just a grain of it -- in life. 

 

There was such a wonderful sense of childhood magic and whimsy infused into this book! There's a dreamlike quality that runs through the whole thing, but also quite a bit of depth when it comes to incorporated themes. Quite a feat for a debut novel! If you are a fanatic for beautiful language and all things lyrical, I highly encourage you to seek out Found Things and give it go! 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-02-04 06:38
Truth Doesn't Have A Side by Dr. Bennet Omalu
Truth Doesn't Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports - Bennet Omalu,Will Smith,Mark Tabb

When Dr. Omalu discovered a connection between head injuries and cognitive dysfunction, he thought the sports industry would welcome his findings. Instead, this gentle man of faith became the subject of a controversy that threatened his career, his family, and his right to live in the United States. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, the doctor who inspired the movie Concussion shares insights that will change how you view your family's involvement in contact sports. This is a riveting story of finding new life in America, new strength within the heart, and renewed faith in God's call to speak the truth no matter what. 

~ from back cover

 

 

 

The book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (the basis for the movie by the same name starring Will Smith) explored the topic of "mild" brain trauma within the NFL and Dr. Bennet Omalu's role in bringing the dangers of brain trauma in athletes to light. In Laskas' book, we got to know a bit of Omalu's personal story. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, readers get the expanded version (though, in all honesty, the bulk of the first 65 pages or so of material in Truth are pretty well covered in the Concussion book).

 

Yes, he does talk about his discovery of and work with CTE cases, but the majority of this book focuses on the years prior to his time in the spotlight -- the journey from a small community in Nigeria, through years of red tape and racial prejudice to finally finding a new place to set roots in the United States. What a journey it's been for this man!

 

In his own words, Omalu discusses his family history, the good and the bad. The story of Omalu's father is particularly harrowing: Omalu's father and aunt were abandoned by their mother after her husband's supsicious death, leaving them to survive as street children until a visiting missionary was able to arrange housing for them. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out well -- Omalu's father was beaten, often starved, treated as a servant, but endured it because the family did provide him with schooling. The way Omalu tells it has an almost biblical tale kind of ring to it! 

 

During the Nigerian Civil War (aka Biafran War), the time during which Omalu himself was born, his father's accomplishments -- college degree, years of dedicated employment as a civil servant -- were minimalized to "You're Igbo", forcing the entire family to have to relocate to a refugee camp for the duration of the war. The crazy thing is Omalu's father STILL worked as a government employee while they forced him to live in a refugee camp! 

 

My father's name was Amaechi, which means, "I may be down today, but no one knows what tomorrow may bring!" 

 

~ Bennet Omalu

 

As mentioned a bit in Concussion, Omalu explains how medicine was actually not a natural calling to him. His true dream was to become an airline pilot, but since his parents had their hopes set on him studying medicine, that's what he went with (though he does admit that science DOES feed his natural curiosity quite nicely). Imagine where the medical community would be had he take the "I do what I want!" stance. Truthfully, it made me a little sad for him that he didn't feel the freedom of choice to pursue his heart's desire, but I applaud his commitment to fully dedicate himself to his field regardless, as his work has opened the way to research that is on its way to helping so many in future generations.

 

Omalu describes the journey of how he came to have SO many degrees and certifications, the process of earning medical degrees in both Nigeria and the US. Through it all, he reveals his struggles with deep depression, racial prejudice in his new American community once arriving here in 1994, and the frustration of having certain people wanting to bar his progress every step of the way. It certainly seemed like an act of God that he managed to get a medical degree here at all.

 

The CTE material, Mike Webster case that started it all, all of that... actually takes up only a small portion of this book. The book in its entirety is not a long read, less than 300 pages total. The bulk of his discussion on his CTE years starts in Chapter 11 (approx. 120 pgs in, hardcover ed.).

 

For those interested in behind-the-scenes movie facts and trivia, Omalu also dishes on his very first meeting with Will Smith, who was chosen to portray Omalu in the film Concussion, how Smith originally wasn't interested but once a friendship developed between the to, he was quickly and happily immersed in the role. 

 

Omalu tells a powerful story, but it was sometimes hard to follow, as he would jump back and forth between his days as a medical examiner in Pittsburgh and his time as an ER doctor in Nigeria... with little to no transition or chronological explanation in between. I will say though, Omalu closes on a wonderful prayer for the future that left me quite moved. 

 

Following the close of his story, Omalu offers parents a Q & A guide on the topic of sports and head trauma, should their children want to play contact sports. He strongly urges readers to keep their kids out of such sports altogether, but admits that if you choose to go forth with sports anyway, it's best to at least go in informed. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Zondervan Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?