It’s A Wonderful Death

Image result for it's a wonderful deathFirst Lines: The gypsy fortune-teller at the Halloween carnival predicts I’ll have a long life full of possibilities.  Of course, that’s right before she uses me as a human shield to avoid the outstretched hand of a black-cloak-clad, sickle-weilding Grim Reaper and then flees hysterically from the tent.  Really, if you think about it, that makes her a liar and a murderer.  I better get a refund.

This was a book I saw at the library a couple of times and finally grabbed in early October.  (Dude, I had this at my house for weeks before reading it.)  It looked sarcastic and funny while still being about death (which I wanted leading up to Halloween), so even though I’d never heard of it, I grabbed it.

Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants, from the position on the cheer squad to the Hot Guy.  So when a Grim Reaper snags her soul on accident, well, somebody better figure out how to return her to life or heads will roll.  But during her fight for life, she finds herself as nothing more than a piece in a millennia-old fight between an archangel and Death himself.  And they give her a choice: remain in the lobby where souls are processed until her time is actually up or relive three moments of her life to make better choices that makes her life worth saving.  Total no-brainer.  Should be easy to make these changes, right?  But each change unravels the life of Queen Bee RJ had built until she’s little more than a social outcast.  If going back to life means sixty years of being an outcast, is that worth it to RJ?

It was so good. I’d call it a cross between A Christmas Carol, the Adam Sandler movie Click, and Before I Fall.

I knew from the first paragraph that I was going to like RJ (as you can see above). Sarcastic, witty, and arrogant, RJ doesn’t let a single slight pass her by. And with the injustice of being reaped before her time, she’s especially not going to take any crap. So I really enjoyed that.

But it’s more than just sarcasm. RJ makes a lot of terrible choices in her life that she has to atone for. So while it starts off incredibly funny and sarcastic, by the end you are going to need a box of tissues. Which is why I’m so drawn to these kinds of stories. Because it’s not about what you have in your life but how you lived it, and that’s what these stories are always so good at showing.

The portrayal of what the Afterlife looks like (and many of the people usually associated with the Afterlife, like Death himself and St. Peter) is unique, interesting, funny, and novel. It tends to blend various religions from around the world with versions of life as we’re used to it. Like all souls must wait in the Lobby until their name is called. Much like a doctor’s waiting room.

It’s been a few weeks since I read this (y’all have met me right?  I’m pretty bad about posting these in a timely manner, especially around the holidays), but I still remember the very interesting cast of characters.  They stick with you, from the characters she befriends along the way, the quirky holy beings (Death is a surfer, St. Peter plays Cornhole, etc.), to the ones who will break your heart.  I look back on this book pretty fondly.

This is why I sometimes really like pulling off random books I’ve never heard of off the shelves at the library.  You truly never know what you’re going to find.

This was really moving. Sure, it’s irreverent and potentially blasphemous at times depending on your perspective, but it really hits some truths about how we should be as people. It was cute and deep at the same time.

My Holiday Pet Peeve: “Are you still single?”

Alright everybody, I know I am not the only one out there with this particular pet peeve, so we’re going to cheer each other up right now.

On Thanksgiving Day, I was at my mom’s side, who are generally all Catholics, married young, and had a boatload of babies.  This goes for my aunts/uncles and my cousins.

Then there’s me and my three brothers.  Not one of us has a significant other and I don’t think any of us are actively looking at the moment either.  While I wouldn’t turn down a date if one came my way, I’m a little more focused on things like looking for houses and my job and doing whatever I freaking well please to whenever I freaking want to.

But who gets asked the dreaded question?

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Oh, right.  Me.  Not my brothers.  Me.

I hate this sexist question.  With a bloody passion.

Only the funny thing was I didn’t get asked this question yesterday.  And I had a fantastic time.  One of my younger cousins and I nerded out about history and Bing Crosby and made plans to have an old Christmas movie marathon.  I hung out with my uncles and brothers and watched football and knit a shawl.  (Yes, my uncles gave me some crap about it, but I can take it.  In fact, I prefer it to being upstairs with the aunts.)

It was only this morning that I found out someone had asked about my relationship status.  One of my aunts, who is typically described as “nosy” inquired with my mom about my status.  Was I single?  Was I even looking?

“Well, she’d better hurry up and get you those grandbabies!”

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…This is actually pretty mild for what I’m feeling right now.  No one, no one has the right to tell me how to live my life like that.  Yes, I’m 27 and I do feel the pressure of the “biological clock” and all that, but I also want to be with the right guy and have a family together.  I don’t want to settle and then get divorced and then be a single mother dealing with custody battles and all that.

One of my aunts has done that and it was horrible.

But then here’s the best part.

When asked if I was even looking, my mom said she didn’t know.  So my aunt goes, “Well, she should start going to bars and looking!”

Why. In. Zeus-loving. Hades. Would. I. Do. That?

First of all, I never frequent bars.  Ever.  I have only set foot inside a bar I think twice in my life.  And not once have I actually had a drink there.

Secondly, as if that didn’t nail home the point enough, I don’t really drink.  I may have the occasional sangria at home, but I don’t drink in public at all.  I don’t see the enjoyment in it.  I’ve never been drunk and I do not relish the thought of ever being drunk.

And thirdly, I’ve kind of been down this road already.  One of my previous boyfriends was a fairly heavy drinker and during our relationship, I found myself a couple of times trying to keep pace with him.  I drank more than I really wanted to and I didn’t care for drinking just to keep someone company.  Another of my boyfriends had worked at a bar in the months before we met and spent most of his nights drunk.  By the time we met, he was on probation of drunk driving, but at least he’d sworn off alcohol after that.  I didn’t know it at the time, but later I’d learned he’d replaced alcohol with other drugs.

As you may be able to imagine, this makes me more than a little hesitant when it comes to dating now.

My mom’s on my side at least.  She almost turned to my aunt and said, “Why would she go shopping for men at a bar?”  To us, at least, it sounds horrible.  I’d be putting on a front the whole time just to meet someone who probably wouldn’t even be compatible with my introverted, bookish personality.

But she didn’t say that, only because she realized that’s how some of my cousins have/have probably met their significant others.

One of my cousins is actually a bartender and a serial serious dater.  He dates a girl for about a year, nearly gets engaged, and then something happens to break it off.  Two months later, he’s serious with a new girl.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

That’s not the life I want.  I want to be with the right person, someone who finds it interesting that I read all the time and have quirky interests.   I want someone who has their own quirky interests as well.  But all I keep seeing are dude-bros who still have the mentality of a college frat boy and want brainless arm candy.

And I’m not doing it.

So, if this holiday season, someone asks you if you’re still single and you’re as fed up as me, here are some types of responses you can give them:

1. The Truth

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2. The Evasion

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3. The Funny Truth

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4. The Response I’ve Always Wanted to Say

“Hey, if you can find me a guy who is X, Y, and Z [fill in with your own requirements, like tall, bookish, and nerdy] then I’ll be happy to date them.  But I haven’t been able to find that person yet.”

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Happy Holidays, everyone!  Don’t let family bother you too much.  They do (usually) mean well, even if they do make us mad sometimes.

Happy Thanksgiving My American Friends!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!  This is the time of year where we think about what we’re thankful for, spend some quality time with family, and generally enjoy a very long weekend if you’re lucky.  (I have a 5 day weekend in which I’m planning on watching many Christmas movies, knitting, and reading.)

Here are a few things I’m thankful for this year, and I’ll keep it short.

I’m thankful that, through a troubling time I had in October, I found out just how many people I have around me who are willing to help me.

I’m thankful for my ever-growing family and all of my ancestors who’ve helped shape that family.  (Sorry, genealogy moment.)

I’m thankful for great, life-changing books, a few of which I’ve read this year.

I’m thankful for quiet time to myself.  It’s much needed after long days at school.

I’m thankful for the little moments at school that remind me why I became a teacher in the first place.  Like when a nonreader gets really into a book, or when I see unexpected connections being made.  (One day while reading Refugee, I was telling my students about how Cuban refugees could stay in America if they made it to shore, but if they were rescued by the Coast Guard, they were sent back to Cuba.  One of my students yelled, “It’s like Sharks and Minnows!”  I died.)

I’m thankful for my creative outlets.  If I didn’t have outlets like painting, writing, or knitting, I’m pretty sure I’d go crazy.

And I’m thankful for you guys.  If you weren’t here, reading what I had to say and commenting back with me, I’d feel kind of stupid posting all these reviews and things.  I truly do value you all and I love that you enjoy this little blog of mine too.  #AlmostEightYearsOld

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

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Refugee

Image result for refugee alan gratzFirst Lines: Crack! Bang!  Josef Landau shot straight up in bed, his heart racing.  That sound–it was like someone had kicked the front door in.  Or had he dreamed it?

This book came to my attention thanks to another teacher in my school.  She wanted to do something with our kids called the Global Read Aloud and I was reluctant.  But she won out and I had to give this book a read so I knew what my kids were going to be reading.

Josef Landau knows what danger is.  Being a Jew in Germany in 1939 means bad things–and his family is getting out.  But getting out of Germany and finding somewhere safe is nearly impossible… Isabel Fernandez knows what poverty is.  Growing up in Cuba under Fidel Castro and after the fall of the Soviet Union, she knows there is not enough food to go around and she watched the country riot.  And when her father gets caught in a riot in 1994, she knows her family needs to leave Cuba.  Quickly.  …Mahmoud Bhasara knows what war is.  Living in Syria in 2015, he’s watched his country be destroyed by both inside and outside forces.  And when war finally lands on his front door, his family must flee.  But the journey won’t be easy.  For anyone.

In the current political climate, I think it is so important to understand who these people are and why they leave their home countries. In none of the three story lines do they leave because they want to. They are forced out by war, by poverty, by government. And in every story line, they are turned away time and time again because they are seen as “unclean” or criminals. It’s a horrible reality that this is the way many people view refugees. If the shoe were on the other foot, they would not be able to stomach this kind of treatment against themselves.

Each of the three story lines (which alternate between each other after short chapters) is emotional, with ups and downs. Sometimes really dark downs. But that shows the reality of their situation.

Isabel was perhaps my favorite of the three. Stubborn and determined, Isabel fights to get her family free from Cuba before her father gets arrested for rioting against Fidel Castro. Mahmoud is a Syrian refugee, fleeing Aleppo after the apartment building he lives in with his family is bombed. And Josef is a German Jew whose father was sent to Dachau. His family needs to flee Germany while they still can or risk being sent to the concentration camps as well.

I thought this book was a great insight into what actually happens to refugees and the staggered timelines involved show that this process really hasn’t changed any over time. (Josef’s is in 1939, Isabel’s in 1994, and Mahmoud’s in 2015.)

It’s not something I would have chosen for myself to read, but I liked it. It just didn’t grab me as much as it would/will other people. It’s just too dark for me right now, with the world already feeling like it’s being plunged into darkness.

But I will say, having started teaching this to my students, they really enjoy it.  They like the drama of it all, and the few comedic characters who bring much needed levity.  Of course, everyone has a different favorite story line based on their interests, but it’s kind of fun to actually watch my students get pulled into a book.  Most of the time, I hand them a book and they do all the reading outside of class.  This time, I get to see it all happen in my room.  And that’s probably what I like best at the moment.

Bright We Burn (And I Darken, #3)

Image result for bright we burnFirst Lines: Lada Dracul had cut through blood and bones to get the castle.  That did not mean she wanted to spend time in it.  It was a relief to escape the capital.

Hey guys!  So I took a little time off there after #HogwartsOctober to get back to reading all the books I’d neglected through October.  Now I just have to catch up on my blogging!  This was a book that I picked out very soon after I read And I Rise, the second book in this series.  That book had been pretty awesome and, while I didn’t exactly care for the first book in this series, I thought this final one would be worth it.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Radu cannot escape the ghosts of Constantinople.  Torn between his duty to Mehmed and his newfound love of the city and its people, Radu ripped himself in half watching the city fall.  And now Mehmed is asking him to return to that haunted city, to stand at Mehmed’s side and help him rebuild.  Mehmed is more powerful than ever…but Radu also realizes Mehmed is completely alone.  Which begs the question, does Radu even want to spend more time with Mehmed?  Lada has taken control of Wallachia, her life dream.  But Lada can’t rest until she knows that her borders are protected and that no one–including Mehmed–will cross her.  Determined to send that message, Lada sends Mehmed an envoy of bodies…a message Mehmed and Radu can’t ignore.  They must go to war.  Mehmed knows he loves Lada, but that love can be blinding in the worst ways.  And Radu fears that he is the only one who is not underestimating his sister…

For the most part, this book continued my appreciation of this series. I fell in love with Radu in the previous book. His sensitive soul and his desire to do the right thing was very compelling, especially when faced against Lada’s unrestrained violence and drive to rule Wallachia.

In this book, both of them played their parts beautifully. Radu is as lovable as ever, perhaps even more so. He realizes by now that he’s probably the only person who sees Lada’s potential; everyone else underestimates her for being a woman.

Lada’s brutality in this book is staggering. Even taking into consideration the brutality of that time period, considering the same brutality Mehmed inflicted on Constantinople in the last book, Lada is violent. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before where a character was this clearly an anti-hero. The amazing thing about White’s writing, though, is that you’re still rooting for her. Even when you’re disgusted by the level she sinks to, you still understand her thought process and that she’s ultimately fighting for a better life for her people. She’s just going about it the wrong way. She does not forgive and she never forgets.  It’s beautiful in its brutality.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that’s this violent before.  It’s so cavalier about its body count…and for whatever reason, a couple of weeks after finishing it, this is what I remember liking best about it.  Probably just because it was shocking.

Because of the fact that this book flips between Radu’s narration and Lada’s, it’s very easy to draw comparisons between the two. I actually really liked that. Their lives diverged so long ago, but here they are on the same Road of Destiny with two very different outlooks on life. It’s a fascinating study in how the way you view the world shapes everything.

The writing is clever and the twists are fun. Sometimes they aren’t as surprising as you expect them to be, but there is still a certain amount of joy to be had from catching them before they are revealed. This was fun to read and the nearer I got to the end, the harder it was to put down.

While Lada isn’t exactly a role model, I have to admit that sometimes we all need to channel her dragon ferocity.