They Called Me Wyatt, by Natasha Tynes

What an amazing book by first-time novelist, Natasha Tynes!Wyatt

“They Called Me Wyatt” is a two-part story beginning with Siwar Salaiha, a Jordanian student who is murdered on her birthday in College Park, Maryland, and is then reincarnated into a three year old boy named Wyatt. The second part of the book takes place twenty-five years later when Wyatt is a college student who is fascinated with the Middle East, and then, for reasons he can’t explain, becomes obsessed with Siwar’s murder. The case was originally ruled a suicide by police detectives. But only Wyatt knows that this was not a suicide, and he devotes his time to finding justice for Siwar.

This book had me hooked starting with page one. The storyline moves along at a nice clip and I found myself wanting more at the end of each chapter. It’s one of those books where you say to yourself “just one more chapter…” until you find yourself at the end of the book before you realize it.

I was surprised to learn from this book that the belief in reincarnation is practiced among some in the Middle East:

“There were some rumors though surrounding the Druze community in Lebanon, an offshoot of Islam. They apparently believed in reincarnation, and there were many tales of children all of a sudden narrating stories of their previous lives. The first time a child starts telling tales of a previous existence, they refer to it as Nataq, which translates into “he spoke”.”

There were many other interesting facts about the Middle East that were included in this story that helps the reader to understand that region a little better. It’s a region that is misunderstood in many ways. I appreciated how the main character opens up this world to us and how we get to follow her experience as a woman in Jordan and then as a student in Maryland.

To say that I loved this book would be an understatement. Tynes is an amazing writer who has a knack for storytelling and I was very surprised at how the story ended!

I’m honored that I was selected to receive an advanced copy of her book to review.

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung

All You Can Ever KnowNicole Chung’s memoir, “All You Can Ever Know” is a story of adoption, self acceptance, and cultural sacrifice. Her memoir dives into the thoughts and feelings that she, and many transracial adoptees, share.

Chung was born to Korean parents who gave her up for adoption when she was a newborn, and she was then adopted and raised by white parents in rural Oregon. As an Asian American growing up in a mostly white town, she felt out of place. Often times, she would have to explain her adoption to people who were confused by why an Asian child would have white parents.

Offering the story I’d learned so early was, I thought, one way to gain acceptance. It was both the excuse for how I looked, and a way of asking pardon for it.

Like Chung, I was also adopted as a baby by white parents in a mostly homogenous town where nobody looked like me. My biological father was Egyptian, and as luck would have it, I inherited all of his dark features. I grew up with a sister who has blond hair and blue eyes. People would find it amusing that we were even related, let alone sisters!

I truly appreciated this book because I felt like Chung was expressing so many of the thoughts that I had growing up, in a very similar situation in Maine. For example, when she leaves the town she grew up in and goes off to college, she finally knows what it’s like to not be the only minority.

Every day, I felt relieved to have found a life where I was no longer surrounded by white people who had no idea what to make of me.

For me, going away to college was a huge turning point in my life. My whole childhood, being the “brown” kid was practically what defined me. People would look at me and ask what country I was from or why I didn’t have an accent. But when I went away and left rural Maine, I was no longer the only minority. Suddenly, what defined me was not the color of my skin, but the person that I was. This was something I found difficult expressing to my family. To them, race should not be a big deal. That it didn’t matter. Chung mentions that she received the same sort of response from her own family. And yet it does matter. It certainly matters to the person who gets treated like a foreigner in her own country, who is constantly asked where she “really” comes from.

It feels like my duty as my white family’s de facto Asian ambassador to remind them that I am not white, that we do experience this country in different ways because of it, that many people still know oppression far more insidious and harmful than anything I’ve ever faced. Every time I do this, I am breaching the sacred pact of our family, our once-shared belief that my race is irrelevant in the presence of their love.

The book continues on with Chung deciding to reach out to her biological family. This was not an easy decision for her, as I would assume it is not an easy decision for most adoptees. It certainly wasn’t for me. Finding a biological family seems like it would provide closure and would finally answer many questions. And yet it sometimes does neither.

If there’s something that everyone should know about adoption, it’s that there is no end to this. There’s no closure.

The thing I appreciate the most about this book is that it doesn’t sugar-coat the idea of adoption. When people hear other people’s adoption stories, the go-to phrase is always “you’re so lucky you were adopted.” And yes, they would be right! When someone is adopted, they are lucky to be placed in a loving home. But what we don’t think about is that there is always a sacrifice involved. I’m not talking about the sacrifice of the biological parents, but the sacrifice of the adopted child. Although that child is gaining a new family, he or she is also giving up his or her original identity, culture, and family history. For Chung, she gave up her Korean identity. She looks Korean and she will always be treated like a minority, but she doesn’t speak Korean or know the culture as she would if she had grown up with her biological family. Of course it is better that she was adopted, but her cultural sacrifice should not be ignored.

“All You Can Ever Know” illustrates the complexities of adoption that non-adoptees may not ever really understand. I am grateful to Nicole Chung for bravely writing about this experience and showing that adoption is not only about love, but finding self identity and acceptance in a complicated world.

Rebecca – A Classic Tale of “Romantic” Suspense

****This blog post includes spoilers. Consider yourself warned!***

Rebecca.Image

It’s finally autumn. The leaves have turned color, the air has become crisp and cool, and it’s the perfect time to sit back and enjoy a gothic story.  For me, I figured it was a great opportunity to read “Rebecca,” by Daphne Du Maurier. I heard that the book was a spooky thriller… the perfect fall read!

My initial reaction after finishing the book is that it’s not a romantic thriller, as the cover suggests. It also wasn’t really scary (I assumed it was going to be). If anything, it was more of a mystery.

The book was written in 1930s and mostly takes place in England. The unnamed protagonist is working as a companion to an older lady (Mrs. Van Hopper) in Monte Carlo when she meets a rich widower named Maxim de Winter. The two hit it off and eventually marry. The protagonist quits her job and moves to Manderley, Maxim’s huge estate. While there, the protagonist becomes obsessed with Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, who drowned only a year prior. She’s jealous and is incredibly insecure.

Although I liked this book, I was slightly disappointed because I think I was expecting somewhat of a ghost story. I was also a little confused because it was labeled a “romantic thriller” when (in my opinion) it was neither romantic nor a thriller.

Let’s discuss the “romantic” part. Yes, there’s a marriage. But I wasn’t entirely convinced that the two characters loved each other. Maxim only proposed as a way of preventing the protagonist from moving to New York. And his proposal was, sorry to say, lame! He literally says this:

So Mrs. Van Hopper has had enough of Monte Carlo,” he said, “and now she wants to go home. So do I. She to New York and I to Manderley. Which would you prefer? You can take your choice.”

Obviously the main character is confused and assumes Maxim is making a joke. Then he says this to her:

“If you think I’m one of the people who try to be funny at breakfast you’re wrong,” he said. “I’m invariably ill-tempered in the early morning. I repeat to you, the choice is open to you. Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.”

“Do you mean you want a secretary or something?” (From the main character.)

“No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”

So that’s his proposal. Now I’m not much of a romance reader, but I can tell you with some certainty that this is not romantic! If I had been proposed to in this way, I would not have accepted. But again, the main character is clearly young and insecure, so it seemed fitting that she would be swooned by this sort of proposal. :::eye roll:::

Now for the thriller part. It did have some aspects of a thriller, but it didn’t seem like a typical thriller to me. Yes, there was a murder, Rebecca’s murder. But it already happened. It didn’t seem very suspenseful. Nobody was running from danger, except Maxim, who was running from the law, hoping to get away with his wife’s murder.

The best character in the book is clearly Mrs. Danvers, the house manager. Although she was not likeable, she kept the story moving and made it a whole lot more interesting. Unlike the main character, Mrs. Danvers is confident and is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. And in the end, she knows Maxim killed Rebecca and she has no problem taking revenge. Maxim should have gone to jail for what he did, but instead he got away with murder. And while the protagonist is happy about this (because after all, it means Maxim loves her more than Rebecca :::more eye rolls:::), Mrs. Danvers does what needs to be done… she burns Manderley to the ground! Right on!

Thank you Mrs. Danvers. Your service is appreciated.

Now I’m excited to watch the movie!

Reading Out loud with Children

Before I even got pregnant, I knew that I was going to read to my child regularly. It would be a habit to encourage a love of reading. This was important to me. Since I was a bibliophile, I wanted my child to be one too.

Then the magical day came when my daughter was born. Even as a newborn baby, I read to her regularly. It felt silly at first because honestly, she loved to chew on the books more than listen to the story. But as she grew, she really came to appreciate our reading sessions more and more. She is now to the point where she can’t go to bed unless she gets a couple of books (or chapters) in each night. Sometimes I read to her, sometimes she reads to me, and sometimes we’ll alternate who reads which chapter. As a lover of books, this warms my heart!

But now the question becomes: when (if at all in her childhood) does this ritual end?  She’s 8 years old right now and obviously still loves reading with either me or my husband. And I honestly don’t have any plans on stopping our nightly routine. But I’m assuming there will come a time when she would prefer to read without one of us by her side. This will be a day that I’m dreading.

I remember listening to a podcast a while back and heard the host mention that she and her teenage daughter still read nightly together out loud. This surprised me. My mother stopped reading to me when I was about 3. I know, it was probably too young. But this was the 80s and the woman had stuff to do. I’m not judging her.

Obviously, I would love it if my daughter wanted to read with me every night as a teenager, but I know that’s not likely to happen. (Trust me, I used to be a teenager and I can remember not wanting to do anything with my parents, least of all, read with them.)

I’m curious to know when most children prefer to just read independently and not with mom or dad. Is there a typical age for this? When did your child feel that he or she was too old to be read to?

For my daughter, I hope this isn’t for at least another several years.

2018 Rockville Antique and Classic Car Show

This afternoon, Rockville hosted its annual antique car show which featured over 500 classic and antique cars. I’m not much of a car fan, but my 8 year old daughter loves looking at the antiques (she’s very much like her grandfather in this way). Of course I took her to the car show and we were both amazed by the beautiful, fascinating, and often unique cars. And although this has nothing to do with books, I figured I’d feature some of the pictures on my blog as a random, but fun post. I hope you enjoy!