Diversity Spotlight #5

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Hey guys, welcome to another installment of Diversity Spotlight Thursday created by Bookshelves & Paperbacks ! I haven’t done a diversity post in so long, and for that I apologize. I’ve been so busy with work and reviewing current books I’ve read. But I’m glad I finally have made the time to write up this post!

Questions included in the diversity spotlight Thursday are:

  1. Diverse book you enjoyed reading
  2. Diverse book that has been released and you want to read
  3. Diverse book yet to be released and you want to read

And because I suck in being up to date with upcoming releases, I shall do my diversity posts answering the first 2 questions only 🙂

Here are my picks for this week!

1. A diverse book you have read and enjoyed

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Goodreads: Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)

From a crippled MC to a dark skinned heroine and rich and homosexual characters, Six of Crows is one of the most diverse books I’ve ever read. I truly enjoyed the wonderful mix of characters here where we see each of them dealing with their own difficulties and diverse backgrounds. Their differences made them work well as a team which led to interesting adventures and mishaps.

 

 

 

 

2. A diverse book that has already been released but you have not read

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Goodreads: Wing Jones (Katherine Webber)

(By the time this post is scheduled, I will have read this book haha! I hope this still counts)

I recently bought this book because I was attracted to the diverse background of the character – Chinese-Ghanian teenager trying to find her place in this world after a tragedy strikes her family. I love uplifting stories of teenagers finding hope in the darkest of times and finding their voice or passion in life. I’ve heard so many good things about this book and the spray-painted edges are so gorgeous! I cannot wait to read this one soon.

3. Diverse book yet to be released and you want to read

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Goodreads: The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

This is another diverse book that I am so excited to come out and read! This is the story of a PoC character trying to find her way in a world so caught up in body image and media-influenced beauty. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter, this book questions how we treat people of all races and religion. Just like Wing Jones, I love YA contemporaries with strong messages of self-acceptance and power of diversity. I definitely cannot wait to read this when it comes out end of February!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading this post! Have you read any of these books and what did you think of them? What would be your top diverse reads that you would recommend to me?

The Instagram Book Tag

Hey guys! I found this tag done by The Book Prophet and whilst no one tagged me to do it, I thought it’d be fun to try it out 😀

Feed: Many people give a special theme to their Instagram feeds, or none at all.
Are most of the books you read of the same genre, or do you like to mix it up?

I always mix things up! It’s only because I get bored pretty quickly if I stick to one genre. So I always alternate between fantasy, historical fiction, general fiction, sci-fi, young adult and classics.

Filter: Instagrammers often put filters onto their photos to make them look vibrant and beautiful.
Name a book with a stunning cover!

Now this is a toughie, since I’m not always sure if people will like what I recommend. But my go-to recommendations would have to be these books (if you’re a fan of general fiction, sci-fi or fantasy!):

 

Bio: Instagram bios can be up to 150 characters long, and can be used to give some general information about yourself.
Name a book with a catchy blurb that hooked you in.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope hooked me in from the beginning because the blurb tells a tale of an early 20th century asylum in Ireland filled with secrets, love and dancing! How can you not be attracted to that?!

Review: The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult)

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Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Publication date: January 2, 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 528
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia, BookXcess

Blurb:
What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – is it murder, or justice?

Sage Singer befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

REVIEW:

“History isn’t about dates and places and wars. It’s about the people who fill the spaces between them.”

The Storyteller has got to be one of the most prominent historical fictions there is out there. This is even more beautiful than The Book Thief by Markus Zusak if I dare say so myself. Because whilst The Book Thief was narrated by Death himself, The Storyteller was from a first person account of what went through (with no doubt) during World War II in German-occupied Poland.

The Storyteller is a beautiful book and woven into it are words that will take your breath away. Stories during the Holocaust that will disturb you but you just can’t take your eyes away from the pages. Each word brought life into the survivors and victims of WWII and what tragedies occurred during that period, where most of it remained silenced within each survivor’s life.

It is the tale of redemption, forgiveness, hope, bravery, mortality and family all rolled into a huge story that questions our ability to judge those who have committed heinous crimes and how and when they should be punished. The writing itself is beautiful as always. But what attracted me was how well the characters were portrayed and how real they felt despite me not having a clear understanding of WWII. We are the generation that knows about it the least other than what was taught in our history lessons in school.

But The Storyteller goes beyond that.

It describes Auschwitz, the infamous concentration/extermination camp in Poland, in such detail in its responsibility for killing over a million Jews via its gas chambers and crematoria. I felt disturbed and sick when I read of Minka’s (Sage’s grandmother) experience living there, as if I was reading an actual survivor’s accounts of her time there. I initially didn’t know the significance of the camp doctor directing prisoners who just arrived at the camp left or right until I Google-d it and found the terrifying truth….

“That’s why we read fiction, isn’t it? To remind us that whatever we suffer, we’re not the only ones?”

Picoult’s use of words and stories symbolised how important fiction is in enabling us to survive in the toughest of times. How stories can save us from the darkest pit of hopelessness and give us strength to brave the day ahead. The book starts out with a chapter from a fictional book written by Minka, which eventually becomes a vital essence of The Storyteller. Where monsters are portrayed by men and how relevant it is throughout the ages gripped my attention and made me understand Minka’s fight for survival even more. Eventually, we see how that fiction is what saves us in the end and how stories remind us of humanity, love and hope in bleak and unforgiving times.

“The only monsters I have ever known were men.”

I love how the plot was nicely done, despite not entirely enjoying the long and draggy Part 2 of the book. Otherwise, the way Picoult transitioned between the present and the past was seamless and perfect. I truly enjoyed learning more about the Holocaust in a very detailed approach, even if at times they disturbed me more often than not. But that’s the bleak side of History, no? They make you uncomfortable as proof that it did happen and people did die.

The Storyteller is a wonderful story of how genocide destroyed the humanity of mankind, and how hope salvaged it to allow the survivors to move forward. And with stories like this, I hope more people will be more willing to read about the plights and wars in Syria, Libya and Myanmar where the Muslims are facing similar events like the Jews 80 years ago.

“Forgiving isn’t something you do for someone else. It’s something you do for yourself. It’s saying, ‘You’re not important enough to have a stranglehold on me.’ It’s saying, ‘You don’t get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future.”

I do highly recommend this read if you are looking for something that will tear you to pieces and make you think about the fine line between monsters and men. It is an amazing masterpiece by Picoult and truly a wonderful historical fiction work that will live long in our hearts and mind.

RATING: ★★★★☆

Have you read this book? And what did you think about it?

Review: When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)

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Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: January 19, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 208
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

REVIEW:

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”  

When Breath Becomes Air is a beautiful memoir of the life lived and experienced by Paul Kalanithi who has the wonderful insight to understand and find the meaning between life and death, and what makes it worthwhile. No matter how short one’s life is, he makes us believe that it is meaningful if you find something that drives you to understand the world you live in, and help those around you.

To be honest, I’ve never been much interested in memoirs from the medical background. I was afraid the medical jargon or complicated medical world would turn me off from wanting to learn more about the field. I’ve always thought the medical profession to be overrated here in Malaysia. But it wasn’t until I chatted to a friend who happens to be a medical graduate that shone some light on the work of doctors do I begin to consider picking this book up, and seeing the medical world with fresh eyes.

Kalanithi talks about his life growing up in Arizona, his love for both literature and biology which led him to obtain double degrees in both of these field. His love for neurosurgery and how the brain affects how we face life is pretty adamant in this book. You can’t help but to be at awe at his brilliance and drive in being the best version of himself as a doctor and husband. I was constantly impressed with how resilient he was in completing his residency and his inspiration to become a better doctor to his patients. I know how some doctors treat patients with disregard and as paperwork, but Kalanithi explains the need to treat his patients like human beings, offering help to the victims and families on how to move forward in life. Which is what made him, and subsequently this book, a joy to read and know about.

His approach to the medical world and his observations of the meaning of life will leave you pondering on how to approach yours. We are all given a limited time on earth, and for Kalanithi who died at the young age of 36, he has shown us that it’s not the amount of years lived but rather the amount of life lived within those given years.

I’ve enjoyed this book immensely solely for his love of medicine and having the strength to traverse difficult roads in his life after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He faces his mortality with dignity and the belief that you can still be the best version of you no matter what disaster (subjective to perception by the inflicted) you’re faced with. I found his ambitions to become a renowned neurosurgeon and build a family highly relatable as I’ve just started work and am thinking of what I want in the future.

“Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

I felt very inspired from reading this book, knowing how early a wonderful life with so many potential could end, yet there is still so many things you can do to make your remaining time worthwhile.

This book might not be for everyone, I admit. The whole book questions his entire existence and his profession in light of his health issues. It gets deep, on a whole new level, and this book may be upsetting for those who have family members or friends that lived with or died from cancer. On top of that, the medical jargons and complicated scientific terms may put you off. I’m pretty lucky because I studied science and a bit of biology back in school but for non-science readers, my advice would be to just read it as it is. Let the words flow through you and enjoy the message brought by Kalanithi about the wonder of our mortality. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just the same 🙂

“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”

I do not know if this review does this book any justice or even convinces you to pick it up, but out of all the memoirs I have read, I’m finding When Breath Becomes Air is quickly becoming a favourite. I hope you pick this up if you have it in your TBR or see it in your local bookstore. And I hope it changed the way you view life as it did for me…

RATING: ★★★★★

Review: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (Phaedra Patrick)

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication date: January 29, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 352
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:
In this poignant and curiously charming debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met–a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a joyous celebration of life’s infinite possibilities.

REVIEW:

“But there are always some people that you keep in your heart, yes?
That you never forget.”

I was so excited to stumble across this book on my way home at London Heathrow airport. I bought it on a whim, thinking that any story about the elderly going on an adventure was bound to have me captivated.

And I was right!

From the very beginning, Arthur delights us in his quest to find the meaning behind each charm on his late wife’s gold bracelet. After finding out the unique story behind the first charm, Arthur became determined to uncover his beloved’s past life…a life which he knew nothing about after having been married for 40 years. We see his tribulations in discovering a different life of his wife, which because the reason for both his sorrow and ultimately, his happiness.

This is the story of discovering new depths of love and how willing we are to accept one’s past and move on in the future. I love the message behind this book which encourages us to not live in the past, but to cherish the time we’re given to enjoy one another’s company.

The endearing story of Arthur having his own adventures after the anniversary of his wife’s death made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and I truly enjoyed flipping through the pages and meeting all the wonderful characters scattered within the book! Each character brings a wonderful story of friendship, hardship and kindness that we’re able to find in every day lives.

Which is what made me love this book so much: its honesty. I found the characters and stories read in this book totally believable and they are being lived out around the world. Arthur was lucky to have found friends in many of the kind strangers he met. You can’t help but to root for Arthur from the beginning, to complete his adventure and anticipate what story lies behind each charm. At one point, I felt sadden by his late wife’s past but her resilience in living in the present and not letting the past haunt her was very inspiring.

RATING: ★★★★

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a wonderful, light read that will leave you feeling good and enjoying life a little bit more because of the friends and family you have.

Brilliant read for fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove.

Review: Britt-Marie Was Here (Fredrik Backman)

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Sceptre
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Format: Mass Paperback
Source: Personal
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:
From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But at sixty-three, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless forty-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally), is a hard adjustment.

Review:

I was more than thrilled to find out that Fredrik Backman released a new book. He is one of my favourite authors after I’ve had the pleasure of reading A Man Called Ove (one of my favourite 2016 reads!) and My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes (yes, his titles are always a mouthful). Stories of old people finding their way again in this world after suffering the death of their loved one or a crisis always gets me in tears and a bubbling mess of emotion!

Britt-Marie Was Here tells the tale of Britt-Marie who played a significant character in My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes, where we last saw her heartbroken after discovering her husband’s affair. This book takes place after Britt-Marie left her husband and finds herself thrust into a new situation that threw her off after 63 years of living life quietly.  She finds herself in Borg and meets various kinds of misfits and outcasts, including children who are obsessed with football, and befriends them.

“If you can be heard then you exist.”

In the beginning, we see Britt-Marie as a stern and stiff woman, with strict values on how to live one’s life. She’s the kind of prim and fussy elderly woman we always have the unfortunate time of meeting at supermarkets or during the festive season. So it was no wonder that she had trouble starting her life all over again, alone and devastated.

But, as the story progress, we see a side of Britt-Marie that will surprise us. Underneath all of those proper exterior and obsessive cleaning habits lie a sweet and kind hearted woman just wanting to make life comfortable for those around her. The children who love football convinces her to become their coach and she learns the value of hope and innocence in doing what you love, even when the odds seem against you.

As usual, the writing is very well done, even for an English translation from Swedish. I laughed out loud and I was deeply touched by Britt-Marie’s bond with the children she ‘coaches’. Her interaction with the other adults was also great that it makes you imagine easily what she’s going through. I can only imagine how difficult it is to begin your life again when you least want it to. And Britt-Marie teaches us that not everyone knows what they’re doing and that life almost never go the way you want it too.

From infidelity to friendship, this book has a wonderful sense of humor to take life as it is, despite meeting people who insist you use a coaster every time you drink.

“All marriages have their bad sides, because people have weaknesses. If you live with another human being you learn to handle these weaknesses in a variety of ways. For instance, you might take the view that weaknesses are a bit like heavy pieces of furniture, and based on this you must learn to clean around them. To maintain the illusion.”

I love the ending of the book despite there being so many heartbreaking moments. I believe it to be realistic, that sometimes we take the unconventional path in order to do the right thing. Because Britt-Marie taught me that whatever your situation, you do get to choose how to act and overcome any challenges.

“A human being may not choose her circumstances, but she does choose her actions”

I truly enjoyed Britt-Marie was here and I would highly recommend this to you if you have a soft spot for elderly stories. This book may be a little slow for some for the lack of plot, but the characters you meet and the true Britt-Marie revealed will have you all mushy with a mixed of emotions! 😀

RATING: ★★★★

Review: Wolf Hollow (Lauren Wolk)

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Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia, MPH Malaysia

Blurb:

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.

Review:

“The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered. So much, sometimes, that I wasn’t sure I wanted such a burden. But I took it anyway, and I carried it as best I could.”  

Wolf Hollow is a middle grade historical fiction based in Pennsylvania, US during the second world war and focuses on the devastating impact of bullying, neglected childhood, and the importance of bravery to stand up for those unable to do so for themselves.

I fell in love with the cover of Wolf Hollow in an instant. This story had the perfect mix of 1940’s America caught between one of the most brutal wars of our time and the simple farm life that became the setting of this story.

It tells the tale of Annabelle, an 11-year old girl who comes into contact with a mean and evil-spirited girl, Betty, set on ruling her school and her life. This story gave us a complicated insight to fighting prejudice, facing conflict in the best way possible and having courage to help others when all hope seems lost.

Annabelle developed a beautiful friendship with Toby, the war veteran that eventually became the target of Betty’s torments. To see that kind of friendship develop in the most trying of times was emotionally gripping and allowed us to see that beyond appearances and judgement, each person has a story to tell. A worthy one, too. Annabelle teaches us the power of kindness, resilient and firm believe in the kindness of strangers and the good human condition that makes us the people we are today.

I love how well written this book was emotionally and plot-wise. The characters were so well presented that they were created simply for the young readers to easily identify bullies and how they create conflict in a society. How sometimes, bullies and tormentors look innocent and can spew lies against those who are odd or a bit strange.

This book is meant for middle graders but I believe it appeals for adults as well. Because sometimes, we need books with simplicity such as Wolf Hollow to remind us that prejudice has existed for the longest of time. And only kindness and bravery can endure it.

“And I decided that there might be things I would never understand, no matter how hard I tried. Though try I would. And that there would be people who would never hear my one small voice, no matter what I had to say. But then a better thought occurred, and this was the one I carried away with me that day: If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could?”

I would recommend Wolf Hollow for all lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and Pax (Sara Pennypacker)! They have similar vibes to Wolf Hollow and this book will leave you in emotional heartbreak at what awaits you at the end of the book.

RATING: ★★★★★

Have you read this? What did you think about it? 🙂