Book Review: Wink by Rob Harrell

A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for middle grade books and googled something like middle grade books in 2020. One of the first results that popped up was Wink by Rob Harrell. I read the blurb and was immediately determined to read it.

First though, I had to finish Wonder. I finished that last week, so after that and after a short break for processing, I proceeded to this book.

Wink

Summary

A wrenching and hilarious story about embracing life’s weirdness and surviving an unthinkable diagnosis, based on the author’s own experience with a rare eye cancer.

Twelve-year-old Ross Maloy just wants to be normal. Not to have a rare eye cancer, not to lose his hair, not to have to wear a weird hat or have a goopy eye full of ointment. Just normal. But with a sudden and horrifying diagnosis, Ross can’t help standing out. His new life is medical treatments that feel straight out of a video game, vision loss in one eye, disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid,” cruel bullying, and ultimately, friendships new and old that rise above everything.

Just when Ross starts to feel like he’s losing his footing, he discovers how music, art, and true friends can change everything. Filled with Rob Harrell’s comic panels (Batpig for the win!) and spot art, this novel brings effortless humor and hope to an unforgettable, uplifting story of survival.

My Review

Well, I cannot see the illustrations, so this review is purely about the story. And let me tell you, it’s an amazing story! Harrell has created Ross to be so totally witty, I loved it! I mean, even in the darkest of times, while my heart went out to Ross, I also found the story humorous. Ross truly shows his determination. He may not (as he says) have some big epiphany in which he realizes life is a precious gift, but he does retain his sense of humor in spite of it all. That’s awesome. I mean, this book had me laugh out loud on several occasions.

What’s also important, is the development the characters go through. I liked how Harrell creates his characters to be as open to friendship as they were. I mean, I know this book is a middle grade novel and some kids that age are just so closed-minded. Harrell’s characters for the most part are not.

I loved that this book had just one viewpoint, that of Ross. It shows us what goes on inside a “cancer kid”‘s mind without the added baggage of family members or friends. Of course, they chime in on occasion, but that’s okay. Oh, and not just Ross, but many other characters are totally awesome.

I loved Harrell’s writing style, the dialogue and how quickly this book moved. All absolutely great.

In short, this wasn’t some inspirational story, and yet it was. It’s partly based on Harrell’s own experience, even though I assume Harrell was an adult when he got cancer. I think this book definitely provides some perspective to middle schoolers and yet puts a laugh on their faces.

Book Details

Title: Wink
Author: Rob Harrell
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: March 31, 2020

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Reading Wrap-Up (March 16, 2020)

Okay, so clearly I didn’t make a reading wrap-up a regular feature. In all honesty, I didn’t read much over the first two months of the year at all. Thankfully, I got back into the mood for reading just in time for the near-complete lockdown due to the coronavirus this week.

My day center is still open, but tomorrow will most likely be the last day for the duration of the lockdown. The staff and management need this day to be able to decide on staffing issues, as normally the homes aren’t staffed during the day. We’ll see where this goes.

I am linking up with #IMWAYR again, as well as Stacking the Shelves (hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and Reading Reality). Lastly I’m linking up with the Sunday Post.

What I’ve Been Reading

I started reading Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan in January, so it hasn’t made it into a reading wrap-up yet. I finally finished it on Friday and wrote a review on Saturday.

I finally moved along in Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. No, it’s not finished yet (no, still not!), but with the day center closing soon, I’ll have more time on my hands to read and should be able to finish the book this week.

I’ve also been reading Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, which so far I’m really enjoying.

Stacking the Shelves

Firstly, of course I’ve been stocking up on journaling books again lately. The ones I downloaded are free though. I’ve also been downloading a few books of quotations and Bible verses. Then come some handbooks on intellectual disability and autism that I only intend for reference.

With respect to fiction, I added two books to my shelves in the past week, both downloaded from Bookshare. The first is All the Water in the World by Karen Raney. I got interested in it looking for White Oleander by Janet Fitch, which I’ve been wanting to read ever since it came out some twenty years ago and was recently mentioned on another blogger’s reading list. I couldn’t find that one on Bookshare, so am considering buying it from Apple Books as either an audiobook or eBook. Then I saw All the Water in the World in the related books section.

The second is The Institute by Stephen King. I haven’t read any horror so far yet, but this title really intrigued me. I’m also still looking for horror stories about deadly viruses or pandemics or whatnot. I know, we’re living it now, but that’s exactly why I want to read some of this type of fiction. If anyone has any recommendations, please share them in the comments.

What have you been reading lately?

Book Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

If there’s one good thing coming out of the COVID-19 thing, it’s that I have finally come to enjoy reading again. I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise, as it was recommended my husband do not visit me for the next two weeks. We are to have as little contact with people outside of the facility as possible. That way, it is hoped that the virus doesn’t enter here. I doubt it’ll work, but oh well.

I downloaded the middle grade novel Amina’s Voice already when it first became available on Bookshare a long while ago. I started reading it last January, after I finally finished Pictures of Me by Marilee Haynes and wasn’t done with middle grade yet. Then, adult and young adult novels caught my attention again. This past week, I’ve been reading a lot, so I finally finished this read. My review may contain spoilers.

Synopsis

A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin.

Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

My Review

I am horrible where it comes to reading diverse books. I mean, I read some fiction featuring LGBTQ+ characters and of course I love books portraying disability. However, where it comes to ethnic and racial diversity, I’m clueless. I saw that some book bloggers were featuring books by authors of color for Black History Month, which was last month I think. Then I thought, how do I even have a clue which authors are Black? I obviously can’t tell by their names and, being blind, I cannot see their pictures. Then again, I guess I’m not particularly drawn to books featuring racially diverse characters either, and I can’t use my blindness as an excuse for that. OMG, I don’t want to use this book as a token diverse read and that’s exactly what I do now! And Hena Khan isn’t even African-American. Sorry.

Anyway, I’m saying all this to make the point that I was very clueless when I started reading this book about what it would be like being Amina. I didn’t understand some of the terminology at first, but I grew accustomed to it pretty soon. I actually loved learning more about Pakistani-American culture and Islam.

More importantly though, this book is about friendship. Amina at first isn’t sure about Soojin hanging out with Emily, but finally she learns that Emily is nice after all. I loved reading about the development of their friendship.

I also loved reading about the support Amina’s classmates and their family, including Emily, offer when the mosque is vandalized.

An aspect of the book that isn’t mentioned in the synopsis, is Amina’s uncle visiting from Pakistan. At first, he is critical of American culture and feels Amina is brought up un-Islamic. He too learns to accept differences of culture and religion eventually.

Overall, I loved this book! Its terminology, including the Islamic words, were understandable. It was an awesome way of learning about Pakistani-American culture. I also could relate to the identity issues Amina was facing. In this sense, it really is a cool read for everyone, whether you belong to an ethnic minority or not.

Book Details

Title: Amina’s Voice
Author: Hena Khan
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: March 14, 2017

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#IWSG: Ready, Set, Write?

It’s once again time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (#IWSG) day. I don’t really feel like checking in on it, but this at least is a monthly reminder to keep at least somewhat focused on my writing endeavors.

This past month was a mixed one when it came to my creativity. Early in the month, I was really inspired and really felt like writing fiction and poetry again rather than just blog posts. I did write one poem and read a ton of them, but my ideas for fiction never made it into actual stories.

I got ahold of a few interesting books on writing. One of them is called Ready, Set, Write and it inspired the title of this post.

Inspired by the advice in this book and others in the Adventures in Writing series, I started stream of consciousness writing in an app called Drafts. Several blog posts and the one poem I wrote this past month, were originally drafted in this app.

Still, I’m not sure I’m ready to actually devote much of my time to writing. It’s a great hobby, but like with everything, I don’t have the patience to practise and want to be at least somewhat proficient at it pretty soon. That’s probably why I keep disappointing myself.

On to the optional question of the month. This month’s question is whether you’ve ever been inspired to write a story based on a piece of art. I have not, as I am very artistically ignorant. I tried to blame it on my blindness, but then I realized there are other works of art besides paintings.

I did however very often base my stories on the fiction I read. This sometimes led to plagiarism. My best story yet, which should’ve become a young adult novel but never got finished, was inspired by a book about a teen whose mother had multiple sclerosis. It followed the same subject but its plot was very different.

How about you? Do you base your writing on works of art?

Reading Wrap-Up (December 30, 2019)

It’s Monday again. Last week, I didn’t have much to share in the reading department, so I skipped my reading wrap-up. Then again, I’d never promised this would be a weekly feature. Today, I’m once again joining in with #IMWAYR, Stacking the Shelves and the Sunday Post.

This week was rather hectic. Of course it was, since it was Christmas time. I fully intended on spending a lot of my free time reading, but ended up sleeping some of it away instead. I also of course spent some time celebrating with family.

What I’ve Been Reading

First, I have to confess that I still, yes, still didn’t finish Left Neglected. I’m not even close, as my book app says I’ve read only 37%. I didn’t even read any further in Pictures of Me by Marilee Haynes. It probably proves how much of a mood reader I am, since this middle grade novel has been on my to-be-read list forever.

I did, after all, actually read an entire book. I finished A Baby’s Cry by Cathy Glass yesterday. It was a fascinating read! I have to say the more I read from Cathy’s fostering memoirs, the more I love them. This was an older book, having been published in 2014, so I’m not sure my readers would be interested in a review. I may post one anyway.

I’m really on the fence as to what should be my next read. Of course, I should be finishing Left Neglected, but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for adult fiction much right now. I could be starting one of the young adult books I added to my shelves recently, but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for fiction at all.

Stacking the Shelves

Like I said two weeks ago, I discovered Apple Books recently. The app has been behaving more or less as it should. Since I’m used to Kindle, I may still prefer that, but I am glad I have a choice now. Besides, Apple Books accepts payment through my Apple account, which makes it easier for me to buy books if I want to. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, will remain to be seen.

I added a bunch of free journaling books to my collection in Apple Books. Some of them cost money on Kindle, albeit only like €0,99, so I’m wondering what the catch is.

Then I added some books to my Bookshare collection. These include:


  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I got the twentieth-anniversary edition that was published this year. It’s somewhat humbling to see young adult books were published in English twenty years ago, when I was thirteen. Of course they were, but I was an avid reader of Dutch YA at the time and read English only when I had to.

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. The Dutch translation was on my to-be-read list before I’d gotten on Bookshare or had even discovered accessible eBooks, but I’m really looking forward to reading the original English.

  • Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott. I saw this book among the Goodreads Choice Awards nominees in the YA section and thought I’d like it.

What have you been reading?

Reading Wrap-Up (December 16, 2019)

I am not primarily a book blogger, like I’ve said more than once. However, I do love reading and at any given time have a huge pile of books I still want to read. I have always loved sharing my love of reading, even though I don’t move fast. I mean, I usually take several weeks to complete a book. This may be due to the fact that I usually read more than one book at once.

I enjoy participating in book-related memes. I love to discover new books to add to my TBR pile and I’m sometimes even surprised at how many I know, given that like I said I’m a slow reader and don’t devote the majority of my time to books. Today, I’m joining in with a few book-related memes.

First, I discovered Stacking The Shelves just today. This is an awesome meme that lets you share what books you’ve added to your collection, whether digital or physical. It doesn’t require that you actually read them. Then, I’m joining in with It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (#IMWAYR). I joined in with that linky last August intending to make my recent reads a monthly feature. I’m not promising I will this time. There’s a kidlit version of #IMWAYR too, but I can’t seem to link up there, so I’m just sharing my kidlit stuff here too. Finally, I’m joining in with the Sunday Post.

Life Update

This past week was hectic. I was triggered during most of it due to the phone conversation with my mother last Monday. I didn’t even share the most upsetting parts of it on my blog. Then over the week-end, my husband and I had several miscommunications, which led to the week-end being less enjoyable than it could’ve been. Then this morning, I had a brief but bad meltdown at day activities. I guess it’s time to retreat into books.

What I’ve Been Reading

Like I said, I tend to read several books at once. This past week, I finally moved past the first chapter in Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. I still think it’s a pretty boring read so far. Hoping it’ll get more interesting as I move along.

I added Pictures of Me by Marilee Haynes to my Bookshare collection a few weeks ago. This Christian middle grade novel has been on my to-be-read list forever and I finally started reading it last week. So far, its Christian focus doesn’t seem to be overdone and I like it.

Stacking the Shelves

Books I’ve added to my collection recently include:


  • Everyday Healing with Essential Oils by Jimm Harrison. I know, this one isn’t interesting for fiction lovers and I doubt I’ll even ever read it in full. I like it as my little reference guide though for when (if?) I’m going to create my own aromatherapy blends.
  • More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. I don’t know whether I’ll like the dystopian aspect to this one, but it’s also intriguing at the same time.

  • My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This sounds like a truly fascinating story.

  • A Baby’s Cry by Cathy Glass. I still haven’t asked my husband if I can use his credit card details for my Amazon account. I was planning on it this week-end, but due to said communication mishaps, I didn’t. I instead bought the book on Apple Books.

What have you been reading lately?

Book Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

I first heard of Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart (Goodreads) in the summer, when I was reading a lot. I couldn’t wait for the book to be released in October. However, when it was finally released, it took me a few weeks contemplating how to get ahold of the book before deciding to check if it was on Bookshare, the U.S.-based accessible book service. It was! I downloaded it and started to read it immediately.

Synopsis

Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see … 16-year-old Ava Lee is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t? When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the mirror — or the people by her side. The beautiful, life-affirming debut from Erin Stewart that’s being called the YA answer to Wonder. Perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Nicola Yoon and John Green. “A heartfelt and unflinching look at the reality of being a burn survivor and at the scars we all carry. This book is for everyone, burned or not, who has ever searched for a light in the darkness.” – Stephanie Nielson, New York Times bestselling author of HEAVEN IS HERE and a burn survivor

My Review

I loved this book! The reason it took me longer to finish than I’d expected, had very little to do with the book. I mean, yes, the book is 352 pages, which is pretty much the most I can handle for a read that doesn’t take me forever. I’m just a slow reader.

The book isn’t as much of a page-turner as some other books I read, but that’s because it’s not a thriller or suspense novel. I loved the way this book meandered. What I mean by this is, there are a lot of plot twists, but they’re not breath-taking except for a few.

I found Ava to be a really relatable character. I mean, I’m not a burn survivor, but I did stick out like a sore thumb in high school and felt like making myself invisible. Piper should definitely be on my list of characters I’d wish were my best friends. And for those who’ve read the book and wonder, yes, I’d stick by her no matter what, just like Ava does.

I loved how well-developed each character was. This is definitely not a fast-moving book, but it’s one in which you’ll really get to know the characters. I like that.

I’ve previously read books where I thought the story should’ve ended a few pages before it did. The best example I can give is Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult, in which Willow dies at the end and it’s a true disappointment. In other books, the end drags on too long or is too thrilling even with a good outcome. This one was just right in the middle in that respect. I loved it.

Book Details

Title: Scars Like Wings
Author: Erin Stewart
Publisher: Delacorte
Publication Date: October 3, 2019

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Eight Ways in Which My Reading Life Has Changed Over the Years

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is all about ways you have changed, particularly as a reader, over the years. I am not a book blogger, since posts about books make up not even ten percent of my total posts. I don’t read nearly enough to be a book blogger. This may be one reason I haven’t participated in #TTT for a while. However, I loved this week’s theme. Here are some ways in which my reading life has changed over the years.

1. I read because I want to, not because I have to. As a child and teen, I didn’t like reading much. Especially not the assigned literature we were supposed to read for school. For this reason, in my young adult life, I didn’t read much at all. Over the years though, I discovered a love of reading and now read for pleasure. Sometimes I still feel like I have to finish a book, but then it’s me creating the pressure.

2. I read almost exclusively English-language books. The book famine, ie. the lack of accessible books to people who are blind or otherwise print disabled, is still pretty severe in Dutch-language literature. In English, almost every book I want to read is available in an accessible format nowadays. This is one reason I enjoy reading books in English far more than in Dutch.

Another is the fact that I blog in English and, to be honest, I don’t do much in life (except for peeing and sleeping and eating) without some motivation related to my blog. I love to venture out into the bookish blogosphere at times.

3. The way in which I read, has changed. As a child, I almost exclusively read audiobooks. Oh and the occasional large print book suited for children much younger than me, because with how poor my vision was, ordinary large print was too small for me. I hated reading Braille, so unless I was forced to, I didn’t touch a Braille book.

Now I read almost exclusively by touch. I recently bought a few audiobooks, but to be honest am quite a bit disappointed in the narrators.

4. I discovered eBooks. As a teen, I read books my parents scanned for me. Then I didn’t read much at all as a young adult. In 2013, I found out that Adobe Digital Editions, the main program at the time to read EPUB eBooks, had been made compatible with screen readers. I read EPUB from then on, although I no longer use Adobe Digital Editions. I use the iPhone’s book app instead.

5. I joined Bookshare. Bookshare is the U.S.-based online book service for the print disabled. In 2005 and 2006, when I first started reading English-language books for pleasure, I was a member of the UK’s National Library for the Blind. I for a short while read physical Braille books then. That didn’t work out due to shipping issues. Bookshare, though it existed back then, wasn’t available to international customers at the time. It became available to those outside of the U.S. sometime around 2015. I joined Bookshare in mid-2016.

6. I found out about Kindle. That’s another eBook format that didn’t use to be very accessible. Back in like 2015, there was the accessibility add-on to Kindle software, which would read the content of the book aloud. Like I said, I’m not a fan of audiobooks and I’m certainly not a fan of the robotic-sounding voice of the Kindle accessibility add-on. Sometime in 2018, I found out that the Kindle app for iPhone, and to a lesser degree Kindle for PC, now support screenreaders and most importantly Braille displays. I still don’t buy Kindle books very often, as Bookshare has a wide selection of books too, but I know that if I really want to read a book, I can.

7. A larger percentage of the books I read is fiction. Roughly ten years ago, I only read a bit of teen fiction and mostly read biographies and other nonfiction. Now about half of the books I read and the majority of the books I finish are fiction.

8. I read a wider variety of books. Though most of the fiction I read still belongs in the young adult category, over the past few years I’ve ventured out into other genres as well. I love reading a diverse selection of books now.

How has your reading life changed over the years?

November 2019 To-Be-Read List

I haven’t read that much in the past few months, but this week, I’m enjoying reading again. I discovered a To-Be-Read list linky, so am linking up there. I still have a huge pile of books I’d like to read or am reading but haven’t finished. Here are a few I’m planning on reading this month.

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl. I think I said before that I read it a ton of times in Dutch as a child, but now I’d like to read it in English. I’m choosing the audiobook version narrated by Kate Winslet.

2. Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart. This one has been on the list of books I can’t wait to read for months. It was published last month and I fully intended on buying it on Kindle as soon as it came out. That didn’t work though, as I don’t have my husband’s current credit card details in my account yet. Just now, I had the amazing idea of checking whether the book is on Bookshare before I buy it once I do have my husband’s payment details. And guess what? It is! This sounds like such an amazing book.

3. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. I started this one a few months ago, but never got beyond the first chapter. Not because I didn’t like it, but because other activities got in the way of my actually reading.

4. Unthinkable by Helen Thomson. This month is somehow dedicated to nonfiction. I love the topic of this book. As you can see, medicine is my thing.

This is another book I’m partway through already. I really want to read some new stuff too, but can’t think of any right now. I mean, of course, I have a huge TBR pile, but I don’t want to up the pressure by forcing myself to read more than I comfortably can.

5. Preemie Voices by Saroj Saigal. This is a collection of letters from people born very prematurely in the late 1970s to early 1980s. They share their experiences and advice for parents of currrent day preemies. I was a preemie too, slightly younger but now at the average age the preemies in this book were when they wrote the letters. I feel there’s a lot I can relate to in this book. Even more than when I started reading it some five years ago when it was published.

What’s on your to-be-read list for this month?

#IWSG: Writing Without Reading?

IWSG

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and that means it’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (#IWSG) day. This months’ optional question is about your thoughts re whether reading is required for writing.

In August, I did a good amount of both reading and writing. In September, my reading went almost entirely out the window and I also wrote far less than I intended. However, I still managed to write at least one blog post each week.

To answer the question, for fiction writing, I think reading is essential. Of course, this means your writing is a mixture of your own ideas and someone else’s, but a good fiction writer (which I’m not) can write imaginatively enough to appeal to readers looking for an original viewpoint. My own fiction writing has always bordered on plagiarism, if it wasn’t actually plagiarism.

For non-fiction, I tend to think that original viewpoints are good, but they require some level of familiarity. I have read blogs where the author’s words were so jumbled that I couldn’t make sense of them. I also happen to love personal essays or blog posts I can relate to.

I for one love both reading and writing prompted pieces. I like to read about other people’s original perspecctives on a common theme. For this, reading is essential for writing. Even so, I don’t tend to read others’ responses to prompts I participate in before posting my own. So well, there are two sides to this story and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.