The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya

I rarely ever read nonfiction books. But this one … well, it wasn’t one I could pass. An autobiography, the author explores her harrowing childhood journey in war-torn Rwanda. Thank you to the First to Read program for this eARC in exchange for my honest review.

36076501.jpgSummary (Goodreads): Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were “thunder.” In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years wandering through seven African countries, searching for safety–perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted asylum in the United States, where she embarked on another journey–to excavate her past and, after years of being made to feel less than human, claim her individuality.


My Rating: 5 star

Review: This book was extremely powerful and riveting, to say the least. For someone who doesn’t know a great deal about the Rwandan genocide, this memoir was an eye-opener.

The book has alternating chapters, with one taking place in the past and the other taking place in the present. Through this, we piece together how Clemantine gets to her present point in life. We also see how she struggles to form an identity, how she struggles to live with her past and the way it stripped her of a “normal” childhood.

Not only do we see Clemantine grow up and struggle, her thoughts and feelings change the reader’s own perspective. Her ideas and emotions really resonated with me and it made me rethink my own opinions on genocide, on politics, on humanitarian efforts, and how the world works. I don’t want to say more without ruining anything, but this memoir is an impactful read and well worth the effort. It is powerful, it is thought-provoking, it is heart-wrenching. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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My Top Books for 2017

This year, I challenged myself to read 300 books. I am pleased to note that I exceeded this amount by 58 books for a total of 358 novels! I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite books of the year! So let’s go!

  1. A God in the Shed by J. F. Dubeau. This was hands-down one of my favorite horror stories of the year! There was so much suspense and mystery to the story, and I was genuinely scared out of my wits! Anyone who loves horror would enjoy this novel!
  2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. While this novel may have targeted young adults, I found the story would work for adults as well. With a mesmerizing story of strength and a Russian folklore background, this novel really delivers a punch. It was one of my favorite fantasies of the year!
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This as such a powerful story about race and gun violence! The author took the difficult subject matter and portrayed it in an impactful way. It really made me shift my own views on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the issues of police brutality and accountability. Especially given the way society is like today, I think this is a very relevant novel that everyone should read.
  4. Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig. This novel tugged at my heart strings. It has such a wonderful innocence to it, and it is heartbreaking. Readers cannot help but connect with Ginny Moon and root for her. This is a book that is not easy to dismiss or forget!
  5. The Ghsotwriter by Alessandra Torre. I absolutely loved this mystery/thriller. I loved the premise and the style of the writing. The plot had me hooked and I could not put this book down for a minute! If you are looking for a thriller like no other, then this is one you should definitely check out!
  6. Radium Girls by Kate Moore. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction but this was worth it! It broke my heart to read about the poor working conditions that the women in this novel faced and how hard it was for them to get the medical care and fair treatment that they deserved. But their struggle and determination were so inspirational to read about and it made me feel proud to be a woman. This is definitely a novel to read if you want to feel empowered and proud of how far we have come in terms of workplace safety and equality.
  7. Bright Air Black by David Vann. Having never read the story of Medea and Jason and the Argonauts, I thought this was a fantastic read that featured an amazing female character. I was entranced by the story, and by the sheer ruthlessness of Medea. Definitely a novel I will be recommending to people for years to come!
  8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. My first time reading a book by this author and I absolutely loved it! It was funny and engaging and mysterious! It was so hard to put down and I loved the different female characters who got their chance to shine in the story.
  9. Monstress by Marjorie Liu. This was such a wonderful graphic novel! It had beautiful artwork and an amazing story to boot! It’s got steampunk and fantasy and mystery and politics so what’s not to love? If you like graphic novels, then this is one you should definitely be reading!
  10. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This was just such a funny and exciting novel to read! It was completely out of my comfort zone but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I loved the whole video game story line, and I loved all of the references to pop culture, which I myself was not familiar with. It may not have been the most deep story but it was definitely entertaining and well worth the read!

So there you have it! These are the top 10 books of 2017 for me! Of course, there were a lot of other books I loved reading and gave very high ratings for, but these ones really stuck out for me! I can’t wait for the new year and all of the books that it will bring with it! But for now, I hope you all have a happy new year, surrounded by family and friends! See you in 2018!

Happy reading ~

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

I have been very excited to read this poetry collection. I rarely, if ever, read poetry; I think the last poetry collection I ever read was by Shel Silverstein – and it was when I was in grade 3! Needless to say, my forays into the poetic scene have been long overdue and I decided to get into it with this book by Rupi Kaur, as it has been receiving so much praise… so here is my review:

milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose that speaks about surviving. It is about surviving violence, abuse, love, and loss. It is about femininity and the ways one can be ashamed of it – and be proud of it. The collection is split into 4 chatpers, with each serving a different purpose, exploring a different pain. As we journey through the most bitter moments in life, the author shows us how we can still find sweetness hidden … if you are just willing to look.

My first thought was: this is a very short collection. Seriously, I read through it all in half an hour, and that is not a testament to my reading speed. I don’t know how long poetry collections usually are but this seemed unusually small in length. But as we all know, length doesn’t matter; it’s the content that counts! What I liked was that the author was unafraid to tackle difficult material like rape and abuse. There is a strong feminist voice in these poems, one that makes you proud to be a woman. I liked that the author talked about being comfortable in one’s own skin, because it is rare to find people who are. I also liked the hand-drawn pictures in the book. However, I don’t think that there was anything really special about this collection. Of course, the more voices that preach about loving-yourself-the-way-you-are, the better. But with all the raving reviews, I expected there to be something unique about Rupi Kaur’s interpretation and message. And there really wasn’t. There was nothing that made me connect with the poems, and while I could appreciate the sentiment, it just became too repetitive. I understand: love yourself. But how many times are you going to tell me that?! Out of all of the poems, only a handful really hit hard; the others were just underwhelming. In general, I just felt disappointed, which is really a shame because I hate being mean about someone’s art. Maybe I’m just too simple for poetry? Oh well, better luck next time!

Happy reading ~

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I haven’t read a nonfiction novel in a long time and I don’t think I have ever blogged about it. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to broaden my reading range. I’m so glad that I chose to read this book because it was such a fantastic experience. Here is my review:

As World War I took its tool, hundreds of young women were employed at radium-dial factories to paint clock faces with a new miracle substance: radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was completely safe, the women used the “lip-painting” technique to do their job, happily surprised to find themselves glowing from head to toe by the dust that collected after a day’s work. With such a coveted job, these girls were considered to be the luckiest of all – until they all began to fall ill. As the radium poisoned their bodies, they found themselves battling not just their physical ailments but the working industry themselves in one of America’s biggest scandals.

I never expected a nonfiction novel to be so moving and gripping. I could not read this novel in one sitting; I had to take multiple pauses because it was just so emotional. I didn’t know much about this topic before I began reading. I had just thought that this was an interesting event that involved radium, a substance I’m familiar with through my course work. I got so much more than that through this book. The author creates a vivid story that looks at the lives of all of these women, full of their hopes and dreams and despairs. It shows all of the different people involved that either hindered or aided in justice being meted out. There was so much courage and strength portrayed here and the author made the reader care about every single woman mentioned in the story; they weren’t just names but real people that I could connect with. While the novel was definitely more in favor of the women than the radium companies (which totally makes sense!), I was happy to see that the author did take into account the reasons why the companies did what they did; it didn’t make me sympathetic to them on any account but it did make an attempt to give a more well-rounded picture of the scandal. This was a gripping story where I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how the women would get past each obstacle thrown in their way. The best thing about this story was the message of perseverance and hope and bravery that these women showed in every facet of their lives; they may have been dying but they wouldn’t give up on living and fighting. It made me feel so proud to see all that they accomplished even after facing such adversity. I can honestly say that I have never felt this emotionally invested in a novel before. What an amazing story and the author did such a brilliant job of making it relevant and appealing to the masses. This is definitely a nonfiction book you don’t want to miss out on!

Happy reading ~

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

So far, I’ve only had one experience with true crime through NetGalley. It piqued my interest enough for me to explore other novels that fit into this genre. I thought this one was quite unique because not only is it true crime, it is from an incident that took place in the Victorian era in London. History was always one of my favorite subjects so I was excited to read this novel and see how the author would portray this iconic crime.

Early morning on Monday 8 July 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his 12-year-old brother Nattie left their house in East London to attend a cricket match at Lord’s. Upon questioning, they told their neighbours that their father was away on a sea voyage and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the course of 10 days, these 2 brothers spend money extravagantly and begin to pawn valuables to fund their excursions. But eventually, people began to get suspicious of this scenario. When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery something that sends the city – and the press – into a mad frenzy, sweeping Robert and Nattie along into a criminal trial for a crime that seems straight out of the ‘penny dreadful’ novels that Robert loved to read.

The premise pretty much tells you everything about the story. On that note, I should probably warn you that this story isn’t going to be suspenseful; everything is pretty much told by the synopsis and becomes obvious as you continue to read the facts presented (and you could always Google it). The author has clearly done her research when it came to this story. She had a lot of transcripts from the court and included detailed accounts of witnesses to create a cohesive story. There were times when I felt as if the author was giving me too much detail; there were some facts that I really could not care about, but because there were so many instances of this, I felt like I was plodding through this novel. The case itself was interesting and the author did an excellent job of portraying the sensation through all of the different lenses; there was no bias or partiality that I could detect, which was so good to see because it allowed me to form my own assumptions. I was also happy to see that the author ventured beyond the case and described the aftermath and the changes this crime presented to the lives of the boys. The book is dry, I’ll admit. It reads like a textbook full of inane details, hiding those little nuggets of gold that actually hold your interest. Unfortunately, that’s not my style of book so it made it feel a bit like a chore to get through. Overall, I think the author chose a fascinating case to explore and she did a great job in covering all of the bases and portraying a cohesive story that looks at every angle. However, the overwhelming amount of (sometimes useless) detail combined with the factual writing style made it a slow read to get through.

Happy reading ~