Why “Mockingjay” (the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy) depressed me

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After seeing the Mockingjay Part 1 movie in theatres, I finally decided to read the entire Hunger Games trilogy. I had read bits of it in the past, enough to know the main plot of each book, but I had never really sat down and read them all cover to cover. Last night I finished the last book in the series. And I must admit that after I turned the final page, I found myself deeply depressed. To me, the last book was very much a downer, even more so than the previous two books.

So, I sat in our library looking at our darkened Christmas tree and wondering why I felt so morose. I finally decided there were several reasons I found the conclusion of the series so disturbing. First, it felt like the last book was filled with the agony of multitudes dying, often for no good reason (as is the reality in war). In the first two books, most of the deaths were related to the tributes participating in the Hunger Games or were the slow, gradual kind of deaths caused by the perils of poverty. In Mockingjay, the deaths seemed constant throughout, not just a few people here and a few there. Understandably, the thought of mass death and the destruction of the world all around us causes immense despair, even if only on a subconscious level.

Another issue was the very real idea that no matter how many immoral and violent governments, presidents, dictators and groups we remove from power or destroy, there are always just as many waiting in the wings to dole out their own brand of pain and injustice. Even at the end of the book when things seem a bit more hopeful, we know that the world is not safe and secure. The world is never actually safe and secure, no matter how much we may choose to live in denial. Even among those brave enough to rebel against injustice and evil, you will find cruelty, deception and betrayal. Many of those people don’t even realize that they are no better than the enemy they seek to destroy. Vengeance and victory may give us a brief respite, but eventually the same old problems seem to find their way back.

Lastly, it is incredibly depressing how war leaves those who survive broken. Maybe not always physically (although there is plenty of that), but deep down on the inside, the trauma of warfare leaves many human beings irrevocably damaged. Survivors are left with wounds that cannot help but affect the next generation, sometimes starting unending cycles of mental illness and abuse. Often hatred and bias is passed down much the same way, even if it is done so with millions of seemingly insignificant words and attitudes. If we could truly see the damage done by war throughout all space and time, we would probably be shocked by how far the effects trickle down.

After thinking about all that, I guess it is no wonder I found myself discouraged. Perhaps the worst part of all though is that when it comes to fighting for freedom and justice, we are often damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

The most memorable books I read during November 2014

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During the month of November I read a wide variety of books, including kids picture books, several popular young adult series, poetry and nonfiction. Here is a list (in no particular order) of the ones that really made an impact in one way or another -

1. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. This was the November selection for my Goodreads middle grade book club. I’m glad it was picked because it was truly an engrossing story. I loved the historical tidbits about Philadelphia weaved into the story and I have always enjoyed books about people dealing with major tragedies and illnesses. It is during those times that the true character and strength of human beings is tested. Stories like this make you think about what is important and appreciate what you have.

2. Where She Went by Gayle Forman. I decided to read this young adult book series after seeing the movie based on the first book, If I Stay. I enjoyed the first book and figured the second book would be anticlimactic, but I actually ended up liking the second book more than the first. I found it sad but realistic how the relationships formed in the first book became messed up by the residue of personal tragedy. I like that the series ended satisfactorily, but without being too cheesy.

3. Hold Me Under: Poems to Drown to by Casey Renee Kiser. I discovered this poet through Goodreads and have now read two of her books. Her poetry is dark and at times a little disturbing, but I happen to like my poetry that way. I like that her writing isn’t predictable and boring, yet still remains easy to understand.

4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I decided to read this middle grade book for several reasons. I love novels in verse so I figured this memoir in verse would be a good read too. I also read the book because it just recently won the National Book Award. Unfortunately, some inappropriate things were said at the award ceremony that overshadowed the victory somewhat. I felt that the best way to support my fellow author in this situation was to turn my attention back to her book, so I picked up a copy. Like her previous novels in verse, I found Woodson’s writing in this book quite moving. It is an intimate look at racism, religion, and family issues, as well as an inspiring story about fulfilling dreams.

5. How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter by Sherwin B. Nuland. I have an unusual and probably weird interest in death. This nonfiction book fascinated that morbid aspect of myself. Both medically academic and creepy at turns, this book really lays out the entire process of dying. The chapters are mostly separated by different modes of physical death (heart failure, murder, suicide, cancer, viruses, euthanasia, etc.). I especially found the chapters on murder, suicide and accidents interesting. This book made me surer than ever that no matter how I die, I just hope it is quick and relatively painless.

New book release – “Searching for the Truth: Poems & Prose Inspired by Our Inner Worlds”

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I am happy to announce that my new book, “Searching for the Truth: Poems & Prose Inspired by Our Inner Worlds” is finally available! This is a book that I have been planning and working on for the last few years. I have always been interested in subjects such as spirituality, philosophy and psychology, so I feel a strong desire to share my thoughts and feelings about those matters. Most importantly though, I wanted to show that the real magic is in being allowed to contemplate these deeper subjects and be open to possibilities instead of focusing only on one aspect. This is not a “religious” book because it doesn’t adhere to any specific theology, but it is spiritual in nature.

“Searching for the Truth” embraces simplicity and honesty in an almost zen-like fashion. It is easy to understand, but often filled with layers of meaning for those who like to dig deeper.

If you would like to purchase a copy of this new book, it is available on Amazon ($6.99 for paperback and $2.99 for the Kindle version) and Barnes & Noble. I love to know what my readers think of my books, so if you read this collection, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Goodreads.

Racial inequality and injustice – why should I care?

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This post isn’t about one particular incident, but the numerous incidents of the last few years that have happened in the public eye. I know some people who still claim there is no real racial inequality or injustice in our country, but I just don’t see how someone can truly feel that way. Perhaps they don’t want to believe it is true or they are listening to media that spins everything a certain way, I don’t know. But I don’t see how anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave can say that racial inequality and injustice are not problems in America.

Now, on to the next question…why do I care and why do I think everyone else should care? I know some people who have posed this question or at least implied it. Why do I, a white woman who lives somewhere between poverty and middle class care so much about racial inequality and injustice that doesn’t affect me? Because it DOES affect me. It affects us all. So below I am sharing some reasons that I personally care so much about this topic. Some of the reasons are personal and some are universal, but they all make me care very much.

1. I care about racial inequality and injustice because I have seen people I love experience it. Growing up I had a step-father named Charlie who was African American. I loved him dearly and considered him family, but many people thought it was wrong just because of his race. I care because my mother had two white children but she also had a child who was half African American. When that child died, people told her it was “better off that way”. They never would have said that about me or my other sister. I care because when my husband and I fostered we saw a huge difference in the way schools and even our prior church treated kids of other races. Some in our church even told us it was wrong to take in kids of another race. One school secretary said she wished that those of us who foster would stop bringing “kids like that” to their school, yet no one ever had the nerve to say that about our white foster kids.

2. I care about racial inequality and injustice because it breeds hatred and violence, which affects us all. When people are angry, hurt and oppressed, many turn to violence to show their rage. I do not condone these violent reactions, but I do understand them from a psychological view. When no one listens or cares about your suffering, it is natural to want to draw attention to the pain. Often people end up choosing negative ways to do so because they don’t know how else to get people to notice and care. And when violence breaks out, it is no respecter of persons. Anyone may become a victim, even you and your kids. That is a reason to care very much.

3. I care about racial inequality and injustice because prejudice grows. The LGBT and African American communities may be two of the most oppressed groups in America right now, but they aren’t the only ones. As a woman, I know women are oppressed and disrespected in many ways too. As are Hispanics and Jews. I could go on listing, but the point is that when we approve of prejudice in any form it spreads and can rapidly grow out of control.

4. I care about racial inequality and injustice because I love this country. I love the ideals of equality for all and the “land of the free”. I was proud growing up to say I was an American. I loved knowing and befriending people from all different races and cultures. I loved growing up with heroes and role models of different colors. Now I’m not as proud. Slowly this country is feeling more and more hostile and uncaring. High profile people are saying blatantly hateful and cruel things about people who are different than them. Even worse, many vocal supporters agree with them. I still believe in the American dream, but I fear many others don’t.

5. Lastly, I care about racial inequality and injustice because I am a Christian and Jesus cared very deeply about those subjects. He cared about the hated and oppressed and fought constantly with those doing the oppressing. WWJD? He sure wouldn’t be hating on the poor and mistreated.

International art, new books and killer warts

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New literary anthology featuring some of my poetry and art.

This is just a short blog post about some exciting things going on in my life recently, mostly good, but some rough spots too.

First off, I am happy to say that I am definitely an international artist now! My artwork has been bought by art lovers and collectors in the US, Canada, Australia, France, England, Wales and Switzerland. My art has been exhibited in at least a couple countries outside of the US as well! In the future, I would love to add some Asian, African or South American countries to that list! I want to thank all those who have been purchasing my art lately. The extra income has been great, but even more importantly, it makes me happy to know that my art has touched the lives of others.

Next, I am pleased to announce that two of my drawings and three of my poems were featured in the recently released literary anthology, “Not Dead Yet: An Anthology of Survivor Poetry“. As you can probably tell from the title, this collection features artists and authors who have dealt with great suffering in one form or another and have lived to tell about it. I was proud to be a part of this project, since it celebrates strength, resilience and hope.

I have finished writing my new book, “Searching for the Truth: Poems & Prose Inspired by Our Inner Worlds” and plan on releasing it soon! This book features prose and poetry about subjects like spirituality, philosophy and psychology. It is a personal book, but the wide-ranging subject matter also makes it universal.

On the health front (which is usually the downfall in life for me), I have had an extremely painful battle with plantar warts recently. The last time I had these issues I was 12 and had surgery to remove them, so I was hopeful it would never come back, and yet, here it is. It has gotten to the point this week that I had to bust out my grandfather’s old walker to help me move around the house. It is a little bit funny to be a woman in her 30’s using a walker to get around, but it is kind of sad and foreboding as well. I can’t help but think of the future and wonder how many times I will have to use it again. Last night I fell in the bathroom just trying to get out of the bath tub. Laying there on the ground with a nasty bruise growing on my hip, I thought about how lucky I am to still have strong bones that don’t shatter or break easily. It makes me thankful, but sad for those who aren’t as fortunate.

Interview with Chloe Lukasiak from Dance Moms!

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I have been a fan of the Lifetime reality show Dance Moms since its first season. Although I fell in love with all the kids, Chloe Lukasiak was always my favorite. I found her sweet personality and her inner strength in the face of adversity endearing. So needless to say, I was thrilled to get the chance to interview her! For this short interview, I decided to focus on something other than the dance world or the tv show that made her famous. Since I am an author and Chloe recently started her own book club, I decided to focus on our mutual love for reading. I hope you will enjoy this little interview!

Q: Since I have been following Dance Moms since season one, I know that you love to read. What are some of your favorite books at the moment?

A: I love The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner series.

Q: If you had to pick one book that has impacted your life over the years, which book would you pick? Why is that book so unforgettable to you?

A: The Outsiders because, well, I don’t want to give away the end to someone who hasn’t read it!!!

Q: Many avid readers also like to write. I know that you are extremely busy, but do you ever write for fun? If so, what do you like to write?

A: I like to keep a journal. I used to write more when I was younger and I had more time.

Q: Do you have any “book buddies” from school or dance who often read the same books as you?

A: I like recommending books to my friends!

Q: I have read that you tend to like fantasy and sci-fi books. If you could live in a fantasy world out of any book, what world would you choose and why? Is there a character in a book you would love to be for a day? 

A: I would love to be Katniss Everdeen for a day, but I don’t want to play the Hunger Games.

Q: I know you are very close to your mom. Does she like to read too? Do you ever read the same books or recommend books to each other?

A: My mom loves to read. I think as I am getting older now, we can recommend more books to each other.

Q: Does your little sister, Clara, share your love for books? If so, what are some of her favorites? 

A:  Yes, absolutely! She JUST read “Green Eggs and Ham” by herself for the first time! It was the first book I ever read, so it was kinda cool.

Q: Have you read any books lately that you would love to see made into movies? Do you generally like movies based on books?

A: I think the books are always better then the movies! When I was younger, I always wanted to see “The Sisters Grimm” series get made into a movie.

Q: I was very excited to hear that you have your own book club now! Would you like to share a bit about the club?

A: I am so excited about my book club! Each month, I am recommending a book on my YouTube channel and on my other social media. Then, at the end of the month, I am hosting a live event on my channel to discuss the book. My channel is www.Youtube.com/33troijka.

Well, that is the end of today’s interview, but I would like to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to Chloe and her promotional team for making this interview possible! I am excited to see what the future holds for this beautiful and intelligent young lady! If you would like to follow Chloe Lukasiak on social media, here are links to her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

National Young Readers Day – bedtime stories, my favorite childhood storybooks

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In honor of National Readers Day on November 11th, I was inspired by Casper, a new mattress company that makes latex and memory foam mattresses, to put together a collection of my favorite bedtime stories. As a child, I was lucky enough to have several family members who would often read to me. My grandmother probably read to me the most. She instilled a love of the written word in me before I could even write my name. My mother and older sister also took the time to read to me, creating warm memories I will always cherish.

Here is a brief list of some of my favorite storybooks back then:

1. I grew up on Little Golden Books and had quite a collection of them growing up. However, two Little Golden books really stuck with me. “Home for a Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown and “Prayers for Children” by Eloise Wilkin still bring a smile to my face whenever I see them in a bookstore or library. Cracking those books open takes me back to a happy, innocent time I often miss.

2. “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” by Dr. Suess. I had quite a few Dr. Suess books growing up, but this was always my favorite as a kid. I still flip through this book when I see it in my doctor’s waiting room. A couple years ago I even bought some pajamas featuring this Dr. Suess classic.

3. “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories” by Arthur S. Maxwell. This was the book series my grandmother read to us over and over. It is a collection of children’s stories that focuses on Christian values. I always liked the stories with miracles in them the most. That was like magic to me.

4. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” by the Brothers Grimm. My sister and I both loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales when we were young. We had an antique book with the entire collection in it. It was not an edited or abridged version, so I grew up listening to the classic dark tales in their entirety. To this day, I much prefer the original stories over the cleaned up Disney versions.

So what were your favorite bedtime stories as a kid? Feel free to comment and let me know!