Nobody’s Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery & Transformation – Barbara Amaya

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“I was a survivor. A survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of my loved ones. A survivor of human trafficking under the belt of one of the most evil men I had ever met. A survivor of an aftermath so long and horrible that it threatened to swallow me whole.”

Barbara Amaya completely missed a big chunk of her life, that is, her teenage years. That meant she missed everything associated with the period in one’s life that included school, vacations, birthdays, holidays and friends. Worse, she had nothing to replace it with except depressing thoughts and nightmares.

She ran away at age twelve, fell into prostitution at thirteen, and later became a heroin addict. What draws a girl into this?

Barbara explains exactly how she fell into “the life” in her heart wrenching memoir, Nobody’s Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery & Transformation. She painfully describes what she endured each day, and how she desperately wanted to please others and to feel part of a family. She even relates her time spent on Rikers Island, a New York prison.

When she finally got out of “the life” and got off of drugs for good, she continued to encounter problems. How could she find a job when she didn’t even complete the sixth grade, and had a police record that she couldn’t hide? As can be expected, her past influenced her choices in men. She never learned how to set boundaries.

What was a real eye-opener for me was that no matter how noble her intentions were, she couldn’t protect her own daughter from almost making similar mistakes; that is, until she sat her down and related most of her story to her.

So why did Barbara finally decide to reveal her entire story to all of us, even as painful as it is to relive? She wrestled with this, but wanted to take her life back and help others. She never wants to be a “voiceless victim” again.

What makes Nobody’s Girl even more exceptional is that Barbara provides resources and suggestions for parents, educators, concerned citizens and society as a whole on how to prevent and fight human trafficking.

Everyone should read this book in order to understand how this can still happen in our  world—and even our own backyards—and what we can do to stop it.

Thank you Barbara, for sharing your story and making a difference!

(Note: for further information, please go to www.barbaraamaya.com)

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Everyone sees Nikki as the wayward daughter without any responsibility, but the truth is far from it. With visions of emancipating the women of the Sikh community she left behind as a self-important teenager, Nikki is shocked to find her creative writing class is a group of barely literate women who have no interest in her ideals of liberation.

To her surprise, the white dupatta of the widow hides more than just their modesty – these are women who have spent their lives in the shadows of fathers, brothers and husbands; being dutiful, raising children and going to temple, but whose inner lives are as rich and fruitful as their untold stories. As they begin to open up to each other about womanhood, sexuality, and the dark secrets within the community, Nikki realises that the illicit nature of the class may place them all in danger.

Looking at the title, I honestly didn’t hold much expectation though it definitely captured my attention and intrigued me. I am glad that I took a chance. The books is a wonderful amalgation of Indian culture and the modern views that the current generation brings into it, combined with an equal share of light-heartedness, intrigue and all things feminine. Though it may feel like lot of characters are involved, all of them help in defining the role of the lead character, Nikki. The idea of female empowerment is beautifully written throughout the entire plotline and is quite invigorating to be honest.

The structure of narration needs to be fixed, and there are few places where there are some errors in grammar, but none of it distracts the reader from the big picture. The title is finally justified in the end, though the cover image needs a more dramatisation than what it is right now.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is a thoroughly entertaining book that I wouldn’t mind recommending further.

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Adua – Igiaba Scego (Translated from the Italian by Jamie Richards)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“In Somalia I was a young girl who was full of dreams and wanted to see the world. In just a few months they’ve manipulated, abused, used, transformed me. It feels like years, not months, have gone by. I feel so old, practically decrepit.”

“I wish I could ask Marilyn, but she’s dead; she died badly, like so many, too many starlets with more tits than talent.”

Adua was lured to Italy from her home in Somalia to become a movie star. When her biological father, Zoppe , came to take her from her home in Mogadishu to the big city of Magalo , her life began to unravel. Having lived such a harsh life, before and after the death of her mother, Zoppe couldn’t relate to Adua’s romantic nature. He could only tell her that love was nonsense. Too bad he didn’t know to warn her how Italians treated African immigrants, as he worked as an interpreter for Mussolini’s government.

When Zoppe dies, Adua learns that she has inherited the family home in Magalo. Now that civil war in Somalia has ended, will she go back? The circumstances that women had to endure in her own culture would stick with her forever. Also, Italy is her home now, and has been for thirty years. She has learned to take the good with the bad. Like other older women, she takes care of a younger refugee husband.

Adua is a riveting novel that shifts between three perspectives: Zoppe’s life in the 1930s, Adua’s life in Somalia and Italy from the 1970s to current day, and a perspective when Zoppe talks to Adua. You meet their innocent selves and learn how both evolved and matured to how they would eventually become. It’s impossible not to feel for both of them.

The story shows the cruel events and shocking effects of Italian colonialism in east Africa —which I was unaware of— as well as what African immigrants endure in their new country. The story takes historical events and transforms them into emotions and experiences of these two generations. It is not only a book about race and immigration, but also about gender and the plight of women. Author Igiaba Scego, who is Italian -born to Somali parents, writes in the afterward when historical license is taken in sake of the story.

This slim yet thought-provoking book will captivate you at every page. It’s urgent relevancy makes it a must–read for those who want to further understand our world.

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what if i got down on my knees? – Tony Rauch

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

a series of romantic                                              misadventures                                             and   entanglements

“And right then I finally realize she isn’t coming back. And I feel that change stir inside of me. It peels away from me and grows to form a me that I don’t like. A me I don’t want. I feel my old life leak out of my arms, the old me wiggling into the cold air to follow her, the true me, the best of me, tingling and light, rushing out of my arms into the thin morning sky”

From bowling alleys, record stores and Piggly Wigleys in small-town America, what if i got down on my knees takes the randomness of love and life and puts it in almost twenty unique and often surreal stories, all written in the first person.

Most take a nostalgic look at love and life from young male perspectives, while also questioning what their futures will hold.

Some yearn to leave the small town for the big city, and a few make it. Some deal with the jealously of other men and the intense infatuation with a particular girl. Then there’s the guy in “weird sensation #86″ who is too busy cleaning in hopes of finding someone who wants an “uncluttered life” that he realizes that he doesn’t have time to find someone.

There is the sobering story of the young son who learns that his father has another, younger family; another young man wonders if he is changing and everything else is the same or is he the same and everything else is changing.

I particularly enjoyed the bizarre first date in “lesser gods”.

And it gets weirder …
One wonders what would happen if someone stole his dreams (literally, dreams when he’s asleep) “…it feels like I’m missing something…a vague incompleteness-like someone has stolen a dream from me, like I have this fresh little empty space inside of me where a dream should’ve been…” Would they try and sell them to make a profit?

There’s also the man who generated a tiny baby and the giant baby that men ran to.

I have to admit that author Tony Rauch has a more creative imagination that I will ever have. Maybe that’s a bit of jealousy on my part.

Even though I didn’t understand the significance of all of the stories, I thoroughly enjoyed this venture into strange feelings and situations.

Then again, I did see somewhere in this book that “Not everything has to have some deep meaning to it…”

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Elle – Philippe Djian

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“It’s this other me coming out, though I fight it tooth and nail. It’s a me that invites confusion, flux, unexplored territories. I don’t know. I can’t screw open my head and take a look inside.”

Michèle can’t always understand her feelings and actions. In her late forties, and co-owner of a successful production company, she has been in turmoil since she was a teenager. Her father who was labeled “Monster of the Aquitaine” is rotting in jail for committing horrendous crimes.

“That fear of being unmasked, that we might be recognized and forced to face all those deaths, all that injustice, all that insanity. Thirty years later that fear is still just as tenacious, just as penetrating.”

Though they were ostracized, and Michèle bullied, her mother cannot acknowledge all of the hurt this man cause them and urges Michèle to visit her father in jail. Of course, she refuses.

Though she seems somewhat emotionally balanced by preserving this hatred and scratching him from her life, other parts of her life are in total chaos. She can’t deal with the fact that her ex-husband, whom she left, found another woman. She also can’t get over that her son is in love with a pregnant girl.

Michèle is also having an affair with her business partner/ best friend’s husband and is infatuated with a married neighbor. Add to that, she was recently raped.

I don’t mean to sound nonchalant about the assault, but her detachment is a major part of the plot. This is how she survives. Through all of this she refuses to be a victim, but also maintains a disconnection to the emotions and well-being of others.

Part thriller, part psychological drama with dark humor woven in and out, Elle is a mesmerizing work of contemporary French literature. The story is told from Michèle’s perspective and it keeps us entangled in the life of a woman we may not particularly like.

That said, Elle is not really a character study; there’s also a strong plot. There are enough twists to keep the reader anxiously anticipating what will happen next. The tension keeps building and I couldn’t put the book down.

Elle is a unique read for those who are searching for something different.

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The Big Book of Rants – Rich Siegel

(Reviewed by Don Jung)

Why is author Rich Siegel ranting? He relates his love/hate relationship with his life-long career in the advertising industry.

This work of fiction based on real-life experience gives us an insider’s view of the industry. As a seasoned veteran of many advertising campaigns, he describes the turmoil he is seeing as the days of the “Mad Men” mentality give way to today’s corporate conglomerates where quick sales and shallow marketing techniques replace artistry and talent. That is, greed rules all.

At age forty-four, he realizes that his glory days may have passed as he tries to change from creating funny print ads for magazines to doing “YouTube” and “Facebook” videos that can sell a client’s product.

There are plenty of hilarious stories as he goes from being an employee of a “creative” ad agency to the ordeals of being a freelancer who gets paid a daily rate. His job is to make the ad wittier and more sellable than what the ad agency employees have done. And some of his ideas make the cut, where others fall flat as the agency tells him “we like humor, but we’re not looking for laughs.”

He describes work that he thinks is great only to get turned down by an incompetent executive who doesn’t know the client and will soon be fired for not coming up with any new ideas. There are chapters that show how he copes with moving from one company to another like a merry- go-round. Whether it’s a big company or a small creative boutique shop, he has to learn to fit in and work with a group of strangers.

Siegel has a wacky sense of humor that makes you wonder If he loves what he is doing or he just wants to complain; I mean rant and rant about his life. Has this industry just changed too much for a middle aged guy?

The Big Book of Rants makes for an interesting read, especially if you do not know how the advertising Industry works. However, while reading this I kept thinking how this could apply to so many other professions that have and continue to change. Yes, I think that many of us will be able to relate to this.

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The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization – Wayne Ellwood

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

The “integration of the global economy” began over five centuries ago with European colonization, but has accelerated over the past thirty years with the increase of technology to move goods and capital. This has not taken place without consequences.

Wayne Ellwood explains through recent history and statistics how large corporations make decisions to benefit shareholders and not the social, environmental or economic well-being of the underdeveloped countries involved. Instead of investing in the production of real goods and services, speculators make money from money in the global economy with little interest in or ties to the local communities.

Ellwood provides a tutorial on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). He shows the effects of deregulated and privatized trade and explains how poorest countries pay enormous debt to lender countries. Attempts to address the causes of poverty, violence and growing inequality have been abandoned. There is little concern for the environment and people.

His commentary endorses Keynesian (demand-side) economic theory, while many developed countries— especially the United States— continue to rely on supply-side,  “Reaganomics”.

As an American, I know the unfortunate situation that “trickle down” economics has led us to as a country (that is, it doesn’t work), but it was a real eye-opener to see how it affects the underdeveloped world. As I was reading, I felt helpless as our government officials and those who elect them just “don’t get it” or just don’t care, as forces for deregulation increase power for multinational corporations and financial institutions. I don’t see a change in thought coming soon.

I do see a spark of light at the end of the tunnel, as Ellwood gives specific solutions to this global crisis.

I recommend The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization so people can understand how we got to this point which has been a cause of poverty and violence throughout the world. Hopefully they will realize what is at stake if we don’t change our policies.

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The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations – Jaime Kurtz

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

What is happy travel? According to Jaime Kurtz, an Associate Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, it is “travel that is pleasurable, meaningful, and engaging. “

Sounds nice, but there can be lot of obstacles to this, some beyond our control and some self-inflicted. Kurtz relates how psychology can help us obtain happier travel experiences. The Happy Traveler combines this with actual tourism studies to help us keep things fresh and cultivate a sense of wonder as well as handling those major annoyances.

But how do you know where to go? There are so many travel options. We need to not only learn about destinations, but also understand a lot about ourselves, that is, our travel personality. She discusses how we can do this, as well as providing a URL to help to figure out our comfort zone.

As I was reading I was thinking, “But what happens when you’re traveling with someone else and can’t make all of the decisions?” The book later addresses that: how to pick a travel partner and more importantly, how to travel with a spouse or family member.

Yes, the book goes into many case studies, but Kurtz realizes that they are conducted in controlled environments . While they provide valuable insights-which I found fascinating—they may be flawed. She sums up ideas in “The Twelve rules for happy travel”, but the ideas presented throughout the book are really only suggestions. So many psychologists/ authors see things as black and white, and dictate “must do’s.” I appreciate that she realizes that we are all different.

Though I found the entire book useful and engaging, the last part really left an impact on me as she provides ideas for successful re-entry into life back home. What have you learned about yourself, the positives and negatives? How can we live like a traveler in our daily lives?

The Happy Traveler is a must-read for not only both the novice and seasoned traveler, but for everyone who wants to add depth and fascination back in their lives. After all,

“Anticipation, awe, savoring, flow, deep connection, and treasured memories are not only the stuff of vacations. They are the ingredients of a well-lived life.”

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Engadine Aerie: A Hardy Durkin Travel Mysteries series (Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery Book 5) – Bluette Matthey

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Engadine Valley, a quiet remote Alpine resort, is about to host a popular ski marathon. However, right before the event, a man is murdered on the slopes and this has international implications.

Najib, who was sent by an Abu Dhabi prince to track down leads on an illegal falcon smuggling operation, has been hit by a drone with an attached firearm. Specifically, his assignment was to follow the money trail between someone in the Prince’s family and a terrorist group. Did he get too close to the truth?

Two witnesses to the murder were the Prince’s wife, and our protagonist Hardy Durkin. Durkin is a hiking tour operator who was helping a friend who just started a new ski business. He has a reputation of casually coming across crimes, and is able to solve them. He is not a licensed private investigator, but through his late father’s connections, as well as his odd situations, he knows important people in law enforcement. Luckily these acquaintances actually appreciate his help.

There are some morally ambiguous people in the ski group who have criminal ties. Could they be part of this? One murder, an attempted murder, a terrorist bombing and an illegal arms sale threaten this peaceful resort.

Engadine Aerie is an engaging, scenic novel that utilizes its beautiful setting in the plot. What I especially enjoyed about this novel are all of the eccentric characters. They are all too human with all of their flaws, and are fully developed.

The author gives us detailed history of the area going back centuries. While this is interesting, it does disrupt the flow of the book. I felt that this should have been shorter and better integrated within the book. After reading the historical parts, I found that I had to reacquaint myself with all of the characters.

I still recommend Engadine Aerie to those who enjoy a fast-paced thriller with lots of twists and unusual personalities.

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Time Travel for Love and Profit – Jeff Abugov

(Reviewed by Don Jung)

If given the opportunity to go back in time to change the decisions you made in life, would you take it?

Growing up in foster homes and in an environment where crime is the only way to survive, our protagonist T.J. chooses the path of crime. He gets caught and while serving his time, he takes an interest in physics. He dreams of going to Cal Tech and becoming a physicist but first he has to reinvent himself to make it in the real world.

When he gets out, he works as a janitor at Cal Tech and meets a professor who has developed a method of time travel. T.J. wants to test it, and once in the past , finds himself in various situations where the ‘he and me’ see each other at the same time This leads to funny yet touching moments as he tries to find himself.

Time Travel for Love and Profit is not only a twist on the old tales of time travel, but also an imaginative story about a troubled young man who finds a way to change his life and discover love and how to make money. T.J. is told he can’t change history but he can go back to find romance and utilize the talent of time travel to his personal advantage. However making lots of money by knowing history’s various outcomes isn’t as easy as one may think. It’s also not that easy to leave your past completely behind.

There are great glimpses of 20th century America from the stock market of 1932 to the early days of the folk music movement in New York and the 1960’s segregation marches in the South as well as a detailed look at Cal Tech and the academic philosophy they imposed on students.

Novelist Jeff Abugov keeps you tuned in to the various time travels and provides
a wacky look at how one can enjoy some of the major events of our American history without changing any of them. This is a very enjoyable read and keeps you guessing on where it will turn in the end.

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