Saraswati's Way: Middle Grade Book Review

Saraswati's Way
Monika Schroeder
Release date: November 9, 2010
240 pages

BWI description: Leaving his village in rural India to find a better education, mathematically gifted, twelve-year-old Akash ends up at the New Delhi train station, where he relies on Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, to guide him as he negotiates life on the street, resists the temptations of easy money, and learns whom he can trust.

Since I was in first grade, and a husband and wife who’d lived in India came and showed my classmates some of the things they’d brought back, I’ve had a fascination for India. I still remember the bright silks, the tinkling bells, the shiny jewels that decorated the clothing. The ivory tusks, carved elephants, and peacock feathers. I love the color of Indian people's skin, the sound of their voice, and the red dot on womens' foreheads.

Since my first introduction to India, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a few, though very few, people from India. I don’t live where there is enormous cultural diversity, but there was the wonderful friend in grad school. There was the former children’s librarian, now a national literacy consultant, who was half Indian, and whose husband was full Indian. Recently, after my doctor of 25 years retired, a new doctor, from India, came into the practice. Of course, I chose him. When some friends were making regular trips to India for their faith, I was always tempted to tag along. Someday, I may yet visit India.

Over the years, I’ve read many popular novels set there. Just a few weeks ago, during my massive house decluttering, I came across Olivia and Jai, and The Veil of Illusion, both by Rebecca Ryman. They were books I dearly loved, and remain in my personal library. And who doesn’t love E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India? The movie, Gandhi? More recently, Slumdog Millionaire? Rudyard Kipling’s books never go out of print, and what about the Raj Quartet? In contemporary children’s books, Mitali Perkins and Gloria Whalen have written books set in India. Whalen's Homeless Bird won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

When I learned that Monika Schroeder, who lives in New Delhi, had set her second book in India, I knew I would want to read it. The package came from India, and in addition to the ARC, Monika sent me a handmade card with a picture of the Goddess, Saraswati, on the front. The envelope’s flap was most unusual, with a thin slat of wood woven through it for decoration.

Most striking to me, though, was that it’d traveled halfway around the world to get to a little house surrounded by rolling wheat fields, and yet it was still so permeated with a damp, musty odor that I reeled a little when I opened it. One of the smells of India.

All I can imagine is that it must’ve been monsoon season when she sent it, and it got very wet and hadn’t dried on its journey. But I loved the odor, and would pick up the card and smell it every time I walked by the pine china cabinet in the kitchen, where I had set it on display. The odor is now gone.

So, about the book. If you love India, and if you loved Slumdog Millionaire, you will love it. The plot is different, obviously, but the characters in both are similar. Akash, the protagonist, is very bright, but also a very poor young man. A math prodigy, he wants to earn a scholarship to go to an elite school, but his family cannot help him. In fact, they’re about to be thrown out on the street because they can’t pay the rent. Akash prays to the goddess Saraswati for guidance and help, but it seems to him that Saraswati has turned his back on him.

Trying to earn money to feed his family and pay its debts, Akash labors for a time in a quarry. But when he discovers, through his facility with math, that he is being swindled, and that the debt is increasing each day, rather than decreasing, he leaves the quarry and falls in with a group of homeless boys.

At this point, Akash begins to make some truly wrong choices, and almost brings disaster upon himself. But there is a moment of truth where he learns some important lessons, among them the virtue of honesty, and not to look for the fastest, easiest way out of a bad situation, but rather to work hard in an appropriate, ethical way.

After that, the goddess Saraswati looks more favorably toward Akash, and brings him in contact with people he needs to know, in order to do honest work for the money he needs to hire a tutor, to take an exam, and to win a scholarship to the elite school that will take him in a better direction.

One of the things that I marvel about when I read a Monika Schroeder book is her ability to describe a setting, characters, and a character’s emotions with beautiful precision. She can say in 10 words what might take a different writer 100 words to say. That is very powerful, and perfect for her audience (middle grade, ages 10-14). This book is sure to be a hit with readers.


27 Things to Feng Shui Your Home

Last summer, I bought a wonderful little brown book called 27 Things to Feng Shui Your Home by Tisha Morris. (I would include a cover image, but Blogger is currently acting like a stinker, and for whatever reason, even after changing my internet options as directed, I still cannot upload an image!)

The Chinese apparently have a saying, "If you want to change your life, move 27 things in your home." So Tisha Morris used that in her title, and in 27 chapters, talks about the things you can do to change your home AND your life.  

1 Clean out your closet

2 Clear doorways

3 Clear hallways

4 Clear out old pictures

5 Get rid of unwanted gifts

6 Get rid of “just in case” items

7 Change your wall art

8 Hang a vision board

9 Make your bedroom a sanctuary

10 Paint a room

11 Rearrange a room

12 Create a sacred space

13 Paint your front door

14 Repairs and improvements:

15 Make your least favorite room your favorite

16 clean

17 Clean your windows

18 Space clean with sage

19 Ring some bells

20 Add crystals

21 Add mirrors

22 Add flowers/plants

23 Integrate the five elements

24 Enhance the lighting

25 Stimulate the senses

26 Add pink to enhance your love life

27 Add purple to bring in wealth

It took me about six weeks' worth of my spare time (weekends and each morning before work for an hour), but I have now done most of her suggestions. And I have to say that I LOVE the results. My home now feels so much more inviting and comfortable, and I know it will feel that way to guests as well. My younger daughter came home for a short visit yesterday and she couldn't stop marveling about the way everything looks.

But Tisha started me on a journey that didn't stop at 27 things. I kept track, and it was more like 61!!!

I'm going to include the list, if for no other reason than for me to be able to look back at what I have, so far, accomplished. And I am not done! There's more delicious decorating to do, and all as a result of reading this truly life-changing book. Thank you, Tisha Morris!!

This is what have done, so far as a result:

1. Created a writing room

2. Created a scrapbooking room

3. Reorganized my 3713 writing files (which were already fairly well organized, but not perfectly so).

4. Updated my picture files.

5. Sent a 1200 word writing sample to the SCBWI retreat coordinator for the Writing Retreat on Hood Canal in November. (Was later accepted as one of 20 participants).

6. Printed “loose” notes on psychology/coaching/motivation that I’d found during my file reorganization project and put them in a notebook comprised of that type of notes.

7. Created a new coaching notebook with all of my current goals and strategies for achieving them

8. Cleaned my bedroom from top to bottom (vacuumed mattress and etc)

9. Put away summer clothes, took out fall/winter ones and bought a bunch of new clothes

10. Took the standing jewelry chest of one of my daughter’s (she didn’t want it) and brought it up from the basement, cleaned it and put my own jewelry in it. Bought a couple of bead storage boxes, and was able to give each of my 150+ pairs of earrings a separate storage compartment, in addition to great storage for my necklaces, bracelets and brooches

11. De-cluttered the third-floor hallway

12. Cleaned/straightened (de-cluttered) the linen closet

13. Washed all sofa pillows, all sofa throws, all sleeping bags, all throw rugs, all bed pillows and two comforters

14. Cleaned all three bathrooms, including cabinet reorganization

15. Ordered some curtains to cover the bookshelves in my office. I deal with books all day at work. My work office is full of books, as I am a librarian. My home office looks like a library—and while I want the books to be there, I don’t want to have to look at them. They’re too distracting while I write. I want the room to feel comfortable.

16. Bought a 7’ silk tree to go in the living room, as well as seven-silk flower arrangements to go in various other areas of the home. (My home office, the living room, the dining room, the foyer.)

17. De-cluttered and reorganized the storage room, basically turning it into a library, in addition to it being filled with four crates of photos, three crates of “vintage” clothing, one crate of 14 porcelain dolls, one crate of paperdolls, four crates of Christmas decorations, and six crates of accounting/income tax information.

18. Put ALL of my younger daughter’s things into a spare bedroom in the basement.

19. Filled four crates with my kids’ toys that are in still great shape (stuffed animals, puppets, etc) for the grandkids to play with

20. Swept the basement

21. Set up the teepee and a children’s play corner in the basement

22. Took Christmas decorations that’d been under the basement stairs and in one of the three china cabinets on the main floor upstairs to the storage room so that now all Christmas decorations are in the same area

23. Took painting/wallpapering supplies from third-floor storage room and put them under the basement stairs

24. All suitcases, camping supplies and sleeping bags are now in the basement storage room

25. Cleaned the oven

26. Cleaned the freezer

27. Cleaned the refrigerator

28. Cleaned/rearranged the kitchen cabinets

29. Cleared everything out of the closet in the basement (that’d been filled with my daughter’s things) and moved it all to her own “mini-storage”—the spare bedroom in the basement. (was about 12-15 crates’ worth in that one closet alone)

30. Cleaned/wiped all kitchen cabinets/counters in basement kitchen

31. Set up a children’s art center in the basement

32. Set up a gift wrapping center in the basement

33. Cleaned 11 light fixtures in the kitchen/dining room areas

34. RSS’d about 150 writer blogs as “the next step” in the (future) switch from my blog being a book review blog to that of being a writer’s blog.

35. Dealt with files in the tall oak filing cabinet

36. Cleaned and organized the laundry room: cabinets and closet; washed laundry room curtains & cleaned light fixture; set up cabinet areas—one exclusively for cleaning supplies, and another exclusively for laundry supplies, in addition to the rest of the cabinets being for my husband’s clothing

37. Cleaned my husband’s clothes closet in our bedroom

38. Cleaned/organized chest of drawers in bedroom and drawers in bedside tables

39. Dealt w/ the remaining pile of chaos in bedroom (clothes that needed to be sorted/put in bags for Goodwill or other

40. Bought and installed a foam mattress pad, plus plush mattress cover and 2 sheet sets.

41. Bought and hung curtains for three basement windows

42. Created Feng Shui bagua maps for all three floors of the house, with ideas for further decorating

43. Sorted through images on free image websites and downloaded 350 pix for blog posts on various concepts

44. Sorted all 300 RSS feeds that I subscribe to, and placed them into various folders.

45. Bought four books on creating wall art

46. Hung closet doors in basement

47. Spent 10 hours preparing to shampoo, and then shampooing the upholstery, stairs, carpets on two floors, and 2-5x8 oriental carpets.

48. Assessed contents of the three china cabinets and got rid of some things, decided to display other things, and put still other items in the storage room, as they are Christmas decorations

49. Rearranged the furniture in the foyer, dining and living rooms

50. De-cluttered and rearranged the contents of my home office

51. Ordered many new things to redecorate my home: a new bedspread, curtains for nine windows, an oriental carpet for the kitchen, a mirror for dining room, lamps, artwork. (I have a middle-class income, and so JC Penny's works for me.)

52. Made plans for walls (and entire rooms) that I want to paint in new colors

53. Made plans for further decorating: additional new things that I want to purchase for various rooms, and/or action steps to be implemented as I am able

54. Read one of the two books on writing, as requested by the editors who will be at the writing retreat in Western Washington, first week in November

55. Dealt with the last few pieces of clutter on the main floor (after having removed many, many bags of trash). These were items that belonged to my children and needed to go to them!

56. Washed and re-hung the linen closet doors. They are wooden, louver doors that had collected thick dust in the louvers. Was able to rout out the dust with a power brush and Windex.

57. Washed all of my jewelry in hot, sudsy water with a dollop of ammonia.

58. Created a master calendar for meals and housework tasks

59. Finished reading a book on home lighting, taking notes, and implementing ideas. Bought 2 uplights, 2 accent lamps, 2 puck lights to light up the new tree. Still need to buy two torchieres.

60. Took off the “no kid” latches that were on the basement cabs and drawers

61. Ordered “The Presence Process,” a book that I’d checked out from the library, renewed, and then decided I needed to buy my own copy. I couldn’t keep renewing it, even if I am a librarian. It’s not appropriate to hog new books!


WoW: Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowery Collins

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Daughter of Winter was released on October 12.

Daughter of Winter
Pat Lowrey Collins

Amazon description: It’s 1849, and twelve-year-old Addie lives in the shipbuilding town of Essex, Massachusetts. Her father has left the family to seek gold on the West Coast, and now the flux has taken the lives of her mother and baby brother, leaving Addie all alone. Her fear of living as a servant in some other home drives her into the snowy woods, where she survives on her own for several weeks before a nomadic, silver-haired Wampanoag woman takes her in. Slowly, the startling truth of Addie’s past unfolds. Through an intense ancient ceremony, and by force of her own wits and will, Addie unravels the mystery of her identity — and finds the courage to build a future unlike any she could ever have imagined.

I love historical novels, and truly cannot wait to read this one. The story sounds a little like something that could be a spinoff to another story that has been inside the head of one of my writer friend for many years.


WoW: Banished by Sophie Littlefield

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Banished was released yesterday.
Sophie Littlefield

Amazon description: There isn’t much worth living for in Gypsum, Missouri—or Trashtown, as the rich kids call the run-down neighborhood where sixteen-year-old Hailey Tarbell lives. Hailey figures she’ll never belong—not with the popular kids at school, not with the rejects, not even with her cruel, sickly grandmother, who deals drugs out of their basement. Hailey never knew her dead mother, and she has no idea who her father was, but at least she has her four-year-old foster brother, Chub. Once she turns eighteen, Hailey plans to take Chub far from Gypsum and start a new life where no one can find them.

But when a classmate is injured in gym class, Hailey discovers a gift for healing that she never knew she possessed—and that she cannot ignore. Not only can she heal, she can bring the dying back to life. Confused by her powers, Hailey searches for answers but finds only more questions, until a mysterious visitor shows up at Gram’s house, claiming to be Hailey’s aunt Prairie.

There are people who will stop at nothing to keep Hailey in Trashtown, living out a legacy of despair and suffering. But when Prairie saves both Hailey and Chub from armed attackers who invade Gram’s house in the middle of the night, Hailey must decide where to place her trust. Will Prairie’s past, and the long-buried secret that caused her to leave Gypsum years earlier, ruin them all? Because as Hailey will soon find out, their power to heal is just the beginning.

This gripping novel from thriller writer Sophie Littlefield blazes a trail from small-town Missouri to the big city as Hailey battles an evil greater than she ever imagined, while discovering strengths she never knew she had.

I say, "Dark secrets and intrigue ... Bring it on!"
What book can't you wait to read this week?


Deerpath Street, Lake Forest, IL, 1920's

My mother grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois. I have inherited all of my parents' pictures, some of which date back to the early 1900's. I love seeing where my mother grew up. It stirs up story ideas within me.


WoW: Her and Me and You by Laura Strasnick

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Her and Me and You
Laura Strasnick

Amazon description: I met Fred first.

Fred: Hot. Enigmatic. Alex’s first friend in her lonely new town. Maybe her first…everything.

I met Adina the following Monday.

Adina: Fred’s twin sister. Cold. Troubled. Trouble.

I kissed him.

She pressed her mouth to my mouth.

People warn Alex to steer clear of the twins, but Alex is drawn to them. She wants to be part of their crazy world…no matter the consequences.

I ask, "Okay, what's so creepy about the twins?" It's enough to make me want to read the book. Plus, isn't the cover odd?

What book can't you wait to read this week?

WoW: Empty by Suzanne Weyn

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Empty, a dystopian novel by Suzanne Weyn, was released on October 1.
Suzanne Weyn

Amazon description: It's the near future - the very near future - and the fossil fuels are running out. No gas. No oil. Which means no driving. No heat. Supermarkets are empty. Malls have shut down. Life has just become more local than we ever knew it could be.

Nobody expected the end to come this fast. And in the small town of Spring Valley, decisions that once seemed easy are quickly becoming matters of life and death. There is hope - there has to be hope - just there are also sacrifices that need to be made, and a whole society that needs to be rethought.

Teens like Nicki, Tom, and Leila may find what they need to survive. But their lives are never going to be the same again.

What book can't you wait to read this week?
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