Tag Archives: #choosinghope

Books I Embraced, Devoured, and Loved In 2020

This year—destructive, unrelenting, heartbreaking —has affected everyone differently. From early in the crisis, I’ve repeatedly heard that many people have struggled with the inability to focus, which includes reading. To combat that during the Stay-At-Home and Phases orders, I sought books that would buoy me, make me laugh, and/or educate me. My hope is that by sharing these titles, you, too, will find something to embrace, devour, and love. Books are listed in author-alpha order, and I believe there’s something for everyone.

 Hungry Hearts

by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond, eds. 

Hungry Town Row is a place where 13 interconnected young adult short stories are set in and around mom ‘n pop eateries featuring cuisines from around the world. Recurring characters populate the stories as they experience family, love, and magic plus delicious food made with heart. Sangu Mandanna, Sandhya Menon, and S. K. Ali team up with ten other #ownvoices YA writers to produce mouthwatering stories.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors & Recipe for Persuasion

by Sonali Dev  

After having devoured Soniah Kamal’s brilliant novel Unmarriagable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan last year in one sitting, I craved other contemporary adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. Dev’s Austen-centric trilogy, “The Rajes,” tells the stories of thirty-something cousins. Trisha in PP&OF (#1) is an uncompromising neurosurgeon of renown in the Bay Area, and Ashna in RFP (#2) is a chef desperately trying to keep her self-confidence and late father’s restaurant afloat. Filled with love (and food) and angsty romance (and food), both are delightful, fun reads with plenty of depth and intriguing backstories. Incense and Sensibility (#3) is due to come out July 2021.

 The Atlas of Reds and Blues

by Devi S. Laskar  

Laskar’s stunning debut novel, based on an incident that occurred at her own home, never discusses racism. However, the incidents in the protagonist’s short life offer abundant fuel for discussions that society must undertake. This story of the unacceptable, unforgivable treatment persons of color—especially women—are forced to endure even now in the twenty-first century is powerful reading.

 A Burning

by Megha Majumdar

Told by three connected characters—a young woman determined to move her family out of the slums, an endearing hijra who dreams of becoming a Bollywood heroine, and a frustrated PT teacher—Majumdar’s remarkable debut novel begins with the firebombing of a crowded train. From there it handily confronts social media and mob mentality, manipulation of the truth, and destructive paths to supposed greatness.

 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

by Sandhya Menon  

Menon’s fun final entry to the award-winning “Dimpleverse” trilogy combines the entertaining “opposites attract” and “fake dating” tropes with hyperlocal environmental issues. As always, her characters earn their happy ending while experiencing the victories and failures required to shoulder responsibility as they mature into adulthood.  

A Feast of Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka

by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Getting back to food, there’s nothing more comforting than a cookbook that brings the love of sharing food onto its pages. Mohanraj’s is a volume of family history plus tips and hints about where to purchase hard-to-find ingredients, what to substitute in a pinch, and options for preparing the snacks, entrées, sides, beverages, and desserts. Kitchen-tested, family-approved recipes left me drooling and eager to start cooking something new.

 Choosing Hope: 1 Woman. 3 Cancers

by Munira Premji

In a span of three years, Premji was diagnosed with three late-stage cancers. Inspired by a bracelet given to her that reads, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible,” she embraced the concept. Choosing hope strengthened her resolve during countless chemo sessions, hospital stays, and the long wait to have stem cell transplantation. Premji’s an inspiration not only to other cancer patients and survivors but also to the rest of us – reminding us to stop, breathe, and embrace life.

 This Is One Way to Dance—Essays 

by Sejal Shah  

Shah’s compilation offers twenty-five of her essays chronicled by the year written (1999-2019) and is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. The result is Shah’s inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.

Sugar in Milk

by Thrity Umrigar

Umrigar’s second children’s book this year updates the story of her Parsi ancestors’ journey from Persia to India, where they sought a new home. Kindness, goodness, and diversity between citizens and immigrants alike is the theme that makes it so appropriate for today. Despite being tagged for ages 4-8, the book can be enjoyed by all ages. Gorgeous illustrations grace every page.

 Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World 

By Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria dives deep into social, economic, and political lessons we should have learned from previous epidemics/pandemics (but didn’t); how human impact (earth, sky, sea) furthers the chance of larger events; and how politics (worldwide) plays a role in prevention and mitigation. Zakaria’s bottom line is that there is much to do at all levels to understand and prepare, but yes, it can and should be done.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents, a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association, and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She always wears a mask in public settings, avoids crowds, believes in social distancing, and washes her hands. 

Fighting Cancer, Choosing Hope

In 2012, Munira Premji was an active woman filled with the joy of life. Her career was satisfying, her marriage was wonderful, and her grown children’s successes filled her with happiness. On February 3 that year, however, her life changed dramatically with a diagnosis of Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma coupled with Stage 3 multiple myeloma. She fought both cancers fiercely, understanding that there is no current cure for multiple myeloma. Then in 2015, just when she felt ready to live the life she had to put on hold, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Now, in her book Choosing Hope: One Woman 3 Cancers, Premji shares her journey as not a victim but as a champion.

Premji is an engaging writer whose job as an HR rep worked in her favor when she was able to acquire a new cancer drug she needed at no cost through her employer. Still, her anxieties about the cost of treatments, medications, procedures, and care are never withheld as she and her family navigate the Canadian health system. She makes it clear that cancer is a costly disease on many levels.

At her daughter’s urging, Premji began chronicling her journey by blogging, keeping family and friends updated, expressing her emotions and drive to survive while documenting the processes she endured. The entries—included in the book—also reveal a courageous and resilient woman. Her anecdotes are set in the chemotherapy clinic, the hospital rooms, and her home with an extraordinary mix of humor, appreciation, and seriousness. Some are amusing, others are painful or introspective, and others celebrate the bonds between cancer patients during treatments, while in the hospital, and at support group meetings.

Although she doesn’t recount every chemo session, drug, healthcare worker, or needle stick, she gives the reader plenty to absorb. Premji is a realist, yet she remains positive when discussing foggy “chemo brain,” recalling each time her hair fell out, or reliving her struggle to produce enough stem cells to warrant surgery. To her credit, she always moves forward, even when her world looks bleaker than the day before.

Choosing hope merged with her faith when one of Premji’s chemotherapy nurses presented her with a bracelet that read, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” 

Premji embraced the concept, which strengthened her resolve during countless chemo sessions, hospital stays due to febrile neutropenia, the long wait to have stem cell transplantation, and the days in between chemo when she’d feel anything from energized to simply unable to move out of bed.

She’s an inspiration not only to other cancer patients and survivors but also the rest of us to stop, breathe, and embrace life. 

Premji continues to maintain her blog, has a YouTube channel, and in June of this year, she happily checked off a bucket list item by launching a podcast, Choosing Hope: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. This review is dedicated to her brother, Ron, who has been battling multiple myeloma.