Well, it's been quite a year! I'm a little late posting this, but I'm currently 34 weeks pregnant and feeling about to burst so that is [image] [image]
Well, it's been quite a year! I'm a little late posting this, but I'm currently 34 weeks pregnant and feeling about to burst so that is my excuse for everything :) My 2017 on Goodreads has been a bit of a whirlwind. I've read a lot of great books, some not so great books, and in the year's final quarter I was invited to the Goodreads HQ and took part in an interview for the Goodreads blog.
Oh, and I met Margaret Atwood because this year wasn't wonderfully strange enough...
It all feels like it might be a bizarre dream. Don't wake me up. (view spoiler)[Unless Trump isn't really president. Then you can wake me up. (hide spoiler)]
“He came. He left. Nothing else had changed. I had not changed. The world hadn't changed. Yet nothing would be the same. All that remains is dreamm
“He came. He left. Nothing else had changed. I had not changed. The world hadn't changed. Yet nothing would be the same. All that remains is dreammaking and strange remembrance.”
I should probably issue a warning that this is a book I usually wouldn't like. I think. A summer romance up to its neck in purple prose and wandering introspection sounds like a nightmare. And yet, there was something so beautiful, awful, intoxicating and sad about Call Me by Your Name. Maybe I like it because - and I hate to admit this - there is a part of me that recognizes something of myself within it.
Either you have been this kind of person, perhaps still are this kind of person, or you have not, are not, and this book will seem overwritten and alien. I, unfortunately, have experienced that deep, all-encompassing infatuation with another person. I don't personally call it love; not anymore. Instead, it's a feeling of overwhelming, almost feverish, obsession with their existence-- their body, their laugh, and everything they do or say.
I’m not proud of it and I don’t think it’s healthy. But I do think this book captures it in all its intensity and sadness. Call Me by Your Name, for me, stands apart from other romances because it doesn't follow the usual formula of two people meet, cliche flirtations and angst ensue, and then finally they end up together. It's not a spoiler to say this isn't that kind of story; if you're reading it for the warm fuzzies then you're going to be disappointed.
It is about seventeen-year-old Elio, who falls into a deep romantic and sexual obsession with the twenty-four year-old Oliver when the latter becomes a summer guest at Elio's parents' Italian villa. If there was ever a perfect place to set a heady novel of this kind, then it must be the cliffs of the Italian Riviera. I can feel my cold heart melting just thinking about it.
We stay inside Elio's mind as he fantasizes romantically and sexually about Oliver. Aciman builds a novel based on innermost thoughts and the most painful of emotions. It is sometimes almost too much and I wanted to look away as Elio feels like he can’t get close enough; feels like he wants to crawl inside Oliver's skin. It’s an intoxicatingly romantic, intimate, physical, miserable experience.
There is one moment when Elio's wise father comforts him: “Right now there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.” Which I thought was deeply sad, though also perfect. It might not be my usual choice of book, but I think Call Me by Your Name is one that will stay with me. Sometimes it is the exceptions to my rules that I find myself remembering the most.
"And what if I change?" It seems impossible that Varya's future is already inside her like an actress just offstage, waiting decades to leave the w
"And what if I change?" It seems impossible that Varya's future is already inside her like an actress just offstage, waiting decades to leave the wings. "Then you'd be special. 'Cause most people don't."
2 1/2 stars. I have a lot of mixed feelings about The Immortalists. Though there were parts I enjoyed, I was left feeling underwhelmed and like I'd recommend many other similar books before recommending this one.
You should be aware that this is literary fiction and focuses in depth on the lives of four siblings. The enchanting premise that seems to promise elements of magical realism and the fantastical is a little misleading, as there is very little about prophecies and destiny. Though, personally, this didn't bother me so much. I really enjoy reading about families and the dynamics between them, especially when spread over many years, and I found it interesting to explore how each sibling deals with knowing the date of their death.
It begins with the four siblings visiting a psychic as children, near their home in 1960s New York City. This woman tells them - Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya - the exact date of their deaths. The book then goes on to consider how this information will affect their lives and the way they live them. The sci-fi/fantasy aspects are waved aside quickly. While there are some brief mentions of fate vs. self-fulfilling prophecy, the author never attempts to offer answers.
The characters here didn't quite grab me like so many did in the aforementioned books. Some moments that should have been fraught with emotion seemed obvious and manipulative - (view spoiler)[Simon is a gay man, fated to die young, sleeping around in San Francisco in the 1980s; no points for guessing what happens to him. (hide spoiler)] The first two stories - that of Simon and Klara - have very little in the way of family dynamics, as Simon's story mostly consists of dancing in a San Francisco gay bar and meeting his new beau, and Klara's takes her to Vegas to be a magician. Secondary characters roam into these first two perspectives, but none of them make much of an impact.
The second two stories are better. Daniel becomes a doctor in the military and his job leads him to discover something about the psychic who predicted the siblings' deaths. Though my favourite was the last - Varya's. She is now a longevity scientist doing experiments on monkeys. I thought her perspective was well-researched and thought-provoking, and it was easy to imagine someone becoming obsessed with aging when they know their own expiration date.
The writing is just okay, which maybe contributes to making the characters less memorable. Benjamin also occasionally falls prey to the - increasingly more common in modern fiction - random sexual references. This is something that always baffles me and it's not easy to explain because it's not about sex, exactly. It's like there'll be a scene where a character is washing the dishes and the author will suddenly mention his penis hanging limp between his legs. His penis has nothing to do with anything in that scene - the poor dude is just washing some dishes! - and yet, there it is. Here, the author introduces thirteen-year-old Varya by the "dark patch of fur between her legs" in the second sentence of the book. I just... why?
Overall, though, this is a mixed bag of interesting ideas, steps in the right direction that halt too quickly, and a somewhat pedestrian account of the characters' lives. I felt like The Immortalists struggled to live up to its premise.
I guess we can probably expect more of these weird feminist(?) dystopias in the wake of The Handmaid's Tale's Hulu series. Between this and the superhI guess we can probably expect more of these weird feminist(?) dystopias in the wake of The Handmaid's Tale's Hulu series. Between this and the superhero-movie-turned-superhero-book trend, you can pretty much predict the new book trends based on what's popular on the big and small screens.
Here, Zumas imagines a United States where the Personhood Amendment gives rights to unborn embryos, outlawing abortion and IVF (because said embryos cannot give consent). The Canadian government assist by erecting a figurative "Pink Wall" across the U.S.-Canadian border, meaning that they will capture and return any woman suspected of crossing the border for an abortion or IVF.
It sounded fascinating to me. Given the political climate in the U.S. and the fervor of pro-life advocates, it is not a particularly implausible scenario. But, unfortunately, the amount of "literary" frills in Red Clocks made it almost impossible to enjoy (maybe that isn't the right word, but you know what I'm saying).
It is such a painfully cerebral read, and it feels to me like a book of this kind has the greatest impact when you are pulled deep into the lives and horrors of the characters, not viewing them through a distant lens. Red Clocks would be a horror story for many women, including myself, and yet I felt so emotionally-distanced from the story and all four (or you could say five) perspectives.
I have to assume the emotional distance is intentional. Zumas refers to the four main characters as "The Biographer" (Ro), "The Wife" (Susan), "The Daughter" (Mattie) and "The Mender" (Gin), with the fifth perspective being that of fictional explorer, Eivør Minervudottir, who "The Biographer" is writing a book about.
Each of the main four are dealing with womanhood issues that are threatened by the new laws. Ro's perspective is easily the most palatable, though we still have to sit through a vaginal exam that unfolds like this:
On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the shrill funk of an elderly cheese and one being no odor at all, how would he rank the smell of the biographer's vagina? How does it compare with the other vaginas barreling through this exam room, day in, day out, years of vaginas, a crowd of vulvic ghosts? Plenty of women don't shower beforehand, or are battling a yeast, or just happen naturally to stink in the nethers. Kalbfleisch has sniffed some ripe tangs in his time.
Ro is trying desperately to conceive before a new law is introduced banning single parent families. Susan is something of a cliche depressed housewife, struggling with the dissatisfaction of staying home. Mattie is a teenager, pregnant, and unsure of what to do. Gin provides herbal remedies for abortion, amongst other things, and is the modern-day equivalent of a witch under the new amendment.
Zumas experiments with different styles that change as we jump from one character to another. The narrative is fractured and messy - definitely more about experimental writing than telling a compelling and/or important story. I appreciate that this will be better suited to the kind of reader I am not.
Overall, I felt the book was more concept and writing than characters and narrative structure. It really depends on what you're looking for, but I would personally expect a book with this intriguing a premise to contain a strong emotional pull and more of a plot. Oh well. I'm sure similar novels will be on the way.
There are three things you should know about me: 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me any more. 3. Sometimes I lie.
HOLY MOTHER OF TWISTS.
There are three things you should know about me: 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me any more. 3. Sometimes I lie.
HOLY MOTHER OF TWISTS.
I'm not usually a fan of books that hang everything on their twists or reveals, but it seems I can make an exception when my mind explodes multiple times from all the surprises. This is a book where it's important to go into it knowing as little as possible, which makes it difficult to review. But I shall try.
Amber Reynolds wakes up in hospital, but to everyone else she is in a coma. She can't move or speak. She can hear the people who visit her, but they're not aware of it. The narrative jumps between the "Now" in the hospital room where Amber attempts to uncover what happened, a "Then" leading up to what happened, and childhood diaries from decades ago.
It all starts very intriguing but it also seems like a standard mystery. Amber knows her husband is somehow involved in what happened to her, but she can't remember why. Through her narration, we must piece together the truth. Well, the truth as Amber sees it. Or the truth she gives us.
Sometimes I Lie is compelling, but I gave it four instead of five stars because it lingers a little too long on the not-knowing in the earlier chapters, through hallucinations and dream sequences. There was a very clear point to me when this book went from "not bad" to "really effin' good". I'll let you work out when that is.
If you figure out all the twists and turns, then you must be one hell of an astute reader. I thought the author set it up perfectly, framing the narrative secrets just right so that I didn't even fully work out the questions I should be asking, never mind the answers. There were parts that left me speechless in shock.
The epilogue leaves the story open for a sequel. I'm interested to see what the author will do with it; I only hope it is actually necessary, seeing that all the secrets seem to have been given up in this book. But who knows? Maybe the author has even more wild surprises up her sleeve.
Kinsella is my go-to for fun, feel-good reads that demand very little of me. After all these years, since the very first shopaholic book, I know exactKinsella is my go-to for fun, feel-good reads that demand very little of me. After all these years, since the very first shopaholic book, I know exactly what I'm going to get from her and I'm totally good with that. Unfortunately, though, a huge chunk of My Not So Perfect Life bored the pants off me.
The author's books may be shallow and silly, but I have also always found them charming, funny and charismatic. I couldn't help liking Becky Bloomwood. I especially liked Audrey and her family from 2015's Finding Audrey. But I felt zero spark from Katie Brenner. Or this book's love interest. Or the story.
Others have noted the similarities between this and The Devil Wears Prada, and that is especially true of the book's opening. I would say it is practically identical. Katie Brenner is starting her new job at a trendy marketing/branding agency in London. It all seems very glamourous, but her reality is running errands and filling out spreadsheets for her boss - Demeter - who also happens to be selfish and insensitive. Demeter has the dream life, it seems, and everyone hates her.
Then things take a turn for the worse when Katie is fired and must return to her family in the English countryside and settle into her new job - helping out with their glamping business. Until Demeter shows up with her family for a holiday and Katie is forced to confront the fact that she might have misjudged her all along.
Everything I've written here is just a rehash of the blurb, and yet it is almost the entire plot of the book. There’s virtually nothing that happens that you can’t get from the description. The story is revealed almost in its entirety by the blurb, and everything else is predictable. Plus, this book could easily shed a hundred pages and have lost nothing.
Even if you disregard for a second my disconnect from Katie and her overlong and dull story, even if you forget the uninteresting love interest, much is built up around the whole "finding out Demeter is not actually all she first seems" angle, but this was unsatisfying to me, too. Her rudeness is explained away through misunderstandings, and while some revelations about her draw sympathy, am I really supposed to feel sorry for her because - oh my gosh - she has a few home troubles and a mortgage? I actually cringed when she complained about the beautiful stone steps outside her house and how hard it is to get a pram up them. Boo freaking hoo.
It wasn't so awful that I want to give it one star; it was just wholly unremarkable. I can feel myself already forgetting Katie Brenner and, no joke, I have honestly already forgotten the guy's name. It was too long, not fun enough, and the outcomes not satisfying enough.
I can see why it might not appeal to everyone. These stories are fragments, really; scenes from family life in Nigeria and among Nigerian expats in America. But it was so refreshing to sit down and read a collection of unpretentious short stories about people and relationships.
Despite containing magical realism, dallying in historical fiction, and experimenting with dystopia, the stories in this book are not drowning in dark metaphors and dreamy prose. The messages - if there at all - are subtle. Arimah captures quiet moments between fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, husbands and wives, and packs them full of emotion. These small insights into their lives were extremely poignant and powerful.
One such powerful example is “Light”, narrated from the perspective of Enebeli, in which his wife goes to study - and later work - in America. When she brings their daughter to live with her, Enebeli is forced to watch the fire die out in her over Skype conversations, curbed by the influence of American life.
“Before she quiets in a country that rewards her brand of boldness, in her black of body, with an incredulous fascination that makes her put it away.”
Some of the stories are dark, such as “Windfalls”, in which a mother purposely harms herself and her daughter in order to sue and collect the payouts. This lifestyle takes ever more of a toll on her daughter, both physically and mentally, until it eventually reaches a disturbing climax.
The fantastical appears in “Who Will Greet You at Home.” In this story, a woman makes babies out of yarn, wrapping paper, and human hair, hoping Mama will bless them with life. In exchange, she trades in a bit of her joy (and other emotions) at a time.
Emotions are also up for grabs in the titular "What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky", which imagines a future where climate change has brought floods to much of Britain and North America, resulting in another flood - this time of British immigrants into Nigeria where they form the “Biafra-Britannia Alliance.”
The only story I disliked was “What is a Volcano?” A very strange tale that leaned too heavily on the magical metaphors refreshingly absent from most of the other stories. It is about a feud between the god of ants and the goddess of rivers and was, for me, the least emotionally engaging of the bunch.
All of the stories somehow relate to Nigeria - its history, its future, its culture and religions. Whether it be reminiscing about the civil war in the aptly-named "War Stories", or exploring the experiences of Nigerian immigrants living in the United States in such as "Glory", the country has a strong influence on each tale.
Many of them also feature spirited young brown girls who burn too brightly for the world around them. The author does not go easy on them - they are pushed into marriages, deal with sexual abuse that no one else will believe, are beaten frequently by their parents, and can be spiteful and cruel - but you can tell, despite it all, that the author has a lot of love for them; she is on their side.
And I was on their side, too. When the characters are this strong, complex and memorable-- how could I not be?
Going into this book, I had no idea who Krysten Ritter was. It was only when I went to the Goodreads page just now that I realized she's an actress. SGoing into this book, I had no idea who Krysten Ritter was. It was only when I went to the Goodreads page just now that I realized she's an actress. So I had approached this as I would any hyped thriller with an enticingly fiery cover. Unfortunately, though, I found Bonfire to have a recycled plot that lacked a certain juicy nastiness I like in my thrillers.
And isn't this a story we've seen a thousand times?
Maybe it's just me, but I feel like I've read countless versions of a woman escaping her smalltown life, only to grow up and become a detective or lawyer or whatever and return to solve a mystery and face all the people and unresolved issues of her past. I even think I've read a bunch of romance variations on this plot, too. It reminds me a little of Sharp Objects, but Ritter is no Gillian Flynn.
I felt like Ritter was trying to capture the "evil teen girls" vibe that so many authors want to tap into. The protagonist - Abby Williams - has a lot of personal demons and they're mostly related to the bullying she endured during her schooldays. Though I think this intense world of teenage girldom has been explored much better by other authors, from Megan Abbott to Abigail Haas.
Bonfire sees Abby, now an environmental lawyer, returning to her hometown and hoping to uncover the truth about Optimal, a plastics corporation. Abby believes Optimal has been polluting the town's water supply and caused a string of unexplained illnesses among her classmates years ago. One of whom disappeared. The classmates in question claimed it was a harmless prank, but Abby's convinced otherwise.
I completely appreciate the importance of environmental pollution issues but I've got to say-- it's a bit of a hard sell as a compelling thriller. I only recall Paolo Bacigalupi doing it successfully. There was just never a moment when the book took hold of me and made me desperate to know the answers.
It was also just very unconvincing overall. I couldn't understand why Abby was so adamant that the pollution took place when even those who got sick claimed it wasn't true. It's not a spoiler to state the obvious - there is something more going on, but I don't know why Abby would think that. And Bonfire relies heavily on Abby conveniently remembering, forgetting, or deducing (quite incredibly) as needed. Abby makes many tenuous connections between some clue - that fell into her lap - and the truth, whilst jumping to conclusions that I doubt anyone would have made.
Also thought it was strange how Abby quickly developed TWO romantic relationships with the men of Barrens, but it didn't have any impact on the story whatsoever.
There is a moment at the climax of the novel which is easily the most thrilling of the whole book, and it was my favourite part, but the culprit will come as a surprise to few. They were so obviously shady that I had almost convinced myself they were a glaring red herring.
The climax leads into an extremely rushed ending-- we discover the villain, witness a face-off, and wrap it all up in the last fifteen pages of the book. Messy and disappointing.
This is a difficult review to write because I have a lot of mixed feelings.
Her Body and Other Parties is like most short story collections I have readThis is a difficult review to write because I have a lot of mixed feelings.
Her Body and Other Parties is like most short story collections I have read in that some of the stories worked for me far more than others. It is a strange, experimental, feminist collection that often crosses into fantasy, dystopia and/or magical realism. Some of the stories stepped out of the land of weird into, I feel, the land of nonsensical and absurdist. I liked these stories less than the others.
Perhaps it is somewhat plebeian of me to say so, but I preferred the stories with actual, you know, stories and a structural narrative. My favourites were the much-lauded "The Husband Stitch", "Eight Bites", and "Difficult At Parties".
"The Husband Stitch" is a retelling of "The Green Ribbon" with emphasis on the demands men and society place on women, and their sense of entitlement toward women's bodies. I especially liked how the author played around with form, including stage directions for the reader who is “reading this story out loud”.
"Eight Bites" is about a woman's relationship with food and her fat self as she considers and then gets bariatric surgery. Machado's evocative writing really worked when delving into a food/body obsession.
"Difficult At Parties" - about a woman trying to deal with the aftermath of sexual assault by watching porn - is another narrative that got right under my skin.
I also enjoyed "The Resident", in which an artist's retreat in the mountains leads to a writer slowly coming undone. It contained a darkly comical line that is one of my favourite quotes in the collection:
“Do you ever worry,” she asked me, “that you’re the madwoman in the attic?”
"Mothers", on the other hand, was a bit too abstract for me. I'd be lying if I claimed to really understand what happened. Though my least favourites were "Inventory" and "Especially Heinous". The former lists the narrator's sexual experiences throughout her life in snippets, as a vague post-apocalyptic scenario plays out in the background.
"Especially Heinous" should have been called "Especially Tedious". It rewrites the episode plot summaries for twelve seasons of Law & Order: SVU in snippets that gave me flashbacks to Lincoln in the Bardo. It's just page after page of disconnected plot summaries that didn't come together and do anything. I wanted it to end.
However, just in general - and this can hardly be considered Machado's fault - I am growing a little tired of these feminist tales that hold such a grim definition of womanhood and femininity. Where we are painted as humans owned in parts by various men and corporations, where sex is cold and passionless, where we are seen to be masturbating furiously whenever our vaginas aren’t bleeding, which seems to be 80% of the time with all the hymens, birthing and, of course, menstruation. Maybe this is to make women seem harder, more brutal, less maternal and nurturing and cuddly and weak… but it’s a bleak alternative.
This book, in particular, is heavy on the sex. I have no problem with sex and sexuality, but it's extremely detached and unemotional. It's an orgasm with a straight face. It's this quote from "Real Women Have Bodies" when the narrator's girlfriend is dying/fading:
“We have never fucked with such urgency as we do in these weeks, but she is fading more and feeling less. She comes infrequently.”
It is sometimes very strange how sex and coming are the most important things in scenes where it seems like far more important things are happening. It made it especially difficult to read through "Inventory", which is little more than a repetitive listing of unsexy sex throughout a woman's life.
A fantastic and clever idea; an execution that left much to be desired.
I've never felt so strongly aware of an author pushing his extensive research oA fantastic and clever idea; an execution that left much to be desired.
I've never felt so strongly aware of an author pushing his extensive research on the reader as I was while reading White Tears. Kunzru spares no details as he delves into heavy descriptions of the sound editing process and audio engineering. He name-drops. His characters contemplate music theory ad nauseum. It felt unnatural, like the author was ever-present behind the narrative, showcasing his impressive amount of research into the subject matter. The book would have been stronger without it.
I also agree completely with other readers who noted that this is a book of two VERY different halves. The first half is much more palatable and enjoyable, even with the addition of the aforementioned info-dumping. This first half explores wealth, privilege and class, developing the two main characters - Seth and Carter - and their fascination obsession with vintage blues music.
White Tears is essentially about the very real dangers of cultural appropriation as two twenty-something white hipsters play around in the world of black music. When Seth records a random singer in a park with a beautiful blues-y voice, Carter puts it online and claims it is a long-lost vintage blues recording by the made-up Charlie Shaw. In a strange turn of events, a collector contacts them saying the recording and musician are actually real.
This is where the book is strongest. Kunzru shines a light on the extent of Seth and Carter's privilege, firstly emphasizing how Carter's economic prosperity aids him, but then also showing the ways in which Seth gains as a white man capitalizing on a black man's music (whether fictional or not). It takes steps toward exploring the tumultuous history of black music in America but, unfortunately, this is where the book goes, um... completely nuts.
The second half of the book reads like a random stream of nonsense. The author quickly switches to a tale that is perhaps supernatural, maybe nonsensical, definitely confusing, and it is extremely jarring. I don’t think I ever quite got back into the book. Is Charlie Shaw real? Is ANYTHING real?! It becomes ever more rambling and incoherent before finally sort of being pulled together in the last fifty-ish pages.
But I don’t think it’s enough to excuse the amount of time I felt completely disconnected and baffled. White Tears totally lost me on its spiral into bizarroland. It’s almost like the author vomited random words onto the page and the reader is left to decide whether they see something deep in said word vomit, or nothing at all. I’m afraid I’m mostly in the latter camp.
Part of me wants to rate this book higher because there were good parts. But, after some consideration, I feel like even at its best this was barely more than a 3-star read for me. At its worst, it was a real struggle to get through.
“Well. Usually boys don’t wear dresses to preschool,” Rosie admitted carefully. “Or tights.” “I’m not usually,” said Claude. This, Rosie reflected,
“Well. Usually boys don’t wear dresses to preschool,” Rosie admitted carefully. “Or tights.” “I’m not usually,” said Claude. This, Rosie reflected, even at the time, was true.
I've been going back and forth on whether I wanted to read this for a while. On the one hand, the premise interested me, the critics' reviews have been gushing, and the average GR rating is impressive. On the other hand, the few negative reviews have been calling it words like "sentimental", and even Kirkus begrudgingly admitted that it is "cloying at times". Those are two things that can turn me off a book right away.
Is it sentimental? I mean, sure, maybe... but it was also a deeply emotional reading experience for me, too. Is it sweet, nice, neat? I would argue not. There is much in this book that warmed my heart, but to dismiss its struggles as too easy, too nice and too easily solved is to dismiss the gender dysphoria and violent transphobia as something that is easy.
At its heart, This is How It Always Is is a book about all seven members of the Walsh-Adams family. I love family drama/saga style books so this was right up my alley. They are a loving, hilarious, complex and dysfunctional family, all trying to do right by one another (and screwing up many times along the way). I was utterly charmed.
After four boys, Rosie and Penn are sure their fifth child will be a girl... until Claude arrives. It will be a few more years before they realize that their first predictions weren't exactly wrong. Drawing from her own experiences, the author explores how the family reacts to the realization that Claude (now Poppy) is transgender. Rosie and Penn instinctively try to protect their child by moving to the supposedly more liberal Seattle. However, instead of celebrating who Poppy is, they keep it a secret and urge her brothers to do the same.
Like most secrets, the weight of hiding Poppy bears down on all of them, especially Poppy herself. The characters note the irony that they are hiding the "fake" Poppy, and the real Poppy is the one her schoolmates and neighbours have known all along. Eventually, of course, everything blows up in their faces.
I found it very easy to become absorbed in the story. I became angry at the transphobic and homophobic comments made by kids and adults, and frustrated at the smaller acts of misunderstanding as the Wisconsin teachers tried to accommodate a trans student whilst still enforcing the gender binary:
“Little boys do not wear dresses.” Miss Appleton tried to channel her usual patience. “Little girls wear dresses. If you are a little boy, you can’t wear a dress. If you are a little girl, you have to use the nurse’s bathroom.” *** “Meaning if he is a girl, he has gender dysphoria, and we will accommodate that. If he just wants to wear a dress, he is being disruptive and must wear normal clothes.”
Frankel highlights an ongoing problem in which schools try to recognize trans students but still demand they check one box or another, and adopt the expected characteristics of the selected "male" or "female". The ultimate issue is about more than accepting someone with XY chromosomes as a girl; it is also about being able to accept someone with facial hair and a deep voice as a girl, or as both a girl and boy, or as neither.
“This is a medical issue, but mostly it’s a cultural issue. It’s a social issue and an emotional issue and a family dynamic issue and a community issue. Maybe we need to medically intervene so Poppy doesn’t grow a beard. Or maybe the world needs to learn to love a person with a beard who goes by ‘she’ and wears a skirt.”
This is How It Always Is is an emotive read, but it also explores a lot of practical issues. Like the decisions parents can and cannot, should and should not, make for trans kids. Or kids in general. Throughout, Penn keeps up a long-running fairytale of Grumwald and Stephanie, painting in some rather obvious messages and parallels for his kids, which I suppose is what some would consider "sickly sweet" but hell, if he isn't the best dad ever.
I loved them all. I loved Rosie and her scientist's logic as a way of dealing with problems. I loved Penn and his sweet romanticism and hopefulness. I loved messed-up Roo and all his mistakes. I loved precocious Ben and how much he cares for Poppy. I loved the goofy twins who offered so much light and cheer in this book. And I loved Poppy. Of course I loved Poppy.
This is my first read by Lisa See and I enjoyed it enough to want to check out her other work, but I also feel like I picked up this particular story This is my first read by Lisa See and I enjoyed it enough to want to check out her other work, but I also feel like I picked up this particular story at the wrong time. The problem is, I recently finished Ko's The Leavers - an extremely powerful story with a similar theme to this one - and it was hard not to compare the two.
Both books are about a Chinese woman and her biological child. Both books see the child being adopted and raised, out of necessity, by white Americans. Both books focus heavily on culture and identity. I thought The Leavers was an exceptional portrait of what it is like to not quite fit in anywhere - to be an outsider in your parent's country of origin, but also not quite be accepted in the culture you were raised in.
In comparison, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane seemed a little emotionally dry. Though similar in that Li-yan and Haley both struggle to find their place, it didn't tug at my heartstrings the same way. I really appreciate the amount of time and effort See obviously put into researching tea-growing and the Akha culture and rituals, but I think this was somewhat at the expense of characterization and emotional impact.
There were compelling parts, such as Li-Yan's experiences as a trainee midwife in the early chapters, but I thought the later chapters - and particularly her daughter's perspective - were far less engaging. In general, there was a little too much farming, foraging, hunting and chanting for my tastes, and too little emotional engagement. Some deaths that should have been dramatic failed to touch me.
As I said, I will definitely check out the author's other work to see if it was just a case of bad timing with this one.
2 1/2 stars. This was nowhere near as engaging as I would expect from a book that has a 4.4 average rating over 48,000+ readers.
The strength of Beneat2 1/2 stars. This was nowhere near as engaging as I would expect from a book that has a 4.4 average rating over 48,000+ readers.
The strength of Beneath a Scarlet Sky comes from it's exploration of the Italian experience under Mussolini during the Second World War. I know almost nothing about what happened here, despite having read A LOT of books and memoirs set during this time. I've read countless tales about the Germans, Polish, the British and the Americans, so it was extremely refreshing to get a new perspective.
Also, Sullivan interviewed the real Pino Lella - the protagonist of this book - and based much of the story on his tales and memories. It is a fictionalized, much-embellished true story, which makes it even more effective to many, I'm sure.
That being said, the writing really does leave something to be desired. Writing style is not something I comment on too often, but it was obvious to me as soon as I began reading that - at the very least - Beneath a Scarlet Sky could have done with some extra rounds of (heavy) editing.
And I know that the author's starting disclaimer is basically a cute way of saying "Look, some parts are absolute bullshit that I made up to make the story more interesting" but my suspension of disbelief was strained a bit when Pino's life becomes something of a superhero tale. Dramatic event after dramatic event unfolds, and I feel that if a young guy really did do half the things Pino Lella apparently did then he would be as famous as Harry Potter. Not the long-forgotten star of a semi-biographical novel.
The history is interesting. The story is, on occasion, compelling. But true, semi-true, maybe true? Yeah, I'm not convinced.
DNF ~40% Strong opening chapter with Isma, a British Muslim, being interrogated for hours at airport security, but it has since done nothing for me. NDNF ~40% Strong opening chapter with Isma, a British Muslim, being interrogated for hours at airport security, but it has since done nothing for me. Neither the characters nor the story are pulling me in. And, as good as "modern Antigone" sounds, it's a far more cerebral read than I was expecting.
"Vegetable jokes," he says. "It's all I'm good for anymore." "What do you mean?" I say. He points to the couple. "Isn't it romaine-tic?"
I realise I’
"Vegetable jokes," he says. "It's all I'm good for anymore." "What do you mean?" I say. He points to the couple. "Isn't it romaine-tic?"
I realise I’m in the minority, but I just didn’t find this book funny. I always feel that humour is one of the most subjective aspects of a book, and the style here didn't work for me at all. It wasn't my only issue with Goodbye, Vitamin, but it was probably the biggest one. Maybe my disconnect with the humour led into all the other problems I had.
It's a book about thirty-year-old Ruth and how she deals with a break-up and her father's Alzheimers diagnosis over the course of one year. It's a quick read, rolling in at just over 200 pages, but it is messy, often disconnected and very, very random. I really struggled to connect with the narrator or her family, and this made it difficult to get through, despite the length.
It's written in what seems, at first glance, like diary entries, but the narrative jumps all over the place and lacked any kind of cohesion. One minute, Ruth is dealing with her father's erratic mood swings; the next minute, she is with her best friend; and, quickly after, we have jumped back to an anecdote from her childhood.
Goodbye, Vitamin reads like a random stream of comedy sketches, lacking any kind of focus or direction. We get random trivia in the middle of chapters about everything from whales to California trees to what contains aluminium to:
"The word testify," you said, "comes from testicles. Men used to swear by their balls."
And I think this kind of tidbit is supposed to be funny. But it's not my particular brand of humour. It's like when the characters go horse-riding and the horse craps. Ha. Hilarious. Sorry, but bathroom jokes are not my thing.
We also receive random observations on life, the universe and everything, which is something I usually like, but it seemed so out of place in this story. I can't stop thinking (and typing) the word "random", which I feel sums up a lot of this book. Lots of disconnected ideas, jokes and fun facts that never came together into a story I could love. I also grew tired of the snippets from Ruth's childhood where her dad recorded the exact cutesy things she said as a kid.
I love books that can successfully take a serious issue - like Alzheimer's - and wrap it up in humour so that it doesn't become an emotionally-manipulative sob story but, for me, this wasn’t one of them. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a great book I read recently that is sadness wrapped up in hilarity, and that worked much better for me.
The Girl in the Tower contains everything I loved about the first book, but I feel like Vasya has really grown as a character. She's still as spirited as always, but older and wiser, and I love it when characters naturally and gradually change and develop as a story progresses.
Here, the plot picks up shortly after the events of The Bear and the Nightingale. When accusations of witchcraft leave Vasya with an impossible choice between life in a convent or marriage, she chooses option three: disguising herself as a boy and taking off across the wild and rugged landscape of medieval Russia. Vasya's journey leads her to her sister Olga, her brother Sasha, a monk, and her cousin Dmitrii, the Grand Prince of Moscow. She soon gets caught up in lies and deception, and even bigger unrest surrounding the Moscovian rulers.
Arden just blends history and the fantastical so well. Supernatural elements exist alongside the politics and invaders, and the author incorporates both so naturally that it's easy to be convinced that 14th-Century Russia was a land haunted by spirits. Details of everyday life add to the novel's realism, such as the hygiene (or, I should say, lack of) and the dangers lurking in the woods.
As with the first book, The Girl in the Tower gains strength from its atmosphere and strong sense of place. A very vivid picture is painted of this snowy and dangerous landscape, and I was able to plant myself straight inside Vasya's world. Add to this the stifling constraints placed on women of the time, and you have a very emotionally engaging experience.
I am being careful not to say too much, but this book is definitely worth the read if you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale. It is just as gloriously atmospheric and, for me at least, more urgent and fast-paced.
Also, Morozko has my heart. Yeah, that's the frost demon. I'm not even sorry.
It's surprising that this book has received such positive reviews from critics given that it is highly derivative. I'm already tired of these Atwood copycats - Red Clocks is another - and I'm sure this is just the beginning. It cannot be a coincidence that they are all popping up while the hype of the Hulu series is still fresh.
This book is split into three parts. Part one is an extremely slow introspective build where Cedar Hawk Songmaker finally meets her native birth mother and considers how she feels about being pregnant. The whole book is written in diary entries to "you", her unborn child. Perhaps this is characteristic of Erdrich's style in that she explores daily habits, dreams and circling thoughts with little actually happening, but I don't think it's a great choice for a book exploring a dystopian concept.
The effect of the devolution is that very few "original" babies are born - those resembling humanity as we know it. Many women experience stillbirths; many more die themselves. The new theocracy that grows out of this chaos - “The Church of the New Constitution” - starts rounding up pregnant and fertile women to seize the babies of the former, and forcibly inseminate the latter.
Most of the action takes place in part two. Too bad most of this action also took place thirty years ago in The Handmaid's Tale. It is the same story - a man, woman and their child in hiding from a theocratic government, until the woman is captured and sent off to a place where many women are kept. Women are imprisoned to be used for their fertile bodies. Even the "Mother" character who lectures the women on becoming empowered through God’s blessing of a child is reminiscent of Atwood's "Aunts".
I found too much of the book to be dull, and the most dynamic and exciting parts were those ripped straight from one of my favourite books of all time. I was also disappointed how this book wasn't really about the devolution aspect at all, but only the infertility dystopia that grew out of it. Was this a poor choice for my first Louise Erdrich book or is she simply not for me?
“Beware, Xifeng, of magic that comes too easily. There is a price for everything, as she learned and you, too, will learn. Some magic requires bloo
“Beware, Xifeng, of magic that comes too easily. There is a price for everything, as she learned and you, too, will learn. Some magic requires blood. Other magic requires a piece of your own self and eats away at your soul.”
4 1/2 stars. In short: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East Asia-inspired fantasy in which a young woman chooses ruthless ambition and power over the love of a hot guy. Halle-freaking-lujah.
I should probably say this is not for readers who must like the protagonist in order to enjoy a book. I almost DNFed it in the beginning when Xifeng hates and/or is jealous of every other woman she encounters. Girl-on-girl hate is one of my all time biggest pet peeves in YA. However, it soon became apparent that this is kind of the point. We're not really supposed to like Xifeng. She's a complex antiheroine and, honestly, it worked really well for me.
The story opens with Xifeng living in a small town with her abusive aunt/Guma and secretly longing to fulfil the destiny the cards have predicted for her, again and again. The cards show a future of ultimate power, with Xifeng as the Empress, but there are sacrifices to be made and many obstacles to be overcome. She finally gathers her courage and runs away with her beloved, Wei, searching for a way to plant herself close to the Emperor and achieve what the cards have promised.
It's nasty, twisted, and kinda gory. And I loved it! I experienced a whole array of emotions while reading. It's one of those books that gets under your skin until you're not quite sure how you feel about what is happening. On the one hand, Xifeng's dark jealousies and obsession with her own beauty should make you dislike her, and yet it is easy to feel the suffocating, frustrating cage of being a woman in a man's world.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns goes into a surprising amount of depth, never allowing characters to become one-dimensional stereotypes, and considering the complexities of abuse - how one can love their abuser for their few kind, gentle moments, despite everything. Even the most despicable character in the book offers us glimpses of her humanity:
“Life is difficult when you’re born a woman in this world,” the concubine murmured. “You’ve entered a game you can’t win. Men make the rules and we are left to be used by them or claw our way to whatever scraps they’ve left behind. Do you think my father gave me to the Emperor because he loved me? Did he care when he tore me from my mother’s arms? He thrust me into this pit of scorpions to be stung and forgotten.”
In a strange way, it's something of a feminist tale. Or, at least, a critique of a patriarchal world that can make a woman terrified of losing that which she considers her greatest weapon - her beauty. It may be difficult to like Xifeng, but I truly felt her claustrophobia and pain here:
“I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else.”
It definitely has a very Macbeth-esque feel to it. The use of prophecy - and how a person can become obsessed with and corrupted by it - reminds me of the Shakespearean tale. I can't say I would want Xifeng for a friend, but I am very interested in where her story is going. I have a feeling things are only going to get darker and nastier from here. I can't wait.
Everyone started sniffling at that point. Everyone, that is, except me. I never did the crying thing. It would have ruined my makeup.
I actually re
Everyone started sniffling at that point. Everyone, that is, except me. I never did the crying thing. It would have ruined my makeup.
I actually really enjoyed this. I went into it expecting a classic Scrooge story: a deep, meaningful tale about learning the error of your ways and becoming a better person through love of your fellow man (i.e. in this case, hot dude), but you should know - this is actually a very light, silly, feel-good book.
I definitely didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. I’ve watched so many different versions of A Christmas Carol and Cynthia Hand’s books have elicited mixed reactions from me in the past. AND I’m not one of those “Christmas people” who takes huge joy from the holidays (my favourite Christmas song is Fairytale of New York because drunk Irish people are everything).
BUT I think I just really liked the exceptionally unlikeable Holly Chase. I've seen others complaining how she didn't learn from her Scrooge experience and was still a bitch, but hell, I liked it. She starts off as the kind of deliciously unlikeable character that I just loved to hate. After she is visited by her three ghosts on Christmas Eve (technically early Christmas morning) - unlike the original Ebenezer Scrooge - she decides to shrug and get on with being a horrible person. So she dies and wakes up in her own personal version of hell: working for Project Scrooge as their newest Ghost of Christmas Past.
Five years later, she's still there. Then the latest Scrooge is picked - a teenage guy who Holly discovers she has a lot in common with - and things start to change. Can Holly save him and finally put some things right?
Expect a fairly light story. It's not quite My Lady Jane level silliness, but it edges toward there in parts. The whole project Scrooge set-up of sneaking into the Scrooge's rooms and sifting through their memories feels like a comical version of Monsters Inc. Holly's narrative, especially in the beginning, is of someone who knows she's a horrible person and doesn't feel bad about it.
Predictably, a romance develops, but even that was okay here because I just find Holly so ridiculously funny:
He was playing tennis, wearing black gym shorts that hit him about six inches above the knee and a simple polo, and he was sweating a little. Thank you, universe.
I like her blunt self-awareness. And I always appreciate romance with humour over starcrossed destiny.
It's not difficult to see some things coming, but the book doesn't hang everything on its conclusion and I enjoyed the ending anyway. I can't deny that the entire reading experience was pure enjoyment for me. Everything is wrapped up well and the ending suggests it will be a standalone. But, whether alone or with the My Lady Jane crew, I really hope Hand continues to write light, funny books. I enjoy them so much more than her The Last Time We Say Goodbye.
He could probably open his mouth and call me an asshole again and I'd still want to kiss the lips the insult came from.
CoHo really missed the mark
He could probably open his mouth and call me an asshole again and I'd still want to kiss the lips the insult came from.
CoHo really missed the mark with this one, in my opinion. I really do like that she's moving more towards Contemporary and darker subjects - as with It Ends with Us - but this messy book took on mental illness, sexuality, suicide, abuse, even the Syrian refugee crisis, AND a romance. None of them were done very well.
The book centers on Merit Voss and her family. They now live upstairs in a renovated church with their father and stepmother, after their father cheated on their sick mother. Said sick mother lives downstairs in the basement. Merit retreats further and further into herself as she feels ever more estranged from her siblings - especially older brother, Utah, and twin sister, Honor.
One day, a hot dude called Sagan kisses Merit unexpectedly. She reciprocates, but soon realises she has been mistaken for her twin and that she has just kissed Honor's boyfriend. To make matters worse, she can't stop thinking about him. And worse than that-- shortly after, Honor moves Sagan into the Voss household.
You know, there's a difference between creating well-rounded, complex and unlikeable characters, and just creating characters who get away with being obnoxious and selfish. It feels like the entire Voss family spend this book being assholes and it is all wrapped up and forgiven without any consequences. A lot of Merit’s actions are forgiven by us finding out that it wasn’t really true. (view spoiler)[Sagan wasn’t really Honor’s boyfriend and the pills she stole from her sick mother were placebo pills. But how does that change the fact that she believed she was pursuing her sister's boyfriend and stealing her mother's medicine? (hide spoiler)] Their father, too, shrugs off his infidelity with: “You think I'm not allowed to make mistakes?” (view spoiler)[He isn’t learning from it, by the way, because the “mistakes” are ongoing. (hide spoiler)]
It's impossible to like or even care about anyone.
I also just don't understand why no one on the editing team is catching the homophobia, biphobia, ableism and slut-shaming in here. And it's straight from the mouth of our narrator who we are supposed to feel sympathy for! How do you like someone who says this when outing someone as bisexual:
“Maybe he couldn’t finish with me because he prefers dick. Utah’s dick, at least.”
Or this about another (sick) woman:
“You open your legs to him any time he wants it.”
Or just this entire exchange:
“It’s probably the whole gay thing you’re experimenting with. It’s making you sentimental.” He glances back at me and narrows his eyes. “You can’t make gay jokes, Merit. You aren’t gay.” “Does being gay make you the gay authority on who can or can’t tell gay jokes?” “I’m not gay, either,” he says. “Could have fooled me.” I laugh. “If you don’t think you’re gay, you’re sexually confused.”
He's bi/pansexual, by the way, which Merit already knows.
Perhaps you can try and excuse some of Merit's actions as being part of her depression (though as someone who has dealt with depression most of my life, I personally disagree that it excuses you for being a judgmental asshole) but that doesn't excuse the whole obsession with her virginity and her disdain for other sexually active women. This happens a lot in Coho's books. Sexuality is bad, and the heroine is considered more virtuous for having held onto her virginity like it's a prize to be won.
And while people are saying Without Merit is not really a romance, I'd actually disagree. It may have a plot outside of the romance, unlike some of Hoover's earlier books, but it is still very romantic. A lot of the story feels centred around the romantic tensions between Merit and Sagan. I didn't like either of them. Sagan mansplains everything to Merit, coddles her against her wishes by saying he won't make out with her for her own good (ugh), and then even says this which I think is supposed to be sweet:
“You were really easy to like today, Merit.”
I think the author wanted to tackle a lot of issues, but didn't handle any of them with the sensitivity required. Mental illness and sexuality are used as twists and plot devices, and it left a bad taste. In fact, I'm sometimes just not sure the author understands the issues she is writing about. Or she deliberately writes characters who don't, without explanation. One last quote:
"even though I'm an atheist, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank God that I have a wife who understands that.”