Daughters of Smoke and Fire By Ava Homa: A Review

“Trees and flowers bloom despite human barbarism. Maybe I can too?”

Happy Release Day to Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa! You can pick this novel up starting today. One of the first novels written in English by a Kurdish woman, this book is a beacon for Kurds everywhere. I was woefully ignorant of their plight beyond minor knowledge of ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. We have all heard of the different customs, torture, and outright genocide, but when you live the US, it’s easy to view these as nightmarish tales used to scare us into valuing our freedoms. This is a deeper look into the things we hear, and while it may not be the experience of everyone, it is certainly the experience of many Kurds. The Kurdish people are an estimated 30-40 million and are stateless, having been denied land, forbidden to speak their own language and practice their own customs.

“I can’t fucking stand the degradation anymore. If you are a leftist, they kill you; if you are an activist, they kill you; even if you don’t believe in anything and just say ‘Yes, sir,” they kill you. Maybe not physically, but they kill you inside.”

Leila is our primary voice and she’s expresses how the only people treated worse than a Kurd, is a Kurdish woman. She lives in a world where women set their own bodies on fire rather than go on living the painful lives they are allowed, where anything traumatic that happens to a woman is only what she deserved, where SHE can be punished for a man raping her. Through Leila’s eyes, I learned about the Peshmerga, a group that fights for security and an independent Kurdish state. They were partly responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein and their name literally means, “those that face death”. They are quite revolutionary for their region. Leila’s brother is an activist that has followed in his father’s footsteps, and though he is younger, Leila looks up to his strength and courage in the face of tyranny. In the US, we make jibes about the government’s ability to make us discreetly disappear if they wanted to, without any real concern of it. Where they live, the government will bust in your house in light of day and shoot you for having banned books or torture you for the slightest bit of “progressive” thinking. Leila and her friend Shiler live under the constant threat of the morality police, that will sentence you as they please for any impure contact with a man. Leila, at one point, is hit by a car and is terrified that she will be ruined in the eyes of her father because of the possibility that her hymen broke from the impact. The world that these women live in is completely different from what I am used to. Leila eventually has an opportunity at life in a new area and she marvels at the differences. She is able to see the beauty in her culture and religion when not surrounded by an oppressive government, the beauty in the choice instead of the cruel hand suffocating her with the requirement of all that she’s supposed to be, all the rules of how a woman must act.

A large part of the novel focuses on her brother’s activism, which is modeled loosely around Farzad Kamangar. Throughout his imprisonment and torture that transpired because of his work, Leila publishes his words and it spreads like wildfire. His words offer hope and a huge focus for him is progressiveness for women. Throughout this, he inspired Kurdish women to fight, protest, and learn more about their forbidden culture and language. Hence, the title Daughters of Smoke and Fire. This novel is a testament to the willpower it takes to fight those who would do anything they can to take away your humanity and leave your life in ruin. It’s a recognition of the women that would rather die a fiery death than live a life where they are barely acknowledged as human.

“Women who lost all reason to live wanted their internalized, burning rage to manifest on the outside too. A dramatic death testified to an agonizing life.”

It’s a novel like this that reminds me why people flee their homes and face judgement for immigrating, or the possibility of being torn from their families because they had to leave too hastily to apply legally. Whatever you feel on the immigration process, you cannot read a book like this and not feel empathy for those that are forced to take this route. Sometimes it’s the choice between an unmarked grave in a oppressive country or a jail cell in a “safe” country. It’s the choice of a country that you know the language and customs, but could be killed at any moment, or a country that offers you security but doesn’t fully welcome you, that wants you to adhere to their customs.

Ava Homa writes a novel that expresses the pain and terror that the Kurdish people experience. It’s heart-rending in its injustice, but it isn’t self-pitying. It’s a novel about finding your strength when it doesn’t seem possible, about making revolutionary moments with simple words and actions, with a gentle hand in contrast to the abuse suffered. This is one of the best novels I will read all year, and easily five stars. Homa writes piercingly and her story will quickly grab hold and set root into your heart. I marvel at the strength and courage it must take to write a novel such as this, the author herself is just as important to the Kurdish cause as she has portrayed her characters as being.

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein: A Review

I was offered a galley of Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein through Atria Books and I gladly accepted! This rom-com focuses on the 2020 Olympics, which were unfortunately cancelled, but was no less satisfying despite that detail. It did make me feel even more horrible for the Olympic athletes that have put themselves under immense pressure and rigorous training for this chance of a lifetime.

As far as rom-coms go, this was a 5 star within the genre. Our main character is Avery, a former gymnast that missed her shot at the Olympics after an injury. Years down the road, she still deals with depression that stems not only from this twist of fate but from the emotional abuse that her renowned coach spewed at her during her years of training. She finds herself lost and reeling after a breakup and back in her hometown when she’s offered the chance to coach a promising contender for the 2020 Olympics. This offer is extended by a former Olympian acquaintance named Ryan (hence where the romance comes in).

When Avery is thrust back into this world, she really has to face the repercussions that stem from years of training with an emotionally abusive coach. This novel stands above most that I’ve read within this genre because it addresses some serious issues. It focuses on the sexual abuse a lot of a female athletes face, which is often a product of trusted professionals or adults grooming and taking advantage of young girls. It discusses the self-image issues that come from some of the more severe coaching strategies and whether the brutal techniques are worth the results if they come at a detriment to a young woman’s mental or physical health. I loved that this novel managed to keep me interested enough to read this all in one go, with lighthearted prose, while tackling these issues. The romance was there, for those that are interested in the relationship aspect, but it didn’t play a more important part in Avery’s life than her addressing the issues she faced in the world of female athletes. This sends such a good message, because Avery didn’t sacrifice herself or what she believed in for a man, when it came down to having to put her experience out there. She cared more about helping other female athletes than getting the guy. Another aspect I really enjoyed was Ryan’s coaching style in contrast to the experience that Avery had when she was in training. He coaches with authority but gentleness in comparison to the ridicule, insults, and taunting that she experienced as motivators. They also recognize that his experience as a male athlete was likely very different than her experience as a female athlete in the same sport.

All in all, this was a delightful and brisk read. It never felt like a chore to read, and it wasn’t filled with fluff like a lot of rom-coms are (which, there’s nothing wrong with, if that’s what you’re looking for). I felt like I got an insight into the lives of a female Olympic athlete (since I’m the farthest thing from it) and this is an important novel to have available for young women, especially in a time when women are finally starting to be heard when it comes to holding men accountable for their mistreatment of them. Thank you to Atria and the author for the opportunity to read this wonderful distraction from the reality that 2020 is, which is utterly lacking from the excitement that the Olympics would have brought. Pick this up on June 23rd, 2020!

The Hilarious World of Depression: A Review

“Depression is formless, colorless, and odorless, and doesn’t show up on medical imaging.”

See all of those bookmarks? The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe was a delight to read. He makes a point early on to say that he hopes that this book helps people, that they highlight or bookmark and I certainly did that. 4.5/5 stars for me. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy to review. For those of you who are into podcasts, the author is actually a host of a podcast under the same name, which discusses depression with a bit of a comedic take.

First let me say, as someone who most certainly deals with depression, but has been too embarrassed to ever get screened for it… this book was extremely relatable. I felt as if John Moe plucked thoughts from my head. The more I read this book, the more I am convinced that there will come a point where I have to deal with it. He talks about how people with depression often think that if you are able to stop from getting worse, that you’ll be fine. No need for treatment, therapy, but also no improvement mentally. You become a standstill of numbness. He says often, we think the next big achievement in our life will make our depressive thoughts go away and then it follows us, and we think, “if I could only get to THIS POINT, I would be so much happier.” Then you get to that point and you’re not happier. That isn’t your fault, you’re not just pessimistic or an overachiever. You’re probably depressed or at least suffering mentally.

With such clarity and honesty, Moe talks about his journey of dealing with the idea of death. It started out as not wanting to be alive, but not actually wanting to kill himself. As his mental state worsens, he talks about contemplating killings himself and how he would do it. It might have been half serious, he might not have ever gone through with it, but that act itself is a cry for help in your own mind. If you think of how you would kill yourself in the most efficient way, that’s not a normal thing people think about when mentally stable. He even talks about his anger and guilt when his brother actually does kill himself in a manner that Moe felt like his previous writings may have influenced. People that commit suicide are people that have fallen to their illness. If someone dies from cancer, we say that their cancer killed them. When people kill themselves, others are angry or confused, like how could they have done that? How selfish? We don’t say, “their depression killed them” or “they fell prey to their illness” when it IS an illness. Moe drives this point home.

“Trauma is a wolf and your mind is a house and it’s like, “Oh, I’m safe from that wild because I trapped it in my house before it could hurt me.” But then a while later, it’s “Oh no! What happened to my house? My furniture is shredded and there’s wolf poop everywhere! How did that happen? Oh hey, I’m being mauled.”

What I love about this book is that it is so quotable. Moe talks in metaphors and through his experiences, because when it comes to depression, that’s what we’ve got. He teaches us through his traumas, through his reaction to them. He doesn’t paint himself better than he was or is, he talks about mistakes, moments of rage, moments of hilarity. He relates his comedic streak and self-deprecation to his depression, which is something not talked about enough. A lot of people hide mental insecurities and instability through humor. This is obviously a mask, a way to keep people from seeing the turmoil that lies underneath, but it made me really ponder… if we screened every comedian for depression, I wonder how high the statistics would favor positive for depression? Moe prods at this topic throughout his book and brought that question forth in my mind.

There was a part in this book that really stood out to me. I think we all know teachers have enough on their plates, we unfairly expect them to teach our kids EVERYTHING. So, I’m not pinning this on them and I don’t think THEY failed us, especially since they are following the curriculum that higher ups provide for them. Anyway, Moe talks about during his health classes, how depression or mental health was never brought up. I can relate to that, our health class was no more than a week block in a classroom near our PE class, and lightly covered STDs and the food pyramid. Now, it is definitely a parent’s job to teach all of this stuff. Sex Ed, proper nutrition, healthy ways to deal with mental health issues but if we are going to include health into the curriculum, it should include mental AND physical, as they’re equally important to our wellbeing. As a society, we do not prioritize mental health. We all fail each other when we view depression as taboo to speak about. My earlier mention of being embarrassed to be screened for depression is proof of that. Why am I embarrassed? Probably because I’ve been conditioned to think that way. It isn’t acceptable to succumb to your mental health even during tragedies, it seems. In college, there’s professors that don’t even view family death as an excuse to be late on an assignment. We are just taught throughout our lives that we need to be strong at all times, we live through war and watching death on the television. We saw people DIE on a live broadcast during 9/11 and we are all just supposed to be okay. We are supposed to happy all the time even though for generations now, we have lived with the threat of nuclear warfare hanging over our heads, which is something I never thought about until John Moe mentioned. I look around and I can say that there’s a pretty equal amount of mentally distressed and mentally healthy people in my life. Thankfully due to books and podcasts like this, our conversation is starting to turn to more acceptance and honesty in relation to mental instability even though we have a long way to go.

I get that this review has turned more into a think piece, but that’s what a good book should make you do. Honestly, I probably covered about 4 out of 20 highlights in a book that’s under 300 pages. I can’t quote every relatable thing he said. Well, I could but then I’d just be relaying the entire book to you when you should just read it for yourself. So here’s a long story short: John Moe takes a topic that is… well, depressing (because yes, talking about depression IS often as depressing and draining as it is therapeutic) and he makes it not seem like a chore. He brings laughter and moments of camaraderie to his writing. He makes you feel seen because of his own experiences and vocalization of those experiences and the thoughts that stem from them. Pick up this book if you suffer from depression or if you have a loved one that does, it is amazingly easy to read. It comes out May 5th!

The Book of Unknown Americans: A Review

“We’re the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”

Five stars for The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. I devoured this richly-written novel, that is simultaneously poignant and hopeful. We follow the lives of two immigrant families closely, as well as pepperings of perspectives from minor characters.

“and I felt the way I often felt in this country—simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore.”

As a white woman born in the United States, I will not even pretend to know the hardships that the average immigrant faces. This book doesn’t focus so much on the journey TO the US but the fight to survive once you’re in the US. In the US, we loudly proclaim about our freedoms and our progress, but if you’re not a white, English speaking, native born American, the experience is likely very different. We build our nation on the back of immigrants but make it so hard for them to succeed. Henríquez highlights the longing for home, the longing for safety, for acceptance and recognition, for the chance at a specialized education. Our characters love their countries of origin, where they aren’t an outsider, where the food is familiar and people speak their language, where they had a nice house that they traded for the cramped apartment building, but they all have their reasons for emigrating. One of our families moved solely to provide their daughter that sustained a head injury with better treatment and education. They gave up a comfortable life for a one bedroom apartment, for a low wage job, for looks of disdain and intolerance, for threats of their safety solely for being an immigrant. Through this writing, I felt a fraction of the weight that our immigrants carry, how small they’re made to feel, the huge sacrifices for some of the liberties that we take advantage of every day. I could feel our characters silently retreating into themselves. Henríquez writes so vividly that I was able to get a window into their lives.

“Like they really want to be tied to the underside of a car or stuffed into a trunk like a rug or walking in nothing but some sorry-ass sandals through the burning sand for days, a bottle of hot water in their hands? Half of them ending up dead, or burned up so bad that when someone finds them, their skin is black and their lips are cracked open? Another half of them drowning in rivers. And half after that picked up by la migra and sent back to where they came from, or beaten, or arrested.”

The thing is, this book had tragic moments but it managed to maintain a clear vision of hope. I spoke of our characters retreating into themselves but they were also resilient, beating back at the forces trying their damndest to make them feel insignificant. At heartbreakingly depressing moments, they found laughter. Some of our characters soldier on through, make a humble life for themselves, some achieve great things, some go back to their home countries willingly, happy to return. We get a sense of how brutal the US can be, how unsafe for some, and we also get a sense of pride that our immigrants hold for having built a life here, pride for the US itself. It isn’t one or the other. We can be brutal and safe at the same time. Everyone doesn’t have the same experience. Some people are more realistic and others are more idealistic, some people maintain their optimism despite anything they’ve experienced. The thing is, I felt more resentment for the way we treat immigrants after reading this book than the characters themselves did. The forgiveness and kindness in these characters was humbling, the optimism while breaking their backs for a chance at a simple life was simply awe-inspiring. Natural born Americans often treat immigrants cruelly, and in this book I am reminded at how often we are undeserving of the kindness that they unselfishly extend. I don’t know if that was even a point intended in the book, but it very much rang true for me.

All in all, this was a book I read very quickly and turned to most often while simultaneously reading multiple other books. Henríquez gives each characters their own voice that is easily distinguishable each other. They speak clearly and evocatively. Their feelings and experiences are varied but there is a unity threaded lovingly into their stories. I could envision Panama or Mexico from her words, imagine the scenery or the respective foods described. I could sense the longing for home warring with their will to start a new life. Things aren’t tidied up neatly with a bow on top. There’s some harsh moments. At the end of the day, this was a beautiful and heartbreaking read.

Lock Every Door: A Review

My library hold on Lock Every Door came through. I have a weird pattern where I finish phenomenal fantasy series and break up those reads with fast paced, one-time-use thriller reads. The thriller genre will always be that for me —essentially a palate cleanser. Please keep that in mind when taking my review into account. This is not my top genre.

I was shocked at the coincidence of some of the content in this book with modern concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jules is picked to be an apartment sitter in a high end but infamous complex. This apartment happens to have ties with the Spanish flu that ripped through the world in 1918, which I’ve heard mentioned more during this year than in my entire life. Jules is also suffering through the unemployment process and the shame that comes with it, as an unfathomable amount of people are experiencing today. I think that if I hadn’t read this novel at this exact moment, I wouldn’t have connected quite as much. Jules is just trying survive in modern America, she feels the guilt that comes when collecting a paycheck that you feel like you haven’t earned, even though it is a hard time. Bad things happen to people and there’s times where everyone needs some help, but that doesn’t mean people are delighted to have to resort to unemployment.

I’m sure some would say it’s my own damn fault. That it was my responsibility to build an emergency fund. At least three months’ salary, the experts say. I would love to backhand whoever came up with that number. They clearly never had a job with take-home pay that barely covers rent, food, and utilities.

Through this experience, Jules connects with her favorite author, who wrote a book called Heart of the Dreamer set in the very apartment she’s living in. In addition, she meets doctors, ex-actresses, and uber wealthy people while living there. Jules feels very fortunate until the moment when she begins to suspect that the disappearance of several people stems from the apartment building that she’s staying in. From here begins a quest to find out what is happening within the building.

I’ll say, though I guessed the culprit(s), the actual motive behind the disappearances actually came as a surprise to me. That won major points with me because it rarely happens. There were some cliche moments that made me roll my eyes —you know, those moments where someone walks into a room they shouldn’t, or er, TEXTS someone that they’re onto the villain’s master plan. Moments where you’re like, “okay dummy, do you really think that was the smart idea when you’re aware that someone might be watching your every move?”

The background of Jules’ parents contributed to the ending but I feel like her sister’s story didn’t contribute much to the story overall. The emphasis on her made you expect more from her disappearance, whereas her parents’ deaths were barely spoken about but had a bigger contribution.

This was a fast-paced novel, easy to finish. It didn’t win any points in the character predictability category which brings me down to a 3.5 but as I said, won points in other categories. If you’re looking for an easy and mindless read, this is a good bet.

Wrath by John Gwynne: A Review

“This day,” he cried, shouting now, “we will live or die, but whatever the outcome, this will still be the day we avenge ourselves for those we’ve lost, the day we right the wrongs done to us, or die in the trying. It will be a dark day, a bloody day, a proud day, for this is the day of our wrath.” “WRATH,” the cry went up, ringing and echoing through the branches.

The chills. The line is drawn in the sand: do you fight for good or do you fight for evil? No longer are our characters able to hide behind oaths made in ignorance, they must stand for something. We have come to a point where, after literally and figuratively getting the shit kicked out of them, our *Bright Star* and his allies have a fighting chance. John Gwynne PUT US (and them) THROUGH IT. He lovingly built up characters just to snatch them away from us. He tore down our defenses and stabbed us in the heart. We get a reprieve in this book. A lot of good happens, redemption that makes all the heartbreak we endured worth it. Oh ho ho, did you think that meant we were getting off easy? No, my friend. There’s still tendrils of devastation waiting to clutch at your tender, primed heart.

“My friend, why are you stood against me?”

“Because you are wrong,” his friend said simply.

We see the devastation that greed and power can bring, simply for the sake of it. Gwynne explores how the best of intentions can be laid bare to the reveal the fault in them. That even the idealistic figures that we’ve always looked to, might let us down. He shows that morality often takes a backseat to the lure of supremacy. And yet, though they might not be the loudest, or the strongest, there are always people that fight for what is right for the majority, not just the few. Though in modern day, we might fight our battles a bit differently, it’s always good to have a reminder that underneath the evil or power hungry raging the loudest, there is good that persists, true and comforting. TRUTH AND COURAGE, as Ban would remind us. Also, wonderfully, subtly, it addresses how doing nothing is as detrimental to the greater good of humanity as actively fighting against it is.

“This is the God-War; it does not work like that. All choose a side,” he said. “If you choose not to fight against Asroth, then you have already chosen him. Doing nothing does not absolve you of choice. Doing nothing puts you firmly on Asroth’s side and makes you a coward, as well, for not having the stones to admit it.”

Gwynne manages to take these characters that we’ve already been with for three books and teach us more about them. We feel closer than ever to them. The terror that men feel when they see Maquin gets more hilarious and grin-inducing as the story goes. He went from an exceptional fighter to a complete fear-inducing savage, striking panic in the heart of the hardest men. It was satisfying to see the likes of Jael and Lykos humbled by that panic whenever he was mentioned. At the same time, Maquin stays strong and true, always fighting for his heart’s home, whether it is Fidele or Kastell.

“It’s the Old Wolf,” a Vin Thalun shouted; the cry was taken up, rippling around the room.

The animals in this story are more than companions, they’re vital. We already know Storm and her brood are more than capable. Craf, comedic and grumpy, becomes a real player in this book. I loved his dry remarks and commentary before, but he proves that he’s essential to the success of his friends. The raw emotion exchanged between these characters and the animals tugs at my heartstrings. Any book that expertly weaves a love for animals into the plot line only wins my favor more. It’s no coincidence that my top five in fantasy have plenty of animal counterparts between them.

“For one moment, it stood on the table, beady eyes darting about, locking with Rafe’s, silence settling upon the room as men, giants, and a queen all start in dumbfounded shock at the crow. Then it was airborne, flapping away, back out the window.”

Even in Rafe, we see the way that love for an animal can humanize us when we have little to live for otherwise. Rafe was one of those exceptional characters that you want to hate but you can’t help but pity. His whole life was set on a path of destruction, starting with a father that didn’t nurture him during his upbringing in a way that set him up for success. This is in contrast to Corban, who was raised lovingly by parents AND a community, is an excellent case for the psychology behind nature vs nurture. We see an average boy like Corban thrive because of this advantage. We also have characters like Trigg, that scheme as a way of survival in an unfair world. I am sure many fantasy fans have gotten a polite brush off here and there, like I have, when people ask them what they like to read. I’ll tell you now, and I’ll tell you again: within the fantasy genre, I have subtly learned more about compassion, psychology, and humanity than I have in any other genre all whilst taking me on an unimaginable journey. Gwynne is an author that understands their audience needs relatability in the midst of their fantastical story.

“Because this is not who I am,” she eventually said. “One act of darkness, of treachery. But also many of loyalty, too. Judge me by the sum of my deeds, not just the one mistake.”

Speaking of Corban, I think we really learn that you can be great without being some prophesied hero. Being chosen by your people for who you are and how you lead is more satisfying than being chosen because an old document foretold your leadership. I think it goes without saying that Corban has proved himself worthy of command over and over. Respectively, Edana has taken council and come into her own, as well. She makes decisions with her head instead of her heart, which is actually in contrast to Ban’s approach. They’ve both found leadership styles that work for them, an excellent example of how leadership is unique to the individual.

“I for one do not care. I never followed you because of a prophecy. I followed because you saved me, and because my enemies are here, and if I don’t face them, they will kill me, or worse, make me a slave again. I still want to kill them. The prophecy changes nothing.”

I could talk about these characters forever. Cywen, Veradis, Gar, Brina, Halion, Camlin, Haelen. Here’s to you. I think if I delved in as far as I would like, I would spoil a bit of the story. Choosing a favorite is almost impossible to me, outside of Ban (I said almost *cough* Veradis, *cough* Maquin). They’ve all been crafted so expertly that they jump off the page. That’s one of the reasons we read, to connect. I had no trouble connecting here. Hence, the heart that was broken and patched, broken and patched, broken and patched again. If you haven’t guessed, this book and series have earned an easy 5/5 stars for me. I savored every bit of this journey. It will forever have a place on my bookshelves. This book is an embodiment of love, passion, and GOODNESS that shines through during a time where our world is very much fraying at the edges. I hope you will, or have already, enjoy these as much as I have. To The Banished Lands, until we meet again.

The Name of the Wind: A Re-Read

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”

When I am having a bad day, one of the things I do is click through The Name of the Wind quotes on Goodreads. Something about the melodious writing style of Patrick Rothfuss calms my soul. So, during this pandemic, when my anxiety is at an all-time high, it was the perfect read to turn to. I set aside my climbing TBR, which is steeped high with book challenge reads, ARCs, galleys, BOTM reads, and the backlist of various books that I’ve wanted to get to. Now is the time for comfort.

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

For this re-read, I started with the audiobook but returned to the physical book at times, too. Turning on audible and hearing Nick Podehl’s narration was immediately like reconnecting with my oldest friend. My eyes well with tears and I let out a deep breath: I am home in this story. As the story progresses, I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders as the story washes over me, completely immersing me as if it was the first time experiencing it all over. Rothfuss has a talent, he took a character’s journey and lovingly threaded a musical quality into his words, each passage hums with a harmonious continuity that few books accomplish. Every word has meaning and hints at something later in the book, but it is done subtly and expertly. You learn more, become more enveloped and invested with every re-read. For first time readers, take note of his words and phrasing. Hint: After you read Wise Man’s Fear, revisit Arliden’s little song about Kvothe’s mother, Laurian. At the time, things that you read may seem insignificant, but they’re deliberate. Rothfuss has centered this story around the importance of names and words, take note.

“Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself. Impossible. Confusing. Frustrating … but there are other ways to understanding.”

I, like many other readers and bloggers, can’t fully capture with words why this series is scored on my heart. When I was reading this time, I really took note of Kvothe’s emotional range. I think we are used to seeing female characters in touch with their emotions but with male characters, it is less common. Seeing Kvothe openly weep at kindness, fortune and misfortune, at the beauty of art is something that I can relate to. In turn, if Kvothe displays this much depth and compassion, it only speaks magnitudes to the type of person that Patrick Rothfuss is. We see this extended in other male characters besides Kvothe, we see the sensitive and tender heart of Simmon. We see Bast’s unconditional and fierce protectiveness, his adoration of Kvothe. The men in this book aren’t afraid of feeling. Reversely, the women in this book aren’t afraid of embracing their power. Denna doesn’t apologize for hustling her way into men’s hearts to survive. Mola doesn’t show any doubt in herself in her medical training, she fully embraces her intelligence. Fela has the inventive mind and strength required to work in the Archives and the Fishery. Devi is scary, intelligent, and cunning enough to be a Gaelet, unafraid and imposing enough to deal of the threats of her job.

“Congratulations, that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” -Elodin

Through the tragedy, through the compassionate moments, the breathtaking moments, there is a streak of comedy. It’s one of the things that makes this series so easy to love. I can be laughing out loud and then crying within a few paragraphs, my heart can swell or break at any moment. We see Elodin humming along to Jackass Jackass, or telling Kvothe to jump off a building (which Kvothe actually does). We see Bast threatening Chronicler so heartily that it brings a chuckle spilling from our lips, we see Bast singing merrily during his mischief. We smirk while the townspeople skew stories of Kvothe right in front of him. These are just a few examples, yet for every beautiful moment, every heart-wrenching mishap, there’s one to make you laugh. The dry sense of humor that Rothfuss possesses shines through.

“Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.”

The characters are multi-faceted. Rothfuss understands depression and mental health to a degree that can only be understood if you’ve experienced those pressings on your mind. Elodin is written off by many as a complete wack job, but he shows such moments of clarity and genius that it becomes clear that he prefers to be left to his own devices and thus, embraces his “cracked” personality. I think it becomes obvious, at least in my eyes, that Elodin understands TOO much. A genius mind is a great and a terrible thing. We see duality in Kvothe, of course. He rides the line of dark and light, always. He takes his revenge and he schemes, all while loving and caring for others. He builds himself a reputation as terrible as it is great.

Lastly, I’d like to mention how Rothfuss can write scenes so beautifully, you feel like you’re there. Kvothe’s scene at The Eolian is one of the few scenes I can recall so vividly that I feels like it came from my own memory instead of from a page. Each time I read the passage where young Kvothe approaches his camp, I break out in goosebumps. My stomach painfully clenches whenever I read about Kvothe on the street of Tarbean. My eyes well with tears when Kvothe breaks down and sobs on his entrance into the University.

“When the hearthfire turns to blue,
what to do? what to do?
run outside, run and hide

when his eyes are black as crow?
where to go? where to go?
near and far. Here they are.

see a man without a face?
move like ghosts from place to place.
whats their plan? whats their plan?
Chandrian. Chandrian.”

If you haven’t read this book, know this: this is a story of a boy that found his parents and their troupe murdered as he was out in the forest. He comes back and unknown to him at the time, uncovers a secret. The Chandrian. A nightmare fairytale come to life. It’s the story of a boy looking to revenge his family and seek knowledge of why they were murdered, of a boy fighting his way off the streets into a University that studies mental magic and has paths to the information he seeks. It’s the tale of a talented musician leaving songs and legends in his wake. It’s a story of love, it’s a story of tragedy. Very few books have every awakened my soul and made my mind sing the way this book has. I think it goes without saying that this was a 5/5 the first time I read it and every time thereafter. Thanks for sticking with me on this, if you’ve read it, I hope some of this was relatable to you. If not, what are you waiting for?

“Someone’s parents have been singing entirely the wrong sort of songs.”

I can’t resist adding: please be kind to the authors that haven’t finished their series yet. We have no idea of their mental state or home life, how long it took them to write their first book, their standards for themselves and their writing.

Sin Eater by Megan Campisi: A Review

Thank you Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read Sin Eater. While I ultimately gave Sin Eater a 3 out of 5 stars, I would like you to take that rating with a grain of salt. I read this galley in the midst of a global pandemic. The tone of the book is solemn and is often a heavy subject matter. I will be the first to admit that my mental state isn’t quite up to certain reads at the moment. I really wanted to finish this book as it is being published on April 7th, 2020, so I continued with it. I fully intend to reread Sin Eater when the times are brighter and I am more fit for reads such as this.

There’s been some debate on whether this is fantasty or historical fiction, and as I read both genres quite frequently, for me it firmly falls into historical fiction. I can see why people fit it under fantasy, as it expands on the idea of a traditional sin eater, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark of what I think of when I think of fantasy. A sin eater in tradition is someone that eats bread aside a coffin to absolve the deceased of their sins. Campisi took it a step further by assigning certain foods to certain sins, the worst of which usually involve eating an animal’s heart or head.

I found it interesting that our Sin Eaters are often treated cruelly. You’d think you’d want to treat the person that is absolving your sins kindly. Our main character, May, is a 14 year old girl that is made a Sin Eater after stealing some bread. She learns from an older Sin Eater and ultimately, watches as her mentor punished for not eating a deer heart left on a coffin, as it signified a sin that the deceased had not confessed. Our main character is swept up into a mystery, involving murders and bastard children. The way May is treated throughout the book is heart wrenching, she lives a very hard life especially when orphaned from her parents. Sin Eaters are essentially shunned from society until the moment a member of society needs them to absolve their sins.

Towards the middle of the book, it slowed down a lot. The beginning of the book easily draws you in. The ending of the book is fast paced. That middle really made it hard for me to return to the book. I think it was especially difficult because it was a bit slower all while you’re reading about May living this miserable life. I will say, even through the pain of the book, there was a good message: you can find yourself even when people are telling you who you are supposed to be. There’s always a way back to yourself. Throughout the hardships, May finds things and people to take comfort in. I think I’m always a bit awed by characters that repeatedly take beatings from life and still remain good at heart. I think that the way that this story made me uncomfortable, reading about May’s hard life, is important. Humanity proves again and again that through the worst, we have the ability to stay kind and good. As I’m writing this, I realize what a good lesson that is, especially at this time in the world. Thank you again to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read this galley!

Non-Book Related. Anxiety, Miscarriage, and Anger in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Well, this is not my usual book related blog post. If you couldn’t tell from the title, there is talk about miscarriage, so if that’s a trigger for you, please feel free to skip this article. I hesitated on writing this because during this time, it almost feels like shouting into a void. Who wants to hear about miscarriage, anger, or anxiety during this time? Probably nobody, but as I’ve been prone to do in times of stress, I figured that writing about it may be therapeutic for me.

I have been angry for weeks now. Let me explain.

I found out a few weeks ago that my body was preparing to miscarry. I had suspected it for longer than that, as I had slight cramps and a bit of spotting. An appointment with my absolutely fantastic and caring OBGYN confirmed that my fear was true. A fear that had manifested since the moment I got pregnant. As secrets tend to do, the news of my pregnancy naturally spread to others. I have miscarried before in my life and the more people that know, the more people you personally have to tell if you do miscarry. Gentle reminder: do not spread news if it isn’t your news to spread. It can be painful to others in the long run, even if you had the best intentions. If you didn’t know I was pregnant, since I intended on sharing publicly at a later date, sorry that you found out this way. I decided to share this because there isn’t a shame in pregnancy or miscarriage and it’s MY decision to do so at this time. I feel a lot of women consider it taboo to talk about, especially when the pregnancy wasn’t entirely public, but there’s such a large percentage of us that experience one. I do not talk about my experience to garner sympathy, though that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the kind sentiments people have extended to me. I do this to shed some light on a few things, mostly, compassion for others during this pandemic.

Anyways, after the diagnosis, then began the waiting. In the midst of a global pandemic, I was waiting to lose my pregnancy. My fears mounted as two weeks passed. I started having moments of panic as I thought about the possibility of having to go to a hospital to “clear out” the pregnancy with a D&C. As a severe asthmatic and a mom, I’m already afraid of getting this virus and the worst happening. Going to the hospital was the last thing I wanted, I hoped every day that my body would proceed with the miscarriage naturally. The anxiety of a global pandemic, the loss of a wanted child, waiting for that loss, telling my son that he isn’t going to be a big brother for a bit all just CRASHED over me. Every news article pounded the anxiety deeper. Each joke about quarantine babies made me retreat into myself. I found it hard to breathe most days. Finally, the bleeding started. The relief that I felt has been mixed with the physical and mental pain of a miscarriage. It’s not pretty, it’s not neat. It’s grueling, messy, and painful. And as the emotions of this process subside, my anger builds.

Do you know why I am angry? It isn’t the loss of the pregnancy. That makes me sad and at times, depressed, but not angry. It’s the people that don’t put themselves in other people’s shoes. You see posts about people judging others for going to the grocery store, or even saying the stores should be shut down completely, because they SHOULD HAVE stocked up. Come on, a smart person knows that’s not always possible. There’s a large amount of people that live paycheck to paycheck. There’s unexpected moments where people need things they never thought they would: like say, pads, which they haven’t worn since they gave birth to their child but need for the mess that a miscarriage causes. Or maybe liquid stitches for cuts so they can avoid the germs a hospital may expose them to. The expensive formula for their baby that most young parents can’t avoid to stockpile. We should not blame people for surviving. Be compassionate and realize that every situation isn’t the same, realize that some people are dealing with more than just a pandemic at home. Blanket statements aren’t helpful during this time.

I’m angry because while the majority of people I hold dearly take this seriously, I have seen acquaintances posting on Snapchat and other social media saying things like “sorry not sorry, I’m not social distancing” while drinking with their friends. Yes, this is still effing happening. They really have to audacity to be such self-serving little twats that they’ll comfortably post about their jackassery. I can’t imagine the privilege they must have to not worry about anyone’s health or wellbeing around them. Then, those people are going out to the grocery stores that other people NEED to go to, or to places to get carry-out after they’ve been partying with their friends and potentially spreading this virus. The essential workers at these stores are put in more danger by these uncaring people. I’m angry because those people still let themselves loose on the world while my son is at home for weeks in a row wondering why he can’t go to my parent’s house like he does every Monday. I’m angry because my parents aren’t the pinnacle of health, and I wonder if one of these selfish idiots, that won’t stay away from other people, is going to pass them this virus. As my parents continue to work, with my mom working with the public, I can’t help but think about the worst case scenario of my son never getting to hug them again and having to explain to him why. I’m angry because my husband’s 85 year old great-grandparents that have kept themselves in amazing health are at risk simply because of their age and have to stay away from their beautiful and booming family because people would rather drink with their friends. I’m OUTRAGED that my husband’s great-grandmother will be spending her 86th birthday, when every year is precious, not surrounded by family. I’m sad that my pregnant and new parent friends have to distance themselves from their spouses, that they can’t rely on the support of their families in the new world that parenthood is. I’m pissed that nurses that I love are sacrificing their own health, reusing PPE to care for hoards of people that are exposed, many of those exposed from people not taking proper precautions. I won’t even get into how angry I am at our President for the way he’s handled this and treated our medical professionals, because we all have our opinions about him. I’m not going to change yours and you won’t change mine. I’m angry that I’m afraid to go to my important check-up with my OBGYN because of other people not taking proper precautions. I’m angry that my mother-in-law and sister-in-laws are worrying about their students with troubled home lives for a longer period of time… for an undetermined amount of time. That the summers of billions of families are up in the air because people won’t listen. My life and other people’s lives are at risk because you can’t fucking FaceTime your damn friends or *gasp* drink alone like the rest of us during this. You think I want to sit in my house and stare into a glass of wine while I’m dealing with a miscarriage? No. I would like to take comfort in friends and family. But I have been and I will continue to and I’ll do my damndest to get through this and stay healthy and keep other people healthy because I CARE AND IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT ME. People are dealing with shit on top of this pandemic. Stop thinking about yourself. We are all dealing with shitty circumstances but it’s a real bummer when people are doing everything right just to watch the selfish people do whatever they feel like. There’s people catching this and dealing with those WORST CASE SCENARIO consequences. I want our nurses to get a break, to have the proper supplies and enough beds, so they’re not fearing for their own lives and watching countless people suffer. I want our new moms in the next few months to have the opportunity to have their family around them. I want people to be able to go to important doctor’s appointments without fear. I want my naturally social son to be able to continue to his routine of being surrounded by our large and loving family. I want our teachers and students lives to regain normalcy and for these students to take shelter in the safety that a school system provides. I want our grandparents to celebrate their lives with their families. I want all of my friends in the service industry to be able to go back to their livelihood in a timely fashion, when it is safe for them to do so.

Make no mistake, I am not blaming the spread of this on people that are doing their part to stay safe and keep others safe. For those that didn’t take it seriously, now is the time to do your part. You can go for walks and get fresh air to keep the cabin fever away. You can go to the grocery store while still protecting yourself as best as possible. Keep your house isolated from people that don’t live in your household. Say hi to people from a distance when you pass them but follow social distancing rules. Don’t be around the public for longer than necessary. Play games over FaceTime and apps. Do your best for the people that are already doing their best. These are all things we have heard a million times, it’s sad that we have to reiterate this. You should care that there’s people out there desperately worried about their loved ones even if you don’t personally feel the stress of that. You can say that people are being dramatic, that the chance you or your loved ones will get it is low, but I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there that felt the same way that are now dealing with the consequences. I bet there’s plenty that took it seriously and are dealing with the consequences of others not.

If you got this far, thank you for letting me rant. I don’t want to be angry. There’s so much good that people are doing during this time. Be a part of that.

House of Salt and Sorrows: A Review

I recently finished House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig. It was one of the books I read in the Love Your Shelf challenge, in which I aim to read books that have been sitting on my shelf for a while. After finishing the book, I would give it three stars, which is really unfortunate because the first half rated much higher.

House of Salt and Sorrows is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In this version, our main character Annaleigh is on a mission to discover why her family members keep dying. After her mother and three sisters die within a span of 6 years, there are whispers of a curse on the family. In the midst of this, the remaining sisters find a door that leads them to mesmerizing balls, where they dance all night, returning home with tattered shoes. From here, they try to connect all the dots as to what is happening to their family. All at once, Annaleigh meets mysterious strangers and reconnects with old friends, leading her to speculate on who she can trust.

The story started out so richly, with a kingdom that is well-spun and woven deeply with its own culture and gods of worship. This lush fairytale setting was threaded with wisps of fantastical horrors and illusions. The story builds up so easily and at about the halfway point, starts to meld into something slightly confusing as illusions become more common in the story. This was fine, as I was sure it would be explained later. It was explained and reasonable enough, but the last quarter of the book felt like the author just threw more and more outlandish things together to try to explain the web she weaved. It was overkill at a certain point. The parts that did make sense were overshadowed by the ridiculousness of certain plot lines. A few of our characters were supposed to ride the line of moral ambiguity and the way they were portrayed was so unconvincing. They were not redeemed as the author intended, in my eyes. I did like Annaleigh’s romance, though that took a weird turn towards the end as well. The one thing I will say, is that you do expect a bit of the bizarre and unbelievable with a fairytale style of storytelling, so my bewilderment might not be the case for the average reader of this book.

Through all the weird or plain bad, this book took my mind off all the craziness in the world, so even if it wasn’t a five stars, I don’t regret reading it.