“This was not a tragedy. Dying on your couch watching TV by yourself is a tragedy. Dying while doing something you love with every part of your body is magic. I wish you magic, Edward.”
I finished out the year reading Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Edward is the only remaining member of his immediate family, after being the lone survivor of a plane crash. This is a tale of how one survives the aftermath of devastation, of how you reconcile with the person that you were and the person you become because of it. It’s inspired by a plane crash that happened in 2010, where a 9 year old boy was the only survivor.
Don’t expect this to be a rollicking tale, it is slow burning. The build up to the crash is quiet, chilling, and unassuming. It seems more real because she didn’t dramatize the crash. I felt anxious while reading, knowing the characters’ fates and hearing the direction their life was taking before they tragically passed. I had goosebumps and a lump in my throat as the book progressed.
Most of us haven’t been through something as traumatic as our whole family dying in a plane crash, thankfully. Ann Napolitano’s writing still struck a chord with me. She evokes that keen sense of melancholy that one feels after they’ve experience a shock, a heart break, the loss of a loved one. The capacity to be numb and deeply, deeply sad all at once.
One of the hardest lessons portrayed in this book, is dealing with the fact that everything DOES NOT always happen for a reason. Edward’s friend Shay wants him to be “the boy who lived” and relates him to Harry Potter. She speculates that his powers will show themselves. Sometimes we have to recognize that bad things happen. Life is about learning to deal when they do. We sometimes have to live through being a mess before we heal. There isn’t always a bright side to tragedy. We live in those dark places until we have enough strength to climb out of them.
I’m not sure the slow burn of this book would have resonated with me as much if it wasn’t at this exact point in my life. 2020 has been rough for me even if you took the pandemic out of the equation. I found myself relating to Edward’s reaction to trauma, the numbness that is only dispelled when you allow yourself to feel the pain and break down. This can relate to many moments of our lives, even when they aren’t as intense as what he’s going through. Sometimes books find you at the perfect time and you enjoy them all the more.
“Humans need community, for our emotional health. We need connection, a sense of belonging. We are not built to thrive in isolation.”
Here’s to more reading in 2021 and hopefully, a better year for all!
Wow! What a powerful book. I’ll get to it right off the bat, this was a 4.5 star book to me, rounded up to Goodreads. I’ll be honest though, if you fall as a very far right conservative, especially due to religion, you probably won’t enjoy this book. There’s the challenging of a lot of ultra conservative ideals. I can say that Overlook Press and Abrams Books KILLLLLLLS it with these powerful releases. I think they might be my favorite publishers outside of fantasy, I have enjoyed every book sent my way or purchased from them. This Little Light by Lori Lansens was no exception.
Let us start with a short synopsis. Rory and Fee are on the run after their Christian school is bomber during an Abstinence Ball where they are all pledging their virginity. They perform a cringe-inducing ceremony where they pledge to their fathers to abstain til marriage. Rory is an atheist and decided to partake since all of her friends did and it was an excuse to wear a beautiful dress. The newest addition to their school, Jinny is a Crusader, and has it out for Rory for not believing. When the school gets bombed and Rory gets blamed, Fee ends up along for the ride. While on the run, Rory journals her experience in unpublished blogs (as you not give away their location) and tries to figure out if Jinny set her up.
This all too realistic near-future novel starts out in ultra rich Calabasas (think Kardashians) where fanatical religion and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. The US has become obsessed with virginity and religion, women’s rights are being stripped, birth control and abortions are banned even in the most serious if circumstances. The country is afire with bounty hunters, seeking out those running underground services for women to receive safe womanly care. The bounty on Rory and Fee climbs in the millions. Everyone is obsessed with religion and purity, though they don’t practice what they preach behind closed doors. Affairs, fake celibacy, sexual aggression towards minors, scoffing at the poor when passing by them on the streets. Fake activism, writing passages about the huddled masses and how Jesus loved the poor, but calling them free loaders, wishing death upon the homeless “dirtying” their streets, and not stopping to help but scurrying last disdainfully.
“We write essays about Jesus’s love for the poor and disenfranchised then go shop Louis and Prada. We laze around our pools snarking in those who have no, idolizing those who have a shit-Tom. We’re jumping back and forth all day long—spiritual double Dutch—-and it makes me seriously dizzy.”
There’s a large look at the way the ultra rich hide behind conservatism fiscally, and how that can outweigh morality. People that are okay with their taxes and money being used to help the downtrodden get called bleeding hearts or libtards (which is thrown around in this book). Conducive to many instances in real life, this novel highlights the way greed can overshadow the love that religion is supposed to teach. The longing to control women, preaching abstinence to them while turning a blind eye to whatever the men do. Measuring the length of their skirts or shorts because they are supposed to be your idea of pure, which in theory itself is ridiculous, because no woman’s body is the same. These guidelines, checking for fingertips against shorts, using a yardstick for “skirting” in religious schools, are objectionable not only because clothes lay different on our bodies than the next person, but because a woman’s body shouldn’t be surveyed for how appropriate we deem it. The swell of a breast is immodest? Your thigh? These are social constructs and Lori Lansens highlights what happens when we let people run away with commanding women and their bodies.
Rory talks and thinks like a teenage girl, if not an intelligent one. Though she’s an atheist and a free spirit, she’s also afraid to fully break away from the crowd. Her friends go to a Christian school, so she does. Her friends attend an abstinence ball, so she does. They follow the Kardashians and like expensive clothes, so she does. She isn’t a perfect character. She’s an utterly believable teenage girl. She has hidden biases even though she’s more accepting than the other girls. She’s Jewish and her mother is an immigration lawyer, so she is more accepting of people of different culture and religion, as she’s been exposed to a wider worldview. She also understands that she has a lot to learn about racism, feminism, and privilege.
“The thing is, I don’t want to be a dick. The racism thing? The white privilege thing? The white feminist thing? I want to understand it all, and acknowledge it beyond the obvious, and I actually wanna get this shit right.”
I loved the juxtaposition of Jinny, a devout “virgin” used to market the Crusader cause while being this very sex kittenish bombshell. It really highlights the way women are salivated over for their virginity and the unhealthy obsession with it. It reminded me of how Britney Spears was marketed as this virgin sex icon to sell records, even though it was later found out that she wasn’t (and it shouldn’t matter what she was doing with her own life anyway).
The virginity pledge was straight creeeeeepy too. They essentially pledged to keep their virginity to their dads until they are married, but the way that it was done reminded me of certain weird politicians and celebrities that fawn over their daughters’ sex appeal and ability to be chaste. This happens closer to home, too, it’s just easy to cite people that are in the public eye. The fascination from men about their daughter’s sex life is really unhealthy and concerning, when they are fine with their sons doing whatever they want.
“You are my light. You are my love. And I promise Heaven up above. That I’ll keep you pure as the driven snow, till the day I have to let you go. I’ll always be your daddy. You’ll be my baby girl. One day I will share you, but until then you’ll wear my pearl.”
Makes you feel icky, right? Lori Lansens touches on everything; gaslighting victims, women’s reproductive rights, fake activism, hidden biases, fanatical religion, fiscal vs moral responsibility. I devoured this book over the span of a few hours. It was very easy to read, intelligent, witty, and important. If you were a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, you might enjoy this one too. I find that it is a middle ground between our current reality and the severity of that book/show. The character of Chase was a bit too neatly wrapped up and more thoroughly introduced right at the end, but I enjoyed it alla. This Little Light came out earlier this month and you can purchase it now. Thank you to Overlook and Abrams for sending me a finished copy for an honest review!
3.5 rounded up to 4 stars for The Switch by Beth O’Leary. Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for this copy to review! This was a charming little story that starts out when Leena has a meltdown at work. As she is still coping with the death of her sister, her work MAKES her take a two month sabbatical. She calls her grandmother, Eileen, who is trying to find life and love after her husband leaves her for a younger lady. In a moment of genius, they decide to switch homes and take on each other’s cities and responsibilities. In this novel, our characters will find love, themselves, and most importantly, each other. At the heart of this story, is family. It’s generations women lifting each other up. This was a cozy novel and the perfect book to take your mind off the hectic world and remember all of those warm and fuzzy feelings that come about when people that love you are looking out for you. O’Leary writes witty, relatable stories.
One thing she opened my eyes up to was the mistreatment of the elderly. Not in the physically abusive sense, but in the sense that we tend to lump every old person into the same ornery categories. We treat them almost childlike. She made a remark about how when older people try to find love late in life, we almost scoff at them or giggle about it. Our elderly are often forgotten and isolated.
As for the audio, DELIGHTFUL. I would be withholding if I didn’t tell you that I picked up this audio solely because Daisy Edgar-Jones narrated Leena’s portion. Her voice is like velvet. I could listen to her speak all day. After having seen Normal People, I knew that I would enjoy listening simply for the sake of listening. Just lovely. Alison Steadman did a fantastic job for Eileen as well, with her crisp, elegant voice.
Happy Publishing Day to Trinidad native @carolinemackenziewrites! This was such a fun story. Yola is in the midst of grieving her Aunt Celia when a dangerous man named Ugly pays her family a visit. He brings it to their attention that Celia owes him A LOT of money and he expects them to work off her debt. So begins the journey of using their family homes to harbor the illegal immigrants that Ugly moves across borders for extortionate fees. The matter is made more complicated when Yola falls in lust with Roman, Ugly’s strong arm.
This writing won’t be for everyone but I really enjoyed it. It’s frank and honest. Forewarning, since I know some of my friends on here have strong religious convictions towards sexuality and sexual partners, this isn’t a book for you. I am not religious in the least, so no issue for me. Yola is crass and bold and comfortable in her own body. There was a lot of body positivity in this novel. There were serious moments and hilarious moments. The relationship between Roman and Yola was actually really tender. I liked that Caroline didn’t try to tell the immigrant story since she’s a native, but rather showed the interactions between the immigrants and Yola’s family. It all ended up working towards an ending that I was quite surprised about.
A few thoughts: I actually didn’t think Yola was as “bitchy” as everyone said. She is a strong woman that says her mind, but I found that as a strength. Her Aunt Celia is definitely a different story. She says some things that are pretty awful, sometimes very politically incorrect. I didn’t enjoy the aspect of her older brother dating a minor/just turned 18 year old girl. I don’t condone that in any way and couldn’t get that part of the story, even though they ended up working out okay with the way the storyline went. All in all, I enjoyed this a lot but had a few issues! I found myself wanting to skip forward to the times between Roman and Yola because their encounters were the most interesting to me! All that said, I would definitely read more of Caroline’s writing.
Okay, The Bromance Book Club caught my eye a while ago and it was on sale so I finally bought it! I usually don’t do reviews for chick-lit/romance novels but this one inspired me to do so. It actually rated a 4/5 stars for me. First off, I thought that the concept of a book about a group did men reading romance novels to connect with their wives more was super endearing.
“Don’t be ashamed for liking them. The backlash against the PSL [Pumpkin Spice Latte] is a perfect example of how toxic masculinity permeates even the most mundane things in life. If masses of women like something, our society automatically begins to mock them. Just like romance novels. If women like them, they must be a joke, right?”
That quote, though! Wow! What a true statement. There is that internalized misogyny towards women when it comes to making fun of the things that a large amount of women like. Other women even get in on it because it makes them “the cool girl.” I loved that there was this group of men actively discussing toxic masculinity and the shaming tactics used on women. Obviously, this was written by a woman author, so these are fictional men, but I think it points out that men in this day and age are becoming more aware of those issues.
“That’s why fiction resonates with people. It speaks to universal truths.”
These characters weren’t perfect and Gavin and Thea both had their faults. Gavin didn’t realize Thea was “faking it” their whole marriage and Thea didn’t take the time to address the issues in their marriage and just shut down completely and wanted to quit. I liked that Thea didn’t chase after him, but there were moments where I wanted her to discuss the issues instead of putting all the blame on him. For his part, Gavin obviously wasn’t paying enough attention to his wife if he didn’t realize she was unsatisfied throughout their relationship. I loved this group of guys holding him accountable and getting angry at him for these stupid, thoughtless mistakes he would make instead of turning a blind eye. The streak of humor that ran through it actually made me laugh out loud.
“The room finally erupted like he knew it eventually would. Every man jumped to his feet. Del began to pace, punching his fist into his other hand. Malcolm stroked his jingly beard and starting chanting like a monk. Mack shoveled angry forkfuls of brown noodles into his mouth, alternating between eating and pointing a silent, angry finger in Gavin’s general direction.”
There were also moments that were so off base that I was like… I hope men don’t read this and take it as the end all, be all. Like when Thea says that women love when suggestively men wink at them? No. I’d be more likely to laugh in their face.
“It absolutely is true. A woman remembers every time a man winks at her, because we love winking. It’s like catnip. Wink at us, and we roll over and start purring.”
No… get that crap out of here. I am cringing just reading that quote again. I loved how she normalized marriage issues though. She mentions how people change their entire lives and you need to address that change instead of just pretending that it isn’t happening. When you marry someone, you can’t expect that person to be the same person their entire life.
““All spouses become strangers to each other at some point in a marriage,” Del said. “All human beings are a work in progress, and we don’t all change at the same pace. Who knows how many people have gotten divorced simply because they failed to recognize that what they thought were insurmountable problems were actually just temporary phases?”
All in all, this was enjoyable. It was fun and hilarious and perceptive. I actually want to continue the series because I enjoyed it so much more than I thought. I’m glad this lived up to the hype!
“Good. First rule of book club?” They finished in unison. “You don’t talk about book club.”
I was approved for an early reader copy of It is Wood, It is Stone by Gabriella Burnham through Random House and Netgalley. We follow Linda on her journey to Brazil with her husband, who has taken a year abroad to teach at a University. Through this journey, we watch Linda lose herself in her husband’s shadow, searching for her place in Brazil. Waters are made murkier by the fact that their apartment comes equipped with a maid, taking even the duties of being the keeper of the house away for Linda. She feels a wariness around Marta, the house maid, as this new place seems like more of a home to her than Linda. Frustrated with her life, she wanders the streets of São Paulo until she meets a captivating woman named Celia, and here our story really takes hold.
I’ve seen other people describe this novel as a fever dream and can’t help but agree. It is the story of a woman who doesn’t quite have hold of herself, and her uncertainty holds a sort of captivating effect over her audience. She seeks love and reassurance in her female companionships almost as if in a way to prove her worthiness of love to herself. Though her marriage problems aren’t entirely her own, I think she realizes that her inability to vocalize her needs to her husband is her biggest downfall. She takes in the power of the women around her to choose their lives, to choose happiness, to choose family, even though those aren’t always the same thing. Burnham evokes a keen sense of longing in Linda that is so strong, you can’t help but to catch wisps of it yourself. Her writing is melodious and pulls you along, I remember checking the time left on my kindle and being flabbergasted that I was already at 91%. Reading this book was soothing even though our characters were going through this major, troubling life experience. As the story unfolds, we see the strength that comes when women open up to each other, as well as the toxicity that comes with putting too much of yourself into someone else.
Though we don’t get as much face time with Marta, I found her intriguing. We end up learning a bit about her background and her feelings in regards to herself. She’s a true woman of strength, and there’s a moment that she grapples with sickness and there’s a loss of something that was very important to her identity. She comes back even stronger and it made me realize she is truly the backbone of this story, and a good example to Linda.
Burnham is sure to be a stand out author, I see a big future for her in the writing industry. This is her debut, though her voice and writing style are so strong that it seems as if she’s been churning out novels for ages. This has a publication date of July 28th, 2020.
“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.
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!