The Fixed Stars: A Review

“Your whole life has been true. It happened to you.”

Thank you to Abrams Press for sending me a review copy of The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg. This memoir is a quick, intelligent read revolving around Molly’s life and her journey with identifying her sexuality. While married, she finds herself intensely attracted to another woman when she is called into jury duty. Throughout her life, she had thought she identified as straight. She thought of sexuality as linear: you are straight or you are gay/lesbian. As time went on, she found that what we think of as “girl crushes” were actual sexual attraction to women. She takes us on her journey of finding love with other women, the demise of her marriage and the road to healthy co-parenting, and her current partner’s help in her education on non-binary awareness.

This was one of the quickest books I’ve read in a while. Molly doesn’t preach at you, she gets the confusion towards sexuality and gender identification, as she experienced it herself. Understanding the fluidity involved in those things can be confusing BECAUSE of the fluidity. At one point Molly makes a comment about how she doesn’t think of herself in loving men or women, but in loving a person because they are who she needed at that point in her life, regardless of the body parts they have. She states things much more eloquently than I do and her writing has a balance of poignancy and warmth that is consistent with normal life. There’s a real takeaway here that it’s okay to not pin down your identification, just as much as it is okay to be absolutely sure of how you identify.

“I never fell in love with a man because he was a man, you know? I mean, I wasn’t falling in love with a penis. I loved his body because it was his.”

There was also a raw look at motherhood and the dissolve of her marriage, about moments of selflessness and selfishness. There’s emotions of separating from someone you dearly love, but doesn’t complete that part of your soul anymore. The terror and guilt of your child being affected by your decisions. The loneliness of motherhood can bring about some scary and amazing resolutions that Molly has to face.

“While a woman is taking care, who takes care of her?”

This book is beautiful, captivating, and personal. At the end, you’ll feel like Molly is an old friend catching you up about everything that happened to her in the last few years. If you are looking for a book about divorce, motherhood, gender and sexual fluidity, this is a perfect read. If you’re not, try it out, you might still get something out of it and learn from it.


The Fixed Stars releases August 4th! Thank you again to Abrams Press and Molly Wizenberg.

It is Wood, It is Stone: A Review

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.

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!