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Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

September 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Summary:
Member of the Potawatomi Nation and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer presents a series of essays on plants of North America, incorporating some memoirs from her life and her daughter’s recollections as well.

Review:
It’s difficult to describe how meaningful this book is. The description sounds so simple and yet, to me, it is a collection of scientific and Indigenous knowledge intertwined as near poetry. As an urban gardener who grew up rural among farms, I think of myself as plant knowledgeable, but I was humbled by this book. I also teach, and I found her ruminations on teaching and balancing teaching other people’s children versus your own to be beautifully honest. This book takes time to get through but because of the rich meaning in each essay. You find yourself wanting to savor it.

As a person who feels both spiritually and scientifically minded, this book spoke to me on a mind and soul level simultaneously in ways I cannot fully describe. I wish there was greater focus on teaching this way. I wish the two were not divorced from each other in our society. I think it would be healing to us all and to nature as well if they were not.

Allow me to try to pull out a few meaningful quotes to me by theme.

On morality, contentment, and consumerism:

Refusal to participate is a moral choice.

Transformation is not accomplished by tentative wading at the edge.

Balance is not a passive resting place.

In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition.

The consumption-driven mind-set masquerades as “quality of life” but eats us from within.

On teaching and being taught:

The professor made me doubt where I came from, what I knew, and claimed that his was the right way to think.

Teach any who will come.

I’d left my baby girls at home with their dad in order to introduce other people’s children to something they cared little about.

Facts about plants that fascinated me, include that a 3 sisters garden [growing corn, beans, and squash together the Indigenous way] yields more food than if you grew each alone, polycultures are less susceptible to pest outbreaks than monocultures, breathing in the smell of humus (the dirt, not the food) releases oxcytocin, and lichens are actually two beings together (a fungus and an alga). I also learned:

Sweetgrass thrives where it is used and disappears elsewhere.

Plantain is not indigenous but naturalized. It’s so prevalent and well-integrated that we think it’s native.

Estuaries can have the highest biodiversity and productivity of any method.

Forest ecologists estimate that the window of opportunity for cedars to get started occurs perhaps only twice a century.

I hope I have made you intrigued by this book. I loved it so much that I bought myself a copy after starting off with a digital library copy.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System by Cyntoia Brown-Long and Bethany Mauger

book coverSummary:
Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder she committed at the age of sixteen. Her case became national news when celebrities and activists made the hashtag #FreeCyntoia go viral in 2017. She was granted full clemency after having served fifteen years, walking out a free woman on August 7, 2019.

This is her story, in her own words.

Review:
I think how people will respond to this memoir will depend a lot on what they believe justice to be. Do certain levels of crime deserve never-ending punishment? Can people change or be redeemed? Then there’s another level of do teenagers, people who are still growing and whose brains have not fully developed (brains do not complete developing until approximately age 25), deserve to spend the rest of their lives being punished for an act committed at this age? This memoir aims to be proof that people can be redeemed and, indeed, if we want people to change, they need to have hope that an end could be in sight for them.

The fact of the matter is that no one but Cyntoia, God, and Johnny Michael Allen know what truly happened that night. Cyntoia has never denied killing Johnny but has maintained it was in self-defense. The only facts that we know are that she, a sixteen-year-old who had been being sold for sex by her pimp, was picked up by Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old, and brought home with him, and they were alone in his bedroom together. Both potential stories told by each side are possible. It’s possible he brought her home for sex, like Cyntoia says. It’s possible he brought her home in an attempt to take care of a teenager he found living on the street, like Johnny Allen’s family says. Regardless, Cyntoia ended up killing him. The memoir dances around exactly what happened, with Cyntoia describing him picking her up and bringing her home but then describing the night as a red haze with no details. Was that to protect a guilty conscience or to protect details that would hurt Johnny Allens’ family that no one really needs to know? It’s very hard to say. But in a way I think this is appropriate because Cyntoia admits that she killed him, and the true point of the story is first, how did this girl end up here and second, can she be redeemed?

How she got here contains two of the more interesting aspects of the memoir. First, the school to prison pipeline is painfully obvious in Cyntoia’s story. She originally was placed in a gifted class, acted up some (didn’t get along with the teacher) and was downgraded. She started to be told over and over again she was bad. It was all downhill from there with her hanging out with the crowd of kids who were always in trouble and being constantly told she was bad and not listened to. The police were even called on her at school for her not wanting to give the teacher her purse in detention. If we want our children to rise to their potential, having school tied to prison in the way that it is is not the solution, and treating children like they’re “bad” when they’re just children who mess up sometimes is sending them a clear message that many children will just accept or fail to.

The other issue that came up during one of Cyntoia’s trials is that her birth mother admits to drinking alcohol while she was pregnant, and some doctors have diagnosed her as having fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This is relevant, because fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can cause poor judgment, hyperactivity, poor reasoning, and problems in school. It seems, given both doctors’ testimonies her birth mother’s admission, and Cyntoia’s own perspective that this sad tale is likely, therefore, partially entwined with alcohol abuse. Cyntoia herself states multiple times that she doesn’t know why she has tended to act so impulsively. This could partially help explain it and be another of the many tentacles of how alcohol impacts our society with poor outcomes and violence.

Cyntoia ultimately chooses to have faith that she could possibly be redeemed and decides, even if she can’t be, she doesn’t want to waste her life. She goes to a unique program available in her prison that allows her to go to college. She pursues self-improvement and mentorship of others, and she works to help young girls who have also been trafficked like she was. (It is not a question that Cyntoia was trafficked as she was underage and had a pimp). Cyntoia attests much of her self-improvement to her new-found faith that she solidified after meeting her now-husband via letters in jail. (He felt called to write to her). A spiritual practice is important for anyone to have a well-rounded recovery, and I think it is also significant that the school that offered the college program inside the prison was also a religious school. I am glad for her that she has found comfort and faith, but I also hope it’s not too entwined with her husband and is her own source of strength. While healthy relationships are important, and it’s nice to share a faith, it’s also important for that strength to come from oneself and not from relying upon another fallible human being.

Overall, I think this shows a personal look at the school to prison pipeline, the potential impact of alcohol on a child’s life, and how redemption could look. It’s important to come into this book with an open mind and a willingness to not crave more than Cyntoia is willing to share, nor to think that this book will reveal all the truth or all the answers.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Book cover depicting a Black woman's face set against a starry sky.Summary:
Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

Review:
I went into this book hearing it was a space opera take on the American antebellum south with queer characters, written by a Black American author. That was an apt description, but what I didn’t know was that Aster is neurodiverse, and that was the finishing touch that really sent me over the moon about this book. So let’s talk about Aster first.

Aster is clearly autistic. (I am using this language, rather than person-first based on the wishes of the overall autistic community). Being autistic is just a part of who she is at her core of her being. It’s not perceived as something to be overcome or a superpower. There are parts of her autism that are strengths and parts that are weaknesses. Her ability to learn in-depth about plants and their healing powers is a strength and her tendency to take people literally and miss the point is a weakness, but only in situations where others aren’t considerate of how she perceives the world. When they are considerate and think about how to frame what they say in a way Aster will understand, it is totally fine. I loved everything about Aster. I want more books starring people like her with the representation handles so smoothly.

Other representations that exist in the book in beautiful ways include, but are not limited to: asexual, bisexual, trans*, lesbian, and a wide variety of abilities and disabilities.

The intermingling of spaceship and Antebellum American south was heartbreaking. Imagine everything about how Starship Enterprise is largely a utopia and turn that on its head, and you have the MatildaIt’s not that systemic inequality is not already clear to me, but I do think depicting it on the confines of a spaceship heightens the awareness of it seeps throughout everything.

The mourning of a child’s murder is not one of my moods, so please do not dismiss it thus.
[location 71%]

Although I think it should be obvious from the fact this is telling a story of the Antebellum south in outerspace, I do want to give trigger warnings for rape, abuse, violence, executions, and torture (all things that of course happened in the Antebellum south and anyplace with systemic inequality).

Everything about this was simultaneously richly imagined and depicting the diverse world we really do live in. I thought this was gorgeous and hope to meet Aster again (or someone like her) in future worlds by Rivers Solomon.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: White Ivy by Susie Yang

Book cover for White Ivy, featuring a Chinese woman from the nose down.Summary:
Ivy Lin isn’t sure of much of what she wants and never has been except for one thing – she wants Gideon Speyer. She fondly remembers his birthday party when she was 14 that she sneaked out to attend. Her parents pulled her away, sent her to China to visit relatives, and had moved to New Jersey by the time she got back. As an adult first grade teacher in Boston, Ivy runs into Gideon’s sister once again, and while she’s uncertain about what she wants most of the time, she immediately begins the work to get to be around and date Gideon. But does she really want only Gideon?

Review:
I went into this thinking it was a thriller based on the blurb that I saw – I wrote a different one for you that I think more accurately reflects the book. I would call it a contemporary story of the dark directions life can go when facing systemic and internalized issues. I would call it most comparable to Valley of the Dolls only featuring only one main character instead of many.

This is a strong own voices book. The issues Ivy faces as someone who immigrated at a very young age (and also spent some time being raised by her Grandmother in China waiting for her parents to send for her) were touching and felt real. The representation of systemic racism Ivy faced was subtle but woven throughout her life in such a way its insidiousness came across.

The author is also unafraid of pointing to the issues in the Chinese immigrant culture as well, particularly at the negative response to mental illness. This of course is not an issue limited to Chinese immigrant culture – I struggle to think of a culture that handles it well. However, I mention it as a way to say that the author did not present Ivy’s Chinese immigrant family as perfect. Rather, the problems in that family and in the broader culture as a whole twisted together to lead her down her path.

I don’t think this book is getting as much buzz as it should be. It’s a fun, different take that also brings diversity to the genre of contemporary women’s fiction. (I dislike calling it that but also there’s not a better term I’m aware of the communicates the genre I mean).

If you like reading contemporary women’s fiction with a twist of thrills (but not too many thrills), give this a chance. Especially if you’re looking to diversify your reading list or simply to find a Chinese-American leading character.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

17339177Summary:
Corrie Ten Boom and her family of watchmakers (she was the first licensed woman watchmaker in the Netherlands) are known for their work in the Dutch underground, both hiding Jewish people and doing organizing work for the underground. She and her sister Betsie did this work with their father. She and Betsie were in their 50s during this work. All three of them were ultimately arrested, and Corrie and Betsie were ultimately sent to the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. Corrie survived and started a home to help people refind their footing after the War.

Review:
This was one of my favorite books as a little girl. I had a fascination with WWII (still do) and was utterly enamored with Corrie. I distinctly remember that the paperback book I read was borrowed, but am uncertain if I borrowed it from my grandmother or from the church library. In any case, I decided it was high time I re-read this favored book as an adult and see if it withstood my now adult sensibilities. It certainly did.

The Ten Boom’s family commitment to not only do what is right but also to discern what that right thing might be is incredible. Corrie’s ability to be peaceful and not embittered after the War and everything she went through is also amazing. She is honest about who it was more difficult to forgive than others, and how she found the ability to. I believe any reader will be fascinated by the beginning of the book, which details how her family lived as watchmakers in Amsterdam, how they began hiding Jewish people, and how they came to largely run parts of the underground in Amsterdam. The sections about her capture and imprisonment are remarkable for their combination of honesty about the suffering combined with clear forgiveness and lack of bitterness for her captors.

When He [God] tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. (86% into the digital edition”

Corrie also demonstrates a viewpoint of both the body and soul needing to be cared for in order for the human being to be completely well and whole. She notes both when a German captor is clearly well cared-for but wanting in soul care and when a prisoner is happy in the soul but wretched in the body, noting neither is as God intended.

Corrie’s commitment to peace is also seen following the war when she establishes and runs a home to help all people (no matter which side they were on) find their way again after the war. Truly an inspiration in peace work. It’s also inspiring that she didn’t find this labor until she was in her 50s. An indicator that our calling may not fully come until later in life.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

April 18, 2020 1 comment

colorpurpleSummary:
Alice Walker’s classic about Celie and her life in the deep American South between WWI and WWII. The simplest plot summary is the survivor of both rape by her father and a forced loveless marriage who then finds love with her husband’s mistress, Shug Avery. But it’s so much more than that.

Review:
For Black History Month in February I thought it was high time I got around to reading The Color Purple, which is also hailed by many of my friends and fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community as a classic for us as well. When I saw Audible had the audiobook version read by Alice Walker herself, well, it was a sign, and it was time.

I had always hesitated to read it because the plot summary made me not sure the book would work for me. Rape and incest are plots that I struggle with as is cheating in a marriage. But this book surprised me. It told what needed to be told about Celie’s childhood without dwelling on it too much or in a sensational way. And by the time Celie and Shug were getting together, I was rooting for them. Because how much of a real marriage is it when neither partner wants it?

There are many strengths to The Color Purple, but three things really stood out to me. First, it helped me to see the gray areas of people’s lives and experiences and how not everything is as clearcut as it might at first seem.

Second, the way Celie’s voice in the writing grows and changes as she grows and changes and then how the letters from her sister come in midway making it partially an epistolary novel – it’s incredible.

Finally how it explored the American “justice” system and its real impact on people’s lives and how often responses to crimes are racially motivated. It wasn’t preachy but it was very moving.

The only reason I’m not rating it at 5 stars is because, for me, it was not a life-changing book. I enjoyed it, and I respect it. However, I know for many others it is a life-changing book, and if you have been on the fence about reading it, I encourage you to do so.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen

March 29, 2020 3 comments

First, a note….

I hope all of my readers are as safe and well as possible in these difficult times we are living in. A few people have asked me what I recommend reading to get through things. My advice is what my advice always is – read what most entertains you. Read what distracts you. Feel no guilt for what you enjoy reading. Read whatever it is you most enjoy. I think now more than ever it’s important for all of us to get a respite from the world around us and visit another world, whether that’s fiction or nonfiction, romance or thrills. In the spirit of this, I’m just going to keep reviewing the books I’ve most enjoyed recently.

43808355Summary:
Ava is writing a cookbook of what Maine fisherman communities ate during the 1800s. She’s hit a bit of a writer’s block, so she rents a summer home on the coast of Maine for inspiration – and maybe to run away from the tragedy that is haunting her. But when she arrives at the home in Maine she starts to think it might actually be haunted. She also discovers the previous renter mysteriously disappeared.

Review:
I love house-sitting or house-renting thrillers. There is something decidedly spooky about short-term rentals, and I love how this type of thriller just goes there. It reminded me of the Victoria Holt books I would borrow from my grandmother in middle school only set in modern day Maine.

What I wasn’t expecting from this book or its summary was its deft handling of alcohol addiction. Ava’s alcohol addiction isn’t her entire personality – far from it. She is very well-rounded. We get to know her incredible talent at both cooking and researching then recreating historic recipes. She is intelligent and caring. She loves her sister. But she has definitely made a giant mistake that is haunting her, and I would argue it’s a mistake that was rooted in her alcohol problem although before it became as serious as it is in Maine.

There are no easy answers in this book – not for the “ghost” of Captain Brodie. Not for the disappearances. Not for how small towns handle things. Not for Ava straightening her life back up. The lack of neat ends makes it all feel more real which really works for a book with a creepy ghost.

There were many aspects of this book that kept me staying up too late reading it: the mystery, Ava’s addiction, the ambience, is there really a ghost, what happened in Ava’s past. I also just liked visiting the house and waterfront, which was well described and realistic. It had just the right amount of twists and turns and well-rounded characters.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

February 21, 2020 Leave a comment

First, a note….

If you’ve subscribed to this blog, bless you for still being around. I hadn’t posted since July 2018! I’ve still been actively discussing books but mostly on my Instagram where I’ve been enjoying the bookstagram community. However, I have missed having a more permanent, long-form place to talk about books. I wasn’t enjoying the monthly round-ups I was doing but I also simply cannot devote the time to blog post about every book I read. So I’ve decided to aim for reviewing one book a month – the book I found most meaningful to read in some way in the month prior. Maybe sometimes I’ll review more, maybe less, but no longer take this blog to be a record of every single book I read. Moving right along.

Book cover of The FiveSummary:
You’ve heard of Jack the Ripper – the serial killer who murdered five women in London in 1888. Most people know the name Jack the Ripper but what about the names of his victims? Here, meet the women whose lives were cut short by Jack the Ripper – Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary. Get to know their world, their personal struggles, and come to see them as people rather than simply victims.

Review:
I learned so much reading this book, and none of it was dry. It was entirely fascinating. I liked the structure very much – Rubenhold goes through the intricacies of the lives of each of the women in the order they were murdered. She also doesn’t just stop at the moment they died – she follows through with who identified the body, who grieved for them (and every single one had someone grieving for them).

A large misconception is that all five of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper were homeless prostitutes. Of course even if that were the case it wouldn’t make the murders less tragic. However, it is simply not true of these women. Four of the five were not prostitutes but rather were simply sleeping on the street because they were homeless. The fifth (Mary Jane) was a prostitute but had a home and was murdered in it.

I found it very interesting how different all of their lives began and yet how most of them ended up on the street regardless. In a way this is really the story of how society failed these women long before it failed to find their killer by allowing them to end up living on the streets to begin with.

I personally found Annie’s story to be the most meaningful, but I think everyone will connect with a different woman in a different way. Annie ended up on the street due to a failed battle with alcoholism. She had a loving family, had climbed up to the middle class, and even did a stint in rehab. But she still lost the battle with her addiction.

Interestingly, her sisters chose the sobriety movement and prospered from it. I found this to be a meaningful passage:

The complete rejection of alcohol resonated with those who found themselves balanced precariously on the edge of middle-class life. By eschewing drink, a hardworking man or woman could save money and build a better life for themself and their family. Annie’s sisters not only adhered to this creed but prospered by it financially. (27% location)

Although her sisters were able to give up the drink, Annie was not. Her brother also still drank alcohol at the time of her murder. Even though she was on the street, he would still see her sometimes and imbibe with her. After her murder, he left the UK for Texas and achieved sobriety.

This hit me hard:

What her murderer claimed on that night was simply all that remained of what drink had left behind. (33% location)

To me, Annie’s full life story was sorrowful, although some beauty did come out of it in that her brother’s life was saved by observing her downfall. I still reflect on her story sometimes. I hope through Rubenhold’s work, Annie’s unfortunate downfall will come to affect change in more people than solely Annie’s brother’s.

I’ve spoken at length about the woman’s story I found the most personally moving and meaningful, but there is also a story of an immigrant, a woman scorned by her husband, a prostitute and the man she loved, and a working class woman who worked in a tin factory and ran from an abusive husband. I am sure you will find one that connects with you and that you will find meaningful.

Those who are disturbed by the gruesome will be pleased to note that there are not gruesome details in this book. The focus is on the women’s lives, not their deaths.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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May 2018 Book Reviews – Confessions of a Prairie Bitch (#memoir), The Couple Next Door (#thriller), Final Girls (#thriller), The Wife Between Us (#thriller), Maggie for Hire (#fantasy), Never Stop Walking (#memoir), My Best Friend’s Exorcism (#horror), The Marriage Lie (#thriller)

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A selection of books on display at De Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum. For more shots check out my bookstagram.

So I thought I read a lot in April with 6 but holy cow I read 8 books in May! What even? Honestly I barely remember May. What happened in May? Who knows. I need to do a better job of bullet journaling. I do remember my husband and I did our first motorcycle ride of the season and saw the De Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum and I thought that day was hot but oh boy did I not know what was coming. (#bostonheatwave #icouldfeelmyskincooking) I do sense a theme in my May reading which was thrillers and memoirs. I knew I’d read a lot of thrillers because my husband suggested I take a break from thrillers which he only does when I’m suddenly having trouble sleeping from reading thrillers. (This usually happens at about the third thriller in a row and oh look I read three thrillers in a row).

Anyway, this is gonna be a long post, so let’s get down to it.

I started off the month with a book I picked up on BookBub (a service that emails you alerts when books in certain genres you like/by authors you like go on sale). Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Olesen and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim. Like many girls of the 90s I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie and had always heard Alison was ironically the nicest girl on the set while playing the meanest. I’d also heard she grew up to be an advocate and had overcome some personal difficulties so I was intrigued. This book was the perfect combination of personal story and behind the scenes of Little House. Alison is gut-wrenchingly honest while being incredibly witty. Her advocacy work includes fighting for harsher punishment of proven sexual abusers of children and working to help those with HIV. Be warned she overcame sexual abuse in her household so if that would be upsetting for you, you may want to skip over this one.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next was The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena a thriller involving the kidnapping of a baby. I read this in audiobook format, and so I had to keep finding excuses to go listen to it. While this kept me motivated to find out what happened, there were things I really didn’t like about it. All of the women were incredibly catty with each other, there was a lot of judgmental tone used for the neighbor next door for how she dresses (it’s fine to be judgey of her for other reasons), and representation of mental illness (particularly dissociation) was near bunny boiling levels of fear-mongering. Even if you are ok with these elements, the ending was over-the-top ridiculous and dissatisfying. I still gave it 3 stars because I was motivated to find out the ending but all of these things really soured it for me, and I doubt I’ll ever read anything else by the author.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next another thrillerFinal Girls by Riley Sager. This one imagines a world where over the last few decades three mass murders have occurred with each leaving one sole survivor. The media has dubbed them the final girls. Well now someone seems to be coming after the final girls to finish the job. There’s not too much to say about this one beyond the fact that I liked the concept, there were just the right amount of twists and turns, and I thought it was well-done. I’d say this has a feminist slant, which meant the whodunnit was a bit predictable but how we get to that was still twisty enough I didn’t mind too much. Sager has a new book out this month, and it’s on my tbr.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next another thriller and you guys this one is a rare 5 star read: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This one sounds cheesy and (sorry) it has a cheesy cover too. When the book starts out it appears to be about an ex-wife jealous over a new soon-to-be wife but prepare to have your assumptions blown out the window. This reminded me of Big Little Lies only (dare I say it) I liked it better. This book has more than one twist. I thought I had it figured out when the first major twist happens but you guys there are more twists and one had me so shook that I actually gasped out loud on my train. It’s exactly what I want out of relationship-based thrillers. Loved it loved it. Their next co-authored book is out in January, and I am hype.
(5 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I picked up a book that had been languishing on my kindle forever – the urban fantasy Maggie for Hire Kate Danley. You could probably write the plot summary if you’ve read an urban fantasy in your day. The main character hunts monsters that make it to our world from the parallel fairy universe etc…. I think this is just proof that books are best read close to when they make it onto your tbr pile. This book would have suited me at a certain time in my life. At this time in my life it did not. I thought it was ok but I thought the main character was annoyingly immature and the plot too predictable. I won’t be continuing on with the series.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon?)

Soon I got the monthly email from Amazon’s First Reads program for Prime members where you can select one book from a list to read for free pre-release. I picked up Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson. This intrigued me because it concerns Christina’s experience as an inter-racial adoptee (from Brazil to Sweden). She was also adopted at an old enough age (7) to remember her life before Sweden, which included living in a forest and then in the favelas (essentially shantytowns or slums).  Christina (her Brazilian name is Christiana) does a phenomenal job loving and understanding both of her mothers. Her Brazilian mother with a mental illness and her Swedish mother who does her best to love and understand her in spite of cultural and personality differences. Christina shows a remarkable ability to see the best in people who have good intentions and to make the best of difficult situations. She also shows a passion for helping the children still living in the favelas now. Recommended to anyone with an interest in or considering inter-racial adoption.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next I picked up a horror My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Set in the 80s with a Spotify playlist to go with it (I learned I cannot be bothered to go pull this up on my phone while reading) this tells the story of a girl’s best friend getting possessed by a demon and her exorcism of course. As someone who was brought up very religious and saw the actual strongmen of Jesus perform, I loved seeing them in a book (just as cheesy as I remembered) but with the added bonus of one of then actually spotting the demonic possession of the best friend. That said. I felt horribly queer-baited by this book, particularly with how the ending almost goes there but doesn’t quite. Don’t go into this expecting it all to ultimately be about accepting your same-sex attractions. It hints and teases at that a lot but it is not.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Finally I wrapped up the month with another thriller – The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle. A plane crashes and Iris’s husband was on it and she suddenly finds herself a young widow. Only he was supposed to be on a flight to Florida but the flight that went down was on its way to Seattle. This is when the mystery begins. I was so into this book right up until the end (why does this happen so much in thrillers?). The way a certain character was written and described in the end of the book (not earlier or I would have stopped reading entirely) struck me as racist. I just am not down with the only black character of note in the book suddenly being described as hulking and scary with a police situation where the narrative wants the reader to root for the black man to be shot. I just. Am not. (There is one other minor black character and he makes the grieving widow take him out for dinner to give her information, which struck me as sinister as well). I still gave this 2 stars because it was readable and not completely riddled with awfulness but it really left a gross taste in my mouth.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Well that wraps up my month! My total for May 2018:

  • 8 books
    • 6 fiction; 2 nonfiction
    • 7 female authors; 2 male authors (remember one book had two authors)
    • 5 ebooks; 0 print books; 3 audiobooks

 

April 2018 Book Reviews – Kushiel’s Avatar (#fantasy), Please Forgive Me (#romance), The Song of Hiawatha (#poetry), A River in Darkness (#memoir), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (#espionage), Pennterra (#scifi)

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Reading poolside in Florida.  For more shots check out my bookstagram.

Wow what a busy month! After only completing one book in March, in April I finished a walloping six! Let’s get right to it.

I read quite a bit of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey while on a business trip to Orlando, Florida in April (um, where I got to wrestle an alligator YES THAT HAPPENED). Ahem, anyway, this fantasy chunkster finishes up Phedre’s Trilogy and it was the perfect companion for a business trip since I was definitely not going to find the time to finish it while on the trip so it could keep me company throughout. Anyway, if you’ve heard of the trilogy and have been intrigued by it, suffice to say that I found the conclusion to be an improvement on the second book but didn’t live up to the first. I appreciated the artistry of the ending but I personally wasn’t a fan of how Phedre’s life ended up, which I think soured it a bit for me. But not enough to not put the first book in the next trilogy in this world on my tbr list.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap? Maybe? I bought it somewhere)

Next I picked up Melissa Hill’s romance Please Forgive Me. This piece of modern Irish literature follows our heroine from Ireland to San Francisco where she tries to outrun her problems. I found the Irish interpretation of California (not least of which the idea of how the main character can just show up and work under the table and that’s fine) to be pretty hilarious. Three couples are ultimately presented where someone did something “wrong” but no one seems to think all of the running away is particularly wrong? This was one of those classic there would be no problems if everyone would just act like adults instead of impulsive children types of chick lit books. If you’re ok with that and the idea of an Irish take on California appeals to you, you may have found your next read.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next something possessed me to finally get around to reading the copy of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which is I believe out of copyright and has been hanging out on my kindle forever. By “something possessed me” I mean like many other New England children I was forced to memorize (and PERFORM) “Paul Revere’s Ride” (read it in its full glory) and I was curious if the other Longfellow epic poem lives up to Paul Revere. Um. It does not. Here’s the thing. Longfellow’s style works great for a piece about a time very close to his own and his own people in a short form. It does not work great in a full length book based on his interviews with Native Peoples and his attempts at writing down the language. It basically consists of Hiawatha telling the different nations to stop warring and unite or they’d be over-run by white people. It felt a bit…victim blamey to me. Also then in the final chapter missionaries arrive, Hiawatha welcomes them, tells his people they have a very important message and to be nice to them, then sails off in what I think is a metaphor for his death. So Hiawatha is a hero for telling those silly Native nations to unite to fight off white people but also recognizing the salvation message. Okayyyyy. I kept reading it because I thought it must get better. It did not. Stick to Paul Revere’s Ride.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: no idea anymore)

I received my next read free from Amazon thanks to the Kindle First program, and I feel like I caught it just at its popularity wave – Masaji Ishikawa’s memoir A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa is half-Japanese and half-Korean. His Korean father moved the family to North Korea based on promises of a better life when he was 13 years old. Masaji’s life has been incredibly hard – not just in North Korea but also in Japan. When he was a child, he faced racism in Japan because he was half-Korean, and when he escaped back to Japan he faced many difficulties repatriating (for instance, they housed him in a half-house with recovering addicts, while that is a home, you can imagine it would be difficult to repatriate in such a situation). Masaji has lost so much family; it’s overwhelming. I think he’s brave for telling his story, and I encourage anyone interested in helping North Koreans to check out the well-rated charity Liberty in North Korea. While this story is incredibly important, to me personally the pacing was a bit off. Maybe it wasn’t in the original Japanese.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

While I was reading these other books, I was also reading my audiobook The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carre. I picked this up because it’s supposed to be a classic involving the Berlin Wall. This is about a British spy and basically the whole book is the question of is he loyal to the West or not? The book begins and ends at the Berlin Wall. I found the beginning very engaging and the end was exciting, but the middle dragged. I’m glad I stuck with it for the end, though. Also there’s a love interest who is a librarian in this, which was exciting for me! Recommended if you like spy novels.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I finished out the month with a 1987 female written scifi – Pennterra by Judith Moffet. Basically there’s an alien planet colonized by Quakers (because Earth is dying and spaceships of groups of people who have something in common are leaving Earth looking for places to live). Of course there’s an indigenous people who resemble large insects and communicate both vocally and through emotive telepathy. I’d read this book was an exploration on the power of pacifism for resolving conflict, BUT I didn’t find much pacifist negotiation. They just do what the locals tell them to do and obey the rules put upon them. That’s pacifist, sure, but is that negotiation? I thought the planet being alive in and of itself and resisting invaders was fascinating. I thought seeing how children who arrive on the planet at the age of 7 are different and able to adapt was fascinating. I did not think that human children going through puberty and proceeding to behave like the locals sexually in ways that involved the adult humans who never adapted to the planet themselves to be logical (beyond the gross factor). Basically the locals have sex with everyone who’s hit puberty. The human children who hit puberty do the same with adults who don’t feel the natural inclination to go native and so feel guilty about it. What this ultimately means is the author ends up equating bisexualty and polyamory with incest and bestiality. No scenes are particularly graphic but the idea is that it’s ok for the human kids to do it because that’s how the local planet works. But it’s…..not. And it was very uncomfortable for me to see these things being equated. That said that is a minor plotpoint that I was able to skip over easily enough and I was interested in how the planet was going to defend itself, and I found it hilarious how the planet ultimately defends itself. I just wish the author had had going native in the human adolescents to just be bisexuality and/or polyamory and stopped short of the rest. Because they are still HUMANS even if they’ve had to adapt to the environment.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap)

Phew, what a month! My total for the month of April 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 3 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook