Sabrina & Corina is a collection of short stories about Latina women living in the United States with many taking place in or around Denver and New Mexico. Chicano Lit and Latin American Lit are my jams, so I was extremely excited to read this book, especially with the praises of Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros, the Queens of Latin American Lit.
I really really didn’t enjoy this book. It was extremely heavy, with each story centering around deep trauma. As a Hispanic woman with cultural knowledge and familiarity with the locations the author wrote about, reading this book felt like reading a family’s deepest darkest and saddest moments, almost like spying on them in their most vulnerable times. It felt invasive and uncomfortable.
One of my favorite parts of Chicano Lit and Latin American Lit is the humor the authors are always able to weave into their tales. Growing up, humor was a cultural staple for hard times in the Latino community. Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Isabelle Allende are masters of the art of subtle humor in hard times. This makes their books a joy to read and hard to put down. Fajardo-Anstine, on the other hand, focused solely on the grit and trauma without balancing it out with the strength of hope, laughter, and humor that is norm for our community. After each story, I set the book down for a few days, it was often too depressing to keep reading. This is another book that I would classify as trauma porn.
The other issue I had with this book was the lack of tightness around the writing. In nearly every story, Fajardo-Anstine would introduce a location with “at a lake named…”, “In a town called…”. It was strange and felt oddly disjointed. There were a few other instances where the writing was just slightly off, like it wanted to be poetry but then decided it wasn’t, and got back on track as a short story. The individual stories varied in quality as well, with some being better written than others.
I hope Fajardo-Anstine keeps writing, but adds balance to her stories in a way that makes them human and relatable without just being traumatic.
If you loved the movie Big Fish, you’ll love West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge. A historical fiction that holds its own in the American tall tale tradition, West with Giraffes holds the fine balance between just enough truth and just enough tall tale to be believable. I had a blast reading this book and actually just purchased a copy for my dad, who shares my love of Westerns and tall tales.
West with Giraffes follows the strange-but-true story of a pair of giraffes as they endure a wild boat trip across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, barely surviving a hurricane, before embarking on an epic road trip across the United States from New York to the San Diego zoon in California.
Rutledge skillfully navigates her way through the time period, folding her readers into the gritty reality of 1938; an America beaten, bruised and slowly recovering from the back to back travesties of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the fear and trepidation of Hitler’s rise to power, the palpable tension between black and white Americans, the wide open spaces between abandoned towns and the unreliable dirt roads that passed for highways.
Against this dark and dreary back drop, Rutledge gifts us with a strong cast of unlikely heroes: two awe inspiring giraffes, a beautiful and impulsive photographer, a grumpy but wise Old Man who keeps our heroes moving ever forward, and young man to rival any of the great American tall tale heroes, Woody Nickel. Through a series of wild happenstance, the inexperienced but determined Woody becomes the giraffes chauffer, embarking on the ride of life time.
If there is one thread that Rutledge weaves flawlessly through West with Giraffes, it’s the tiny spark of hope that people in hard times cherish and stoke so desperately. The giraffes, which were extremely rare in the US at that time, due to their delicate nature and the long distances required to acquire them, provide that hopeful beacon. Rutledge does a fantastic job reproducing the wonder, awe and excitement of folks seeing a giraffe for the very first time, particularly for an audience accustomed to feeding giraffes at their local zoo on any given weekday. I found myself enamored with giraffes and inspired to look a little deeper at this modern day staple of zoo creatures.
This was a fantastic read and a great way to break out of the mid-winter pandemic blues. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more by this author.
Oh boy, it’s been a while since I’ve visited the blog. Between working, running my Pilates studio and homeschooling the minion, life’s been crazy busy. I’ve been reading daily, but finding time to share thoughts has been slim pickings lately.
So where do you find new books to read? In the good old days, I’d spend ages browsing in the library, sifting through books by size, color, cover art, title, and interesting first pages. Since getting a kindle, I’ve depended on recommendations from friends and whatever looks interesting on Kindle Unlimited. A few friends have recommended Good Reads, but I have such a hard time using that platform, it doesn’t feel fun or natural.
Amazon First Reads has been awesome to get a free book every month, but I noticed I’d collected a ton of unread books from the program, so 2021 started off with a deliberate effort to read every free book I’d downloaded in 2020 BEFORE buying/downloading any new books.
So let’s start 2021 with where we left off in 2020…Meg Elison. The author of The Unnamed Midwife, which I absolutely hated, wrote another book called Find Layla which found its way into my reading queue via Amazon first reads.
Written for a YA audience, Find Layla follows fourteen year old street wise and book smart Layla Bailey as she navigates her mother’s mental illness and the subsequent neglect, abuse, and responsibility as she ekes out a delicate survival for herself and her six year old brother, on top of the usual school bullies and teenage angst. All of this takes place within the realms of Layla’s science obsession and under the microscope of social media and the twitter’s sphere.
While Elison starts out strong and the reader develops a genuine concern for Layla, this book suffers from the same over emphasis on trauma, gaping plot holes, and lack of character development as The Unnamed Midwife.
For me, the plot holes are always the biggest hang up. In Finding Layla, the plot holes and lack of character development go hand in hand. To start with, Layla’s mom was very one dimensional. She was the evil mother with poor hygiene, poor social skills and completely incapable of caring for herself or her children. But what wasn’t explained was how she got that way. We see how the mother’s affliction affects Layla and her brother, Andy, but there’s never any background for how things got to where they were.
Was the mother a drug addict? A hoarder? Some other mental illness? How did she manage to have relationships that produced children? How was she able to care for the children as babies? How was she able to get, keep and maintain jobs seemingly easily over and over in new places with her poor hygiene and lack of social skills? Without these answers, the book never really fleshes out.
Layla’s best friend and classmates are equally lean characters. They are stereotypical “mean girls” that really push the limits on terrible behavior. While I know bullying exists and is infinitely worse with social media, the way Elison portrayed it here just felt completely over the top. It would have been nice to see a little more complexity and depth in the teenage characters to help round them out a little bit.
The adults in the book are as stupid and ineffective as the teenagers. This creates a continuing plot hole, leaving the reader wondering how so many adults could fail to respond, particularly when the situation for Layla and Andy is so dire and so very apparent to anyone in contact with either child.
Layla herself is the most developed character, but even she falls flat, particularly when the plot depends on the depth of another character, which just isn’t there to support her.
One thing I strongly dislike about Elison’s writing is her complete dependence on trauma to keep the reader engaged. Whenever a plot thread starts to unravel or get tangled, she throws in a heavy dose of extreme trauma. This was the same plot device she used to propel The Unnamed Midwife. The trauma portions of the book are incredibly well done. They’re graphic, evoke strong emotions and trigger the part of the brain that can’t stop rubber necking at a car crash. Unfortunately that doesn’t make for high brow reading and I found myself thoroughly disappointed at the amount of time I’d spent on another of Elison’s books when this one ended.
This one has 4.5 starts on Amazon right now, and close to 3,000 ratings but only 439 actual reviews. I was actually surprised by the lack of written reviews, considering how many ratings the book has.
Sorry for another negative book review. Those somehow seem easier to write and it seemed fitting to pick up where we left off on the last update. I have read some truly great books this year, so can’t wait to share those!
Hey friends! How are you? Are you reading a lot more lately? I’ve seen a lot more posts in the books subreddit on Reddit and a ton more book discussions between friends on Facebook. It looks like most of us are dealing with these stay-at-home orders by indulging in lots and lots of reading.
So tell me, what are you reading? I don’t have the stomach for anything dystopian at the moment, but Jeff Wheeler’s newest book just arrived and it was like Christmas morning on my kindle. Y’all know how much I enjoy Jeff Wheeler’s world building and The Killing Fog just really took me in completely.
One of my favorite things about Wheeler’s writing is that he takes familiar-ish stories, locations or times and gives them a very magical supernatural spin. His world building skills are incredible and The Killing Fog delivers completely in this sense. The characters were much stronger than in The Harbinger Series and the writing itself was almost as strong as that of The Kingfountain Series. I’ve always find it interesting that Wheeler’s main characters are almost always strong capable young women and that he tends to write them fairly well for a middle aged man.
Hands down, The Kingfountain Series is still my favorite of Wheeler’s works (and I HIGHLY recommend these books if you’re in the mood for something well written, intriguing and magical), but The Killing Fog comes in at a strong second. While the Harbinger Series, Muirwood and Mirrowen were good young adult fiction, The Kingfountain Series and The Grave Kingdom Series are better suited for mature readers and really show Wheeler at his finest.
Wheeler’s books are meant to be read as a series, they’re not standalone books, which can be a little bit annoying. Especially since the next book in The Grave Kingdom series isn’t out until June, but it’s also nice to have something to look forward to.
If you love the old Star Treks, Star Gate and anything 80’s sci-fi, The Last Dance by Martin L. Shoemaker is a must read. This was one of my favorite Kindle reads of the year. It was well written, fun and incredibly intelligent. You can tell Shoemaker loves space and the book maintains a good grasp on the science involved with space travel as well as the complexity of human behavior and emotions when millions of miles away from home. There’s nothing I hate more than a book that glosses over science completely (unless it’s magic..of course!) so I really appreciated Shoemaker’s approach in The Last Dance. The true emotion elicited by this book was reminiscent of reading “The War of the Worlds”…i.e..it totally could happen.
Set on the Aldrin, a space craft that shuttles people from Earth to the Mars colonies in 2083, The Last Dance untangles the very complicated story of Captain Nicolau Aames who is accused of treason and his loyal crew, accused of mutiny.
As Inspector General Park boards the Aldrin and conducts her investigation into Aames and his crew, she encounters the true complexity of space travel, the nuances of human interactions and the explosive political tensions between the Mars/Earth and Civilian/Military bureaucracy.
Aames, by all accounts is an asshole. But he is consistent, incredibly competent and exceptionally fair. He’s also stubborn, arrogant and routinely pushes people to their breaking points. His list of political enemies reaches from Earth to Mars. His crew, however, is unswervingly loyal and exceptionally competent themselves, leaving Inspector General Park to dig for an unbiased truth from the testimonies of a crew who respects their captain and stands by him, even against accusations of mutiny and treason.
The Last Dance was so much fun to read and I cannot wait book two: The Last Campaign.
In a Field of Blue by Gemma Liviero was a Kindle first read and despite a confusing and slow start, it was an enjoyable historical romance set in 1922 England. With the slow start of the first few chapters, it felt like Liviero really struggled with finding the voice of her male narrator. Starting out, I thought the main character was female and had to read back a few times in confusion before realizing the narrator was male and named Rudy. That wasn’t a great start. I read a lot and have never encountered a book where the narrator’s gender and name were unclear or confusing. Luckily, Liviero found her footing and I was able to follow the story easily after realizing who Rudy was.
Set in England post WW1, In a Field of Blue swirls around three brothers and their mother. The youngest son, Rudy, and his mother live precariously on the edge waiting for the return of Edgar, the eldest brother whose gone missing during the war and the heir of the family fortune. Their future depends on Edgar’s return, as his death means the entire family estate would be lost to the wildly irresponsible Lawrence, the second born and next in line who wants to sell their home and move on with life. As the third born, Rudy has no claim to anything except the mess his older brothers leave in their wake. When a strange French woman arrives with a small boy in tow, claiming to be Edgar’s widow arriving with his son, the family drama ensues and Rudy begins an investigation into the strange woman, named Mariette, the boy and Edgar.
While In a Field of Blue is classified as Historical Fiction, it definitely teeters closer towards historical romance without every falling into that category. Liviero did a fantastic job bringing forth the emotional trauma of war and presenting it in a way that is both respectful and powerful. This book is worth reading just for Liviero’s approach to mental health. The characters are incredibly well developed, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them, and the backdrop she paints across Europe is beautifully done. The story does flip between four different narrators, and I wish Liviero had stuck to Mariette as her narrator. Her writing was so much stronger and easier to follow with Mariette than the other characters. This book could have also done with some heavy editing, particularly through the first 30% to help with clarity and ease of reading.
Overall, In a Field of Blue was a very enjoyable book, perfect for a winter day snuggled under a blanket. I give this one 3 stars. Incredible characters, beautifully written, needed a lot of help with clarity those first few chapters.
Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap. This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.
So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars. I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews. It’s just incredible.
*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*
Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase. As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970. The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done. Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.
The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist. While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.
The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father. Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability. After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.
Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat. Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world. Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.
In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh. The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.
Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read. The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality. I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years. I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father. I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.
I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics. I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.
I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened. I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents. I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.
I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.
For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.
Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible. Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously. This one rings somewhere around 3 stars. Beautiful written. Stupid plot.
Written by Eoin Dempsey, Toward the Midnight Sun promises adventure and romance against the rugged backdrop of the Klondike goldrush in 1897. The story follows the young protagonist, Anna, as she embarks on a wild trip from Seattle to Dawson City to join her betrothed, a stranger twice her age.
As a native Coloradan, I LOVE westerns and the gold rush and anything about rugged mountain adventures. After reading the description, I couldn’t wait to pick up this book and dig in.
After a very slow start and a slow build up, the action picks up when Anna finds herself stranded with dishonest chaperones and a pair of strangers her only allies. The story really picks up and gets interesting as Anna starts her trek across the land to Dawson City. I enjoyed the description of life on the trail and all of the work involved in getting yourself and your supplies across an unpredictable landscape with winter breathing down your back.
Things take a turn for the worse in Dawson City, and Toward the Midnight Sun moves from a slow starting adventure novel towards a cheap romance novel that loses the plot. Things start to tumble together quickly and eventually characters are thrown into situations and reactions that don’t make sense for the story or their personalities. Dempsey tries to be inclusive and empathetic towards the plight of women but it ends up feeling unnatural. Anna becomes a young woman whose primary thoughts revolve around showing everyone she could do survive. Rather than inspirational, her inner monologue quickly gets boring.
About 3/4 of the way through the book, things start to feel too big to wrap up with just 25% of the book left and Dempsey steamrolls through to a quick ending. The last portion of the book feels like Dempsey realized he needed to finish in a certain amount of pages and did anything to get there.
Overall, this book was a quick read. I enjoyed the subject and the trail adventure. However, the girl-power factor was overdone and the book was slow too start and too quick to end. 3 stars for me today.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I got to read and now review my friend’s debut novel! Reading someone’s work can be such an intimate activity, especially for something like a romance. Luckily, Selkie by Dacia Dyer is a beautifully written PG-13 romance, so no awkward friend moments required. 🙂
Set in Scotland, Selkie weaves together the mysterious threads of an old folktale with the modern day lives of Connor, a brokenhearted fisherman/bar tender and Talia, a broke freelance writer turned house sitter. Connor and Talia are young and sweet and very simple while also avoiding the trap of becoming one dimensional and predictable. Dyer’s knowledge of Scotland and local colloquialisms bring a welcome authenticity to the novel.
I’m fairly new to the romance genre and while I prefer historical fiction romances, Selkie was very enjoyable and I am happy to recommend this book to others looking for a quick and easy read.
It’s not often I give up on a book. And I don’t think I’ve ever given up a book in the first two chapters. But goodness gracious, y’all. The Light of the Fireflies is a book that I just don’t have the stomach for. While the book excerpt leads one to believe this book is some sort of post-apocalyptic drama, it’s more of a suspenseful thriller. Typically, I love me some good dystopia or thrillers. However, in the first two chapters, The Light of the Fireflies jumped right into forced imprisonment, emotional abuse, and implied rape and incest. That’s a whole lot for the first two chapters.
In addition to the emotional crap this book shoots right out the gates, there are a lot of disjointed realities presented in the first two chapters. The world is supposedly destroyed and inhabitable. Yet, the family has water, electricity, fresh food, crayons, colors, and even a cactus. Where does that stuff come from?
No one has a name in this book and each person is referred to by their station in the family. Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Grandma, The Baby. It’s hard to empathize and connect with a bunch of nameless characters. It’s also odd to imagine seven people existing in such close quarters without ever using one another’s names.
Every family member was supposedly disfigured by a fire before the move to the basement. The narrator and the baby were born in the basement, so they do not have any scars and know no other way of life. I had a hard time picturing an event in which every family member was burned and disfigured without any details or explanation from the author.
The final straw for me was the fact that the entire plot centered around one character not knowing anything and everyone else knowing everything. Even after two chapters, it was obvious this was a book of waiting it out and following crumbs throughout each chapter to piece together the story. I absolutely hate when entire plots are written around a single character (or in this case a group of characters) who knows everything and the reader and/or main character are left to fit the pieces together.
Yes, I know many mysteries and dystopian books utilize this method. However, in The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and The Maze Runner, someone else knowing what is going on is part of the surprise of those books. The same is true for most mysteries. Gone Girl definitely utilized this method, but that book was VERY well done and the reader watched the story unfold from the knowing person’s point of view, which is what made it such a fantastic read.