2.5 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Chicano Lit · Latin American Lit

Thoughts on “Sabrina & Corina: Stories” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

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.

2 Stars · Bust · France · Sports · WW1

Who knew the Tour de France was so interesting? Sprinting Through No Man’s Land: Endurance, Tragedy, and Rebirth in the 1919 Tour de France by Adin Dobkin

This was another Kindle first reads book. Again, the title got me. These Kindle first reads authors are great at choosing titles! I’m not a huge cyclist, but have some friends who compete and find the entire premise of long distance cycling to be so intriguing.

Rather than a full history of the Tour de France, Dobkin chose to focus on a single year, 1919. This makes the book less a history and more of a detailed account of the 1919 race.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Dobkin definitely did his research and the book is jam packed with historical facts about France, WWI, cycling and the towns the tour passed through. I learned so much about cycling that I’d never thought of before, like how the riders had to fully self support, carrying their own tubes, food and water. The tidbits of history for each town were also extremely interesting. I would have liked to know more about the types of bikes they road, how much they weighed, etc. It was also interesting to read about all of the cheating that was so rampant during the early Tour de France days. It seems like cheating has always been an integral part of the race!

What’s frustrating is the way Dobkin has put the book together. He follows multiple riders, rather than just a single rider and chapters jump from focusing on the various riders to mini history lessons. These sidebar lessons frequently don’t relate or add much to the story of 1919 Tour de France. The photos included weren’t always applicable either. While the descriptions of each town or pass are quite thorough, the writing get bogged down and you’ve got to slog through a lot it.

Interesting topic, but this book tends to read like a research paper with a minimum word count requirement. Like A Well Read Woman, the author may have been better off diving into historical fiction.

3 stars · Autobiography · Bust · leadership

Work Book Club Read: The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime was my work book club’s choice for this year. The best I can say is that the Amazon reviews describing this book as vapid and empty as a Disney princess were correct. Iger’s had an incredible career and leads one of the biggest companies in the world. Under his lead, Disney has truly become a media empire.

I was expecting this book to be earth shattering or to provide some pearls of wisdom to really latch on to. Instead, we get an extremely polished version of his personal life and career path with generic leadership advice tossed in for good measure. While it’s understandable that such a high profile father and husband would want to protect his family’s privacy, it was incredibly difficult to find value in Iger’s advice when none of his trials (personal or career) were presented.

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know just how big Disney was. It was eye-popping to read what Disney owns and operates. It would have been fascinating to read all of the gritty details behind the Disney moniker.

2 Stars · Bust · Mystery

A jazz infused mystery with potential… The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds (A Dizzy Heights Mystery Book 1) 

Where to start…where to start…

My first impression of The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds was that it read like walking into the middle of a dinner party conversation. A lot of background information was missing and characters were referred to by multiple names, making the story hard to keep track of. What I didn’t know was that this book is a spin-off series of another series called “The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries”. If you’d read that series, you’d have already been introduced to the characters and have a handle on the backstory missing from this book. Unfortunately, the author didn’t write this book in a way that lets it stand alone and left the reader patching in way too many holes on top of a mystery.

The characters themselves are lively and full of personality, but there’s just way too many of them, and as mentioned earlier, they were referred to by multiple names which caused a bit of confusion when reading. There’s even a portion of the book where the characters can’t remember another group’s set of names, so they rename then. From that point on, that 2nd group of people are referred to by multiple names. WHY? It only served to complicate unnecessarily.

The story itself is fun and a bit silly. Set in 1925 in Scotland yard, a band of jazz musicians must help Scotland Yard solve a mystery. The entire plot line of The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds depends heavily on the banter between the characters, which gets annoying when it stops moving the story forward and becomes a barrier to the plotline actually proceeding. The mystery is intriguing and I would have loved to see more time spent on developing that part of the story and less on the “witty” banter. With some heavy editing, this would be an excellent story. As currently written, it’s a light read that doesn’t require much investment.

2 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts · YA

Meg Elison is officially the queen of trauma porn

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!

Until next time, cheers and happy reading!

3 stars · beach read · Book Review · Bust · Secret Hideout · spoilers · Summer Read · thoughts

Unpopular Opinion: Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautifully written book with a stupid plot.

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.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

0 stars · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Psychology

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

51ZM2Qv8x5L._SY346_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.

0 stars for this book.

Until next time, happy reading and cheers!

 

2.5 Stars · Biography · Book Review · Bust · Summer Read

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

819dCenkuML._AC_UL436_Y’all, I love me some Chip and Joanna Gaines.  But I may have overdone it by reading The Magnolia Story, the Magnolia Journal magazine, We are the Gardeners AND Capital Gaines all in about six months.

Capital Gaines is essentially The Magnolia Story written from Chip’s point of view.  There are a few new stories tossed in, more about Chip’s life pre-Joanna as well as more about his roles and goals for Magnolia, but essentially the same story told by another person.

While Joanna Gaines tends to be a gentle humble narrator, although a little boring at times, Chip Gaines is bold, loud and kind of annoying.  It took me almost two months to get through this book.  His jokes felt super immature and he came across as the kind of guy that tries really hard to be cool but ends up annoying everyone.

The hard part of this read is that while he is annoying, Chip comes across as someone who genuinely loves and cares about his family, his company, the folks who work for him, the city of Waco and about a million other things.  You want to like him!  It’s obvious he is passionate about life and holds nothing back when it comes to chasing down an idea and following through.  I can respect that and definitely admire his fearless all-in attitude.  I didn’t like the “I believe in you” and “I’m in your corner” bits.  Those portions of the book felt very forced and fake.

Capital Gaines also includes excerpts written by people who work for Chip.  It was fun to read about Chip and Joanna from their perspective as well as read about some of the crazy stuff that goes on that neither Chip or Joanna mentioned.

All in all, this books gets 2.5 stars.  While it was fun, there was nothing new or ground breaking and it felt more like a book deal cash grab contract that needed to be fulfilled.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

2 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Grandparents · Self Help

The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard

51dpXd9m+UL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Holy freezing in May, Batman!  The weather this month has been nuts.  I didn’t even realize it until now, but The Storm was a great title pick for the last few weeks.  We’ve gone from upper 70’s to snow and back again.  Anyway, on to The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard.  This was another free Amazon kindle pick and I’m undecided on whether I liked it or not.

The Storm is essentially one very long conversation between a grandfather, Granddaddy, and his teenage grandson, Dakota.  During a walk, the two take shelter in a park picnic pavilion to avoid the rain storming around them.  As they talk, Granddaddy shares his life secrets for success with Dakota, who has started learning his own lessons through trial and error.  While the premise of the book is sweet, the conversation tends to read as a giant checklist of motivational quotes and practices from every great thinker and self-help guru since the dawn of time.

The character development in The Storm is incredibly weak.  We learn that Granddaddy fought in WWII, is still married to Dakota’s grandmother and is estranged from his son, who is Dakota’s father, but we never learn much more about him than that.  We don’t know why he isn’t actively involved in Dakota’s life.  It also bothered me that despite not being around, Granddaddy and Dakota seem to have a strong and open relationship.  It also bothered me that Grandma and Mom remained vague mysterious characters who weren’t mentioned, Dad was stereotypical and Big Brother was the martyr hero type.  Not even Dakota was fleshed out.  We learn he is a high school wrestler dealing with an abusive father and has a pretty girlfriend who tends to be a positive influence.  Aside from his wrestling training and occasional references to the difficulties with his dad, Dakota remained very one dimensional and just wasn’t believable as a teenage character.

My biggest pet peeve with the entire book was how unnatural and forced the conversational style between Granddaddy and Dakota felt.  Granddaddy would ask Dakota if he knew who Michael Phelps was and instead of answering “yeah” like a normal teenager, Dakota would answer like a Wikipedia entry, “Michael Phelps is US Olympic Swimmer who won 28 medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics”.  Multiply that by about a hundred other anecdotes and it got old, quick.

I did enjoy a lot of the quotes in The Storm and I liked the idea of a grandparent sharing so lovingly and openly with their grandchildren.  I just wish there would have been some more personality infused into Granddady and Dakota and that their entire history and family line had been really fleshed out.

Overall, the book was a quick read, it just wasn’t very deep or life changing.  Going to rate this one somewhere around 2.5 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers-

R

 

 

Book Review · Bust · Historical Fiction

Take 2 on Caroline: Little House Revisited

51SDPJ0Ft4L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_It’s the end of May and I’m still wondering where the heck April blew off to.  I didn’t do much reading (or posting) in April, but I did watch a whole lot of Netflix.  It was super cold and wet here, so most of my time was spent crafting and watching The Umbrella Academy, Supergirl, The Flash, Empire Games, and probably a few more.

I did finish Caroline: Little House Revisited and felt like my original post could use some updating.  There is a section in Caroline, where the prairie starts on fire.  Ma is so focused on the fire that she can’t think and Miller is forced to write outside of Ma’s head.  This is where Miller really hits her stride.  Her descriptions of the prairie, the fire, the actions of the animals, the people, and the overall fire experience were excellent and very well done.  I was completely immersed in this chapter and was heavily disappointed when Miller returned to the first person narrative (which she obviously had to do in order to keep with the rest of the book.)

Caroline, in my opinion, would have been an excellent book if Miller had written exclusively in this third person style and focused more on Ma’s perspective of the Little House stories and less on creating a first person narrative which turned Ma into a boring whiny insecure Puritan.

I’m in between activities and writing on the go, so short and sweet today!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

-R