Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, romance

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

“Because while musical prodigies are always celebrated, early readers aren’t. And that’s because early readers are only good at something others will eventually be good at, too. So being first isn’t special – it’s just annoying.”

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, a single mother and a very reluctant cooking star host of the beloved, Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (continuously proclaiming how hard it is and using chemistry terms!) proves to be very popular and revolutionary. She’s not just teaching women how to cook but daring them to change the status quo of things in the early 1960s. How did a chemist with a masters degree get here? How did she end up in the kitchen? Well, you’re in for the most unusual love story.

“Imagine if all men took women seriously . . .

Zott is the only female chemist at Hastings Research Institute, even though her male colleagues constantly come to her for help, they do not think she is smart enough. They find her too uppity because she refuses to make copies, make coffee, or anything else that her male colleagues aren’t required to do. They are also resentful of the fact that she is beautiful and does not want to date any of them, be groped or “accidentally” touched. She experiences so much sexism at work until she meets the often oblivious Calvin Evans.

My favorite thing about Garmus’ characterization of Evans is that she does not write him as a perfect paragon of feminism. Yes, he does not logically understand why Zott is not treated better, given the intellect she possesses and he takes her ideas seriously, but he is still just a man. He proposes to her even though she already told him she does not intend to ever get married. He automatically assumes that she would change her name and completely blanches at the suggestion that if it isn’t such a big deal then he should change his to hers.

This story is filled with so many great side characters. A neighbor that could have been the stereotypical nosy neighbour but Garmus writes her to be so much more. If you’re an animal lover, there’s a dog named six-thirty that most animal lovers would absolutely adore. I am not an animal lover but even I appreciated his contributions to the plot! A priest that fleets in and out of Calvin and Elizabeth’s lives, a very smart and delightful daughter called Mad! and a secretary at Hastings that makes Elizabeth’s life a living hell!

I’m getting weary of reading about quirky female characters who are written like they’re on the spectrum but are not written consistently. Elizabeth in my opinion was very naive, socially awkward and sometimes delusional. There are so many times I just felt like this character was not at all realistic.

The blurb on this book says it’s supposed to be laugh out loud funny, I didn’t find it funny. This book should actually come with a trigger warning – there’s a brutal rape, an attempted rape and suicide. I don’t think I even smiled once. The character said something about subsidized child care in Sweden and I had to google this because I was quite shocked that this would be a thing in the early 60’s which is when this book was set in and I was right, subsidized child care was not a thing till the late 70’s in Sweden. I wonder why her editor didn’t catch that.

Anyway, I did enjoy this book overall and would recommend it. I went into it with extremely high expectations built up by bookstagram and I think I was ultimately a little let down. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. It is a debut novel and I must say, it read like one. If you enjoy quirky characters and a charming cast of support characters, then this one is for you.

Leggy

Fiction, Historical, LGBT, literary fiction, race, romance

Book Review: Olga Dies dreaming by Xóchitl González

“You must remember, mijo, even people who were once your sails can become your anchors.”

Despite all the factors against them, Olga and her brother, Pedro ” Prieto” Acevedo made it in New York. Olga is a rich wedding planner for Manhattan’s elite while Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrified latino neighborhood in Brooklyn. On the surface, they’re living the American dream but there is something more going on underneath it all.

Olga may be creating dreams of love for other people but she is unable to fall in love herself until she meets Matteo, who forces her to examine long buried family secrets. 27 years ago, their mother, Blanca left them to advance a militant cause that was suppose to free native people all over the world. But with nothing achieved, she comes barreling back into their lives like she didn’t abandon her children all these years ago.

It took me a long time to pick up this book, because the cover and the blurb do it no favors. I think the blurb is quite accurate but I just didn’t expect it to have so much life and culture and such a strong narration. This book is told through the perspective of both Olga and Prieto and interspaced by the letters their mum writes them through the years. Letters that strictly scolds them for whatever decision that spreads through the grapevine that she disapproves of.

I enjoyed Olga’s narration the best, it’s filled with so much snark and wit while Prieto’s was almost stifling. The secret he’s hiding and the length he has gone to hide it is almost suffocating as he tells us upfront and then we carry it throughout the book. Prieto sets out to become a politician to help Puerto Rico and his Brooklyn neighborhood but along the way, he bites off more than he can chew.

The Acevedo family is so boisterous and filled with so much love and joy. I loved reading about everyone in the family, how they all chip in to help each other out and how they find the spaces they are needed to fill up, whenever anyone is about to be left behind. It reminds me of a big Nigerian family and I could relate so much to it.

While I enjoyed the characters in this book, I felt like the political commentary was not subtle at all. Maybe the author did not intend for it to be subtle but I felt at some point that I was being hit over my head with a hammer by a lot of it, especially on gentrification. I feel like it’s all been said before, and sadly, there wasn’t anything new. Also, this is largely a character driven book, so if you’re not into that, this book is definitely not for you because I feel like you live in the narrators’ heads a lot.

I also would love to read the reviews of actual Puerto Ricans for this book because it deals with a lot of actual law and politics involving Puerto Rico. I did not know that the PROMESA law was a real law signed in 2016 until I googled it. I wonder if actual Puerto Ricans enjoyed the use of this as a plotline especially as the opinions on this law and the way it was enacted afterwards is largely negative even though it was propped up by a lot of famous Puerto Ricans.

Anyway, this is a debut book and I can’t wait to read what else the author has for us in the future. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. Have you guys read this one? Is this a book you have on your TBR list?

Leggy

dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

“Some scars are carved into our bones – a part of who we are, shaping what we become.”

Daughter of the Moon Goddess is inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother, pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm. Xingyin who has spent all her life on the moon discovers that her mother, the moon goddess, is actually a prisoner on the moon. One day, her magic flares and brings her mother’s powerful jailers to the moon to investigate forcing her to flee the only home she’s ever known. Alone and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom where she disguises herself and comes up with a plan to break the enchantment keeping her mother on the moon and gain her mother’s freedom.

“I was no longer a child willing to drift with the ride – I would steer against the current if I had to. and if I won, by some miraculous stroke of luck, I would never be helpless again.”

I was very excited when I found out about this book. Fantasy? Female protagonist? A Chinese setting? CHECK! I think I was expecting more Poppy War so, this protagonist and the entire world building fell flat for me. The story telling and world building wasn’t strong enough to immerse me into this world. Xingyin comes to the celestial kingdom and finds a job as a maiden for a powerful family and no one even investigates her background? Okay, I’m going to let that go.

But then she competes and wins a place as Prince Liwei’s companion and no one knows where she’s from, who her family is and nobody bothers to ask or investigate? It just rang so ridiculous to me that a stranger would be let near the heir to the throne without even a single question asked. Also, the competition to be selected as Prince Liwei’s companion was an absolute joke. I just expected it to be more intriguing, to show us how cunning or smart our protagonist was but it was all rigged for her to win.

This is a YA fantasy so of course there’s a love triangle. I thought this trope was being phased out of YA but I guess not. I found Prince Liwei to be a very 2 dimensional character, entirely predictable. A prince who is too good and cares too much. A prince who is better than his father but detests all the obligations he has to fulfil as the crown prince like being betrothed to a member of one of the most powerful families in the kingdom. He just wants to train and fall in love with whoever he wants and paint and care soooo deeply without having to make any tough decisions.

Wenzhi, the other love interest, is a high ranking army official who has won so many battles and brought great respect to the celestial kingdom. He has a dislike for all things royal and just wants to fight. He’s competent and smart and mysterious. Yet another person who was just allowed to rise in the army ranks even though no one knows where he’s from.

“It was only later that I learned the Chamber of Lions was reserved for the army’s most skilled warriors. While most had taken months, a year even to master every trap, it took me a matter of weeks.”

Xingyin was great at EVERYTHING she tried. She shot an arrow for the first time and was just an absolute natural. She learnt everything and became so strong in a matter of weeks. This is a woman who spent all her growing years in solitude and has never worked out a day in her life. She almost beat Prince Liwei in archery a mere month after she started training even though he had trained all his life.

Anyway, a lot happens in this book so at least you get a lot of bang for your buck. I think because I read a lot of fantasy, this book was not for me. It wasn’t very good world building, the politics isn’t intriguing enough for me to ignore the plot holes and the romance wasn’t passionate enough for two people, not to talk of a three way.

I do think if you enjoy romance books and YA literature, you’re going to enjoy this book. If you enjoy epic fantasies or if you read Poppy War and are looking for a dupe, this book is not for you at all. So while this book was not for me, I actually think it has an audience. It has above 4 stars on goodreads so it’s definitely popular.

This is one book that I wanted so badly to talk to someone about after I finished it so much so that I’m so desperate to join an in-person book club. Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments.

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, romance, Uncategorized

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: 4 Quick Fire Reviews

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When I’m not reading the latest literary fiction books, I’m reading backlist titles that are fun and don’t require any thinking on my part. These are the sort of books that have kept my mental health in check this year. Enjoy 4 short reviews for the price of one!

1. The Hike by Drew Magary

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“This future you live in . . . would I like it?” “Honestly, it’s probably not that different from the world you know. Some people are happy. Some people are angry. There are wars. I don’t know if time makes much of a difference. The world changes, but people act the way people always do.”

Ben takes a business trip to rural Pennsylvania and decides to take a hike while waiting for his meeting. He stumbles on a hiking path and starts down the road only to find himself in the middle of a nightmare. He is warned that if he gets off the path he will die. With no other choice but to move forward, Ben finds himself encountering monsters, and talking crabs, men from the 18th century and giants who are trying to kill him. He spends years on the path just trying to find his way home. He is told he just has to stay on the path and track down the “producer” – the creator of this bizarre world to get back to his family.

I picked up this book because it was recommended as a spooky read for halloween. They were wrong because this isn’t a spooky read at all. It reads more as fantasy or an adventure tale. There was nothing scary about it. Also, everyone mentions the last page being amazing. I didn’t think it was that great and I figured it out before I got to the end of the book, maybe because I was looking for it after reading all the reviews that were amazed at the ending.

I gave this one 3 stars on Goodreads. I really don’t know who would enjoy this book. It’s very bizarre but I guess if you liked Alice in Wonderland, you might like this one? It was a fun read to me.

2. Forge of Destiny by Yrsillar (Forge of Destiny #1)

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Ling Qi is a girl who has had to survive in the slums for years but she has just been recruited for having the talent that might make her an immortal in the future if she works hard. Ling is from a world ruled by immortals and stalked by beasts and spirits. The immortals are the richest and most revered members of the empire. Sent to the prestigious Argent Peak Sect to harness her talent, Ling is determined to take advantage of every opportunity given to her at school. She must work hard to catch up with her peers who are from rich immortal families and have been training for this their entire life. The sect grants the students only three months truce, for three months they’re not allowed to kill or fight each other but after the three months all bets are off. Ling struggles to advance and be stronger in time for the end of the truce and also gather enough allies who’ll stand and fight with her when the time comes.

I quite enjoyed this book. It ticked off a lot of my fantasy loves – female protagonist who’s not here to fuck around, school/training a la Harry Potter, strong enemies and allies. If you love progression fantasy, this is the book for you. I really enjoyed this one but I must say it got slow at the end and I wanted to see more of the bigger picture, so I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads. Ill definitely be continuing the series.

3. Iron Prince by Bryce O’Connor and Luke Chmilenko (Warformed: Stormweaver #1)

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Afflicted with a painful disease and abandoned by his parents because it, Reidon has been a ward of the state all of his life. He has had to fight all his life for a place at the academy where he has been training and getting beat up. His perseverance gets him noticed by the most powerful artificial intelligence in human history who grants him a CAD – a Combat Assistant Device- with awful specs but an infinite potential for growth. Reidon is at the bottom of his class at Galens Institute with everyone wondering why the reputable school admitted someone with such horrible specs. He becomes a target for everyone who thinks he shouldn’t be there. Reidon begins a slow but determined journey up the school rankings determined to be the greatest fighter the universe has ever seen.

Again, I love fantasy books set in school and this was such a fun read. I love main characters who are underdogs and you get to root for them as they defy the odds. I gave this one 4 stars on Goodreads. It’s nothing deep but if you’re looking for fantasy that you don’t have to think too hard about or keep up with a lot of characters then give this one a go.

4. A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy (Longhope Abbey #3)

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“Lucy picked up her skirts and danced down the hall to her own door. “I’m going to run away to Ireland!” she yelled. Cassandra followed after her. “Haven’t the Irish suffered enough?” “Maybe a pirate will kidnap me. If I’m lucky.” “If we’re all lucky.”

Cassandra has seen her husband only once – the day she married him. She’s perfectly fine with this arrangement because she only got married to secure her inheritance anyway. She doesn’t care that he has essentially banned her from going to London because she’s still going to go when he’s guaranteed to be out of town. Until he shows up in London too and gets into an argument with her where they don’t even recognize each other. Cassandra finds herself sharing a house with her husband for the first time while he’s trying everything to get her to go back to the country and leave him alone. Joshua has his life exactly how he likes it and doesn’t want something as inconvenient as a wife ruining all that. But can he resist falling in love with her?

I really enjoyed reading this one. I’ve had pandemic brain this entire year and reading romance and fantasy have been the only thing keeping me afloat. If you enjoy historical romance, this is the book for you. The characters are absolutely delightful and watching them fall in love was really cute. Definitely give this one a shot. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads.

Have you read any of these books? Am I the only one whose reading patterns have completely changed this year? Let me know how your reading year has been so far!

Leggy

african author, Book Related Topics, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, Nigerian Author, We Chit Chat

We Chit Chat – Love in Colour: Mythical Tales From Around The World, Retold by Bolu Baboola

Amazon.com: Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold  (Audible Audio Edition): Bolu Babalola, Ajjaz Awad, Nneka Okoye, Bolu  Babalola, Olukemi Babalola, Headline: Audible Audiobooks

Taynement: Wow. It’s been a while since we did a chit chat. Shame on us!

Leggy: It’s just so hard to coordinate reading during a pandemic. I’m glad we’re finally getting to do one and a young Nigerian author at that!

Taynement: Why did we choose this book?

Leggy: We’ve seen it all over bookstagram and twitter, plus the cover is so striking.

Taynement: Yes, a lot of people I know who have read this, liked it a lot.

Leggy: So what were your overall thoughts on the book? Did you like it?

Taynement: Yes, I have to say I did. Or maybe I liked it more than I expected to. Going in, it had two strikes against it in that, it was a romance novel and short stories – two things I don’t care for.

Leggy: I didn’t hate it but I also didn’t like it. It was okay. Nothing stood out for me. To be frank. It was elemental writing. Nothing was compelling about these stories.

Taynement: Agreed, it was regular. I do think it was a good premise.

Leggy: I think it was a good premise too. I went into it without knowing what it was going to be so reading the first story of someone called “Osun” in school, I was like what’s going on here? Then “Sango”, that’s when I immediately got it.

Taynement: I thought it was overwritten in the way of typical African authors. The book just wasn’t allowed to be. I mean…”water was generous but mostly it wanted to be left alone”?

Leggy: There were so many lines like that It just tried too hard to have flowery language.

Taynement: I liked how inclusive the author tried to be. It had characters from various parts of Africa (the author is Nigerian for those who don’t know). There was an attempt with an Asian character that fell flat for me. The story of Zhinu (the pop star) was not one of my favorites. I couldn’t connect.

Leggy: It was my least favorite too. It was pointless to me. It just seemed to not fit.

Leggy: What was your favorite story?

Taynement: Thisbe and Naleli. What were yours?

Leggy: I really enjoyed the Naleli one. Read like a teenage romance movie. The head girl, Keeya said the meanest things to her.

Taynement: It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show – Blood and Water.

Leggy: I can’t imagine always covering up in the hot sun. I also appreciated that she highlighted the vitiligo condition, that was good. I liked the one where the girl was basically Kerry Washington in Scandal (Scheherazade). That was my favorite. Yaa was my second favorite because it was the story with the most modern realistically African plot to me.

Taynement: I really wanted to know how you felt about the book because I was wondering if I’d appreciate it more if I loved romance novels.

Leggy: I don’t think so. I appreciate the romance genre but I don’t consider this to be a good one to recommend. Especially to someone who typically doesn’t do romance books. I wish the stories had more depth and something to connect with. A lot of it seemed so frivolous that it diluted even the great love stories she was retelling.

Taynement: I think the most intriguing thing about this book is the concept. I also recognize that depth in short stories is something that is tough to accomplish.

Leggy: I’m currently reading “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”, It’s fantastic and a short story collection and it manages to bring depth to every story it tells, no matter how short. Reading it alongside this book made me see how frivolous it was.

Taynement: Did you like the new tales?

Leggy: No, I preferred the retellings and even at that I do not prefer these modern retellings to the old stories. I think the modernity stripped a lot of the stories of its context and depth. In as much as I loved Scheherazade, the original is a fantastic story. I remember the first time I read the Arabian Night classic – a woman telling a king a story every night, trying to keep his attention till morning to stop him from killing her? I found it amazing!

Taynement: I guess we are in agreement that it was an okay book but commendable for a debut?

Leggy: Yes, it definitely read like a first book. I would appreciate a stand-alone novel from this author next, maybe to flesh out more of her romance writing and give the stories a little more depth and context? I don’t think romance has to be “deep”. Everyone knows I’m a connoisseur of romcom movies, but readers have to be able to buy into the romance you’re selling.

Taynement: Yes, it’ll be interesting to see what she does with a stand alone. I agree that romance novels don’t always have to be “deep” but I think that letting the stories breathe would make for a more relaxed romance novel that would be far easier to enjoy.

Leggy: I still can’t pick out any line that stood out to me even with the over the top flowery language. The lines just made me roll my eyes and you know how much I love a good quote.

Taynement: We both do! Well, based on social media, we are in the minority of people. A lot of people have loved it so far.

Leggy: That’s fine. Art is subjective plus this book sure has a very good social media PR. Was it worth the hype for me? Absolutely not. It was an okay book. I wonder if I’d have finished if we didn’t have to do this chitchat but we’ll never know now. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what this author does next. I love supporting black authors and she’s Nigerian!

Taynement: Definitely!

Taynement & Leggy

Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, Mystery, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

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“Healing by way of vengeance … no such thing existed; it never had. Hurting others had only injured me further.”

A female Apothecary, Nella, dispenses poisons in secret, to women who have been wronged by men. She only has two rules – none of her poisons can ever be used to harm a woman and she must record the name of the procurer and the person they intend to kill in her book, for safekeeping and insurance. On a cold February evening, a young 12 year old, Eliza comes to Nella to procure a poison to kill her master courtesy of her beloved mistress. The relationship between Eliza and Nella sets them on a dangerous path. In present day London, Caroline finds a vial near the Thames river as she tries to forget the recent reveal of her husband’s infidelity. This ancient vial leads her down a path of discovery and investigation into the lives of these women that lived 200 years before her.

Sounds like an amazing and intriguing premise for a book right? So why was a book about an apothecary killer so freaking dull?! This book started out with such great promise. I was instantly grabbed by the blurb. This was my Book of the Month pick for March and because of the number of people who picked this particular book there was a delay in delivery as they tried to procure more. I chose this book on the first of March and it only just arrived this week which even made me more excited to crack it open. To say that this story is slow is an understatement. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing really happens. This book is written in dual timelines. One in the 1700s and the other in present day London. None of these stories intrigued me and frankly, the connection between the women in different timelines was forced at best.

Caroline comes to London to escape, after finding out her husband had an affair. She stumbles across a group of people mud larking and decides to participate. She finds an apothecary bottle inscribed with a picture of a bear and decides to investigate the bottle and I just didn’t understand why she even had the urge to do it. It just seemed so ridiculous. All the ‘conflicts’ in this book were tenuous at best and were always those conflicts arising from misunderstandings and which could have been fixed with a single sentence and I just found that to be lazy writing. I found Caroline’s story entirely pointless and would have preferred if this book focused entirely on Eliza and Nella. Caroline was entirely a caricature of a one dimensional character who put all her dreams on hold in order to get married and cater to a cheating, manipulative husband.

I expected magical realism and a deep look into the lives of women in the 1700s but this book offers nothing of the sort. I also expected mystery and more of a plot and I am so tired of all women’s back stories being about men. The author never even explored the moral ambiguity of making a career out of murdering men just because a man betrayed you in the past. There wasn’t enough character development in this book for me to even justify the lack of a juicy plot by saying it was character driven. The women in this book were all bland and one dimensional. I found it hard to like anyone even when given their back story.

I did not enjoy this book. It was filled with implausible situations, unrealistic emotions and characters that were contrived. The author did a terrible job connecting the present to the past, probably because there was literally nothing connecting the women and her trying to create a connection was unsuccessful. Caroline was boring, one dimensional and frankly, I don’t see how she could have had even a prayer of getting into Cambridge. What kind of history major does not know how to search a library’s historical archives?

Anyways, I gave this 2 stars on Goodreads because I really do think the premise is fantastic. The cover art is gorgeous and it had so much potential. I’m off to apply to Cambridge since everyone can apparently get in!

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Chick-Lit, Fiction, Historical, romance

Book Review: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage by Kristin Harper

Zoey moves back to Dune Island after being laid off from her job and then finding out her ex boyfriend has spent her savings on borderline illegal investments. She goes back to live in her family house with her aunties, Sylvia and Ivy. Aunty Sylvia dies shortly after Zoey arrives on the Island, setting off a fascinating chain of events that uncover family secrets and calls into question the line of inheritance for the Island house.

Zoey’s cousin, Mark is the apparent heir of the house whenever Aunty Ivy dies. He wants to get a headstart and move her to a home for the elderly and hurry up the inheritance. He also wants to lease the house as soon as possible for the summer as the inheritance states that it cannot be sold and must be inherited by someone related to the family by blood. A throwaway comment by an old man at Aunt Sylvia’s funeral calls into question Mark’s paternity and if he is indeed qualified to inherit.

With the cousins clashing over what to do with Aunty Ivy’s cottage and fighting over renovations at the house, Zoey unexpectedly finds an ally in the local carpenter, Nick. Nick left the rat race in New York City to come and start all over again in Dune’s Island after an ugly divorce. When they meet, sparks fly and it makes Zoey wonder if she’ll ever make it off the Island ever.

I enjoyed reading this book. First of all, the cover is gorgeous. It’s a very cozy read and exactly the type of read you need during winter snuggled up in bed under the covers. I enjoyed the descriptions of the small island and the residents in it, the rumors about the older houses and the different real life situations every character in this book had to go through. Aunty Ivy was such a charming character and I just wanted her to be alright and safe. I was pleasantly surprised by this one as I had never heard of the author and she succeeded in creating a charming family. If you’re a fan of Debbie Macomber books, you’d probably enjoy this one.

As much as I enjoyed this story, I found the pacing to be very slow in some parts and rushed in others. There was far too much going on with all the characters (and I mean all of them!). Everyone had a secret or an alcoholic father/stepfather, struggling with a dead spouse, a dead sister, lost jobs, lost homes, lost savings. It all felt a little too much and caused the author not to completely focus on the main storyline.

The resolution of the paternity conflict was so rushed that I wondered if I missed some pages on my kindle. Even the response by Mark at the end felt so in contrast to the character we had seen exhibited throughout the book. It felt so untrue to his character and inauthentic. The romance between Zoey and Nick was almost non existent, I thought the author should have spiced up their relationship a little more. Just when you thought it was about to happen, she’d pull the plug on it and make them have a conflict so I never actually got to see any chemistry between them but suddenly they end up together at the end even though they never actually dated.

Overall, I thought this was a really sweet book with a charming setting especially the parts involving the aunties and their life stories. The ending felt unbelievable and seemed like the author was in a hurry to wrap everything up in a bow and give everybody their own happy ending. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

Thanks to Netgalley, Bookouture and the publisher for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can purchase a copy of Aunt Ivy’s Cottage by Kristin Harper on Amazon .

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, romance

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”

In a moment of desperation, a woman calls on the gods of the night to help her escape her fate as a woman. She begs for more time to live her life without the pressures of getting married and being forced into an existence she wants no part of. She gives away her soul for time. Addie realises after the fact that nobody remembers her. She is destined to be forgotten by everyone she meets the moment she is out of their sight, that is the price she has to pay. This book sends us on a 300 year journey with the girl no one remembers, through cities and wars and music and languages as she tries to stretch the boundaries of her cage. But one day in a bookstore in New York city, after 300 years of an invisible life, she stumbles across Henry who remembers her name.

“…it is sad, of course, to forget.
But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.
To remember when no one else does.”

I enjoyed the first 25% of this book, then it lost me and then it found me again. This book sucks you in immediately. The descriptions and the mere premise of the book makes you pay attention to the story. The language is a little more poetic than I prefer in a fantasy book, but I didn’t hate it. I think it lends itself to the setting the book starts out and lingers in – New York and France.

I was emotionally invested watching her lose her family immediately and having everyone she’s ever loved forget her, the instant she makes her deal. It was heart wrenching seeing her trying to figure out how to survive in a world where out of sight is out of mind. Watching her go through major cities, experience new things for the first time, see the world, meet different men, try to figure out a way to leave her mark anyway was fascinating. This part of the book I enjoyed very much.

“If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky. Better that than firewood, cut down just to burn in someone else’s hearth.”

This book completely lost me in the middle. Once the love interest, Henry, is introduced it becomes utterly boring. Henry is not a compelling character, nothing about him makes you want to stand up and take notice. He’s the stereotypical “nice” guy character who thinks they deserve love just because they’re nice. I did appreciate the discussions on mental health and anxiety but I found this character utterly bland. The more the book went on, the more I found him ridiculous especially when I realized his backstory.

I didn’t find the choices he made to be understandable. I also guessed what his deal was earlier on and was just waiting for it to be confirmed. The story grew repetitive and reading about them falling in love was an absolute drag, after spending the first 100 pages of this book gallivanting around the world with a god that only comes in the dark. Also, after watching Addie try to figure out a way to live a life that matters without being remembered., Henry’s story seemed frivolous compared to Addie’s.

“What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?”

I quite enjoyed the last 100 pages of this book. I loved how it ended. I know a lot of people would have liked an ending that was more definite but I thought the last chapter was very satisfying. It’s really hard to review this book and not give away spoilers. If you’ve read this one let me know what you think because I wouldn’t mind talking more about this book in depth and with spoilers. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Historical, Memoirs, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

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“We are more than just our genes. We are, in some way, a product of the people who surround us—the people we’re forced to grow up with, and the people we choose to be with later.”

Don and Mimi Galvin were an average middle class family living out what seemed to them at the time, their American dream. After World War II, Don moved his family to Colorado for his work with the Air Force and there, they created their large catholic family. Mimi went on to have 12 children, the oldest born in 1945 and the youngest in 1965.

Mimi tried to create a good domestic life for their children. Encouraging structure, hard work, and an interest in sports. Their family was huge enough to be well known and also well respected in the community but behind close doors was a different story – psychological breakdowns, abuse that went unnoticed by the parents, violence between the boys. By the mid 70’s, 6 of the 10 boys had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and were in and out of hospitals.

“And so I was crushed,” Mimi said. “Because I thought I was such a good mother. I baked a cake and a pie every night. Or at least had Jell-O with whipped cream.”

The Galvins became popular in the debate of nature vs nurture in the psychiatry field concerning schizophrenia. A lot of the theories in those days, laid a lot of blame on the mothers. A lot of psychiatrists, even without a suitable peer reviewed study, were quite convinced that children developed schizophrenia because they had an overbearing mother that they tried so hard to please that they lost touch of reality. This was a very sexist theory and completely discounted the presence of fathers in the house. The theory also prevented a lot of people from going to get help early because a lot of mothers feared they were going to be blamed for their children’s condition.

“They have been warehoused where nobody can really deal with them,” he said. Here was the real reason, he thought, why big pharma could afford to be fickle about finding new drugs for schizophrenia—why decades come and go without anyone even finding new drug targets. These patients, he realized, can’t advocate for themselves.”

What went on inside the Galvin family house led to them being one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. We see the medical field move and evolve as we follow their family story over the years. As we talk about the past and present protocol for schizophrenia patients from lobotomies to institutionalization and the ebb and flow of shock therapy in mental health.

We also see the harm this sickness brought to even the healthy people in the family and the innocent bystanders too. We follow scientists as they start looking for genetic markers for schizophrenia and find a compromise to the nature/nurture debate.

“For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member. Even if just one child has schizophrenia, everything about the internal logic of that family changes.”

This book contains a lot of abuse, so consider this a trigger warning. There’s a lot of domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse (we also see abuse from a catholic priest) etc. I found this book to be very compelling and very readable. I did this one on audio which is how I do most non fiction books I read. Even though there is a lot of science in this book, I do not think it bogs down this book in anyway. I actually think the science elevates it.

I completely recommend this book and hope we as a community think about the way we treat our mentally ill. This book is also a huge indictment of the pharmacology industry for their non interest in putting money into developing more drugs to help with a wide variety of mental health illnesses because of how difficult the trial process is. I gave this one 4 stars on Goodreads.

 

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, race, Uncategorized

Book Review : The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”

The Vignes twin sisters – Stella and Desiree were born in a small town in Louisiana called Mallard filled with very light skinned black people. At age 16, they run away to New Orleans to escape their small town and live bigger lives. After a year in new Orleans, their lives completely diverge. They both go on to live completely different lives – one passing as white, while the other marries the darkest black man she can find. Bennett takes us through the years, weaving together multiple strands and generations of these women, from Louisiana to Boston to California, she tells a remarkable story of trying to survive while black in America.

“There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong”

Bennett describes the town of Mallard so well that it is almost a character in this book (I googled “is Mallard a real town?” even though the logical part of my brain knew it wasn’t). This town is a black community with a very unusual beginning:

The idea arrived to Alphonse Decuir in 1848, as he stood in the sugarcane fields he’d inherited from the father who’d once owned him. The father now dead, the now-freed son wished to build something on those acres of land that would last for centuries to come. A town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes. A third place.

So they strived to create a better negro with each generation breeding specifically for white features – skin lighter, hair wavier, eyes colored but this still didn’t inoculate them from the hands of racism. The twins’ father was still dragged out of bed in the middle of the day and lynched while his little girls watched when they were only 7 and it didn’t stop race from shaping everything about their lives for the 40 years the book spans.

10 years after she leaves, Desiree comes back to Mallard while trying to escape an abusive husband with the darkest baby the town had ever seen. Desiree’s daughter, Jude, is the darkest person in a town filled with light skinned black people. The way Mallard treats and talks about dark skinned people is quite riveting to read. The cognitive dissonance is fascinating. They throw out all the dark skinned insults – dark baby, black you’re almost blue, tar baby, if you swim with us i’m sure the water would be filled with crude oil and on and on. They never see the irony in the way they treat Jude and the way white people treat them.

“But the passe blanc were a mystery. You could never meet one who’d passed over undetected, the same way you’d never know someone who successfully faked her own death; the act could only be successful if no one ever discovered it was a ruse.”

Reading about Stella’s passing as white and being immersed in a world that absolutely hated her was fantastic to read. Bennett paints such a vivid picture of fear and hiding in plain sight in a world that wants nothing to do with you and actively participating in that world and in the prejudice that comes with finally being the oppressor. Stella marries a white man and gives birth to a blonde, blue eyed daughter who had no idea that she was anything but white.

The way little micro aggressions are laid out and “good people” are shown to think their prejudices are for everyone’s good and even the feminist movement’s exclusion of black women is explored. At first, you judge Stella for her choices but as you read more about her story you can’t help but ache for her – the loneliness, the lies her entire life is built on, the struggle of not being able to belong to your people and the surety that the people who claim to love you now would absolutely hate you if they knew who you really were.

“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”

Bennett’s debut novel “The Mothers” was very good but this book is FANTASTIC. I loved every second of this book. This story is so well written, emotional, and is one that stays with you long after you’ve stopped reading. I truly enjoyed every character and setting used by the author. Every single line belonged here. I think everyone should read this one. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads and I would give it more if I could. This will definitely make my top 5 books of the year. Absolutely recommend. You should read this one and come talk to me on twitter about it.

 

Leggy