Catching Up

So I said back in July that I would catch you guys up with what’s been going on in my life lately and then I just … didn’t. I guess I had a busy summer as it seemed to just fly by, which can be a good thing because here in Central Florida, summer is HOT and it’s best to be indoors as much as possible. Today is the first day I can feel a hint of fall in the air, so I have the windows open in my entire house as I type this, a gentle breeze wafting in. It’s delightful.

So what has been going on with me? For starters, we are moving! We are having a home built in a Meritage Home subdivision about 30 minutes from where we currently live. This house is truly our dream house, our forever home. It has everything we could possibly want in a home and I see us there for many, many years. The whole house-building thing is kind of a crazy and stressful time, so a lot of my time has been devoted to that – we had multiple design meetings, pre-construction meetings, meetings with the bank, next week we have a pre-drywall meeting – I think you get the idea. It’s incredibly fun and I’m beyond excited, but also – it’s a lot of work! So we’ve been a bit busy with that.

What else? Well, in July I spent a few days back “home” in Chicago for my nephew’s 2nd birthday. It was a quick trip, but I got lots of time with family, which was wonderful. I’m headed back there next weekend for my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday. Yep, 100! She’s amazingly healthy for 99, no physical health problems besides needing a walker as her balance is a little off, and intellectually she’s doing pretty great, too. There have been a few memory lapses here and there recently, but I think that’s to be expected when a person has 100 years of memories crammed inside of their brain! Obviously we’ll spend time with my family, too, and since we’re going for almost an entire week this time I’m hoping to squeeze some time in with friends as well.

And then … I’m SO excited for the weekend after we return from Chicago, because I’m headed to New York for a girls’ trip!! I couldn’t be more pumped about this – four days with the girlfriends in my life I’ve known the longest of anyone and remained friends throughout years of changing interests, different colleges, moves across the country, husbands, etc. I’ve never been to New York, so one of my friends and I are arriving a day early to do a whirlwind tour of the hot tourist stuff in NYC. The next morning, the other three arrive and we’re heading up to Upstate NY for two days of vineyard touring. It should be an amazing time and truly, I could not be more excited.

Work has been … really weird lately. Some stuff has been happening that hasn’t directly affected me, thank God, but has affected some people I really care about, and it’s been kind of hard. Sorry about the vagueness but it’s nothing I can or should share publicly. Let’s just say it’s a time of uncertainty for a lot of people and while I’ve done a decent job at keeping my team motivated and working hard every day despite what’s going on, I’d be lying if I said people aren’t feeling it. We’re all feeling the vibe and I’m just hoping things will settle down soon. It’s looking like that will be the case – I’m truly crossing my fingers that what looks hopeful becomes reality sooner than later.

Let’s talk about reading, shall we? I was doing pretty okay for a while there, reading a few good books in a row, and now I just can’t get into a book to save my life. I’ve started and abandoned three books this week, and I’m currently reading nothing in print. I just can’t get into anything. I need to pick up something that will just sweep me up, right from page 1. Hopefully I find something soon. I decided to listen to the audio of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please as a sort of comfort listen – I read the print last year – and it’s totally working. I LOVE this book on audio, and it puts me in a good mood each day as I listen while driving to and from work.

And writing? Writing is going even worse than reading. I have zero motivation to write about any of the books I’ve read recently. Zero. I’d love to change that but I’m just not sure if/when it will happen.

So that’s what’s been going on with me! What has been going on in your neck of the woods?

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White RavenBlack Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney-Hyperion

From the publisher:

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes-in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

Elizabeth Wein has done it again. Like Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Black Dove, White Raven is an incredible book that mixes history with YA with ALL THE FEELS. There’s so much to love about this novel that I am not even sure where to start.

First, this novel brought to light for me a conflict in history, the war between Italy and Ethiopia, that I had no idea was even a thing that happened. Honestly, I love books that make me feel ignorant about the world – not because I feel bad about myself for not having the knowledge (which does also happen), but that it reminds me that there’s SO much I don’t know, and that I should keep seeking out books and authors that will continue to challenge me and teach me new things. Which this book did, in spades. I learned a lot about this time in Ethiopia’s history, and I’d highly recommend this novel as a good choice for those who want diversity in their reading experiences, combined with amazing characters and relationships.

Speaking of the characters – the characters! Elizabeth Wein just writes friendship so amazingly well, I have to tell you. Emilia and Teo grow up as siblings after Teo’s mother, Delia, dies, but in addition to brother and sister, they are best friends. These two would absolutely do anything for one another, and this pure, loving, uncomplicated friendship is, in my opinion, the heart of this story. There’s also the friendship between their mothers – when Delia dies, Rhoda goes into a deep depression, shutting out everything and everybody, barely taking care of her own children. While this is incredibly heart-breaking, it’s also indicative of the deep and true friendship these two women shared. The things they did together – breaking down sexist and racist stereotypes about what women of color can and should do, embarking on incredibly difficult barnstorming maneuvers, engaging in intensely dangerous situations, raising children together – only served to strengthen their bond. So much so that when Teo’s mom dies, Rhoda knows that the only thing she can do is live out Delia’s dream for her son and bring him back to his father’s homeland, Ethiopia. The goal is to get him out of racist America and give him an opportunity for a life free from oppression.

While at first their life in Ethiopia seems idyllic and, frankly, perfect, it spirals out of control a few years later when the war with Italy starts. When I tell you that I learned so much in this book, I’m not kidding. Did you know that there were slaves in Ethiopia, too? As recently as 1930? I certainly did not. Anyway. The book escalates at a rapid pace in the last 100 pages or so as Teo ends up involved in the war, the three of them get separated, and awful things happen. And in typical Wein fashion, readers’ hearts are broken and tears ensure (at least in my case).

I’m realizing now how much I rambled here and how and messy this “review” was but I don’t even care. Read this book. Black Dove, White Raven is incredible for so many reasons.


The One & OnlyThe One & Only by Emily Giffin
Published by Ballantine Books

Emily Giffin is an author I usually adore – one of the few authors I’ve read every single one of her books and loved them all. The One & Only features Shea, a thirty-three-year-old woman who lives and breathes her college football hometown – she has stayed in the town her entire life, and even works at the University as an adult. Her best friend, Lucy, is the daughter of the legendary coach of the University’s football team, and has always been a father figure in Shea’s life. Until Lucy’s mom passes away, and Shea finds herself having feelings for the coach.

So I didn’t love the premise of this novel. I also have zero interest in football. The ONLY reason I read it is because, duh, Emily Giffin. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I didn’t love the book, but it just did not work for me. I didn’t believe in the relationship between Shea and Coach – the first chapter of the book is his wife’s funeral, and 75 pages later they are flirting! It was just weird. It made it difficult for me to like Shea herself, and I couldn’t relate to her at all. Plus, football, no thank you. Maybe other readers will have a better reaction to this book than I did, but it was just not my thing.

Carry Me HomeCarry Me Home by Sandra Kring
Published by Delta

This is the story of a rural Wisconsin family as their oldest son joins the military and goes off to war in 1940. Jimmy is eighteen years old when he enlists in the military and leaves his parents, girlfriend, and sixteen-year-old brother Earl “Earwig” behind. Told from Earwig’s perspective, this is a story about how war affects even the most innocent among us, and how people are changed forever because of it.

Earwig isn’t the smartest kid – he probably has some kind of intellectual development disorder – he has difficulty counting change at his family’s store, he gets along better with ten-year-olds than with teens his own age, and it’s clear that his family treats him differently from how they treat Jimmy. But Earwig might just be the most astute observer of the atrocities of war out of all these people. He gets it in a way that adults with their rational thinking and their intellectual debates simply can’t, or won’t. I really liked this novel and cried several times while reading it. I hadn’t read anything by Kring before but this one definitely won’t be my last.

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson
Published by Harper Collins

Nimona is a young shapeshifter who is looking who is looking for a villain to hang out with. Enter Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a mission, also a guy who didn’t know he needed a sidekick. Together the two team up to show the world that the head of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics isn’t the perfect hero everyone thinks he is.

Everyone has been raving about this gorgeous graphic novel, and I completely see why. The illustrations are amazing. Nimona herself is an incredible heroine, she has a dark past, she can be terrifying at times but is tenacious and strong, wanting to right the wrongs of the world, and is ultimately looking for someone to recognize and value the humanity in her. This books turns the idea of heroes and villains upside-down as it’s clear that there is no black and white good guys and bad guys – everyone here is just doing the best they can.

There’s so much more to love about Nimona that I can’t even explain properly. Nimona herself is not your traditional beautiful superhero – she’s average-sized with bright red hair that’s shaved on two sides. The villain and hero in this story are former lovers and best friends who now have vendettas against each other – oh and they’re both guys, and that’s not even discussed, and the fact that it doesn’t have to be discussed is GREAT. Please read Nimona! It’s awesome.

Those Secrets We Keep by Emily Leibert

Those Secrets We KeepThose Secrets We Keep by Emily Leibert
Published by NAL
Review copy provided by the publisher

Sloane loves her life – her husband adores her, she gets to stay at home with her young daughter, and their family has enough money that she doesn’t worry about much. But she can’t shake the nagging feeling that something is missing, so she takes the opportunity her aunt gives her to stay at a beautiful cabin in Lake George, New York for three weeks in the summer.

Sloane’s friend Hillary joins her for the trip. Hillary is carrying a big secret about why she can’t conceive a child with the husband who so desperately wants to be a father, and this trip just might give her the courage to be honest about it. At the last minute, Sloane’s old friend, Georgina, invites herself along for the trip, too. Georgina has always been wild, a spur-of-the-moment kind of person, but this time she’s escaping something very specific, something she is terrified to reveal to Sloane.

This novel had a lot of promise for me. I enjoy books about friendships, books sent in fun settings, and books with tough subjects and potential conflicts that arise from these tough subjects. Those Secrets We Keep had all of those elements. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one much. I really didn’t like any of the characters and overall, the book just never came together for me. It could very well just be me, but here’s my opinion of what exactly didn’t work in the book.

The three women in the book really did nothing for me in terms of personality. They were catty and mean to one another, and jumped to conclusions about the motivations for each others’ behavior and choices. It was clear that there was a lot of pain behind the interactions between Sloane and Georgina, but there was so little effort towards a reconciliation that it was laughable. Why would they choose to spend this time together if they were just going to fight the whole time? It made zero sense to me. Hillary was a little better, constantly trying to be a peacemaker between the other two, acting as a voice of reason when all other reason was out the window, but eventually that kind of got old and I wanted her to have a personality of her own, something unique and special about her that I could latch onto in order to connect with her character. It never happened for me.

I also had a difficult time with the juxtaposition of the seriousness of the issues being discussed and the lighthearted manner the women displayed in dealing with the issues. We’re talking infertility, cancer, a death in the family, and more. And while this stuff was discussed, in fact it was in some cases a central part of the book, it was done in a strange way that treated these issues as secondary to the fights the women were having. I am not sure if I’m explaining it properly, but it just didn’t work for me.

While Those Secrets We Keep was disappointing for me, perhaps you’d enjoy it more. Stories about female friendships are important to me, and I like what Leibert tried to do here, it just wasn’t a novel that lived up to my expectations. If the description sounds interesting to you, though, by all means give it a try!

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis

The Summer of Good IntentionsThe Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher

The three Herrington sisters are back at their Cape Cod family home for the summer with their husbands and children and their parents (separately, they’re divorced). Oldest daughter Maggie feels the need to organize and control everything so that everyone is happy and the summer goes according to plan. Middle child Jess is unhappy in her marriage and envious of Maggie’s seemingly perfect life. She’s at a crossroads with her husband, and has made a terrible mistake that she must confess if she wants to move forward. Youngest girl Virgie has kept her focus solely on her career for her entire adult life, but the stress is taking its toll on her and physically, she’s not coping well. In addition, she’s just someone and is considering what this new relationship will mean for herself and her future. The three of them spend the summer navigating each other, their families, and their divorced parents, as they find a way to make everything fit together as it should.

Overall I enjoyed this novel. The three main characters were likable and I related to each of them in a different way. While I don’t have kids so I had trouble relating to the stay-at-home mom stuff, I understood Maggie’s desire to have everything in working order and everyone in the family getting along all of the time. I often play the peacemaker role in my own family, so that felt authentic to me. Luckily, I couldn’t personally relate to the marriage problems Jess was dealing with, but we’ve all been through times in our lives that have taken a stall, so I got the feeling of needing something “more” in her life. And Virgie was most like me – no kids, super focused on career – so I totally got her drive to be good, better, best at her job and that push to be more successful each day than you were the day before. I liked the way the three interacted, and while there were some birth-order stereotypes, overall I found their relationships realistic. I also appreciated how each sister had grown personally by the time the book ended.

Personally I could have gone without the parents. There was too much unnecessary drama from the two of them, and I think it would have been a better novel had it just focused on the three sisters and their families. However, the ending proved that the parents were important to the story, so I get why they were in it. Just, I don’t know, I wish they had been removed completely and the author had come up with some other way to end the book.

Overall, The Summer of Good Intentions was a pleasant and fun read. It’s not going to be the best book I read this year, but I enjoyed the time I spent with these sisters and their families, and I’ll read more from Wendy Francis in the future.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint AnythingSaint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Published by Viking Juvenile

Sydney has always played second fiddle to her smarter and more charming older brother, Peyton. Although Peyton has always received more attention and time from their parents, his continued reckless behavior eventually lands him in jail after a drunk driving episode leaves another teen paralyzed. While Sydney’s parents continue to focus exclusively on Peyton and what he needs while in jail, she’s left attempting to figure out her place in her family and the world. It’s at this point where she meets the Chatham family, owners of a local pizza place, who are a rambunctious and loving group who would go to the ends of the earth for one another. Layla Chatham becomes Sydney’s closest friend and Mac Chatham, Layla’s older brother, becomes a guy Sydney can’t stop thinking about. In this family Sydney discovers people who accept her for who she is, pull her right into the fabric of their lives, and she can’t help but wonder, and hope, that this kind of love and loyalty is possible within her own family, too.

I haven’t been appreciating much YA lately, but Dessen is a favorite author of mine, so I was hopeful that her newest novel would be different. And I was right, of course, Dessen really just gets it where teens are concerned, and I always find something to love about her books, Saint Anything being no exception.

Sydney was a character I felt for immediately. She was almost ignored in her own family – her parents were SO concerned with her brother, even when he was doing some awful things, and neither of them paid much attention to her. I often find myself annoyed at the parents in YA books, but this was a little over the top. They seemed to have zero regard for her feelings in almost every situation. Their behavior made it so clear why Sydney would cling to another family, the Chathams, like she did. And wow did I LOVE the Chathams. This family had so much energy, spunk, fun and most of all love, all wrapped up in sarcastic comments and witty conversations. It was the perfect place for Sydney’s confused mind and aching heart to land.

I loved how much of Saint Anything was focused on friendship, specifically the friendship that Sydney and Layla developed. They formed a quick bond but it was intense, and Layla showed Sydney the kind of love and loyalty that even her own parents weren’t capable of showing her. So much so that when Sydney began developing feelings for Mac, she went to great lengths to push those feelings away in fear of upsetting Layla. I loved how Dessen showed Sydney drifting away from her old friends naturally, not through the fault of anyone, and coming closer to people who were better able to understand what she was going through with her brother and parents. Because that happens to kids, teens, even adults – our friendships can and do change over the years, and that’s okay. It’s normal.

The romance between Sydney and Mac wasn’t necessary to the story, but I have to admit that I did like it. What I liked is that it progressed very naturally and slowly from a genuine friendship to mutual feelings of “I see that you understand me, therefore I want more of this, I like you”. They just got each other, in a way that not many others did, so it was sweet to read. But as I said, it wasn’t entirely necessary, and I think Sydney got some of that same understanding from other members of the Chatham family (the mom, I loved the mom!), so the book would have been just fine without the romance. But what’s a Sarah Dessen novel without a romance? So I get why it was there.

Anyway, I really liked Saint Anything! Sarah Dessen never disappoints me. If you enjoy contemporary YA this would be a great choice.

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and WarIt’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
Published by Penguin Press

As a war photographer, Lynsey Addario has experienced some of the most amazing and terrible things imaginable. She has made it a point to travel with a purpose, to get the photographs most photojournalists won’t or can’t get, to show the world the truth through her photographs. This memoir is a peek into the years she’s spent all over the world, documenting some of history’s scariest and most important moments.

I’m not really into photography myself, but I love and appreciate how great photographers can tell a story with a single image. I also enjoy reading about the incredible and terrifying experiences of journalists (as I learned when I read Lisa Ling and Laura Ling’s memoir). It’s What I Do is a perfect combination of these two things, as it’s a memoir of Addario’s many experiences in the decade plus she’s spent photographing many parts of the world, peppered throughout with photographs from these experiences.

I’m not sure I could have enjoyed this book any more than I did. Not only is Addario an incredible photographer, but she’s a fantastic writer too. Her book is informative and rich with detail, yet she still maintains a friendly tone throughout that made me feel like I truly got to know her. Some of the things she’s experienced in her life were downright terrifying – many, many times she wondered if she’d survive – and she tells these stories with seriousness but also sprinkles in moments of lighthearted humor. Other things she’s experienced were simply beautiful – the humanity of the world, all the different people she’s met and various cultural experiences she’s had, it’s just incredible to read about. And see via her photographs.

I don’t really have much to say about this one, I guess, other than I really think everyone should read it. There’s nothing NOT to like in It’s What I Do so please check it out for yourself. What an inspiring, beautiful book – one that is entertaining, educational, and enlightening. Highly recommended.

The Cake House by Latifah Salom

The Cake HouseThe Cake House by Latifah Salom
Published by Vintage
Review copy provided by the publisher

The Cake House begins with a bang, quite literally: Rosura’s father shoots himself at the home of her mother’s lover after learning of her affair. Immediately, Rosura and her mother move in with this man, Claude, and his teenage son Alex. Rosie is miserable in this strange home, living with two people who are basically strangers to her, and her mother is too depressed to be there for her emotionally. Soon she begins to suspect that things are a bit off with Claude, that maybe his business is not as legitimate as he presents it to be, and even worse, the ghost of Rosie’s father keeps showing up just when she moves closer to the truth.

This novel had a lot of potential for me. Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, part ghost story, part dysfunctional family dynamics – it has many elements of stuff I love in books. Ultimately I didn’t really connect with it and I think that’s because there was just TOO much going on here.

Initially, I was intrigued by Rosie and wanted to get to know her better. She behaves in some bizarre ways – sleeping for days, bicycling around her neighborhood naked, trying to get together with Alex’s friend, then actually getting together with Alex (her new stepbrother I guess?) – but then again, her life has been turned upside-down. I suppose that gives a person license to do some crazy things. At times she seemed very smart and perceptive, but other times she seemed incredibly naive for fourteen. I guess what I’m trying to say is her character felt inconsistent for me and as a result, I never really connected to her.

The ghost thing was an interesting twist but it never fully integrated into the story for me. What the ghost seemed to be doing was warning Rosie to keep her distance from Claude, but the ghost was MEAN. And I never fully understood if her dad was mean when he was alive so it didn’t make sense to me. Also I kind of hated the Rosie and Alex dynamic – basically he was using her (as teen boys who think with their hormones are prone to do) but she was too young and in too emotional of a place to understand that’s what was happening. It felt sloppy and sad and just out of place in the overall story. But that could just be me.

I didn’t hate the book. I liked Salom’s writing. I kept reading because of that and because I was genuinely interested in finding out what was the deal with Claude. Salom gave just enough clues throughout the book to keep the reader engaged in that story and for me at least, I raced through the end to get to the truth.

I think The Cake House could have improved with some more cohesion and tightening up of the many, many elements of the novel. I didn’t enjoy the book much but as I said, I didn’t hate it either. I’d be open to reading Latifah Salom’s future novels as this one did show promise.

Monday Minis

Has it REALLY been 21 days since I’ve posted here? Wow. July has been busy and I guess that means I have been completely absent. At some point I’ll catch you all up on what’s been going on in my life, but for today I’d like to catch you up on what I’ve been reading. So here’s the rest of what I read in June, and soon I’ll get started on what I’ve been reading this month.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story RediscoveredSome Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story Rediscovered by Trudi Kantor
Published by Scribner

Trudi Kantor was an Austrian hat designer in the 1930’s who was exceptionally talented in her field and as a result, traveled all over Europe to be creatively inspired and to sell her hats. When she fell in love and married Walter Ehrlich, a Jewish businessman, right as the Nazis came to Vienna, everything in her power was focused on getting herself, her new husband, and their families as far away as possible.

I liked this little-known memoir quite a bit. At first I thought “another World War Two book?” but this one is different because it’s got a lighter feel that most books of this genre can’t get away with. Kantor was fleeing the Nazis, and that’s a huge part of her story, but it’s not her whole story. Not even close. She was a fabulous, fashionable, and very wise woman who had a lot to contribute to the world, and her memoir shows that. There is definitely a brevity to her story, especially towards the end, but the book also shows a side of the war that is sometimes glossed over – that of ordinary people who were just trying to live their lives, go about their regular days, when the Nazis changed everything for them. That was most definitely my favorite aspect of the memoir, and why I can recommend Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler.

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Knopf

This novel is so many things – a love story, an immigration story, a story about race in America, a story that illuminates how globalized this world has become, and even more than all of that. Born and raised in Nigeria, Ifemelu goes to America for college, hoping that her boyfriend Obinze, will soon follow. But red tape holds him back, and their separation causes the two of them to follow very different paths in life. Fourteen years later, when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria for the first time since her departure, everything is the same as how she left it yet completely different – including and especially Obinze.

I feel that what I wrote above simplifies Americanah into a simple story about missed opportunities and unrequited love – and in a way, the book is about those things. But it’s about so much more than just those things. I loved this novel. Loved it and was challenged by it, loved it because I was challenged by it, actually. Reading about the immigrant experience, reading about race in America from a non-American Black, reading about someone who is half the globe away from her family for fourteen years (when I complain when it’s been more than three or four months since I’ve seen mine), reading about being so in love with someone that it’s easier NOT to talk to them than to confront the fact that you’ll never be together in the way you want, all of this and more is what I loved about Americanah. It’s fantastic. Please read it yourself.

InfidelInfidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Published by Free Press

Somali-born Ayan Hirsi Ali is one of the most controversial women on earth. She left Somalia for Holland at the age of 20, claimed refugee status as a way to escape her arranged marriage, and ended up in the Dutch Parliament. She made a video denouncing Islam that caused filmmaker Theo Van Gogh to be killed and caused huge issues within the Dutch government. Infidel is her memoir, mostly about her years growing up in a Muslim country, but also focusing on how she escaped that culture and what has happened in her life since.

Just a few things about this book, although I could write a way longer post and have a lot more to say. One, I was shocked and saddened by what an awful and abusive childhood the author experienced. Regardless of religion, no child should be forced to grow up the way she did. Two, I think it’s incredibly brave of her to so loudly denounce Islam, a religion that historically has been linked to abuse of women and girls, that requires women to have very few (if any) opportunities to make choices in their own lives, being a woman herself. She’s the very definition of feminist and I applaud what she’s doing – speaking up, being honest, showing people the realities of the world she grew up in, one in which millions of women and girls suffer silently today. All of this while receiving death threats on a daily basis from the men who oppose the truth she’s telling – it’s a brave thing this woman is doing. While most of her memoir is the story of her life, the very end is a passionate call to action and this was by far my favorite part of the entire thing.

I listened to the audio of this and I do not recommend that. I had a difficult time understanding the narrator which detracted from my enjoyment and appreciation of the book overall. I highly recommend Infidel, and definitely encourage print over audio.

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth

This novel, bringing to life war-torn Chechnya with fictional characters but a not-at-all unrealistic story, is haunting and beautiful all at once. When eight-year-old Havaa’s father is “disappeared” by the Russian military, she is taken in by Akmed, a neighbor, and brought to the only remaining hospital in the city to hide. The only doctor left at said hospital, Sonja, has zero interest in hiding a young child from the military, but obliges when Akmed agrees to assist her with some of the patients and their many unmet needs. As the story takes shape, it becomes clear that absolutely nothing is a given in this horrifying time and place, and these characters’ lives are incredibly fragile – yet their humanity is most certainly still in the forefront of their story.

I had a difficult time with this novel, probably because I expected to love it to the moon and back and I am not even sure I liked it. I definitely appreciated it – I learned about a war that I am ashamed to say I knew little about, I felt deeply for these characters and the atrocities they were forced to endure, and I thought Marra’s writing was just gorgeous in its stark simplicity. Ultimately, I found myself staying at arm’s length from the novel, though, and I don’t know if that’s because it was just too difficult for me to wrap my emotional brain around. The few times I’d picture myself in this situation were enough to make me a blubbering mess, so I had to turn that part of my brain off while reading the book. I don’t know. I liked it but didn’t all at the same time. Does that make sense even a little bit?

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby
Published by Balzar & Bray

From the publisher:

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

This is the kind of book that I have the most difficulty reviewing and talking about. While I thought Bone Gap was pretty incredible I am having a difficult time putting into words exactly what about it is so great. Nymeth’s discussion about it (which includes some spoilers) does an excellent job of going into detail on just what exactly is so fantastic about this novel. Let me offer some of my own (way less intelligent and eloquent) ideas.

I loved the way these two brothers, Finn and Sean, didn’t have the easiest time with one another and yet their commitment to sticking together and looking out for one another was unwavering. Their relationship mirrored in some ways aspects of my relationships with my own siblings – we don’t always “get” each other or do the right thing or say the perfect words at the right time, but ultimately we are there for each other in a way that nobody else in the world ever will be or can be. There’s something about that sibling bond that is unbreakable, even when on the outside it might be far from perfect.

There’s another girl, Petey, who is not mentioned in the summary above but who may have been my favorite character in the book. She and Finn fall in love over the course of the novel, and I absolutely loved this budding relationship. The awkwardness of first kisses (and first other stuff) and uncertain conversations, the feeling of insecurity that takes over when you can’t quite figure out why this person that is perfect in every way actually wants to be with you, it was all there in spades.

I wasn’t sure about the magical realism aspect of this book (you all know I’m hit or miss when it comes to that) but it really worked here. It wasn’t done with a heavy hand, but instead was used to illuminate more clearly the way the characters felt and how they saw the world. What happened to Roza was horrifying and at times, I wasn’t sure if it was the magical realism talking or if I was getting the full story, but either way her whole situation could be the subject of endless discussions. I don’t want to say too much without giving away spoilers but let’s just say that I think we need more books like Bone Gap, books that deal with issues traumatic to women in an open, feminist, woman-centered way.

Anyway. I don’t think I articulated at ALL what is so great about this novel, so just go ahead and read the review I linked to above. And then go read Bone Gap.


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