Hunger

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Writing this book is a confession. These are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. This is my truth. This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not. This is not a story of triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be told.

What makes Hunger (read Goodread synopsis here) so important is the way it furthers the conversation surrounding obesity, body positivity, and our society’s expectations when it comes to what a woman’s body should look like. Roxane Gay is open, honest, and vulnerable in a way that demands to be heard. This book isn’t a pity party in any way; however, it does lend a more personal account to the issues behind obesity.

Gay was horrifically gang raped in the woods near her home when she was just twelve years old. Afterwards, she never told anyone what happened – not her parents, siblings, or friends. Instead, she turned to food to bury her pain, and also to change the way she looked – to become unattractive to men.

I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away. Even at that young age, I understood that to be fat was to be undesirable to men, to be beneath their contempt, and I already knew too much about their contempt.

Eating was Gay’s attempt at self-preservation. But while she tried to do everything she could to survive with her pain, society was doing everything it could to make her feel shame instead. Our society’s beauty standards when it comes to a woman’s ideal body are not only unhealthy, but often times, unrealistic as well. Images in magazines and on billboards seem to only feature women that are too thin – hip and collar bones that stick out, hollowed cheeks, and legs that look more like arms. It’s disheartening, and as a mother, it enrages me.

Books like Hunger continue to keep the body image conversations in the forefront of people’s minds. It challenges us to reevaluate what we accept at “normal” in society and demands that we do better for the young girls that are growing up to be the next generation of women. Gay’s vulnerability also demands that we pay attention to survivors of violence and/or rape so that we can give them a safe place to step forward so they don’t have to live a life mired in shame and guilt. This is the very least we owe our fellow humans – a safe place to speak and be heard and then supported and helped.

What were your thoughts on Hunger? Please leave a comment below!

Are You Sleeping

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This is a modern twist on the classic theme of #whodunit?, and I thought it was a really fun read! Thirteen years after Warren was convicted of killing his neighbor, Poppy Parnell, an investigative journalist, re-examines the case through a podcast series. She takes to social media and asks her followers to give her tips and leads which she then follows up on. It quickly becomes clear that Warren was wrongfully convicted, but if that’s true, then who’s the real murderer?

It was a somewhat predictable mystery, but because of the podcast connection, it gave it a new and fun twist. If you’re a fan of the podcast, Serial, you’ll love this one!

(Read the Goodreads synopsis of Kathleen Barber‘s Are You Sleeping here.)

What We Lose

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This novel started slow for me, but once I got used to the book’s style – and I got to Part II – the book really gained momentum for me and I ultimately finished it in two sittings (Read the synopsis here.)

In Part II, Zinzi Clemmons addressed the narrator’s, Thandi’s, experiences and feelings surrounding her mother’s illness and death. Thandi’s meditations on grief over the loss of her mother were beautiful and really struck a chord with me. I felt myself nodding my head up and down over and over in agreement with the sentiments. Like Thandi, I find myself get unrealistically worried if my dad has any sort of complaint about his health – even if it’s just a simple cold! While I recognize this as sort of hysterical, I can’t help it. So much of my remaining identity as a child of two people in this world depends on him being alive. Who am I when the two people who gave me birth no longer walk this Earth beside me? Completely unrealistic, I know, but it’s something I completely relate with.

And when I tried to speak, only tears came. The pain was exponential. Because as much as I cried, she could not comfort me, and this fact only multiplied my pain. I realized that this would be life; to figure out how to live without her hand on my back; her soft, accented English telling me Everything will be all right, Thandi.

 

Loss is a straightforward equation: 2 – 1 = 1. A person is there, then she is not. But a loss is beyond numbers, as well as sadness, and depression, and guilt, and ecstasy, and hope, and nostalgia — all those emotions that experts tell us come along with death. Minus one person equals all of these, in unpredictable combinations. It is a sunny day that feels completely gray, and laughter in the midst of sadness. It is utter confusion. It makes no sense.

While my favorite parts of the book were the sections on her mother’s illness and death, this book explores many topics. It also addresses racial issues that feel especially timely given the current events going on right now. I find it incredibly important to continue to read narratives written by people of color so that I can continue to explore and evolve in my own personal attitudes. It is my hope that diversity continues to push itself to the forefront in hopes that all of humanity can learn to embrace unity and love and peace.

Clemmons also writes brilliantly on motherhood, marriage and divorce, and feminism. These musings make it evident that Clemmons will have a long and brilliant career in literary fiction. She writes masterfully; she is so eloquent in her structure and sophistication.

My only complaint (complaint? Not sure that’s accurate…confusion??)…I walked into this book thinking it was a novel, but it reads more like a memoir. For reasons I can’t quite explain, that tiny detail was very off-putting to me and took me awhile to accept. I wanted a novel – a cohesive, structured story that I could invest myself in and the quick quips just a couple paragraphs long didn’t grab me and pull me in like I wanted them to. Instead, I found myself thinking, how much of this is actually autobiographical? And if it is autobiographical, why didn’t she just write it that way? Ugh. Admittedly, because of this confusion, it took me awhile to find my reading rhythm and made me disconnected to Part I. I believe it would be fair for me to re-read this section now that I have a better understanding and appreciation for the book’s style.

(Another book I read this summer that brilliantly handled dealing with cancer and death is The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs; you can read my review here.)

Castle of Water

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Thank you to the author, Dane Huckelbridge, for the free finished copy to review. All opinions are my own!

When I saw #bookstagram BLOW UP over this book, I knew I’d have to read it ASAP. Madeline from @topshelftext (also, visit her blog here) said she just hugged it after reading it – and I knew: I wanted a book that made me hug it, too. And I did. And I’ve hugged it for several days in a row now: I’m not ready to put Barry + Sophie on a shelf yet.

I went into the story blind – just simply trusting Madeline’s recommendation. Admittedly, for the first couple of chapters I was worried. I mean, stranded on an island – how can you possibly extend that scenario for almost 300 pages? But as the story unfolded, page by page, I began to lose myself. Slowly at first, but then – out of nowhere – I was head-over-heels for everything about this book.

This is a beautiful story of survival, love, death, and grief. Barry and Sophie are the only two survivors of a plane crash. They end up on a very remote island and quickly realize that no one is coming to save them. With this knowledge, they use each other’s strengths to their advantage and create a new life for themselves.

Even though it was predictable that Barry + Sophie would eventually fall in love, none of their romance ever feels forced or cliched. Instead, it feels very genuine and real. The way they creatively honor each other’s passions and find ways to bring those parts of their former lives back into their current realities was one of my favorite aspects of the novel. It demonstrates a true love and made me reflect on ways to honor some of these things within my own marriage.

Huckelbridge’s writing style is poetic and lyrical and just so beautiful that I slowed myself waaaaaay down in order to savor his words even more. His descriptions read like poetry and I found myself reaching for my pencil to underline all the lines. He masterfully weaves English and French throughout the story which enhances the love story between Barry + Sophie. I’m not usually one of those people who literally LOLs at a book or has tears run down my face, but Huckelbridge’s writing had me doing both!

Please, please! If you haven’t read this book yet, run out and GET IT NOW! It will be placed on my FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL-TIMES shelf and I can’t wait to revisit Barry + Sophie many more times in the years to come!

If you’ve read it, please comment below and tell me all your favorite things so we can chat! Once you’ve read it, come back and tell me all your favorite things so we can chat!!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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Books like ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ (read book synopsis here) are exactly why I love reading so much. Admittedly, I brushed this one off when I first heard about it. Old Hollywood glamour who marries seven husbands? C’mon…give me something good! But when I saw #bookstagram blowing up over it, I thought I better give it a shot, and Taylor Jenkins Reid delivered!

It’s so much more than a fame-obsessed movie starlet…There are layers and layers to unpack – what is ‘love’? Is it a marriage? A partnership? An understanding? To what ends would you go to in order to protect those you love? Is it even possible to know what love is without first knowing your own truth?

I started Evelyn (yes, we’re now on a first name basis) last night around 6 pm, and could.not.put.it.down! I didn’t see the twist(s) at the end! And I forsake all wifely and motherly duties to finish this book (I even chose to stay home instead of going to the lake…**gasp**- if you know me, you may officially start worrying about me now!!).

It’s a beautiful tale that deserves a long, well-rounded discussion at the end. I’m envisioning a book club that goes into the wee hours of dawn discussing each husband, the issues going on during each husband’s section, and the wrap-up once the story comes all the way around. Oh, it’s good…my copy is going on my ‘to re-read’ shelf and I’m already eagerly anticipating meeting Evelyn and her beaus again!

Station Eleven

Station Eleven is a realistic look at a post-apocalyptic world after 99% of the population is wiped out by a pandemic flu. What I liked about the story the most was the undercurrent of hope that weaved its way through the changes and devastation. Families were wiped out and destroyed, but new friendships and relationships were formed as people formed new communities as they navigated their new circumstances. Twenty years after the flu crisis, life still looks very different – there are no phones, automobiles, electricity, internet – so people sort of adjust to the life immediately before them. This book really focuses on the relationships of the characters versus the daily challenges one would face under the same circumstances. 

Because you don’t get to see some of the struggles, the book felt a little too tidy and simplistic. I find some of it a little unrealistic – I mean, live in an airport for twenty years!?! Bigger conglomerations didn’t form and then work towards developing some modern-day conveniences once again? Maybe I don’t understand how all of that happens, but it seems like society was more advanced in the 1930s than they were post-flu in this book. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book so much. It wasn’t quite up to the hype I’ve heard, but I’m glad I read it and I would recommend it to others that haven’t read it yet! What did you like/dislike about this one?

Pachinko

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Hmm…I don’t know what to say about this book. It’s split into three books (parts), and that’s exactly what it felt like: three separate – yet related – parts. The only reason the three books felt cohesive at all is because it followed the same characters throughout each book, but I didn’t feel like the prose flowed throughout at all.

Book One was slow and basically boring for me. I know longer books really take the time to develop the characters and the scene, but 150 pages was just overkill for me. I had to force myself to keep reading – and I only did that because Pachinko has such rave reviews and so many people on #bookstagram told me to keep pushing through.

I liked the Second Book the most – it made me contemplate some deep thoughts. I appreciate that in a book. I like to be challenged and navigate those parts of me that I take for granted – test them a little and see if they stand up to pressure. Book two did all of those things for me and I was so happy!

It was during this book that the matriarch’s, Sunja’s choices really came into question by one of her sons, Noa. It was heartbreaking to read Noa’s perspective on his mother’s decisions. From another person’s perspective, you can only see the surface level of those decisions – you have no way of knowing all the underlying things that led to the choices you may make. Sunja had her children’s best interests at heart all the time, and because of circumstances beyond her control (war/lack of money/illness/etc), she was forced to make decisions in order to preserve the lives she envisioned for her kids. Once some of those choices came to light, Noa was unwilling to hear his mother’s side to understand and he was unwilling to forgive her. I think it hit my mama’s heart hard because it made me think about the choices and decisions I have made and may face in the future that could make my children so upset with me that they disown me.

Book Three was better than one, but couldn’t stand up to two. Suddenly, things moved quickly and there were SO MANY characters introduced. As a reader, you invested so much time in the ‘main’ characters and then they sort of just get dropped and we gain and handful of new characters. The underlying theme of book three got much more vulgar and and didn’t add to the story at all. Most of the new characters were unnecessary and distracted from what should have been a wrap-up for this multigenerational saga. Lastly, the book just sort of…ended. No wrap up, nothing. Just done. I HATE that in a book. I HATE when it feels like the author says, Shoot! I’m at 485 pages; I better end it. And the way this book ended felt like that.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book – probably ONLY because of the connection I made to Book Two. I would only recommend it with a lot of fair warnings. Min Jin Lee is a talented writer and many times I felt lost in her descriptions. I remember thinking that I was reading some of the most beautiful words…but it just didn’t stack up to the whole book grabbing me. If you’ve read this one, what did you think?