Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I don’t read a lot of literary fiction. But when I do, I know I’m in for a thought-provoking read. This novel did not disappoint in that regard.

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Synopsis (Goodreads): Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.


Review: I feel like I’m going to fail to try to write this review because I don’t have the words to describe how this book made me feel. It made me feel A LOT. But I’m going to try anyways.

This is an an incredible novel for a lot of reasons. For one thing, the writing is absolutely brilliant. The author has a way of keeping the words simple but making them convey so much meaning. I loved that the author gave very realistic portrayals of everything in the book; not a single thing was downplayed or glorified. From the description of a long car ride to the intensity of a drug high, every minute was real. It allowed me to slip into the story and live it along with the characters.

With this story, we are given 2 perspectives. One is Jojo, a 13-year-old who watches everything and feels the need to protect his younger sister – especially from their mother. We also see through the eyes of Leonie, Jojo’s mother, who wants to do the right thing and struggles with being the good daughter and mother that she wants to be. Through their points of view, the author brings in the issues of race, family, and addiction. Now, these are all very difficult topics to raise; not only does the author not shy away from them, she also doesn’t pass any judgement. That’s what I loved about this narrative – there was nothing one-sided to it. Every issue is explored so deeply and through so many interactions that it soon becomes evident that there is no clear-cut way of looking at things. It is easy to dismiss things and label them to make life easier, but the author refuses to allow the reader to do that.

I also really loved how the author incorporated magical realism into this literary fiction novel. I’ve always been a big fan of magical realism, and when it’s done right, it can be the most wonderful thing in the world. It was done right here. Both Leonie and Jojo find themselves haunted by the ghosts of young boys; for Leonie, it is her brother who passed away as a teenager; for Jojo, it is a boy who died as an inmate and carries the ugly history of racism and slavery within him. Reading about these interactions made my heart pound, and I could feel my emotions running parallel to that of Leonie and Jojo. It was very well executed.

If you can’t tell already, this is a 5/5 star novel for me. The writing was gritty and engaging, the characters were vivid and emotionally-charged, and the story was haunting. If you haven’t read this novel, you should definitely change that right away!

Happy reading ~

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Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

This book has been creating a buzz EVERYWHERE. Red Clocks is a novel that is perfectly matched for the political climate in America today, and the state of affairs when it comes to the legalization of abortion and the ease of getting this service. This novel has been compared to A Handmaid’s Tale, which is the first book that I read by Margaret Atwood (and one of my favourite books of all time). I knew I had to read Red Clocks so I bought it as soon as I could. Here is my review:

Synopsis (back of the book): In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.


Review: The scenario that is imagined in this book is not as far-fetched as I would like. Considering the political climate in America and the number of obstacles that are in the way for any woman seeking an abortion, I can easily see a future where abortion is banned, and Planned Parenthood no longer exists. This is what drew me to this novel; I wanted to see how these women would live and struggle under these conditions.

I think that this novel strives to look at motherhood and the identity of a woman through various different lenses. By looking at these concepts through the women, not only do we get to see their own thought process, we also get an understanding of how people around them feel about these issues. This book is in no way skewed to one side; both anti-abortion and pro-abortion sentiments are voiced and it is easy for the reader to understand both perspectives.

While the topic and the ideas mentioned in this book were interesting, I didn’t love this book. To me, this wasn’t really a story; it was far too focused on the concepts than it was in the development of the women. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it made the whole book far too cerebral for me. I also didn’t feel like there was anything very strong or definitive being said. Everything was a little too experimental, and I prefer if an author sticks to a style and goes with it throughout. In spite of its choppiness, I liked the way the author switched between the different voices of the women in the story; it added some variance to the writing. I also thought it was interesting to not actually give these women names in the beginning of the chapter; they are called “biographer” or “wife” or “daughter” or “mender” based on the way they identify themselves and their role in life. While it did lead to a bit of emotional detachment with the characters, it allowed the reader to view them as a collective, which was probably the intent here.

I think that this novel explored some very interesting ideas and was well-balanced when considering all of the different arguments surrounding abortion and the right to life. However, it didn’t really come off as a story and I found it hard to feel that emotional pull to any character. Overall, I would give this a solid 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba

I’ve always been eager to read books that are written by an author whose first language is not English. Usually, these authors are from countries that are very different than where I live and what I am accustomed to, so I like to see how their cultural setting influences their writing. Of course, then comes the doubt about whether the translation was accurate enough to pick up on the subtle nuances … but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I heard about this book and immediately wanted to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): Life changes at the orphanage the day seven-year-old Marina shows up. She is different from the other girls: at once an outcast and object of fascination. As Marina struggles to find her place, she invents a game whose rules are dictated by a haunting violence.


Review: I know the synopsis is short but any more information and you would have everything revealed. This was a quick read but it was packed with A LOT. I was expecting a simple creepy story but instead got something a lot deeper and more complex. The story is told from Marina’s perspective and that of the other children in the orphanage. The sentences are short but they convey the brokenness that inhabits the children. A great deal of emotional turmoil is conveyed in this short read, and it haunts the reader long afterwards. This novel is disturbing in its prose, and in the story it tells. I don’t want to speak more about this story, because it is better to experience it. With that, I would say I’m giving this novel a solid 4/5 stars, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a haunting and eerie read.

Happy reading ~

Lullaby Road by James Anderson

Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and Penguin Random House through the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Highway 117 is a remote road that runs through the Utah desert. It is trafficked by oddballs and fugitives. When local truck driver Ben Jones finds an abandoned, mute Hispanic child at a gas station along his route, he knows something has gone awry. Who would leave a child out there in the cold winter season?  With the help of his eccentric neighbors, Ben sets out to help the kid and learn the truth. What he didn’t expect was to make new friends, lose old ones, and find himself in danger.

I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t get into it. When I started reading this book, I was unaware that it was a sequel. I thought I might still be able to understand what was going on, but there were quite a few veiled references and allusions made that are probably referring to something from the first book, which is why I wasn’t able to follow along. I would definitely recommend people read the first book before reading this one. I also didn’t really love the writing style. I found it overly descriptive, especially when it came to automobiles (which I really have no interest in). I also found the plot very confusing: there were a lot of characters introduced and it wasn’t always clear how everything was going to play out. I really wanted the story to focus on the child but that was not the case here. There have been a lot of positive reviews out for this book, but it just wasn’t for me. I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Thanks to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Mental illness is a very important topic that I don’t think gets discussed enough. And even when it does, it is overly simplified. This novel spoke to me because of its emphasis on mental health and the toll it can take not only on the person with the condition but also the caregivers. I was really excited for this ARC and I’m really glad I got the chance to read this novel. Here is my review:

Miranda, as the eldest, has always been the responsible one, her younger sister’s protector. Lucia is the vibrant one, the unconventional one, whose impulsive behaviour can be both charming and devastating. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it is Miranda who must take charge of Lucia – even as Lucia refuses to accept the doctor’s diagnosis. Determined to be more than just  label, Lucia forges on with life, marrying a kind-hearted Israeli – only to leave him, suddenly, in order to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. With her new family, Lucia moves to Ecuador to start a fresh life – but she cannot escape her own mental illness. Miranda must decide if she will step in and help Lucia once more – but this time Lucia might not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

This book was a very powerful story. Lucia is a creative and whimsical character – but she is also diagnosed with schizophrenia. Miranda, the cautious one of the pair, has always felt it was her responsibility to take care of her sister and ensure that she is getting the right medication and dosage. But this responsibility becomes an even harder burden to bear when faced with Lucia’s refusal to comply. I thought that the author did an amazing job of portraying how mental illness can affect an individual and the relationships that person has with others. This story is told from multiple perspectives, from Miranda to Lucia’s Israeli husband to the Latino immigrant to Lucia herself. Each offers their own story as they discover their love for Lucia – and discover her diagnosis and the struggles that come with schizophrenia. The author really took the time to show all of the facets of the disorder and the ways in which people can try to handle it. I found the story to be realistic and heartbreaking and beautiful and poignant. More importantly, I thought this novel did justice to the topic through a sensitive and masterful approach. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in mental health and literary fiction. I’m giving this a 5/5 rating!

Happy reading ~

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

I don’t usually read books that are like this one. If I had to classify this into a genre, I would probably consider this a literary novel. However, I thought the premise was an interesting one, and worth reading. Here is my review:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and when the Gold children hear of a psychic who can tell anyone the day they die, they decide to visit her. What they didn’t expect is that the prophecies they receive will change their lives forever. The youngest, Simon, escapes to the West Coast on a search for love; Klara, the closest in age to Simon, decides to pursue her dream of becoming a magician but soon finds herself obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; Daniel, the eldest boy, becomes an army doctor in the hopes of controlling fate; and Varya, the eldest of them all, throws herself into the search for longevity through science.

I thought this was a very thought-provoking read. The story is told from the perspectives of all 4 siblings, with each one getting their own section that traverses the entirety of their lives. And their lives are very different. I liked reading about how each character was affected by their prophecy and the way it shaped/influenced their future decisions. Their paths were all so unique and that really made each character stand out to me. Some stories stood out to me more than others, but I have a feeling that most people would also feel this way. I d want to give a note to caution to some readers: if you are expecting a story with elements of magical realism, you will be disappointed; apart from this prophecy, which occurs in the very beginning of the novel, there is nothing fantastical that occurs. While I don’t think the writing was spectacular, I think the story more than makes up for it. I would be lying if I said I never wondered when and how I would die – but how would this knowledge affect me? Would I try to disprove the prophecy or work harder to make it come true? Or would I not believe in it at all? Either way, it would definitely affect my life. I thought the author captured a lot of these scenarios and delivered them quite nicely, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions without it being delivered to them by a character or through dialogue. I found myself understanding the actions and emotions of all of the characters, and I felt a strong emotional connection to them all as they struggled through their lives. Each story resonated with me in its own way and it led to a very insightful read. Was it everything I had dreamed it would be? No. Even though I enjoyed this novel a great deal, there was this feeling that something was missing. However, this was a powerful and thoughtful read, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes literary fiction, and novels that cause them to question their own existence and mortality.

Happy reading ~

 

 

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

I had no idea what to expect when I got into this novel. But after reading it, I can honestly say that it has defied any expectations I might have had. Here is my review:

Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the heir to one of America’s top fortunes. They really should never have become friends. But they have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to record every sound he can, in an attempt to create something different. Carter is fixated on blues music from the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

This novel tries to be a lot of things. It tries to be a ghost story, a murder mystery, a story about race and exploitation. It ends up just being confusing. The story is told entirely from Seth’s point of view, and he really does make for a great voice; his blandness works to his advantage. Even though the novel isn’t actually divided into two parts, my reading experience has divided it into the first half, where things made sense, and the second half, where things were just a mess. The first half was great. It’s all about how Carter and Seth strike up their unlikely friendship, how Carter has this obsession and the money to carry on with it, how Seth is caught up in it all. There’s a lot of talk about blues and jazz, music that I really don’t listen to, but I’ve come to appreciate by reading this novel. In terms of music appreciation, this novel really does a great job. It’s well researched and nicely documented here. The transition between the first half and the second half is really interesting: the story flits from past to present. I actually quite liked the transition, but I was expecting that the chapters recalling the past would explain to me what was happening in the present … and it didn’t. And then the story becomes a mess. There’s a ghost and there are chapters told from perspectives that may not be Seth’s but I don’t know whose voice is telling the story. I found myself getting more and more confused, and hoping that the next chapter would clarify things. By the end, I finally figured everything out. But the whole experience of the second half was like I was on drugs; everything was happening in a very surreal and uncomfortable way and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Whimsical is one thing, but this… this was a whole new beast. I liked the writing style, I liked the different issues the author was trying to cover, but I wish some of the voices had been a bit clearer. I’m still perplexed about my overall feelings for this novel. Because of the great writing style and the fast pace and the different issues covered in this novel, I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. My rating would have been higher if the author had tightened things up a bit and explained things better near the end. But readers be warned: this is not your typical book and you might either love it or hate it … or feel caught in between like me.

Happy reading ~

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love books with unique settings and cultures to my own; it’s like travelling but without actually going anywhere. I was really looking forward to this novel but it took me a while to get to it because my TBR list literally never stops growing. But now I’ve read it … and here is my review:

André Cabral was born in Brazil but now lives in London with his family, where he practices as a doctor. But when he receives a letter from his home country, it reminds him of his youth – the lazy afternoons, the parties, his afterschool job at his father’s practice… and his secret infatuation with the daughter of the family’s maid, Luana. Unable to resist the pull of the letter, André embarks on a journey back to Brazil to rediscover his past – and change his future.

What I loved about this novel was how it made Brazil come alive. The author did a great job of describing the culture, the people, and the social system in place. There were a lot of things that I did not know about Brazil that I know now after reading this novel, for which I am grateful to have had the opportunity. However, I didn’t like the story. This was probably because I didn’t like André. When he is describing himself as a teenager, you get the impression that he was a self-obsessed boy. Not much has changed in his adulthood. I found his character to be annoyingly selfish and prone to being melodramatic. The story was also not that unique, so I really wasn’t too interested in what was happening to the characters. The dialogue between the characters was also emotionless and that struck me as odd, since this story pretty much demands passion. Overall, this was just an okay novel – and that’s only because of the great setting the author created. However, the story itself failed in execution. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 1.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This novel intrigued me because it was completely out of the norm. I don’t really read books that discuss religion, philosophy, and politics, but this story was just too interesting for me to pass on. Here is my review:

While on her way to a dinner party in Istanbul, Peri, a wealthy married Turkish woman, is robbed. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground. It’s an old polaroid of 3 young women and their university professor, a relic from a past that Peri has held onto while also trying to forget. Over the course of dinner, terrorist attacks occur across the city. Competing in Peri’s mind, however, are the memories invoked by her almost-lost polaroid, of the time years earlier when she was sent abroad for the first time to attend Oxford University. There, she had become friends with the charming, adventurous Shirin, a fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian-American. Their arguments about Islam and feminism find focus in the charismatic but controversial Professor Azur, who teaches divinity, but in unorthodox ways. As the terrorist attacks come ever closer, Peri is moved to recall the scandal that tore them all apart.

I thought that this novel was quite interesting. Peri’s character takes us on a journey into the past and the present through alternating chapters. In this way, the reader gets to understand Istanbul, the country of her birth, and what it means to be Muslim. I really liked the time the author spent explaining Peri’s experiences to the reader; it gave me a new perspective to consider. This novel also talks about tensions in the family, and how secrets and frustrations can upset family dynamics. I will admit, I was more interested in the past than in the present events, but I found Peri’s grown-up character (during the present) to be wonderfully mature in her views on politics, religion, and the role of females. I also loved watching Peri grow up and become confused about her views and identity, especially once she attends Oxford. I wish there had been more tension in the events that occurred in the past, and wish certain things had been explained in more detail because they seemed to happen out of nowhere and caught me off-guard. After all the lovely explanations about Islam and the cultural mosaic in Istanbul, I wanted the author to help me understand more of Peri’s actions. I also wish there had been some tie-in to explain how Peri got to where she was in the present time, as that would have been a good transition. Overall, I found this novel to be thought-provoking and insightful, but not a thriller in any sense. This is a slower novel but it is beautifully written and I would recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy and religion, and the way these 2 aspects can shape a person’s identity. 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

Poison by Gail Niederhoffer

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

True to my promise on not shying away from books that have to do with marriage, I accepted this ARC. The premise was mysterious enough that I went into it with no idea as to the direction it would take, which is always exciting! Here is my review:

Cass and Ryan Connor are the perfect family, with 3 kids between them, a cat, and a home just waiting to be renovated and lived in. Their family, including Cass’ 2 children from previous relationships, has just moved to Portland to start their lives afresh. But trouble begins soon enough. First, there are the little white lies that happen daily in the marital bedroom. What starts off as insignificant soon spirals out of control into a madness that will change the family forever.

This novel was presented as a literary psychological thriller, which is an interesting mix of genres. Literary fiction is typically slower-paced and focused on character development whereas psychological thrillers are fast-paced and plot-driven. The story reads like a literary fiction in terms of the language used and the amount of detail that the author provides. It also has this weird mix of pace that I never really got a handle on; it felt like it was moving slowly because of the writing style but the events themselves were happening quite rapidly. It took me aback … and not pleasantly. I felt the pacing was very awkward and it didn’t allow me to get a good sense of any of the characters. The story is told entirely from Cass’s perspective, which was not an issue in itself but I found her boring. There were a lot of events happening in the book in a very random way, just to allow the author to make the conclusions she wanted to make. The entire concept behind the story was that women’s accounts are dismissed quite readily by the police and by court systems. However, I don’t agree with that premise 100%, and especially not when it comes to this story; no matter your gender, you have to have evidence when making accusations. I don’t think that should be considered a sign of prejudice or discrimination by gender. I also didn’t really get the purpose behind the crime. Why do all of this? How did so many people get involved? The ending was also very random and seemed almost too easy after all of the other things that had occurred in the story. It just all felt like a mess, what with events happening quickly and randomly while the author continues to ramble on and focus on inconsequential details, and there being no real motive or resolution to anything. Since there wasn’t a single thing I liked about this story, I’m giving this a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~