Review Friday: My Antonia.

17150My Antonia by: Willa Cather

Released: February 20, 1918

Pages: 232

Rating: * * *

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Through Jim Burden’s endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature’s most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia’s desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society’s heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia.

This was the first book I had to read for my American Immigrant class. This was also the only book on the reading list for that class that I’d heard of before. I think most people have heard of this novel, but I doubt that they know what it’s about off-hand. And that’s definitely true in regards to me. I had no idea that this book was about immigrants, I just thought it was about the mid-west, which it is as well. But the novel really is about the immigrant experience, I just don’t think it was done particularly well. Let me explin:

This book is called My Antonia, but it’s not from Antonia’s point of view. It’s from Jim Burden’s point of view. Jim Burden is a rich, white, American-born boy. So, you might see where I take issue with him telling the story of a poor, immigrant girl. Most of what we see of Antonia is through Jim’s lense, and that lense reduces just aout everything Antonia and her Bohemian family does down to “foreign quirkyness.” He sees the things that she and her family have to do to survive as odd, and silly. Like, he really doesn’t understand what immigrants lives are like, and it really starts to grate on one’s nerve after a while. “I moved from Virginia to Nebraska, so I’m kinda an immigrant too!” SHUT THE F*CK UP, JIM!

The other thing is that people consider this a love story. Well, it’s not. See, Jim isn’t REALLY in love with Antonia, he’s in love with the idea of her. He loves how “quirky,” and “exotic” she is. He also loves that, for the first half of this book, she’s very dependent on him, and his family. I mean, they moved to the middle of nowhere Nebraska, with practically nothing. Yea, they kinda need ANYBODY’S help. But of course, Jim doesn’t get that, being the privledged little unk he is. No, he thinks he’s Antonia’s white knight, here to save her from the cruel world she’s too innocent to navigate on her own. GAG. His tune quickly changes, however, when Antonia starts to come into her own, and takes care of herself, and her family. Yea, then Jim gets all butt-hurt and whatnot. Shocker Shocker.

I think that this book had great potential to make a statement about what life is like for immigrants in this country. Antonia’s family, and Antonia herself, were very complelling characters. They just weren’t given the right narrator. No one wants to hear what Pasty Jim Rockafeller has to say about immigrants, okay?

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Review Friday: Night.

1617Night by: Elie Wiesel

Released: January 16, 2006

Pages: 120

Rating: * * * *

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Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in 1944 to Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. Night is the terrifying record of Elie Wiesel’s memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and his despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the absolute evil of man. This new translation by his wife and most frequent translator, Marion Wiesel, corrects important details and presents the most accurate rendering in English of Elie Wiesel’s testimony to what happened in the camps and of his unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.

This was the first of my school books that I got to. I’d been meaning to read this book since middle school. You see, in middle school all the children were separated into different classrooms for 4th period, also known as “homeroom.” During this time, we were assigned a book to read and discuss. All the rooms got a list different books to pick from. Night was on this list. But despite how much I argued for it, the rest of the class picked Homecoming by: Cynthia Voigt, which is probably my least favorite book ever. But another class picked Night, and they read it, and they all had their worlds crumble because of what they read. You see, we weren’t taught about the Holocaust in school. The only reason I knew about it was because I decided to teach myself about it. You can hear the entire story of that here. So, none of these kids had been exposed to this information before, and it changed them. Like it changed me the year before.

No matter how many of these books on the Holocaust you read, whether they be fiction or non-fiction, they’re going to change you in some way each time. So, despite the fact that I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the Holocaust, this one still changed me. Which makes me happy. I think the day that these stories stop affecting me, is the day I cease to be a person worth being.

I’ve mentioned in past posts that, when I read Holocaust books, I try to find something that makes it stand out from the rest. I think what makes Night stand out, is Wiesel’s…I don’t want to say negativity, but I can’t think of another word. Using the word “realistic” doesn’t sit well with me either. This is what I mean: in the book, something that Wiesel is very frank with is his doubt, and then rejection, of his religion. Now, doubt in faith isn’t unique in Holocaust fiction, I’ve read it before. But, there’s always the sense that, even though the narrator is doubtful, they will ultimately remain faithful. This is not the case with Wiesel. He makes it clear that this experience destroyed his faith in God. And it’s easy to understand why.

He’s also very frank about the way that humanity begins to slip away from you in the camps. Again, this isn’t anything new. Many narrators describe the way that OTHER people begin to turn on each other, and lose sense of who they used to be. But they are always an onlooker to this behavior. And they’re always horrified by it. And, in the beginning, so is Wiesel. But by the end, he admits that, he too, lost his humanity, and began to turn on the people he loved most. This is very rare in these narratives. In fact, this is probably the first one like this that I have read.

This only thing I didn’t care for about this book, was how fast it was. On one page the Nazis are far away and not in their minds, the next page they’re loading them into trucks to go to the ghettos, next page they’re in the camps. It feels like so many chunks of this story were just ripped out, and it makes the book seem really jerky. That being said, I can understand why maybe Wiesel wouldn’t want to dive into all the horror that he experienced during this time, and I’m not saying that he has to. I just wish that the transitions from one event to the next were maybe smoother.

I now know that this is the first book in a trilogy, and I’m excited to get to the others. I really respect Wiesel’s approach to telling his story, and want to see how he tells the rest.

Review Friday: The Watch That Ends the Night.

15798701The Watch That Ends the Night by: Allan Wolf

Released: October 11, 2011

Pages: 480

Rating: * * * * *

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Arrogance and innocence, hubris and hope–twenty-four haunting voices of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the iceberg itself, are evoked in a stunning tour de force.

Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal. A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirrings of love. And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter. The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret (“the unsinkable Molly”) Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks. Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker’s reports, and other records, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.

No doubt y’all have noticed that: I like reading about really sad stuff. I’m what I like to call, a “Tragedy Scholar.” Basically, if it was a historic tragedy, I’m all about it. And it’s not because I’m morbid (though I kinda am), or that I enjoy the suffering of others. It’s that these are things that I feel should be talked about, and learned from. Within every tragedy, there is an important lesson to be learned. Now that doesn’t mean that I think that tragedy should happen to teach us lessons. Oh no. I just believe that there has to be something you can take out of any situtation, no matter how terrible, that can help you be a better person. There are many lessons we can take away from the sinking of the Titanic, and this book highlights many of them.

This is, by far, my favorite book about the Titanic. It is painfully obvious from the start, that this book was painstakingly researched by someone very passionate about the topic. Which always heightens a reading experience. This book goes into all the little details that so many people over look when it comes to telling this story, and it covers so many different experiences of the people aboard the ship. We hear from the filthy rich, the newly wealthy, the poor, the immigrants, the captain, the shipbuilder, the crew, the cooks, and even the undertaker that recovered all the bodies after the sinking. We get to understand how each of these people, from wildly different backgrounds, came to be involved in this one event. It really paints a beautiful picture of what humans do when put to the test. Sometimes they surprise us, and sometimes they disappoint us. But we learn what they’re made of, either way.

This was also the second book I’d read about a historical tragedy, that was written in verse. I mentioned this in my review of Yellow Star, which you can check out here, that there are some emotions, and some pain, that can’t be contained in typical sentence structure. It needs the freedom that verse can provide, in order to really convey all the emotion within a situation. Wolf also took some creative approaches to the way the verses were presented on the page at times, which really made everything that much more poignant.

This book really brings to light the classism that was rife at the time of the sinking. It shows how unfairly the poor, the old, and the foreign, were treated, and how it ultimately lead to many of their deaths. But it also shows the best of humanity in the wake of a crisis. Men sacrificing their lifevests to women and children. Crew men putting themselves in danger to save one another. The rich rowing their lifeboats back to the sinking to help rescue the drowning and freezing. It teaches us how to be better people. That’s the lesson we can take away from this tragedy.

Review Friday: The Sun and Her Flowers.

35606560The Sun and Her Flowers by: Rupi Kaur

Released: October 3, 2017

Pages: 256

Rating: * * * * *

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From Rupi Kaur, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of milk and honey, comes her long-awaited second collection of poetry. A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

This is the first time I’m reviewing a poetry collection. So forgive me if it’s not my best work. But I’ve really been getting into reading poetry recently, and thought I’d take a crack at reviewing it for the blog. So, here we are!

I’ve discussed this in various, recent posts: I’ve had a really hard couple of years. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I was in a toxic and abusive relationship, had to come to terms with the fact that my friends chose my abusers side over mine, had to deal with what it meant to be a victim, then a survivor of absue. It was a lot. And I found that the people that understood what I was going through the most, were women poets. And Rupi Kaur is no exception.

The entire first half of this collection felt like it was written entirely for me. There were so many things that she wrote about that I connected to so deeply, and really tugged on my heartstrings. The ones that really felt like they were coming from my own brain were “what love looks like,” and “the underated heartache.” Those two poems spoke about experiences and feelings that were EXACTLY like mine. It just felt so validating and comforting to read about someone who’d gone through similar things. It really made me feel like I wasn’t alone, or crazy, or being overly dramatic. I felt heard. And I felt safe, if you can believe that.

I wish that I could’ve connected to the entire collection as much as I did the first half, but there are some experiences that I just can’t relate to in this book. I wasn’t a victim of sexual assault. I’m not a person of color. I’m not a child of immigrants. And I haven’t been able to fall in love after my last relationship. But that didn’t prevent me from being moved by what Kaur was writing about, and sympathizing with her. I just couldn’t completely connect with it, and that’s okay. Those poems weren’t written for me. They were written for other people who need them. And I hope they find them.

Sunday Fun-day: Best Books of 2018.

Welp! It’s a new year, and it’s time to reflect on all the books that blew my mind in 2018. And trust me, there were A LOT! But, I’ve managed to narrow it down to just twelve that were just, the best of the best. So, let’s get started!

12.) Magic Bites by: Illona Andrews

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This year, I went back to my paranormal-romance roots, and finally gave this series a chance after having it recommended to me forever ago. It’s everything I love about the paranormal-romance genre and more! There’s a kick-ass heroine, a kick-ass love interest, a complex world and magic system, out-of-this-world high stakes, drama, action, etc. I devoured the first five books of this series, and I can’t wait to get to more!

11.) Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by: Don Brown

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This was one of the most heartwrenching things I’ve ever read. So much about what happend during, and after, Katrina has been kept so quiet, and after reading this book I can understand why: it was horrific. The way that our government let down the people of New Orleans was a travesty. And this novel really shows that. The artwork really brings to light what mere words wouldn’t be able to convey. This really should be required reading for everyone in America.

10.) The Cruel Prince by: Holly Black

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Oh man, does Holly Black know how to write faeries. Brutal, coniving, vain, fickle, and beautiful. She really knows how to get them just right. I was worried, with all the hype that was surrounding this book, that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. But it did…and then some. The characters were all so flawed, and morally grey, and just awful some times, and I LOVED it. And all the tension was just TOO good. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of this series. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen.

9.) Sadie by: Courtney Summers

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Holy crap did this one hit hard. This book just, covers such a tragic and hard topic, but the thing that makes it THAT much harder and more tragic, is that it happens all the time. This novel really makes you open your eyes to the really ugly side of the world, and start asking yourself some REALLY hard questions. The way this book was written was also so brilliant, and intriguing, and suspenseful. And the audiobook was AMAZING.

8.) The Watch That Ends the Night by: Allan Wolf

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This was the second historical-fiction book I read that was written in verse. And I’ve learned something: when trying to write about tragic events, sometimes verse is the best way to go. The free form allws authors to express emotions and events in a way so much more meaningful than if they’d been stuck in structure. This novel was packed with so much information, and so many different POVs from people from all walks of life. I really learned so much from this novel, and can’t wait to pick up more Titanic books.

7.) Wildwood by: Colin Meloy

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This one was a complete surprise for me! I picked this up on a whim at Target YEARS ago, and started to think I was never going to get to it. Oh man, am I glad I changed my mind. This book was so much fun. The world is so unqiue, and quirky, and just, FUN! That’s what I felt all throughout this book. Even when things got tense, there was still so much excitement going on! This is such a great book about family, friends, and growing into yourself. I definitely recommend it to middle grade lovers.

6.) The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by: Kiersten White

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This book has become so important to me over the course of this year. The majority of this book deals with a character in an abusive and toxic relationship, and how she finds the strength to get herself out of it. This is a situation that I have been struggling with myself for the past few years, and to see in reflected in fiction, and handled so well, really meant a lot to me. Our heroine is strong, and loving, and loyal, but she also has her flaws. She was just an amazing character to be able to relate to, and I’m really grateful to White for giving me this book this year, when I really needed it. If you want to hear more of my thoughts about this book, check out my fell review here.

5.) Dietland: Sarai Walker

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This was another one that completely took me by surprise. This was a required read for school, and I was anticipating to not like it. Boy was I wrong. This book was so empowering for women, particularly fat women. If you want to know my more in-depth thoughts, you can check out my full review here.

4.) Godsgrave by: Jay Kristoff

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This was so good. Like, way too good. Mia got more brutal, and morally grey, and so badass. Plus, my wife Ashlinn is in it so, of course it was gonna land high on this list. But the stakes were so much higher in this one, and there were so many twists I wasn’t expecting. And it absolutely left me dying for the next installment. I can’t wait until the next book comes out, but Jay better leave my wife alone. Or we will have WORDS.

3.) Bridge of Clay by: Markus Zusak

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I bet this is surprising to y’all, isn’t it? Bet y’all thought it would be first. Well, as great as it was, it couldn’t quite claim that spot. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t amazing! Because it was. It was so touching, and heartbreaking, and beautiful. No one can string together a sentence quite like Markus. There were so many lines that left me gasping, they were so beautiful. It really was worth the agonizing wait.

2.) Muse of Nightmares by: Laini Taylor

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I’ve said this more times than I can count, and I’ll say them probably a million more times: Laini Taylor is a word witch. The way she can make worlds and characters come to life on the page is nothing short of magic. This sequal was so nail-biting, and emotional, and absolutely amazing, and I just can’t figure out how she manages to do it over, and over again. This duology handled such complex themes so brilliantly. I’m just, completely in awe of her. We all need to bow down.

1.) Circe by: Madeline Miller

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I can’t express how much I love this book. It came to me, just when I needed it most. Seeing Circe getting knocked down, and having everything in the world thrown at her, and her getting right back up? It really helped me get through this year. Everytime I picked this book up I felt so empowered, and inspired, and like nothing could touch me. And even if something DID get to me, I could beat it. Circe was such a beautiful character to read about, and all the other characters were so amazing too. If you want to hear me gush about this book more, check out my full review here.

Well that’s it! Those were my top books of the year! But, what about you guys? What were your favorites of the year? Did you read any of my favorites? What did you think of them? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Review Friday: Yellow Star.

217008Yellow Star by: Jennifer Roy

Released: April 1, 2006

Pages: 227

Rating: * * * *

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The niece of Syvia Perlmutter, one of only twelve child survivors of the Lodz ghetto in Poland, shares her aunt’s experiences of the Holocaust in free verse that relates the courage and heartbreak she lived during a time of terrible circumstances.

This semester, I’m taking a course on Holocaust literature, so get used to seeing reviews on books on this topic. This wasn’t one of the books required by the class, but it was one that I’d had my eye on for quite some time, and thought it would ease me into the mindset that I’m going to have to get into in order to handle reading all of these heartbreaking narratives in such a short amount of time. This one piqued my interest because it covers a topic of the Holocaust that I’m not very familiar with: the ghettos.

The ghettos were always a part of the Holocaust narrative that seemed to be skimmed over, or left out completely, in the books that I’d read. But, after reading Mapping the Bones by: Jane Yolen, which spends quite a lot of time in the ghettos, I decided to educate myself more on the topic. This is how I discovered Yellow Star. This book really showcases the brutality of living the ghettos, just as Mapping the Bones did. It especially hit home due to the book being from a child’s perspective. This child, a real one as the book is inspired by a true story, was one of only twelve children to survive living in the ghettos until they were liberated. That’s an incredible statistic. The things that she had to endure, like hiding in an open grave night after night, just to stay alive, are absolutely awe inspiring. This really was such an important part of what the Jewish people had to endure during this time, and I know so little about it. I really hope to change that this year.

Another thing that really made Yellow Star stand out to me was that it is written in verse. I’d never read a book about the Holocaust written in verse before, so I thought I’d see what it was like. Now, often times I find that books written in verse, really don’t need to be written in verse. That what the book is trying to say could be far better conveyed in prose. But, in the case of this book, it’s just the opposite. There were things that these people saw, and felt, and experienced, that sometimes can’t be told in plain style. Their pain can’t be contained to basic sentence structure. The freedom of verse gives all the emotion more room to move, and be expressed.

I think that this novel is an excellent place to start if you’re interested in learning more about what it was like for the Jewish people to live in the ghettos. It has its harsh moments, and it’s painful ones, as all Holocaust narratives do, but it doesn’t get as brutal as Mapping the Bones does. And it packs just as much emotion as any other novel written in prose on this subject.

Review Friday: Dietland.

25897894Dietland by: Sarai Walker

Released: May 24, 2016

Pages: 336

Rating: * * * * *

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The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. 

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her, Plum falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House — an underground community of women who reject society’s rules — and is forced to confront the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a guerilla group begins terrorizing a world that mistreats women, and Plum becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

“A giddy revenge fantasy that will shake up your thinking and burrow under your skin” (Entertainment Weekly), Dietland takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight-loss obsession — with fists flying.

Dietland was a book that I had heard of, but never intended on reading. The title made me believe that it was some kind of trope-y, chick-lit story that took place in LA, or something. Really not my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I see it listed on my required reading list for college. The class was focused on Place and Space in literature. Basically, we talked about how places and spaces function on their own, and how they affect the people that exist within them. Now, this book being up for discussion in this class kind of still made sense with what I had assumed about the book. I figured we would talk about the way people in LA feel the need to be perfect, due to the proximity to Hollywood. But alas, I was so incredibly wrong. Dietland was absolutely nothing like what I was expecting, and I’m so incredibly glad.

Dietland is the story of Plum, and how she navigates the world as a fat woman. And as a fat woman myself, I found her story striking way too close to home many, many times. The way she tries her damnedest to make herself as small as possible, as to not take up so much space. The way that people around her try to keep her as out of sight as as much as possible, because they’re embarrassed by her size. The way she buys, and holds onto, clothes that are far too small for her, in the hopes that she’ll lose weight and eventually be able to fit into them. All far too familiar.

And of course this novel talks about dieting. It is in the title, after all. What I loved about its approach though, was the way it talked about how toxic dieting culture is. Again, as a fat woman, I’ve had my bouts of falling in love with some new craze diet plan. But, the goal of these diet plans isn’t to get people to a weight they’re happy with, finish with the diet, and them go on about their lives. No. How would they stay in business? The dieting industry is built on peoples insecurities. They need people to continue to feel bad about themselves, so they’ll continue to purchase their products, in order to “fix” themselves. This is a godawful spiral that never ends. And it’s dangerous. And this is the exact thing we watch Plum go through in this novel. We watch her invest every last penny in a diet program, a program that starves her, belittles her, makes her feel guilty, and makes her increasingly more, and more insecure. Diet culture is a slow moving disease. And this book doesn’t shy away from that at all.

Then there are the Jennifers. The Jennifers were definitely the hot ticket item of discussion in my class. They are quite controversial. While many in the class, the women in particular, could completely understand the rage that drove the Jennifers to commit their acts of aggressive resistance, there was still the undeniable truth that: they were dangerous. They acted with no real thought to all the possibilities of their actions, and many innocent people got caught in the crossfire. Which sucks. But at the same time, we couldn’t help but savor the sweet justice that came to the scumbags that were the actual targets. It really made us question just how far we’d be willing to go to get justice. And this was something that we got to go through with Plum, which made it even easier to relate to her.

This book tackled so many things that are constantly on my mind as a fat woman living in America today. But it also made me think about things that, unconsciously, were a part of my everyday life, but were never things that I gave even a second thought to. This book made me feel seen, and understood, and powerful. It really was a surprising, and incredible book, and it has become one of my absolute favorites. Even now, months after finishing it, I’m still thinking about it. I absolutely believe that it is a book that every woman, particularly fat women, should read.