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Before We Were Yours Review

Before We Were Yours Book Review

If you were to ask me what one of my favorite books was, I would immediately say Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I read this book about a year ago, and I loved it the moment I read the first page. It is historical fiction at its best; it creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual historical event. I re-read it (technically I listened to the audiobook) for book club, and I didn’t realize that this was possible, but I loved it even more.

Before We Were Yours has two separate stories that eventually come together. The main story involves a 12-year-old girl named Rill and her four siblings, who live on a shanty boat with their parents in 1939 Memphis. When their parents leave for the hospital one stormy night, the children are taken away to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Having been put in charge that night, Rill fights to keep her siblings together. The other story revolves around Avery Stafford – a federal prosecutor who comes from a privileged family in present day Aiken, South Carolina. As she helps her senator father with his health crisis, an encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing care facility leads her to a journey through her family’s hidden history.

When I said that the best historical fiction creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual event, I really mean it. The actual event in this case was Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. For over two decades until 1950, Tann and her cohorts kidnapped poor children, and sold them to wealthy families across the country, even to Joan Crawford and June Allyson. It is sadly estimated that some 500 children died due to disease, poor care, and possibly abuse while in the society’s hands. (https://nypost.com/2017/06/17/this-woman-stole-children-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich/). Many of them were molested as well.

I had no idea that this event even occurred, and to think that this happened to children of all ages AND that Tann managed to get away with it frightens me all the more. That fear translated into sympathy for Rill and her siblings in their quest to not only make it out alive, but also to tell their stories while still in the orphanage. Even when she had no choice but to obey, I understood because for Rill, that meant survival. This is why Rill’s story gripped me to the bone more than Avery’s story even though I have nothing against the latter.

It was the audiobook that made my read the second time around all the more enjoyable. Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber put on some great vocal performances. Rankin – a well-known audiobook narrator and creator of the popular web short Jane Austin’s Fight Club – plays Avery, and she voices her in a professional east coast manner with hints of a Southern accent. This is highly appropriate since Avery lives in the east coast, but grew up in South Carolina. I extremely respect this particular detail that Rankin made to Avery’s character. Taber is also a well-known audiobook narrator, and she has appeared in television shows like Jane the Virgin and Star Wars: Clone Wars as well as gaming franchises like Final Fantasy. In my opinion, Taber is the standout.She voices Rill as a southern 12-year-old girl, who is perfectly fine with living by the river, yet it never gets too juvenile, especially when Rill experiences several traumatic episodes at the orphanage. There is also a sense of maturity in Rill that Taber also provides with such honesty. In addition, Taber shines when voicing Georgia Tann, who could be sweet and manipulative to not only the children, but also to the wealthy families. It is through Taber’s vocal performance of Tann that I could imagine an evil smile draping across her face when she said many of her lines.

If you have not read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate yet, do so as soon as possible. The story and the horrific events that it is based on are why many people have praised the novel. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I will continue to enjoy it forevermore.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Twenty

Hi Everybody!

I hope you all had a great September so far! I sure have ! I’ve read a ton during this month, especially the titles that I mentioned in the last chapter.

In the meantime, I finished up A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. The funny thing is that Bahni Turpin narrated the latter’s audiobook as well as the one for this title!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is about a women’s book club trying to protect its Southern suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a vampire. Patricia Campbell’s life has become smaller and smaller after she gave up her job as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother. Luckily, she has her book club to look forward to. They consist of Charleston mothers who love to read true crime and suspense novels. When an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, Patricia is initially attracted to him. However, once some children go missing, she begins to suspect that the newcomer has something to do with it. She starts her own investigation, yet what she discovers is far more terrifying than she could imagine. Soon, she and her book club are the only ones standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and the unsuspecting community they’ve sworn to protect.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I popped in the first disc, but I’m glad to say that boring would be the last thing that I would describe it. Where should I start? It got me feeling a whole bunch of emotions. It made me feel happy and supported when the book club had Patricia’s back as well as angry and frustrated when certain people like their husbands didn’t believe them. Patricia’s husband Carter evens prescribes her Prozac! Such gaslighting! It all felt too real. Since this is a horror, it shocked me plenty of times so far. Let’s just say an earlobe gets bitten off and rats come into the house.

I totally bought Patricia’s frustrations as a housewife and mother. Her husband is distant, and her kids would rather do other things. I can understand her need to seek out something interesting, even dangerous. When nobody believed her about her theory about the stranger and the missing children, I understood her anger and the actions that led into her low point even though I though disagreed with what she did to cope. I’d love to see how she turns it around.

As I mentioned before, Bahni Turpin narrates the audiobook. I’ve mentioned her in the last chapter when I had talked about On the Come Up, and she has impressed me even more. Turpin has such a wide vocal range. She’s able to voice a proper white Southern lady, a sassy one from New Jersey with a sad past, and a black one frustrated with the community not doing enough for them. Even the men sound fairly distinct with the seemingly reasonable Carter Campbell and the stranger as a modern Dracula. After a little break, I look forward to listening to the rest of the story!

We have now come to the end of the twentieth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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What Was Your Name Downriver: Tales of the Shattered Frontier Book Review

Full disclosure: I was given a free physical copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve read plenty of unique genres like comic thrillers, but none have been as bizarre as the western-fantasy hybrid. I’ve read plenty of fantasy, yet I’ve never read any westerns. When I came across the novel What Was Your Name Downriver: Tales of the Shattered Frontier by Anthony Lowe, which happens to fall into that genre, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now that I’m done with it, I can say that it’s great…and then the main characters get off the boat.

Consisting of a novella and two short stories, What Was Your Name Downriver: Tales of the Shattered Frontier tells the stories of two women – Evaline Cartwright and Trivan Esterhazy – who meet on a riverboat and navigate a hostile environment with wit and weapons as they try to get back to civilization.

I’ve never read a book that contains both western and fantasy elements, but it works. Lowe uses the more familiar aspects of each genre to make something that feels new and avoids the cliched pitfalls. Even though I’ve never read any westerns, I’ve watched some western films. I was able to identify some recognizable tropes like the standoff, gambling, and trying to resolve issues with guns, but they’re done in such ways that feel natural. With the fantasy genre, I was able to identity some of its familiar elements like magic and discrimination against the unknown.

In addition, the voices of many characters fit right into the western atmosphere. Everytime I heard a person talk in the book, I felt I was there with them on the riverboat or in the saloon. For example, this set of dialogue spoken by one of the men at a gambling table on the riverboat occurs at the very beginning of the book:

“Tell you what I heard,” said one of the men, waiting his turn. “Feller gets stopped by a lawkeeper near Little Horn. Middle of the night. He gets stopped on account of the five or maybe six, ‘rathlings tied up in his cart. Lawkeeper shines a light, sees the tears in the young’uns eyes and their little knifey ears. ‘What is the meaning of this?’ asks the lawkeeper. He’s reachin’ for his gun at this point, I think.”

The man with the cart, he just can’t stop smiling. He just looks at the lawkeeper and says, ‘A kindness, mister. A kindness. These children is without their parents. Orphans,’ this man keeps saying. ‘Orphans, believe you me.’ The lawkeeper ain’t buying it. He asks the man, ‘How do you know them ‘raths is orphans? How do you know?’

And the man with the cart replies, and he’s still smiling when he says, ‘I know they’s orphans ‘cause I killed their parents myself” (p. 1-2).

 Lowe clearly has spent time reading western books and watching movies in that same category.

I also liked the protagonists – Evaline and Trivan. Initially, they are seen as the complete opposites of one another. Evaline is a bounty hunter with a reputation, while Trivan is a shy half-rath who’s forced to run after her father’s death and after violence was inflicted onto her. And yet, like the genres in the book, they surprisingly mesh well. They both want to leave their pasts behind. Also, their wants and needs don’t feel too contrived. In fact, the short story “The Horse Thieves of Ariasun County” reveals Evaline’s backstory and why she would go to great lengths to protect someone like Trivan. I really enjoyed reading that novella. Anyway, the main story is a  great buddy film but in book form. Like other readers, I wish Trivan was a little more developed, yet I know that Lowe will probably have more titles in The Shattered Frontier series, so there will be plenty of chances for her to grow.

Before I forget, the short story “Gunfight at the Thornmount Colossus” takes place after the events of the novella. It continues the banter between the Evaline and Trivan as the former wants to go to a gunfight. The latter tries to convince her not to go because the gunslingers in the books she reads always live, but that doesn’t happen in real life. She also doesn’t want Evaline to die (p. 176-177). Yet beyond that, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

Now, I bet all of you are wanting to know why I said that the collection was great and then they got off the boat. That was my way of saying that it was engaging until roughly that point. Once they left the riverboat, Evaline and Trivan were going from one place to another so fast that it got pretty confusing. Luckily, in the midst of all of that, there were some great moments like Evaline warning Trivan not to attack the imaginary people, saying that the “best revenge is leaving them behind” (p. 105). 

Evaline ends up shooting those scoundrels because she didn’t know them.

What Was Your Name Downriver: Tales of the Shattered Frontier by Anthony Lowe is an enjoyably unique collection of stories that effectively blends the western and fantasy genres. It also captures the voices of characters that one would find in the former category, and like a pair in a buddy movie, the protagonists are memorable together. I would recommend it to those who not only read a lot of western and fantasy novels, but also to those who like stories that involve two people on opposite ends who have to work together. It didn’t always grab my attention, but when it did, it did in a good way.

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Rolls-Royce Motor Car: Making a Legend Book Review

As I’ve mentioned on this website before, I don’t know a whole lot about cars. Nevertheless, I continue to read about various types because A. If I didn’t, that would contradict the premise of this site, B. My soon-to-be-husband and Cars-Revs-Daily.com Detroit editor is a car fanatic, so he always wants to know what I think of them, and C. He drives around in a lot of press cars for his job, so it makes sense for me to learn more about them. Recently, we got the chance to spend some time in a Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV for a few days, and it just so happens that I was reading Rolls-Royce Motor Cars: Making a Legend by Simon Van Booy and Harvey Briggs at the same time. It’s endorsed by the Rolls-Royce automobile company, so what do I think about it? The coffee table book is exactly what it is: it’s about how these famously luxurious British automobiles are made, and being in one of these vehicles enhanced my understanding of the brand.

When I had started reading it, I noticed that it really wants readers to see how bespoke these cars are. These mainly come through the photographs that are peppered throughout the book, and I’m not mad. They’re absolutely stunning! These high resolution pictures taken by Mariona Vilaros capture even the simplest of details. For example, one of the motor cars displayed the exact air coordinates of the flight that founder Charles Stewart Rolls made to France and back non-stop. That event impressed King George V so much that he sent Rolls a personal message of congratulations (p. 41). The book also contains several archival photographs. These are absolutely necessary when comparing how a task was done back then as opposed to now. For instance, a picture of a man cutting leather has the caption “A time when lasers were pure science fiction” (p. 174). 

The photo was taken at a time when the production methods were different, and seeing how Rolls-Royce makes it now shows an evolution in the process.

The book also wants readers to know that these motor cars are still being made by human hands (as much as possible). I’d suggest taking a drink everytime they mention craftsman (meaning both men and women). In fact, every chapter interviews at least two members of each department, and I definitely got the sense that they love working for the company. A lot of them have a passion for cars and making them as precisely as possible. For example, Sami Coultas and Tobias Sicheneder are responsible for the color (oh sorry, colour) of every Rolls-Royce. Coultas admits that she always tries to meet with customers in person to fully understand what kind of color they want for their Rolls-Royce, even if it means making the specific hue, which they definitely can. She understands this notion as she states, “Colours and wheels are the most important thing on a car…If you don’t get those right, a vehicle looks completely wrong” (p. 57-58).

Even though the book is mainly targeted towards those who have an invested interest in cars, I found myself engaged throughout. Like with the Caterham book, I found some of the jargon (the car ones, not the British ones) to be confusing. However, unlike that book, the Rolls-Royce one finds multiple ways to appeal to those who are not typically car lovers. These include stunning photography as well as the interviews with various passionate workers. It also provides pictures of various celebrities who either were in or owned a Rolls-Royce like Prince Charles and Fred Astaire (his dance and comedy act with his sister Adele was popular in the West End in the 1920s, and she later married Lord Charles Cavendish).

When I was in the Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV for a few days, I was able to visualize what I was learning from the book. For example, they stress the importance of having the perfect colour for every customer. The Cullinan SUV that I rode in was  Galileo Blue (insert reference to the opera section from “Bohemian Rhapsody”). It also displayed a gold coach line and matching lining on the inside that compliments the Galileo Blue. As one can see from these pictures that I took during that time, the outside looks inviting and charming. On the inside, it’s clear that the people who worked on it wanted the driver and the rest of the passengers to have a one-of-a-kind experience. These include the speakers on the doors, the snug leather seats with the logo stitched onto the headrests, a traditional analog clock, and a star liner lighting system on the roof of the SUV. I can easily see someone spending cloudy evenings in a Rolls-Royce vehicle just to stare at the stars displayed on the roof. One might even be able to see a shooting star if they pay attention. I can easily see why one would want to spend money on a car this bespoke.

In conclusion, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars: Making a Legend by Simon Van Booy and Harvey Briggs is a great book to showcase the Rolls-Royce brand and how their cars are made. It was great learning how the cars are designed from inception and to the test drive and how they are tailored-made to each owner’s specifications. I also enjoyed how it doesn’t feel forced when trying to appeal to those outside of the car fanatics. Not only would I recommend this to car lovers, especially of this brand, but also to those who are Anglophiles looking for more British stuff to read and are into luxury. Now if you excuse me, I will sip some Earl Grey tea and watch Rich & Famous on Amazon Prime while fantasizing about the next Rolls-Royce I’ll be in.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Nineteen

Hi Everybody!!!

I’m still reading the titles from the last chapter , but I’m really excited to show the new batch of books that I’ve been reading lately, so let’s go!

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas is about 16-year-old Bri, who wants to become one of the greatest rappers of all time, or at least get out of her neighborhood. As the daughter of a famous underground rapper, Bri has big shoes to fill. However, when her mom unexpectedly loses her job, food banks and shutoff notices became normal in her life. Bri decides to pour out her frustrations into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons. She finds herself in a middle of a controversy with the media portraying her as a menace rather than a MC. But with her family facing the possibility of homelessness, Bri knows that she has to make it. Basically, this is the song “Lose Yourself” and the movie 8 Mile in book form.

Much like the main character, this book has big shoes to fill since this is Angie Thomas’s follow-up to The Hate U Give – a novel that the reading community has declared to be great and important for various reasons. And so far, it’s doing a great job. The book makes readers pumped for Bri’s rapping as well as root for her success. I wanted her to speak when she choked, and cheered when she spat out some awesome flows and rhymes. In other words, I’ve been engaged with the novel since the beginning.

I mainly thank the narrator of the audiobook Bahni Turpin. Turpin is a screen and stage actor, but she’s best known for her audiobook narrations. Some of her credits include The Help, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Underground Railroad, and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix – a book I’m going to read in the future. She has even recorded the audiobook for The Hate U Give , and I can see why Thomas wanted her to record for this one. Turpin is very engaging as a narrator. She makes Bri sounds like a real teenager who’s determined to achieve success as a rapper despite all of the issues at home and school. With the supporting characters, Turpin distinguishes with great clarity. My personal favorite is Aunt Pooh – Bri’s aunt – who sounds like a female version of Lil Wayne. Also, she nails the rapping. I would love to see where this goes.

Now, let us go from one novel from a beloved contemporary author to another from a famous one of the past.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway shows the story of Robert Jordan, a young American from the International Brigades who’s fighting in an antifascist guerilla unit in the Spanish Civil War. It tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. This is basically the fictionalized version of what Hemingway himself experienced while covering the war for the Northern American Newspaper Alliance.

So readers would probably want to know if I have read any of Hemingway’s stories in the past. Yes, I have. In my English class in my senior year of high school, I read one of his Nick Adams stories “Indian Camp.” With that story, we learned how to detect subtext. And man, there was plenty of that knowing how Hemingway coined the phrase “iceberg theory.”

As for this book, I’m sure there’s subtext; I haven’t found much. But then again, it’s a bit a slog so far. It’s a lot of waiting and talking about what’s going to happen, but I’m forgiving since a lot of war involves waiting and strategizing, especially when to blow up a bridge. Robert Jordan feels a bit bland, as in he’s the typical Hemingway Hero, yet that could change. His love interest Maria feels like any other woman in a book written by a white guy in the mid-twentieth century, where beauty is more valued than personality. That could change as well.

There’s a special reason why I’m reading this novel. Sometime next year, I’m going to be on The 300 Passions Podcast, where I’ll talk about the movie version starring Gary Cooper and why it failed to make the cut on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…Passions list. I figured it would be best to read the book first, and then see how the film translates it to the screen

Speaking of the flick, it’s directed by Sam Wood. He made two films with our next and final subject – the Marx Brothers!

The Marxist Revolution: How Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo Changed the Way We Laugh by Eddie Tafoya is an academic book that examines how the Marx Brothers were revolutionary in their comedy. He looks at five of their films to show how they critique American ideals and its conflicted history of including the Other.

I was definitely looking forward to reading it for three reasons.

1. I’m a Marx Brothers fan

2. This was something I never really thought much of when watching their films, and I’m always looking for new material about the famed comedy team.

3. This is the first unpublished book that I’ve reviewed on this website. I wouldn’t be surprised if I become the first one to officially post a review of it.

So how about the book itself? It’s pretty good so far. I got through the first chapter, and Tafoya clearly states his thesis very early on; cites his sources; and shows his love for the Marx Brothers. It’s also pretty apparent that this is not going to be for everyone. It’s a pretty niche book on two fronts – the Marx Brothers and academic ones. Both of these are understandable since Tafoya is a fan of the comedy team, and he’s an English & Philosophy Professor at the New Mexico Highlands University. He’s also written books like Icons of African-American Comedy: A Joke of a Different Color and The Legacy of the Wisecrack: Stand-up Comedy as the Great American Literary Form. Despite its niche subject, I think I’m going to enjoy it.

We have now come to the end of the nineteenth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Book Review

A long time ago, I read a little book called A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. It was a wonderful novel that has influenced a subsection of the lit subgenre that I’d like to call “curmudgeon novels.” Since it was his debut novel, Backman had to follow up with something that was just as good. In 2013, a year after A Man Called Ove was published, he released a book called My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. It’s a good follow up in the most Backman way possible.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is about Elsa (2013 was a great year for characters with that name) – a 7-year-old girl who is different. Her best and only friend is Granny – her brash and crazy grandmother. She tells Elsa stories in the Land of Almost-Awake and in the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. When Granny dies and leaves behind letters apologizing to the people she’s wronged, it’s up to Elsa to deliver those notes. They lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, vicious dogs, and totally ordinary old people, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

I’ve seen book titles, in which I was so fascinated by them that I wanted to immediately read them. Kill the Farm Boy is an example of this. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is different. Not only is it an exciting title, but I also wanted to know the story behind it. With Kill the Farm Boy, I only wanted to read it simply because it was a cool title. My Grandmother invites readers to know what had happened with the grandmother and why she needed to apologize. No other fictional book has done that to me in recent memory.

This is my second Fredrik Backman novel, and I’ve noticed something about his books. They tend to be eccentric on the outside and dark on the inside. Both this one and A Man Called Ove contain stubborn old people as they deal with life in their own idiosyncratic ways. However, as the stories progress, their backstories are revealed piecemeal, and the dark elements become more prevalent. In the latter, Ove tries to kill himself on multiple occasions. In the former, Elsa gets physically bullied by her peers. She even receives notes telling her to kill herself. I know that Elsa is not an old lady, yet I wanted to point out how intense it can get. Luckily, that kind of intensity is mainly in the first third. The rest of the novel focuses on Elsa delivering the apology letters and finding out how every person living in her grandmother’s apartment complex knew the multidimensional old lady and how they are represented in the fairy tales she used to tell her.

Speaking of the supporting characters, readers get their backstories piecemeal, but in more realistic terms than The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. In that book, all but one were all too willing to reveal how they knew Miriam – Arthur’s wife. In My Grandmother, a lot of the tenants were initially reluctant because of how painful their pasts were. At the same time, in the former, Miriam was a friendly person who was well liked by 99% of the people she knew. In the latter, people had polarizing opinions on Granny due to her eccentric behavior.

I like how Backman writes this novel. He definitely gets into the mind of a 7-year-old who has divorced parents and is about to have a half sibling. The best part is how he expresses that mindset. For example, children her age tend to believe everything that people tell them. This is no different from Elsa, who believes everything that Granny says, yet since she’s very intelligent, she has some doubts. In addition, she refuses to get along with her mom’s boyfriend George and her dad’s girlfriend Lizette even though both are friendly because she doesn’t want to get hurt.

The only thing I might complain about is when the book gets into the fairy tales that Granny tells Elsa, it goes in deep and tends to drag. If one is reading the physical book, they might find this annoying as they want to get back to the main story. However, I listened to the audiobook, and I simply tuned out those sections because I knew that their importance would be revealed in simplified forms at later points.

Joan Walker – an English actress – narrates the audiobook. She has voiced other books from Backman like Britt-Marie Was Here and even A Man Called Ove (I’m going to take note of that for an audiobook versus special). For this novel, she does a good job giving vocal distinctions for the female characters. Granny sounds like what one would expect for a brash old lady holding a cigarette in her hands. Walker portrays Elsa as a smart allick, but she can also make the character quiet like a mouse. The second part reminded me of how Eric Idle voiced Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Also like Idle, Walker has some volume issues. She could be very quiet in one second, and then raise her voice in the next. This was especially difficult to get through because Walker tends to deliver important lines to the story quietly. I went “What did she say?” and had to adjust the volume multiple times because of that.

Overall, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman is a good follow up to A Man Called Ove. The novel is about as Backman-esque as one expects after reading one of his books. The characters are interesting and rootable (as long as one tolerates smart allicks). And above all, the title is simply enticing. I would recommend this to those who are reading other Backman novels, to those who like reading books about the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, and to those who enjoy off-the-wall characters. Following up a great novel can be tough, but when done right, it’s worth the read.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Eighteen

Hi Everybody,

It’s been awhile since we’ve had this series, and I’m still reading Miracle Creek by Angie Kim and Confessions of a Bad Ugly Singer by Collette McLafferty.

Today, I’ve got two new books to talk about, so let’s get started!

Dalva by Jim Harrison is about a woman who gave up her son for adoption years ago. At age 45, the title character embarks on a journey that will take her back to the bosom of her family, the half-Sioux man whom she loved when she was a teenager, and her great-grandfather whose journals recounts the annihilation of the Plains Indians. She discovers a story that stretches all across the country, and finds a way to heal her wounded soul.

I’ve gotten to about 20 pages, and it’s interesting so far. From what I’ve read of his past titles, Harrison tends to have a masculine style of writing, but it’s nice to see him depicting women beyond one defining character trait. The book was published in 1988, nine years after Legends of the Fall, so it’s an improvement so far. He’s still digressing, yet it’s only with certain characters, so at least he knows when and when not to use it. I look forward to reading it more.

And now, let’s go to the second and final book of this latest installment…

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers is his extraordinary memoir. At age 21, both of his parents died within five weeks of each other, and he became the legal guardian of his 8-year-old brother Toph. Along with their older siblings, Dave and Toph move to California, and they get an apartment. This is the story of how he raises his brother and of the love that holds his family together.

I was prepared for some sadness with this book, but I wasn’t expecting the funny bits. Even though Dave can come off like an egotist at times, his fantasies of how he would murder all of his enemies were surprisingly hilarious.

This was mainly because of the audiobook narrator Dion Graham. There’s a reason why Graham is one of the most prolific ones around. He’s gotten a lot of accolades for his works, and they are pretty versatile. He has recorded audiobooks for young adult novels like Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas to Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Graham has also worked on audiobooks by authors like Dave Eggers, and I can see why. He embodies whatever he’s saying. Even when Eggers digresses (he tends to do this a lot), Graham gives a reason to why those happen with appropriate tones. Also, his choking sounds left me in pieces. I look forward hearing his voice more on this audiobook.

We have now come to the end of the eighteenth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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Richville: A Silver Lining in Richville-Hopes Springs Eternal-Good vs. Evil, the Struggle Continues Book Review

Full disclosure: The author of the book that I am about to review is a patron at a library that I work at. All of the opinions stated in this review are solely mine.

I’ve noticed that I’m the only person who has reviewed titles in the Richville series by Robert C. Jones. This includes the latest entry Richville: A Silver Lining in Richville-Hope Springs Eternal-Good Vs. Evil, the Struggles Continues and other ones in the future. So once again, get ready for the very first review of the 4th book in the Hallmark-movie-for-older-people series. In a nutshell, I like this one the best compared to the 2nd and 3rd ones.

Richville: A Silver Lining in Richville-Hope Springs Eternal-Good Vs. Evil, the Struggles Continues takes readers back to Richville (as they do) and its wide-ranging characters. With the teapot now found and preserved in the local museum, the cast is now on the lookout for the 1794 silver coin, but there are some outsiders who are looking for it too. Will any of them find it?

Like with the other two entries that I reviewed, the novel is more character-driven. It has two new characters – Reverend Huether and Sam Darling. The reverend is the minister at Richville’s Lutheran Church, and he mainly preaches from the Old Testament, specifically from the Book of Joel, to warn people of the darkness to come. He also expresses concern for the townsfolk, whom he thinks that they’re becoming more selfish and turning away from God. He especially despises Mandy Menage, who’s been teaching the members of the Effervescent Rose Society Chakra – a set of focus points used in ancient meditation practices in Hinduism. I like that he’s the counter narrative even though not many people agree with him. He doesn’t have much to do besides spewing his beliefs and getting involved with the coin at one point. I wish he was portrayed in a more positive light. Maybe he will be more developed in the future.

And then we have Sam Darling. Darling belongs to a numismatic society and a financing group both from Philadelphia. He’s basically the villain of this story. He’s after the coin by any means necessary, and he acts like he knows everything. He’s so evil that he uses rabbits in experiments to slow down the aging process. Obviously, people are suspicious of him, and SPOILERS: he gets caught.

What surprised me while reading this book is the development of some of the recurring characters like Dana McElvy and Malcolm’s great-granddaughters. Dana McElvy is so consumed with finding the coin that it’s taking a toll on her mental health. In the previous entries, she never did much because she was always moping and wanting someone to give her a sign. Here, readers see the harmful effects of her obsessing over the valuable item. She drinks herself to the point of passing out (something that Eleanor Oliphant can relate to). At the end, she decides to get her life back together by practicing Chakra principles. I look forward to seeing her get better.

Meanwhile, in previous titles, Malcolm’s great-granddaughters – Hope, Faith, and Destiny, were rambunctious and mischievous with no real distinct characteristics to tell them apart. In this novel, I could tell them apart. Hope is the leader of the group. Faith is the nice one, and Destiny is the impatient one. The leather-cladded trio are still devious as they’re still after the coin, but they all want to settle down, get married, and have kids. In other words, this task is their last hurrah as thieves. Also, one of their tactics to find the coin surprisingly helps them to save a life, and they kick some grade-A ass during the rescue.

The point that I made in the previous Richville book reviews still stands (the melodrama, idealism, and rose-colored narrative), but I wasn’t bothered by it as much, thus making this one the best in the series. This was mainly because there was much more character development than I expected. Also, unlike in the 3rd novel, it wasn’t mainly people moping and whining because they took action!

There are only three things that I have to complain about. The first is that there were some grammar issues like putting a period before the sentence is supposed to end and being verbose while talking about the Knudsons’ Swedish heritage. The second is that I finally realized that the author mainly knows how to write for an older person, but not so much for a younger one. This became apparent when one of Malcolm’s great-granddaughters first talks about wanting to settle down, and she mentions procreating. My mind went, “What kind of woman talks like that?”

Hope, Faith, and Destiny are supposed to be in the late 30s, and I’ve never heard any woman use that kind of wording. Now, you might say, “Well, the Amish or some other religious people might discuss it that way.”

That’s true, but these characters are not religious at all. That’s why I found it so jarring. 

The third is the title. I’ve complained about vague ones in the past, but sometimes, they can be too verbose. It’s like the author threw some phrases together that could explain the essence of the story, but it’s all a bit too much. The title could have been something like Richville: A Silver Lining, and it would’ve been enough.

Overall, Richville: A Silver Lining in Richville-Hope Springs Eternal-Good Vs. Evil, the Struggles Continues by Robert C. Jones is the best book in the Richville series that I’ve read so far. It has different perspectives and more development in the recurring characters. If you’ve been following these book reviews, you’ll know who I will recommend this novel to. If there’s a fifth book, I’ll definitely look forward to it!

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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism Book Review

You know how there’s always that one book that has a cult around it? For example, if someone tries to criticize it, fans will dismiss them as ignorant of the novel’s true message and insist on reading the title in order to understand or in other words, “drink the Kool-Aid.” That’s the vibe that I get when I read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and its reviews. What the book is about is all in the title. As Goodreads reviewer Lady H puts it, it’s basically Racism 101 for White Folks (like myself), yet it doesn’t always work.

Like other titles that I’m mixed on, I’ll focus on the positive aspects first and negative ones second. Readers, especially those who want to explore the concept of racism further, will naturally gravitate towards this book. I mean, this title has been on the New York Times Best Sellers Paperback Nonfiction list for 151 weeks as of this week! So, I can’t say that it doesn’t have an audience.

In addition, DiAngelo definitely has good intentions. There are people who will get defensive whenever others discuss racism or racial discrimination, but why? DiAngelo basically describes white fragility as the result of white people being “insulated from racial stress …. [and feeling] entitled to and deserving of [their advantage] since they ‘haven’t had to build [their] racial stamina’” (p. 1-2). 

In other words, since society tends to view the white race as neutral, white people never had to see themselves in terms of race, and therefore be biased, as often as other ethnicities.

Moreover, I got two things out of this book. One of those things is the good/bad binary. In Chapter 5, the author claims that this was created after the civil rights movement when people (mainly white Northerners) started labelling racists as “mean, ignorant, old, uneducated, Southern whites” (p. 71). Everything opposite of that meant one was not racist. I absolutely agree that this binary needs to go into the trash. I have an uncle who hated black people for a very long time, but in all my years of knowing him, I never thought that he was a bad person. It also doesn’t help that when Hollywood releases a period piece about race, the racists are usually mean, white people who wear their hatred like a badge. To help dismantle this notion, DiAngelo mentions that she “likes to think of [herself] on a continuum.” Even though she asserts that she will never get herself out of this in her lifetime, she can “continually seek to move further along it” (p. 87). What does she mean by this? Simply put, she means that by placing herself in this continuum, she is judging her actions not on whether or not she is a racist, but on if she is consciously combatting racism in the given context and how. I think that’s some good advice.

The other good thing that I got out of this is my gained confidence in knowing how I may have been insensitive to certain people of color that I knew in the past. In the final chapter, DiAngelo recounts a time, in which she made an inconsiderate remark about her black co-worker’s hair to Angela – a black web developer. Once she was told about how offended the developer was, she took the time to apologize and see how she could do better. Then, she found out she unintentionally offended Angela by pushing a survey that she wrote. Angela said this, “And I have spent my life justifying my intelligence to white people” (p. 139-140). 

This helped me to put into perspective of how sometimes people, especially those of color, have to really prove themselves that they are intelligent, so they won’t be seen as stupid. I usually saw people bragging about their intelligence as simply being egotistical, but listening to others reveals more inner motives.

Now let’s move onto the negative aspects. For starters, I wish DiAngelo would have used more concrete examples. She relies on books and articles for mostly historical context as well as personal experiences from her seminars. I think the examples of white fragility could have been stronger if there was more research to support that notion.

I also have an issue with how DiAngelo insists that white people should not rely on people of color for their racial education. She claims that the latter are expected to speak about racial issues because they’re not “racially innocent” and have to do so on white terms (p. 62). Instead, she insists on seeking that information out in books (like this one haha), websites, film, and other available sources (p. 146). In other words, white people must seek materials on racial issues on people of color’s terms. There was something that felt off about that. Luckily, John McWhorter – a contributing writer for The Atlantic and a professor at Columbia University – articulated the problem. In his article critiquing White Fragility, McWhorter claims that if one solely relied on sources about racial issues, one “will be accused of holding actual Black people at a remove, reading the wrong sources, or drawing the wrong lessons from them.” That’s why it’s important to balance out the physical sources with listening to people of color and their experiences with racism.

Another problem is that all of this book can be summarized like this: 1. Don’t be so defensive when race is being discussed, 2. Listen to people of color, and 3. Don’t be an idiot. Normally, I wouldn’t have an issue with repetition, but the fact that these three outcomes are repeated over and over in 155 pages made it kind of irritating.

My biggest criticism of this book is the fact that the author herself is white. Before you call me a racist, let me explain. I understand that DiAngelo is a diversity consultant, but because she’s white, she most likely doesn’t have the personal experiences of being discriminated against. I’m not saying she, as a white person, shouldn’t have written this book. In fact, I’m ok with white people writing books about various topics that are primarily associated with the BIPOC community. For example, Amy Stanley (who’s white) got accolades with her nonfiction title Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World – a book about a Japanese woman living in early nineteenth-century Japan, and I can see why. She has the utmost respect for her subject and location and doesn’t act like she knows everything about it. When I read White Fragility, I got the feeling that DiAngelo thinks she knows everything about racism because she’s a diversity consultant. Again, I have nothing against the book itself. I simply wish that this book was written by someone of color to give it more authenticity and credibility.

Overall, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo is alright. I wish the author was not white, so it could be more authentic, or at least have her get off her high horse every now and then. In fact, her whiteness resulted in many of my issues with the book. Despite those aspects, I still managed to get some things out that will stick with me for a long time. For those who are looking to read this manual as part of their racial education, I will recommend this title only if they supplement it with other books, preferably ones written by people of color like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Whatever you do: don’t treat this like it’s the Bible of racial education because it’s simply not.

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The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding Book Review

I love looking at wedding dresses, and I enjoy reading historical fiction. I’m also getting married this year. It just so happens that all of these things collided when I read The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson – a very good novel that contains more substance than people would normally expect.

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding mainly takes place in 1947 London, and it’s about two embroiderers,  Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, who work for the famed designer Norman Hartnell. They forge an unlikely friendship, yet their hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen to take part in creating Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. Meanwhile, in 2016 Toronto, Heather Mackenzie tries to unravel a mystery of a set of embroidered flowers that her late grandmother, who never spoke of her time in Great Britain, possessed. It just so happens that they resemble quite closely to the ones seen on Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress. 

First things first, I know some people don’t like how basic the title is, but I love it! I adore how it signifies the importance of a specific dress and how excited people get when looking forward to seeing it, especially in a time when people had to ration. Also, I enjoy saying “The Gown” like an artistic movie director describing their mindsets while filming. And, this is coming from someone who would normally make fun of those vague titles (see The Child for reference).

As I mentioned in my “What Am I Reading” section on this book, I had a hunch that it was going to be more than just pretty dresses, and I was right. The book doesn’t talk much about the gown itself (luckily, one can easily search for photos of it.) It focuses more on the relationship between Ann – a British woman who lost a brother during the war – and Miriam – a French Jewish woman who was in French Resistance and later in the Ravenbruck concentration camp. During the course of the novel, Ann and Miriam become sincere friends. As loners in the world, they help each other get through some tough times. For Miriam, Ann sees her as an artist before she realizes that herself and accepts her for who she is. For Ann, Miriam completely understands what happens to her after a man who she was seeing abuses her, and she imparts some advice on how to move on. I felt invested in this friendship because of the ones that I’ve forged over the years as well as the hope it instills into readers. As a result, the book is pretty pleasant read despite one disturbing rape scene.

As much as I enjoyed reading The Gown, I had two complaints. One is that I felt the author spent a little too much time with Heather – Ann’s granddaughter. I noticed that each of the chapters is devoted to Ann, Miriam, and Heather in that order. In the beginning, I was not all that into Heather’s story since I didn’t want to hear that she got laid off, and I wanted the novel to go back to 1947. It got a little better once Heather flew to England and met Miriam and her grandson Daniel because it was more integrated with the main story. I still wished that she would have brought her mother along just so she could see Ann’s work on the dress. The other critique is that I didn’t understand why Ann didn’t tell her daughter and granddaughter about her work with that wedding dress as well as why she and Miriam lost contact after the former moved to Canada. I get that she wanted to get away from the guy who took advantage of her, and it may take a long time for someone to move on from trauma, yet the book makes it seems that she had mostly a good time working on the gown. Also, she could have mailed a letter with her new address to Miriam, and they could have corresponded that way. However, I can see how both wanted to move on with their lives, and maybe being reminded of the other would trigger something in their past, yet their sudden distance felt abrupt. I guess if Ann did those things, we wouldn’t have the Heather subplot.

American-born English actress Marisa Calin narrates the audiobook. She has been nominated and won some awards for her work, both in an ensemble and solo, and she does a fairly good job. She maintains English, French, Canadian, and Irish accents and their distinct flairs well. The only thing I have to complain about is that the men sound very similar. 

Overall, The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson is a pretty good historical fiction book. Despite some flawed details, the main characters and their friendship will win readers as they demonstrate hope and resilience in tough times. I would definitely recommend it to those who love historical fiction, especially ones that take place before, during, or after World War II; fashion; and books about members of the royal family. It’s amazing to think that one wedding dress not only inspired a nation, but also a wonderful historical fiction book.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Seventeen

Hi Everybody!!

As promised from last time, I have a nearly new batch of titles that I can’t wait to show you, so let’s get started!

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella is about a woman with a complicated family, a handsome guy, and an IOU that changes everything. Fixie Farr likes to fix things. That’s her nature, even if it means picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own when running the family housewares store. Then one day at a coffee shop, a handsome stranger asks her to watch his laptop. Not only does she agree, but she also saves it from certain disaster. It turns out that the stranger – Sebastian – is an investment manager. He scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. Fixie would never claim that. Would she? And then, her childhood crush Ryan comes back in her life, and she tries to convince Sebastian to give him a job. As a result, Fixie and Sebastian pass a series of IOUs to each other. It gets to the point where she is torn between her family and the life she wants to live. Will she take a stand and grab the life and love she really wants?

Before going into this novel, the only thing that I knew was that the author Sophie Kinsella had written Confessions of a Shopaholic. I never read that book, but from what I’m reading so far, I get the feeling that she likes to write quirky female protagonists with a “fatal” flaw. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s only something that I’ve noticed.

In fact, I’m enjoying the light read so far. I like Fixie and her OCD-like tendency to fix everything in sight even though she’s a hot mess. I want her to think of herself more, especially when other people like her self-centered siblings Jake and Nicole walk all over her. It feels like a Cinderella story, but with a less than perfect main character. But then again, one can say that a lot of romance and chick-lit are basically Cinderella tales. I look forward to seeing if Fixie gets to live the life and have the love that she really wants.

Now let’s go a little darker for our second title…

The Suspect by Fiona Barton is the third installment of the Kate Waters series. After two teenagers disappear during their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrown into the international spotlight. As a reporter, Kate Waters tries to get to the story first. As she digs into it more, the more she thinks of her son who’s been traveling for the last two years. All will soon discover that no matter how far away they are, danger can lie closer to home than one might think.

Those who’ve followed this website long enough will be familiar with the running gag of me making fun of Fiona Barton’s titles to her novel. This is no exception as this one is the most basic. However, the more I read it, the more clear it is of who the suspect is, so I’ll give credit to her for making the title personal as well as more specific than I initially thought.

I’ve also mentioned how predictable Barton’s work has been in the past, and this novel is no different. I figured out who the suspect was within the first audiobook disc.

Speaking of the audiobook, I’m listening to that right now. Susan Duerden – an actress who’s best known for playing Carole Littleton on Lost and has recorded many books on tape – plays Waters. Mandy Williams previously narrated as her, so I’m confused as to why the role was recast. She did a great job portraying her with determination and empathy in The Widow and The Child, whereas Duerden feels little more tired, but maybe that’s to signify how much Kate has aged. I really don’t know.

Fiona Hardingham takes on the role of Alex – one of the missing teenagers. She had previously acted in roles such as a News Anchor in Godzilla: King of the Monsters and an Arrival Video Narrator in Pokemon Detective Pikachu as well as narrated several other audiobooks. I like how she strikes a balance between a juvenile and a mature voice for a teenager who plans so much in advance, and yet everything goes wrong the moment she and her friend land in Thailand. Too bad there’s not a whole lot for Hardingham to do beside read Alex’s Facebook posts.

Katharine Lee McEwan is back and plays Leslie – Alex’s mother. She’s fine, but it’s similar role to Angela in The Child. To be fair, Leslie and Angela are similar characters as both are heartbroken for their missing children.

Another actor who’s back is Nicholas Guy Smith, and he voices Detective Bob Sparkes. It’s nice to hear Smith inject frustration and sadness into Sparkes since that character hasn’t been really been present since The Widow. In this book, Sparkes’s wife is going through chemotherapy while he helps Kate with the investigation whenever he can. I hope he has more to do, so I can listen to Smith’s voice more.

And now, let’s go to the third and final book of this latest installment…

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim follows a murder trial after a hyperbaric chamber in a small town in Virginia explodes and kills two people including an autistic child. A showdown unfolds among various characters who may or may not be keeping secrets in regards to what happened.

I just started this novel a few days ago, and it got me hooked right from the start. The moment where the author describes the explosion and how the characters Young Yoo and her daughter Mary witness it shook me. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the trial pans out and who the culprit is.

We have now come to the end of the seventeenth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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