Girls Burn Brighter

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**Thank you to the publisher, Flatiron Books, for an advanced reader copy (ARC) to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

In general, I don’t need a book to remind me how fortunate I am or to help me be more grateful for the life I live. But Girls Burn Brighter was one of them that had me on my knees thanking God for the blessings I have!

This story is heartbreaking in so many ways. Poornima, a young girl coming-of-age in India, loses her mother just as her family is getting ready to marry her off. As is custom in India, the wedding was put on hold after her mother’s death, and while this should seem like an insignificant part of the story, it is, in fact, the turning point for everything that will happen to Poornima.

Once Poornima is finally married off, she must leave her family and best friend behind. But once she’s gone, her best friend, Savitha, is never far from her mind. They have a special bond that will tie them together forever, regardless of time or distance. This bond allows each of the girls to survive with hope that they will one day be united again.

What I loved about this book was the friendship between Poornima and Savitha. It was the definition of true love – ultimately, the only thing that mattered was the other person’s well-being and happiness. They cared deeply for each other, and even after being separated without knowing anything about the other’s whereabouts or circumstances, they had an inexplicable connection to each other. Rao conveyed this commitment to each other so beautifully; it was my favorite aspect of the book.

Sadly, the thing about this book that didn’t work for me was what the book was about: human trafficking. I’ve heard the statistics about human and sex trafficking; it’s a lot more prevalent than many of us realize. This book brings to light the ease with which these men so callously buy, sell, and trade these women (oftentimes, they truly are still children). They are subjected to horrific and inhumane treatment. Some of the parts of the book are incredibly hard to read.

Any time a story comes along that sheds some light on atrocities, I’m all for it! That’s one of the reasons I read: to learn about things I don’t know about. However, in my opinion, when an author chooses to take on such emotionally difficult subject matter, they are taking on a huge responsibility. It isn’t enough to just bring the issue to light – you must also make that emotional connection to the reader as a call to action. Upset them, enrage them, make them cry! Then, maybe you will inspire action and change. Maybe then someone will rise up to be the voice for these girls that they don’t have themselves.

The book didn’t do this for me. And I think it’s a huge travesty for me to say that I actually felt very indifferent to it all. It read like fiction instead of reality – which it very much is real and happening right now, in this country! Let me be clear: it was difficult to read, but instead of outraging me and forcing me to connect the story with real life, it felt like the author just included it for shock value. And that, to me, is unacceptable given the subject matter.

 

 

 

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After You

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I admit: I HATE when a sweet love story gets me, but I truly enjoyed After You by Jojo Moyes! I had no intention of reading it, but when the publishers sent me a copy of Still Me (#3 in the trilogy), I did what every #bookstagrammer does – I took it to my #instastories and asked you guys what to do! Those of you who answered made it clear that I couldn’t skip After You (which secretly bummed me out because now I was having to commit to not one, but TWO more books…and my #TBR pile is ever growing and the last thing I needed was to add TWO more books!!!! #bookwormproblems).

Anyway, I bit the bullet and added TWO more books!!!, and I’m so glad I did.

Apparently, I like Louisa Clark more than I want to admit! 😉

I remember after reading Me Before You that I loved Will’s character. But now I’m confused because I LOVE and ADORE Sam in After You (is it possible for Will to be dethroned?!?! #askingforafriend)! I’m crossing my fingers that they somehow make this long distance relationship work because I can’t imagine that Moyes has it in her to create THREE dreamy, lust-worthy guys!

I haven’t read Still Me yet so I can’t determine if I could have skipped After You or not, but I’m super glad I didn’t (shoutout to those of you that said I needed to read it!). It was a lovely continuation of the first book. The new characters were a wonderful addition, and I appreciated the development of the previous ones. I like Louisa Clark as a grieving woman who also has a solid amount of strength (and humor) within her that keeps her from just wallowing endlessly in despair.

The underlying theme of After You is grief of a loved one and how to start moving forward. I loved the message that we are all imprinted with love in some way – and if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, that “moving on/forward” doesn’t mean you’re leaving them behind or forgetting about them. I imagine the loss of a spouse/significant other is different in many ways than that of a parent, but there are so many similarities in all the different kinds of grief and I loved how Moyes incorporated all losses throughout the book.

After reading this one, I’m even more excited about Still Me; I can’t wait to get to it!

The Great Alone

 

IMG_0807**Thank you to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for my free finished copy to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Wild. That’s how I describe it all. My love. My life. Alaska. Truthfully, it’s all the same to me. Alaska doesn’t attract many; most are too tame to handle life up here. But when she gets her hooks in you, she digs deep and holds on, and you become hers. Wild. A lover of cruel beauty and splendid isolation. And God help you, you can’t live anywhere else.”

I finished this book last week but needed some time to process my thoughts and feelings. Without giving away any spoilers, let’s just say that this book hit very close to home. I was raised with an angry, volatile, and abusive stepfather. My mom, brother, and I continually walked on eggshells, never quite sure what would set my stepdad off. What didn’t cause a problem one day would be the same thing that was grounds for a massive explosion the next. It wasn’t until years later that I realized just how agonizing and difficult it is to live under these conditions on a daily basis. It took me years, and lots of patience on my husband’s part, to recondition my mind and view on what “love” is. I am grateful every day that I was one of the lucky few who broke free from the abusive cycle and that my children don’t know what it’s like to live in a home that’s in a constant upheaval.

Maybe it’s because I had such a personal connection to the story, but I tore through this one. I could not read it fast enough. It was heartbreaking, but in the end, it was also full of hope.

Leni’s coming-of-age story shows strength, determination, survival, and above all else, hope. Against the backdrop of beautiful Alaska, Leni is thrust onto a scene she knows absolutely nothing about. As winter sets in, her family must learn the very basic skills necessary to survive the grueling elements. Living in the Last Frontier is not for the faint of heart! Despite her brutality, the Allbrights come to love Alaska. The neighbors become family and offer protection to Leni and her mother when they needed it the most.

I felt like Hannah did a wonderful job of portraying the contradicting emotions of an abused woman. While it may seem like a very simple decision to leave an abusive husband, it’s oftentimes much more complicated than just walking out the door. I didn’t think the abusive scenes were unrealistic, though this is one critique that I have heard quite a bit. To me, Hannah gave just enough narrative to get the point across, but didn’t dwell on the details like she could have. The fact of the matter is: this story revolves around an abusive husband/father and there’s really no way to get around that in order to make readers more comfortable.

(**Obvious trigger warnings for anyone that has a history with abuse!**)

Also, I loved Hannah’s character development in this one. I even had a soft-spot for Leni’s father. Hannah made me feel his brokenness when it would have been far easier to create a character that was easy to hate. I rooted for Leni and her mother throughout the novel. Were some of her mother’s decisions difficult to understand? Absolutely. But again, unless you’ve lived under similar circumstances, these decisions may not make a whole lot of sense. To me, it was very realistic – and heartbreaking. An unexpected character that emerged for me was the state of Alaska herself. She is definitely a character in this book and Hannah painted her so beautifully she made me think I could survive a winter living there (if you know me, this is a totally laughable statement)!

There are certain books that make me tear up every now and then, but this one had me sobbing my heart out. I loved the characters, the scene, and the emotions of this book. I feel confident in saying this will be one of my favorite reads of 2018!

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

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If I had a #WeylynGrey in my life, maybe he could get it to stop snowing and make my flowers bloom!?!? 🌺🌼🌷
This one is a #DNF for me at 62%. It’s a sweet, whimsical story…that’s just not for me. It’s along the same lines as Ove and Eleanor Oliphant – neither of which I liked. What I’ve come to realize is that these types of stories are just not enjoyable to me.

Earlier this week, I had asked when you guys “give up” on a book. One response was “When I stop caring,” and for some reason, that answer just clicked for me. When I’m loving a book, I forgo a lot of other things because I just can’t read it fast enough. When a book takes me more than two days to read, it’s obvious that I just don’t care.

That’s how this one was for me…though I know I’m in the minority as this one made many other’s favorite lists.

What’s one genre that just doesn’t work for you?

An American Marriage

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I finished this book several days ago and for reasons I can’t quite figure out, I’ve had the hardest time sitting down to write a review that is worthy of how truly great this novel is.

I want to scream out loud: “GO GET THIS BOOK AND READ IT!” “THIS BOOK IS SO GREAT!”

And it is both of those things – but it’s also so much more.

This book forces you to analyze what marriage, commitment, loyalty, and love are. It will break your heart, but then it will piece it back together with hope.

You will fall in love with ALL the characters – their flaws and imperfections, strengths and virtues.

You will be angry at the reality of the situation and you will wonder when we – humanity – will ever get this right.

The best kind of books are ones that make you feel #allthefeels. This one does just that in the most fantastic way!

I’m going out on a limb to say that this is my favorite read of 2018 so far. What book would you add to the #Bestof2018 list?

 

Girl in Pieces

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I don’t know much about the reasons why a person may chose to self-harm, so when I ran across this book, the synopsis instantly grabbed me.

Charlotte Davis is seventeen-years-old and cuts her arms and legs in attempt to numb herself from her life. She doesn’t want to die and she’s not crying out for attention – she just doesn’t want to hurt anymore. Her whole life has been one devastating disappointment after another and cutting is the only thing that seemingly makes her feel like she has – at least a little bit of – control over herself and her life.

It is heartbreaking in it’s honesty. It is raw and emotionally taxing. But it is also hopeful. Glasgow gives her characters a chance to come out – not fixed – but mended, in the end. In the face of utter loneliness, I closed the book feeling like they had a chance to finally know happiness and after all the things we learned, I needed that sense of hope and closure.

There are several trigger warnings; specifically, triggers for self-harm / addiction / homelessness / absentee parents / death of a parent.

That may be one of the only things I didn’t like about the book. Glasgow presents so many different challenges for her characters that it felt, at times, overwhelming and almost like she was packing too much into the story. However, I didn’t find that it made the story any less believable.

The writing could be criticized as choppy and too quick, but I enjoyed the author’s style and thought it lent itself well to the mind of a lost seventeen-year-old.

After I had finished the book, I wanted that hope and happiness for I felt for Charlotte and truly prayed she had finally found a version of herself she could be kind to. She was far braver than I ever would have been if given her circumstances, I found myself cheering Charlotte on from the sidelines!

Red Clocks

**Thank you Little, Brown & Company for my free final copy in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.**

“Which (the disbelief) was stupid. She knew – it was her job as a teacher of history to know – how many horrors are legitimated in public daylight, against the will of most of the people.”

Imagine a country where women no longer have a say in what they can do with their own bodies. They can’t consent to an abortion, they can’t get in-vitro fertilization, and if they’re not married, they can’t decide to adopt a child. Sounds like one of “those” places far, far away from America, right?

In Leni Zumas’ latest novel, Red Clocks, this is actually the reality for all women living in the United States. The Constitution has been ratified to criminalize all such behavior, and the future looks so very grim.

Suddenly, all women’s behavior looks totally suspect. It seems like one would have to live always looking over her shoulder – waiting for the law to prosecute her under some obscure violation. Nowhere is safe; everybody is watching. It’s bleak and grim; ultimately, it feels very hopeless.

What made this novel so great is Zumas’ ability to present five women who are affected by this law in very different ways. It’s so easy to think about our own personal situations and how we would be affected if this imaginary world was, in fact, reality. However, Zumas expertly weaves five different perspectives into a powerful narrative that forces the reader to feel empathy and compassion for each scenario.

Sometimes these laws that are debated by our elected officials seem so irrelevant to us as regular citizens; it isn’t until the law is actually passed that we realize the impact it actually has on us as individuals. Many fall into the trapped way of thinking, “Oh, that doesn’t affect me because (**insert various excuses here**)” but this book masterfully showed why decisions have a way of impacting ALL OF US.

For example, maybe you’re a man and you think an abortion law means nothing to your personal freedoms. But what happens when your wife can’t get pregnant and you desperately want a baby? (Granted, in this novel, if you’re married, you still have another option not available to a single woman.) Or would if your daughter ends up pregnant and you know she is not in a place to become a mother at such a young age? If you think the best thing is to have an abortion? Sadly, in this novel, that choice isn’t up to you.

To me, this isn’t a discussion about whether or not abortion/IVF/adoption should be legal or not. It’s about how far we’re (as a country) willing to let the government make decisions for us. One of the founding principles of this country was freedom – freedom from tyranny and dictatorship. As a nation, we’re seeing various issues coming up for discussion that, I, for one, have taken for granted. I’m guilty of that “that will never happen/if it does happen, it won’t be that bad” mentality, so a book like this is a call to action to really examine our personal thoughts and beliefs to determine which of those are worth fighting to preserve. I don’t think we want to be caught in a situation like the book presents only to realize we should have started fighting long before it’s too late.