WWW Wednesday 06/20/18

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:

 

I’m constantly multi-tasking with my reading… I’m working through the audio book for The Hate U Give, a physical copy of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, and an ARC of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom on my Kindle.

Recently finished:

 

My Real Name is Hanna was reviewed here. This is my favorite book I’ve read lately.
The Space Between was reviewed here.
I didn’t post a review for A Separate Peace. I always feel kind of odd about reviewing classics, but I’m not sure I fully get the appeal with this one. It wasn’t a bad book by any means, but I didn’t really see anything in it that would explain why it’s become required reading for practically all American schoolchildren.

Reading next:

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This is the last book I had on my June TBR that I haven’t started yet… and it’s the longest. I’m hoping to get to it, but I’ve been dealing with a lot of ARCs, so we’ll see. I’ve owned this book for going on a decade, so I think it’s well past time to actually read it!

I also wanted to mention that I just hit a milestone on this blog: 100 followers! Thank you all for reading! It’s lovely getting to connect with fellow book lovers.

What are you reading right now? Do you have any thoughts on the books in this post? Please share in the comments! If you have a WWW post for today, feel free to link it here.

ARC Review – My Real Name Is Hanna, by Tara Lynn Masih

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My Real Name Is Hanna
by Tara Lynn Masih

Coming September 15, 2018

Length: 208 pages

Genre: Historical fiction, YA

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Blurb via GoodReads:

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

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I don’t know where to begin with this book. Hanna will stay close to my heart for a long time to come. My Real Name Is Hanna explores one of the darkest times in history, but does so with a remarkable spirit of hope and faith in mankind. Central to the theme of this book is a sense of connection which transcends divides such as religious beliefs.

One of the most touching relationships in this book is between our young Jewish protagonist, Hanna, and her elderly Christian neighbor, Alla, who takes on a somewhat grandmotherly role to Hanna. Hanna’s parents don’t entirely approve of the work which she does for Alla, assisting her in decorating pysanky, a kind of Ukrainian Easter egg which is intricately decorated and rich with symbolism. At one point in the story, Alla gifts Hanna with a pysanka decorated with symbols from Jewish folklore, a gesture which speaks to a deep abiding love and the mutual respect they have for one another’s cultures and beliefs.

Hanna’s father examines the bird painted on the egg and speculates on the meaning behind it. Perhaps it is a phoenix, which would symbolize patience, or perhaps it is the Ziz, which would be a symbol of protection.

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This passage is, in a lot of ways, the crux of the novel to me. Alla and Hanna connect, not by ignoring their differences, but by embracing them, finding ways to bridge the gap, and a mutual habit of never addressing one another with a sense of superiority. This merging of cultural traditions in a time of sharp division and iniquity was a poignant symbol of hope in the fundamental goodness of people.

There is a lot of darkness in this book; it is a YA book, so it avoids going into grisly detail about some of the worst of Nazi atrocities, but it is honest and clear about the fact that Hannah and her family are facing the imminent threat of death. They endure unspeakable hardship, sustained in large part by their love for one another. They have lost their home, almost all of their possessions, and any sense of security in their own country, but familial love endures as they hold on by a thread.

Inspired by a true story of a family that survived the Holocaust by hiding out underground, this novel is a timely reminder of all that’s at stake when we fail to acknowledge the humanity of the Other. Above all else, we must value kindness and connection.

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I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

ARC Review – The Space Between, by Dete Meserve

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The Space Between, by Dete Meserve
Coming July 24, 2018
Preorder:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Blurb via GoodReads:

After presenting a major scientific breakthrough to a rapt audience across the country, renowned astronomer Sarah Mayfield returns home to a disturbing discovery. Her husband, Ben, a Los Angeles restaurateur, has disappeared, leaving behind an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean. The only answers their son, Zack, can offer are the last words his father said to him: keep the doors locked and set the alarm.

Sarah’s marriage was more troubled than anyone suspected, but now she is afraid that her husband’s recent past could be darker than she dares to admit. Suspecting that nothing about Ben’s vanishing is what it seems, Sarah must delve into the space between old memories, newfound fears, and misleading clues to piece together the mystery of her husband’s disappearance—and find what she hopes in her heart is the truth.

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This was a great summer read! I got completely pulled into the story and I finished it in a day.

I really loved Sarah as a protagonist; I’m a sucker for a story with a female scientist, and Sarah is a high-ranking researcher for NASA who weaves her knowledge of astronomy into how she processes everything in her day-to-day life. Sarah’s way of thinking was engaging, and the story touched on her struggles as a woman in a STEM field; she feels underestimated based on her gender. Later on in the story, she also struggles with potential problems in her career due to the controversy and news coverage regarding her husband.

Overall, Sarah’s identity as a scientist worked really well, but there were a few passages that fell really flat for me. Meserve has a few lapses where really common knowledge seems to be presented as Sarah’s specialized knowledge from her work at NASA. For example, I don’t think any readers needed the protagonist to explain to us that moonlight is simply reflected sunlight. Conversely, passages such as the one that worked into the story the difference between a constellation vs. an asterism felt a lot more valuable and natural.

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I do have to say that the mystery in this novel felt just a bit too heavy-handed on the foreshadowing and predictable to me. I was able to put the pieces together faster than the protagonist; however, this didn’t seem to be as much as a detriment to the story as it could have been. Meserve was able to get me invested enough in the characters that I felt content to watch Sarah work through the mystery after the conclusion felt relatively obvious.

This was fun, fast-paced story which blended mystery, suspense, and just a touch of romance. A great beach read for this summer.

Dete Meserve is also the author of Good Sam and Perfectly Good Crime

(I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.) 

WWW Wednesday 06/13/18

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:

 

Tied to Deceit, by Neena H Brar. (ARC) This is a murder mystery and so far I have zero theories as to the culprit… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have too many theories, as practically every character has a potential motive.
Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. I’ve been meaning to read this biography for ages and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.

Recently finished:

Swear on This Life, by Renee Carlino. This was a contemporary romance. Read my review here.

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor. I caved to all the hype and read this YA fantasy novel, and I don’t regret it. Read my review here.

Not Her Daughter, by Rea Frey. (ARC) Kind of a mystery/suspense novel? This one was hard to categorize for me. It’s about a woman who kidnaps a little girl because her mother is abusive. Read my review here.

Reading Next:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I got the audio book for this one through my library, and I’m starting it as soon as I finish the 30+ hours of Alexander Hamilton. So… it could be a minute before I get to it.

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. This has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for… let’s just say years.

What are you reading this week?

In Defense of Chick Lit

Chick Lit: You know that section in the bookshop all the men seem to give a wide berth, full of covers sporting bright colors, flowers, high heels, and handbags?

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Yeah, that one. The label “Chick Lit” comes with an air of illegitimacy, of low quality, a kindergarten-level eww-girls-have-cooties kind of disgust. If classic literature is a well-balanced meal, chick lit is a slice of chocolate cake: maybe fun while it’s going down, but lacking any substance or real nourishment. Literature is for everyone. Chick lit is only for silly women with bad taste.

But is this a fair assessment or just snobbery? And what exactly does it take to get a book labeled “chick lit?”

A quick browsing of the popular books listed in the category on GoodReads reveals books such as The Devil Wears Prada, My Sister’s Keeper, The Help, and Fifty Shades of Grey, and that’s without leaving the first page. These books are worlds apart in tone as well as subject matter, seemingly connected only by the fact that they all contain female characters doing things and having feelings. For shame!

What warrants that label on these particular books?

Let’s take The Help, for example. The fact that anyone has tagged it as chick lit is, at best, confusing to me. The Help takes place in 1962 and revolves around Skeeter and her journalistic project: getting the stories of black women working as maids to wealthy white families in the rural south. Skeeter wants to help give these largely ignored women a voice. This book has faced plenty of criticism for its treatment of race, and I’m not dismissing that, nor am I really going to address it here. Roxane Gay explores this issue far better than I could in Bad Feminist. But the point here is not whether or not it’s a good book or whether Katheryn Stockett handled racial issues with appropriate sensitivity. The point is that there’s something that feels insidious about a person reading a book about racial relations in the south in 1962 and, because the main characters were female, walking away with the message that this is a book for women.

Let’s move on to My Sister’s Keeper. Again, this book touches on some really heavy issues, including a dying child and how a family grapples with the issue of bodily autonomy of the healthy sister who has continually been pushed into transfusions to help keep her alive. This is a book that demands that we ask difficult ethical questions. Again, why is this designated as only for women?

Chick lit is a category so nebulous as to be almost meaningless, but it seems that often what is meant by the label is something along the lines of: “a book which is lighthearted and perhaps a bit trivial while also committing the mortal sin of being girly; probably contains romance.” This just seems a bit odd to me. Men write fluffy, self-indulgent books with little to no substance all the time (I’m looking at you, Ernest Cline) and we don’t relegate them to their own separate sub-genre for it. And for the record, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluffy, self-indulgent books. We all read them sometimes, and they’re fun. We can’t spend all of our time reading stuffy literature that grapples with heavy philosophical issues.

But when one actually takes the time to browse which books are being labeled as chick lit, it seems that anything marketed to women is fair game, and there is no truly analogous category when it comes to media that men consume.

What it comes down to is that it’s taken for granted that women will be willing to consume media about men, while the reverse is not true. Men write about their emotional journey and they’ve written about “the human condition.” Women write about their emotional journey and it’s “chick lit.” Men’s work is universal because men are the default. Women’s work is a sub-genre unless those women bend over backwards to be marketable to men.

There are some lovely books that a lot of readers will never touch because the publishers saw a female author writing about a female character, slapped a flowery cover on it, labeled it “chick lit” and called it a day. It’s time to drop our assumptions about a sub-genre when it’s become so broad as to have room for both The Help and Fifty Shades. It’s okay to give chick lit a chance. I promise, the books don’t have cooties.

Top Ten – Books I’m Most Anticipating on my TBR

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If you follow my blog, you’ve probably seen me complain about the over 100 books sitting on my shelves as TBR. For today’s post, I’m listing ten of the books I’m most looking forward to reading.

  1. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
    This is a steampunk fantasy novel about a half goblin boy, pushed into the role of emperor unexpectedly after the sudden death of his father. It was recommended to me about a year and half ago by a friend and I still haven’t read it because I’m a horrible person with no time management skills.
  2. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
    The Poisonwood Bible, by the same author, is one of my all-time favorite books; I read it years ago and I’ve been dying to read more by Kingsolver ever since.
  3. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
    “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” I’ve heard so much about this book! There are so many rave reviews online, and girls at my book club have repeatedly recommended it. It sounds magical.
  4. Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
    I love Margaret Atwood, but the last book I read by her was The Heart Goes Last, and I just… didn’t love it. I need another Atwood book to remind me why I love her.
  5. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
    “No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.” This is another one that’s had so much hype around it. I broke my self-imposed book-buying ban recently to pick up a copy of this, despite how out of control my TBR is.
  6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
    I adore historical fiction, and this one is so well-rated. This would be my first Kristin Hannah book.
  7. What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty
    “Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old.” This is from the same author as Big Little Lies, and I really love the concept.
  8. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan
    “In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.” I studied psychology in college, and mental health is endlessly fascinating and important to me.
  9. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, by Lillian Faderman
    I’ve been randomizing my TBR lately, but I might break the rules for this one in honor of Pride Month. This is another non-fiction book. “Lillian Faderman tells the compelling story of lesbian life in the 20th century, from the early 1900s to today’s diverse lifestyles.”
  10. Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
    More historical fiction! I know very little about this book, but I bought it at the recommendation of a member of my book club.

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What books have you purchased that you’re most anticipating? Any thoughts on the books in this list? Share in the comments! 🙂

One Month on WordPress!

Hello, friends!

Just a quick update to say that today marks one month since I started this little blog! I’m starting to get into the swing of things here on WordPress and I’m hoping to get posting on a more regular schedule soon. Things have felt a bit sporadic so far.

I’m currently working through these books:

What are you reading right now? Posted any reviews to books you’d recommend lately? Feel free to share links in the comments! 🙂