The Storyteller’s Secret – Sanjal Badani

I received an eBook from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to do so.

After having 3 miscarriages Jaya’s life and marriage are falling apart. Jaya finds out that her grandfather has requested that her mother goes back to India so that he can give her something before he dies. When Jaya’s mother refuses, Jaya, hoping to get away from her life goes instead not understanding her mother’s refusal to return to India to see her father. When she gets to India she meets Ravi, one of her father’s former servants. From hearing her Grandmother’s story she learns things about her family and herself.   

I have mixed feelings about The Storyteller’s Secret by Sajal Badani. On one hand, it it is a fun story to read but on the other it didn’t have anything in it that wasn’t unexpected. Everything that happened in the novel I saw coming from a mile away and this ruined some of the fun of reading it. For instance, as Jaya learns more about her Grandmother, and in turn her mother, she suddenly forgives her mother for all of her years of distance and apparent dislike of her. I find it hard to believe that this could happen just from learning a few things and having very minor talks with her mother on the phone while she was in India. Wounds like that take longer than a few weeks to heal.

Badani does do a good job of giving the main characters personality. I found myself really enjoying Jaya’s interactions with Ravi and his family. Really, I would read a book that is just about Ravi, he has such a well constructed character and he is so fun to listen to. However, I did have some issues with relating to the characters just because of the subject matter. I’m privileged enough to not know what extreme poverty is like. I haven’t experienced the grief of a miscarriage or divorce. I am glad that can’t relate to those experiences, it just makes it hard to relate to at times. But I did enjoy the characters. Jaya’s husband and her parents could have been developed more, but overall I did like the characters.  

The romance is this book annoyed me a little bit. It seemed like the two characters went from hating each other to suddenly loving each other again. This could have been delved into more so it didn’t seem so sudden. Their conversations between each other didn’t really hint at the fact that they were ready to make their relationship work. Here again is the problem with things that seem like a huge issue healing over a few weeks times.

If you’re looking for something that would be a quick read without much real sustenance this would be a good book for you. It is definitely not a book for someone who is easily annoyed when they can guess future plot point in a novel.

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

When Lazo Strange was five years old he discovered the mysterious city of Weep.  The original name was lost, suddenly vanishing from everyone’s memory. His obsession with Weep continues to grow as with his as he ages. Until an opportunity presents itself when warriors from Weep come to his city in search of master of their crafts. Lazo must take this chance so that he can see the city that he has dreamed of since he was a child. Lazo wants to learn why Weep suddenly cut themselves out from the world two hundred years ago. And why has the leader Weep – The Godslayer- seeking all of these people to solve a problem that he won’t even tell them about. Lazo thinks that all of his questions will be answered but he finds that he has more questions than answers.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a phenomenal novel, one of the best that I have read all year. I don’t often re-read books but this would be one that I would definitely consider doing so with. Taylor is lyrical, and shocking. The end of this novel will leave you reeling. It kept me awake because I kept thinking about it and in a way I’m glad that I waited so long to read it so that I don’t have to wait a year for the next one because Muse of Nightmares just released this month! (phew)

While it was a slow start Taylor manages to keep the reader interested while doing world building and plot set up. Her descriptions of environments and people are beautiful and often lyrical. Taylor also uses more complex descriptors that lead to a more clear image. Though she still allows for the imagination to take over and push these images farther.

I loved the romance in this novel. It did move a little too fast but it seemed reasonable for it too for two people who are particularly lonely. Their interactions are cute and definitely mirror how one feels the when they fall in love with someone. Their kissing and makeout scenes are descriptive but not erotic and this also goes for the sex scene between another set of characters. I appreciate this greatly as I don’t particularly enjoy reading eroctica or anything close to it in romance. It just isn’t my thing.

While I greatly enjoyed this novel, it is by no means perfect. There is a lull in the middle of the novel when they are on their way to Weep, which involved crossing a desert. Which, as it sounds, got a little one note. Taylor does save herself  by using this time to grow the comradery between Lazlo, the Tizerkane, and the Masters but it was one of the more difficult parts of the novel to get through. I’m also sad that Calixte basically disappears after they get to Weep. She is one of my favorite characters so I wish that she could have stuck around a little bit longer.

I can’t wait to start reading Muse of Nightmares! Also, I just want to say that I’m super jealous of UK for their hardcovers of these and yes I am going to use that cover for this review because I love it so so much. Also, go pick this novel up now if you like fantasy.

Surviving the Fatherland – Annette Oppenlander

I was given an E-book of this novel in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to do so.

Surviving the Fatherland: A True Coming-of-age Love Story Set in WWII Germany by Annette Oppenlander is a true story written about Oppenlander’s parents, Günter and Lilly. Both of her parents grew up during World War II and this showcases their struggle through both Hitler’s Regime and Post-war Germany.
Oppenlander’s ability to explore her parent’s past is remarkable. Showing both the bad and good things they did without sugar coating things to make her parents, and grandparents, seem like better people than they were. They were humanized through their faults and mistakes which made the novel read more like a historical fiction novel than a nonfiction novel. I truly forgot that it was a nonfiction book while reading it and only remembered when i got to the last 50 or so pages. Her ability to connect you to the characters also makes you want to read the snippets that she added to the back about what the characters are doing now. Which I also highly appreciated knowing about instead of their memory disappearing during their 20’s.
I appreciated that Oppenlander focused more on Post-war Germany instead of the time period of Hitler’s Regime. The Holocaust is important but many people at least have a general knowledge about concentration camps and Germany’s economic struggles. Often, however, it is assumed that Germany was fine after WWII ended, but this is not the case. It took many years for the economy to recover. Both Günter and Lilly struggle to find food and survive. Which is only different from during the war because Günter could be at home and not hiding from the Military so that he could avoid joining Hitler’s Army and parishing with the rest of his classmates.
Curiously, there were somethings that were changed that could add some confusion as to how much of the novel is fact and what is fiction. Oppenlander adds in two fictional characters Herr Baum and Karl Huss. Both of these characters appear often in the novel itself. Oppenlander does state this in the Gallery of Characters at the back of the book and are based in some fact, but it does seem strange to put fictional characters in a nonfiction novel. Oppenlander does change a few names in the novel but she does this for clarity as both Lilly and Gerda’s real names are Helga. This makes sense to me to do as they are often together and this would become confusing to read, but I still have a hard time with making up characters.
While the topic of this novel is a heavy one Oppenlander shows glimmers of hope through the friendships created and the love story that ultimately comes into fruition. I found myself hoping that Günter, Lilly, Helmut and Gerda had happy endings in a time where happy ending are few and far between. While she offers up hope she also shows heartbreak, with Günter’s difficulty to cope after the war was over and the economy finally took an upswing. With Lilly’s mother’s favoritism and her father and mother’s relationship. She combines the two beautifully, allowing the reader to have a full range of emotion in such a depressing time period, which makes for the novel to be not as emotionally taxing as WWII novels tend to be.
I really enjoyed Surviving the Fatherland, and I’m glad that I was able to read it. I would recommend this specifically for people who don’t know what Post-war Germany was like and those who want to learn about it. This novel is also good for people who usually enjoy Historical Fiction as this novel is not fact heavy and reads very much like a fiction novel.

People Kill People – Ellen Hopkins

If you give fear a voice, it will curse you.” (pg 270)

People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins follows six teens in Tucson, Arizona. Each having different ideals from pro-immigration to White Power. A gun that already changed one person’s life is bought by one of the teens and by the time the you get to the end this gun changes someone’s life again.

I have been reading Ellen Hopkins for at least ten years. I appreciate that she’s trying to do new things but it just didn’t work for me. I picked up Ellen Hopkins’ novels years ago because they were so different then any YA book that I’d ever seen at that time. It utilized prose and explored dark themes that need to be talked about. People Kill People has some of the prose that I expected but the novel also uses regular storytelling writing for the most part. It just didn’t work for me.

Hopkins’ does continue with her theme of writing about dark topics. This time she explores gun violence, something that needs to be explored especially with the increasing amount of gun deaths in the United States. Hopkins’ does a good job of this, each character has a reason to want a gun and some of the reason are good and some of them are not. But as always even good intentions can run awry. I did like this aspect of the novel and found to bring all of the diverse characters together with a common thread.

I just couldn’t get in to the writing of this novel as much as her other ones. I’m glad that she is willing to experiment with her writing and going out of her YA comfort zone, but it just didn’t work for me. It is thought provoking which I did enjoy, but it just didn’t make up for my disappointment in the writing.

Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis

Girl, Wash Your Face : Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis is a collection of lies that women are told as they are growing up. Each chapter is one lie covering things from “I’m Bad at Sex” to “I’m Not a Good Mom.”

I didn’t like this book. I expected so much more from it but in the end I was so let down. So many of the things that she talked about just really ground my gears. From the need to exclude men from the book, to being beat in the face by religion.

First of all why is this book geared only towards women. I’m pretty sure that the majority of the topics in this book are also things that relate to men. For instance in “I Need a Drink” Hollis talks about how after she had kids she started to use wine to calm her nerves and help with the exhaustion that came to taking care of her children. She comes to realise that this is not a healthy way of going about things. But why is this not relatable to men as well? I can see “The Lie: I Need To Make Myself Smaller” and “The Lie: I Need A Hero” possibly only being relatable to women. Why is female empowerment suddenly about excluding men from things? Is it really the right way to go to treat someone else how you have been treated to make yourself feel better about your exclusion? I don’t think so.

I appreciate the things that Hollis brings up, but sometimes her solutions become repetitive. Such as the “just do it.” I don’t need three different chapters telling me that I should just go do it. I get it. Go for you dreams. God will show you the way. I like that she gave points at the end of each chapter showing what helped her get over this lie in her life. Even having things pointed out to me that I never really thought about. For example one of the chapters is “The Lie: I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon” at some point in your life you realise that the celebrity crushes you had as a kid were just you lying to yourself and that it just isn’t going to happen. This added a little humor into a mostly serious book.

I’m glad that Hollis is so solid in her faith, but listening to her talk about it just felt like someone was rubbing sandpaper on my skin. I just don’t like reading books where people chalk up their success or abilities to God. Sure you can think that God gave you these things but you chose to use them. You went out on a limb to do something that could have failed and you were the one who made it a success.

A History of America in Ten Strikes – Erik Loomis

I received an E-Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to the Publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to do so.

A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis is an informative non-fiction book focusing on the importance of strikes and what they they did for the working class of America. Loomis focuses on 10 strikes ranging from the Lowell Mill Girls Strike from 1930-1840 to Justice for Janitors in 1990.

The layout for this book was not what I expected, though it was not a bad way to do it. I expected that each chapter would talk about what happened during the strike and then tie it in with other parts of American History. Instead each strike is framed with a question which is then answered in depth using other strikes and context before going into the strike named at the beginning of the chapter. Once I understood this layout it didn’t bother me.

This is definitely not a book to read all at once. There is so much information to absorb. I took breaks every few chapters and went and read a lighter book so that I could fully understand everything in the book. I loved that it had so much information, I learned tons of things that I didn’t know already. In fact, it was rare that I already knew the strike that was focused on in the chapters and it was really refreshing to be able to learn so many things. However, it is a lot and it would have been overwhelming if I read it without stopping to read other things inbetween.

While this is an informative book, Loomis’ opinions come through a lot throughout this book. I didn’t expect the rhetoric that is used, I was looking more for an explanation on the strikes, not so much being told how important it is for workers to fight for their rights. While I agree with this ideal it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

A History of America in Ten Strikes is an informative book and not one for someone who is just looking for a general overview. It held my attention for the most part through the usage of real life things that were happening at the time period, such as 12+ hour work days at dangerous jobs for low wages. This book holds real day importance and should be read by anyone who is trying to understand how we got to where we are in our workforce.

The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for giving me an E-Advanced Reader copy in exchange for a fair review. The expected publication date for this novel is January 15, 2019.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker explores the idea of dreams, mass hysteria and sudden illness. Santa Lora is a college town located on the edge of a lake. So small that there’s only one way in…and out. College has started as normal but suddenly Mei’s roommate, Rebecca, falls into a deep slumber, one that no one can wake her from no matter how hard they try. This mysterious illness soon takes over the dorm room floor that Mei and Rebecca call home and soon after that it spreads through Santa Lora. No one know what causes this illness or if anyone will ever wake from it.

This novel suffers considerably by Thompson Walker trying to extend the story from a short one to a whole novel. Many of the characters were unnecessary in the plot development, enough so that it took away from giving the other characters, well, more character. Removing some of them, namely, Rebecca, Sara, Libby, Annie, Ben and Grace would have shortened the novel but would have allowed the others to be explored more. I liked Mei, Nathaniel, and Catherine but I didn’t find much reason to care about what happened to them. I just found what little there was about them more compelling than the others.
The plot was a fun concept, but it wasn’t explored to the extent that it could have been. There was no rush to find a cure or to research it, beyond finding out that they are using more of their brains than ever recorded in a human and are experiencing REM sleep. There’s a few people from a pharmaceutical company who appear briefly, but they were there before everything happened. Catherine is also from out of town but she is a psychologist and not there to study the pathogen itself. I feel like this could have added something to the actual nature of the novel.

Thompson Walker makes it seem like It was just like half the town fell asleep and there wasn’t anything in the writing style that made it feel like it was an urgent problem. Yes the author talks about people being quarantined, people trying to get out of town and eventually the usage of medical hazmat suits. These are urgent things but the characters don’t reflect on being scared or in a hurry to do anything. When Annie, Ben and Grace try to leave and are turned back at a makeshift border they do so without any fight. They don’t panic or try and fight their way out which is common in situations of mass hysteria. It is not just Annie and Ben that act like this, it is a common theme throughout the novel.

I did not like this book at all. Which is unfortunate because it had a lot going for it. It would have been better suited as a short story than a full-length novel unless the concepts and characters were developed more. These things would have made me enjoy it more, but as it stands I did not find it to be enjoyable.

Fierce Fairytales – Nikita Gill

I was given an e-Advanced Reader Copy from Netgalley and the Publisher in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to the Publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to do so.

Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill is a collection of poems relating to fairy tales, some well known and others not as much. However, these poems rarely talk about what happened during the fairy tale but what happened before or after it occured. For example: one poem talks about what made Gaston become a villain, making a point in saying that children are not born wicked, the become wicked due to the circumstances of their youth. This moral is repeated several different times using characters that are considered villains of their respective fairy tale.

I enjoyed reading this book of poetry considerably. Each poem, even the ones that were only a few lines, had something to take away from it. One of the big ones being the circumstances that cause someone to become a villain. I appreciated this being talked about as I have always found villains to be more interesting. Their history is rarely talked about and leads me to ponder what made them become the way that they are. Gill offers takes on this from child abuse to a broken heart. Each one leading to a sympathetic outlook on the character. And like fairy tales are meant to teach, the moral for these poems is that everyone has a story that is worth telling, if you are just willing to listen.

Gill also take a huge stance on female empowerment, something that is often lacking in traditional fairy tales. Making a point to note that women are strong on their own and don’t need a Prince Charming, or a Knight in Shining Armor. All they need is themselves, anyone else is just an extension of them, not a piece to the puzzle. She picks Sleeping Beauty to showcase this. The Princess, after learning of her fate, studies all that she can about the spell. In doing so she finds a way to undo the spell . She, after falling into her one hundred year slumber, fights her own personal demons until the ninety-ninth year when she wakes because she loves herself for who she is. Using this love of herself to replace a true love’s first kiss.

Gill’s usage of language makes for beautifully written poems, creating stories that are worth reading. However, if you don’t like retellings of classic fairy tales I would caution a reader’s decision in picking this up. These poems are all retellings in some way either from changes to the actual story to talking about events that happened either before or after a fairy tale takes place. I usually enjoy retellings and this is what made me what to pick the book up and read.

The illustrations in this poetry book are beautiful. I love that the style is sketch like but still feels like a complete piece. The variety of the sizing also makes them more interesting. Some of them cover a whole page while others take up less than a quarter. This draws the eye to them and allows the reader to see them as well as the poem/story that it is associated with.

All and all, this book made for a fun read while also being thought provoking. It’s good for people who enjoy fairy tales and those who like to read poetry, especially more contemporary poems.  It’s definitely a book I would consider buying a hard copy of.

She’s My Dad – Jonathan Williams and Paula Stone Williams

I received an E-Advanced Reader Copy of this memoir in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to Netgalley and Westminster John Knox Press for the opportunity to review this memoir.

She’s My Dad : A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption by Jonathan Williams and Paula Stone Williams follows a Jonathan while his father transitions from male to female late in her life. Paula has felt that she was a woman since she was a child but did not transition until late in his life after he married and had children. Jonathan has a hard time coping as he feels like he is losing his father. On top of this, Paula loses her job as a director for an Evangelical church-planting organization and struggles to find her place in the world after losing something that was such an integral part of her life. Johnathan who is a Pastor at one of these churches struggles to accept his father and if it is okay for him to do so in the eyes of God.

This memoir is so refreshing. Jonathan is honest about his struggle to accept his father’s new identity. Jonathan laments that he feels like he is losing the person that he grew up knowing even though his father really isn’t going anywhere. He admits that this is partly because the perceived masculinity that he saw his father having. His identity was based around his now transgendered father does that mean that that he is a woman himself? Eventually Jonathan comes around to his father’s change but he struggles deeply while doing so.

Paula’s perspective is very limited, she only has a few chapters, but I wish that she had more. She too has her own struggles. From her relationships with her friends and family falling apart to her own faith. Paula loses the her job, something that she loved to do and this made her lose her faith in God because she cannot find her place without preaching. I wish her journey through transition was explored more, but I understand that the majority of this book was meant to surround Jonathan’s struggle.

This memoir is the perfect example of using religion and faith in a way that does not turn a reader, who does share their opinion, off. Jonathan is humble in his journey through his father’s transition. He, as a preacher, does question is faith. He wants to accept his Father but he is having a hard time figuring how to do so while still following what he feels his religion expects of him. His group of churches does not accept any part of the LGBTQ+ community. Jonathan ends up leaving this group of churches when he decides to embrace his father, bringing his church to be more accepting and even if they don’t agree they can still live together. It is beautiful to watch Jonathan express his struggle and eventual acceptance of not only his father but the LGBTQ+ community.

There are a few things that I wish were in this memoir but they often involved other people, I accept that this was probably due to the person not wanting their own experience published. One thing that did bother me was that “fuck” is used a few times but it is bleeped out. This is an adult book and I think that we as adults can handle explicit language. This is a minor thing, but It did annoy me to see those stars in the word.

She’s My Dad is an eye opening memoir showcasing two people’s struggles to accept themselves and each other. It is a great book for those who know someone who is transitioning, and especially their families. I’m curious to see what comes of this book when it is finally published.