Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Sadly, I’ve decided to DNF this one.

I was really, really excited to read Red Clocks. The hype on bookstagram, the amazing reviews, and so many recommendations had me impatiently waiting at #45 on the library waitlist. When I picked it up from the local branch, I felt like I had won the lottery and eagerly sat down to read. Then, things got difficult.

There are four main points of view, written in nondescript third person, about The wife (Susan), the daughter (Mattie), the mender (Gin), and the biographer (Ro). The biographer starts off the story, writing a biography of a female polar explorer named Eivor, while also trying to get pregnant while being a single high school teacher. She is limited on how she can conceive because of government laws and regulations, so she is hoping that despite the negative outlook, her AI (artificial insemination) will succeed. Then we learn about the mender, a woman who lives off the land as much as possible, doting on her animals and living as a hermit who occasionally helps people with their ailments- even if it’s not considered legal. Then there’s Mattie, a high school student who is romantically involved with a guy who isn’t committed to the relationship, and yet still winds up pregnant and not sure what to do about it. Last, there’s Susan, a mom of two who isn’t happy in her marriage, and is desperately trying to get her husband to agree to couple’s therapy.

Each of these woman are subject to the same restrictions newly inflicted by the government, in which abortion is illegal, in vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights to every embryo. It’s not a far-fetched idea this day and age, so Zumas explores what it would be like if women’s rights were no longer theirs.

It sounds absolutely absorbing, but I have had the hardest time getting to 100 out of the 351 pages in this book. The formatting is strange to me, and though the language itself is blunt and beautiful, the formatting is rather abstract. I thought because the points of view were separated, I wouldn’t have a hard time keeping the characters and their storylines straight, but somewhere around page 50, when additional sub-characters are being added and discussed, I started to lose focus. Sometimes, when this happens, I can speed-read through a few pages and get to another part that brings everything back into focus. It’s a trick I’ve used to keep me from getting bogged in subtext. However, it didn’t work for me this time, because there is so much going on with these characters. It’s like the action is fast-paced but the writing is slow. It’s also categorized as sci-fi, and though I have loved realistic dystopian novels, there’s something that my brain just isn’t absorbing here.

Either way, I’m extremely frustrated. I wanted to love this book. I wanted it to be the mind-blowing feminist novel experience that everyone else seems to gather from it. However, I just can’t seem to get through it. So, I’m going to have to table this one, and hope that if I come back to it, I’ll be able to get through the whole thing.

Please forgive me, Leni Zumas & fans. I wish I was as intellectually ready for this book as you all!

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You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

Way back in February, my KY bestie sent me this text:

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She raved about the funny, honest, and conversationally modern writing, and how spot on the author’s advice was. So, I decided that I should give it a read, too. Instead of waiting for the hardcopy, I decided to listen via audiobook, and I’m glad I did. It was like listening to one of your friends give you a reality check, encouragement and advice, and a plan of action all at once. Sincero actually narrates her own book, so you get the full effect of her own words as well. There’s 27 chapters and 256 pages, but the audio is just under 6 hours long, so it’s pretty quick-paced. I felt that because of the modern conversational language Sincero used, it was easy to follow along with her advice and the support behind it. I didn’t get lost in any new-age speak or bogged down in the science and research data.

Sincero explains from the beginning how our ego effects us as humans, and how to essentially deny the ego and take action to achieve happiness- mostly by changing our thought process. (Can you tell I’ve been trying to expand my understanding of what’s going on in my head?!) Summarized, Sincero wants us to:

  • Love ourselves as we are- meaning accepting that you are human, not a perfect robot.

“Your job is to be as you as you can be. This is why you’re here. To shy away from who you truly are would leave the world you-less. You are the only you there is and ever will be…”

“Imagine what our world would be like if everyone loved themselves so much that they weren’t threatened by other people’s opinions or skin colors or sexual preferences or talents or education or possessions or lack of possessions or religious beliefs or customs or their general tendency to just be whoever the hell they are.”

  • Stop worrying about what other people think.

“You are responsible for what you say and do. You are not responsible for whether or not people freak out about it…”

“Do not waste your precious time giving one single crap about what anybody else thinks of you.”

  • Follow your intuition, do what makes you happy and do it NOW.  Don’t wait for the timing to be “right”.

“Deciding means jumping in all the way, doing whatever it takes, and going after your dreams with the tenacity of a dateless cheerleader a week before prom night.”

  • Have a little faith- however you define it- and think positively.

“Positive thinking is key. Our thoughts are the most powerful tools we’ve got. Through our thoughts we create our realities.”

  • Don’t give excuses.

We put so much energy into coming up with excuses why we can’t be, do, or have the things we want, and designing the perfect distractions to keep us from our dreams—imagine how far we’d get if we just shut up and used all that energy to go for it instead?”

I could go on and on with the quotes, trust me. Sincero is completely chock full of these gems, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her. If you are into self-help books, need a pep talk, want to learn more about yourself, or need a little motivation to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, You Are a Badass is the book for you- no matter what format.

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

This audiobook came highly recommended to me by my book club buddy, Megan! She was cracking up at the humor of the novel and shared a segment during a past meeting, and she has great taste in reads so I decided to check it out. She also mentioned it was a recommendation by Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Hello Sunshine. Sold!

The novel introduces us to Nikki, a 20-something Sikh woman who has gone against her traditional Indian upbringing. She’s a law school drop out, tending bar in London, and single despite her family’s urging to find a husband. She’s not sure what she wants out of life, but after her father suddenly passes away, she decides to take a second job to help her support her widowed mother. While checking out a local community board, she finds an advert looking for someone to teach an English creative writing class to local Punjabi widows.

The widows aren’t exactly what Nikki expects. They’re not all little old grannies, only one knows how to actually read and write in English, and though they are modest, traditional women, they are eager to explore a more modern expression of their bedroom experiences and fantasies. As a joke, Nikki had bought a racy book of erotica for her more conservative sister, and the widows found it in the stack of writing workbooks meant for the class. After Nikki confronts her class about the misunderstanding, the widows convince Nikki that those stories are the kind they wish to learn to write. In an effort to liberate these women from their repressed expression, she agrees, thinking that maybe this is how she can be reconnected with her community while still maintaining her modern views.

Then, we learn about the Brotherhood, a group of extremely conservative Sikhs who keep a watchful eye on the morals of the community. Anyone who seems to disrespect (whether they meant to or not) their religion and community becomes a target of extreme punishment. Nikki and her class, who have now formed a strong bond, have to be extremely careful not to let the secret slip about the content of their writing, least the Brotherhood find out.

Meanwhile, there is also a parallel story about one of the widow’s daughter, Maya, who died in a suspicious manner, as well as a mysterious man whom Nikki becomes romantically involved with. As the ending draws near, the story lines come crashing together like waves, and I was completely drawn in.

I  loved the audiobook narrator, Meera Syal. Her voice is like butter, and yet the changes in her tone for dialogue and breaks in the story were easy to understand and made it easy to focus on the tale. I also think listening to the audiobook certainly helped with understanding certain cultural words that I probably would have stumbled over if I was reading. I liked being able to hear the pronunciation.

Jaswal’s story is both funny, thrilling, entertaining, and downright steamy! I really enjoyed it, and though I’d recommend it, you should be warned that there really are erotic stories included in this book! There’s clever dialogue that takes the “audience rating” down a notch, but the title is not misleading. I’d say it’s definitely not suitable for the youngsters, but certainly a fun read for women.

For the Broken by Shenaia Lucas

Another beautiful collection of poetry! I had seen screenshots and whatnot of Lucas’ poems, and found them touching and relatable, so I thought it best to educate myself by reading the whole collection. And again, because poetry is still difficult for me to review, I’m going to keep this one short.

For the Broken is 113 pages of almost continuous short poems, bleeding from one page to the next. I find this important to note as the other two collections of poetry I’ve recently read and reviewed usually kept to a poem per page, unless the length forced more pages. Therefore, Lucas’s work has this way of flowing from one poem to the next, almost like a stream of thoughts. The titles (or dedication) of the poems are in italics at the end of each, wrapping the one up before it and yet seeming to set the tone for the next. This formatting is really fascinating and clever. To me, without even mentioning the content of the work, these poems by format alone allow for the reader to soak in the works like their own internal dialogue, which I found really soothing and almost prayer-like.

For content, Lucas has broken down her compilation into four sections (I’m sensing this is a common theme among poetry…?), and they are as follows: for the healing; for the loving; for the oppressed; for the broken. In a supportive manner, each stanza gives the reader advice or a thought on the section topic. For the healing has words of encouragement that help heal a broken heart- or sometimes just acknowledging it’s broken existence. This is also similar for the last section. For the loving is about- obviously- love and relationships. I feel the most powerful section is for the oppressed, which really hit full force as Lucas’ calls out the duplicity on the world’s so called equality.  All the poems are relatively short- a few lines each- and yet they still pack a punch.

Overall, I enjoyed reading For the Broken, and it too will be have a hardcopy added to my poetry collection (since I read this via Kindle). In full honesty, though it’s a lovely anthology, I wasn’t as emotionally stirred as I have been by other poetry works, but I think that may be a mood thing. I’ve been feeling exceptionally up with all the sunshine and vacation time I’ve had, so I think my timing of this read was a little off. This may seem obvious from the title, in hindsight, but For the Broken would be the perfect consoling read in a time when you need something to lift you up.

F’ HIM: Nice Girls Always Finish Single by Brian Nox (aka Brian Keephimattracted)

I’m sure you read the title of this one and thought “What?!” Well, let me explain. This was a freebie off Kindle, and I thought it was going to be more satirical than the book actually was. As a chronic singleton, I thought this may be entertaining, and maybe there would be something slightly cerebral in there that I might be able to use, but alas…

So I start reading, and first and foremost, this book is urging mental mind f*ckery, not physical f*ckery. That’s um, nice. Personally, I don’t think mind games are very constructive, but hey, let’s here this guy out.

Nox insists that men like having their mind messed around with, and that mental manipulation is something they unknowingly are drawn to. He also goes through many points about how when you are passive and not controlling, it’s the reason why you are single. Literally the whole damn book is about how to play mental games, how to control a man with suggestives and not demands, and how to manipulate them so their ego doesn’t get bruised and the women still gets what she wants.

Is anyone else rolling their eyes yet?

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It was a short read (130 pages), so I did read the whole thing, but not even a quarter of the way through, I was sick of hearing how a woman can go from low-value to a high-value in a mans eyes by acting and speaking a certain way. And to be fair, the author even stated in the beginning, “You can expect me to step on your toes here and there throughout this book.” I kept thinking, this HAS to be satire. This guy HAS to be joking. He thinks telling women how to act so that they can be in a relationship, or keep their man satisfied by mindf*cking them, is worthy of 130 pages?

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Needless to say, I don’t recommend the singletons give this a read. 100% disclosure, I did not take to the streets with this dating advice to test it out, so maybe it works for some, but for me, I have seen plenty of strong relationships built on respect and honesty, and I’d rather emulate that than what I’ve read per Nox. I understand that probably puts me in his “nice girl, low value” category, but guess what? To that I say, f<3ck him.

The Dogs I Have Kissed by Trista Mateer

Bookstagram has been opened my eyes to a lot of great authors and books, and most surprisingly, poetry. I used to dabble in poetry when I was in elementary school, but it was mostly forced by my ‘gifted and talented’ teachers, and the subject always steered towards horses, haha. I loved writing, but poetry didn’t stick. I also wasn’t a huge fan of reading poetry- probably the serious lack of equine-themed work, LOL- and so I’ve seriously lagged in my education. Scrolling through booksta one day, I saw Trista Mateer’s images, quotes and captions from The Dogs I Have Kissed. I had to follow her, and every quote just seemed so emotional and relatable. I figured, since I was already hooked, I needed the book.

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Finally getting around to it, The Dogs I Have Kissed is a provocative, hard hitting, heart wrenching series of poems that I think, if not all, at least one of which people could relate to. Topics include parental abandonment, sexuality, exes and past relationships, and religion, each with twists, innuendo, and potency.

Bite is the first section, and it delivers exactly that. I found it interesting that many of the poems have a mention of mouths in there, conveying seduction and blunt language, though this does continue on into other sections- just less often. The next section, titled Growl, has a collection of gritty poems that seem to reveal a little more about Mateer- not that she seems to be hiding much, as she doesn’t seem to hold back the details. The third section, Roll Over, shares a few more reflective pieces and ends with a long poem that really sums up the the relationships discussed throughout the poems in the book- with no tidy ends, but at least a sense of understanding of where the poet stood by the end. Also, I love how the dog theme flows throughout- the titles of each section, the main title, the references within the poems.

Most of the poems are relatively short, with only a handful spanning over two pages. Obviously, reading poems is relatively fast paced just because of their length, but Mateer still makes the short ones pack a punch. They create a strong impact, full of emotion and clearly getting across certain imagery. For example, titled 4/23:

“I don’t know how to exist properly

in the same space as someone

I don’t love anymore.” – Trista Mateer

It’s only three lines, but it’s one powerful statement. Yet all the poems have this conversational, confession-like quality to them as well. I think that’s what has drawn me to them- that they are content similar to what I’ve either discussed with friends, or thought myself, or in some cases, haven’t even thought to contemplate. They’re blunt and honest. I don’t do favorites, but I really loved Improper Emergency Procedure, and the series of Texts I Shouldn’t Have Sent to My Ex.

Overall, I highly recommend buying yourself a copy. You’ll want to read her work over and over again, so it’s definitely worth adding to your personal collection. I hope my review has done justice for a beautiful collection!

 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I felt like I had struck gold when I found this one in my local Little Free Library branches. My bestie (Hi Josette!) had pointed the two LFL’s in town out to me shortly after I had moved into my new house, and after I had accumulated a few books that I wanted to donate, I went to drop them off in the tiny birdhouse-esque box. I skimmed the titles that were in there, and immediately noticed The Color Purple. Classic! So I made the swap, and took it home.

When I started reading, Celie’s story was very familiar to me, and I couldn’t remember why until I got about 25 pages in, when Shug Avery is mentioned. Then I remembered. I remembered that name, and an actress wearing the awesome red jazz dress, singing. I had seen the movie as a teen, flipping through the Starz freebies. I hadn’t seen the whole movie, just that quick scene, but it was striking enough to stick in my brain at least a decade later. With that in mind, I kept reading, wondering how Celie and Shug were connected, especially because at this point in the novel, I was just learning about Celie’s awful upbringing and abusive new husband.

Celie writes in letters, recounting her days and the things she tolerates just to survive daily. As a poor, uneducated black woman in the southern Georgia, most of the things she observes will break your heart. However, there are often lines in which she shows her strength, in that though she is being physically submissive, her mind is sharp and wanting to rebel. Many times, the cause for her will to rebel is her awful husband, Mr. Albert (no last name mentioned, and she only ever refers to him as Mr.) Then, there’s Shug, Mr.’s long-time mistress. She arrives in Celie’s household sick, and though she is mean to Celie at first, they end up striking up a friendship. Celie also can’t help but be attracted to Shug, which is something Celie has never felt for anyone before. Being horribly mistreated by her father, then shuffled off to Mr., Celie has never known love. She’s had children taken from her, and her sister Nettie never wrote after Celie left her childhood home- she’s lonely, and Shug’s attention is like a balm healing old wounds. Yet the relationship that springs up between Celie and Shug is complicated, and in a time period where class, race, sex, and abuse weren’t debated or discussed, so Celie just writes her feelings in her letters to God.

Then Shug figures something out- Mr. has been hoarding letters from Nettie to Celie. They plot together to get the letters so that Celie can finally read them. As she goes through the pages, Celie learns that her sister has left the small, godforsaken town that they grew up in, and has seen what else life has to offer. She writes of her journey to New York, of Harlem and the support of the black people who send money and well wishes to her and her missionary employers on their journey to Africa. She’s never seen this kind of tolerance, or been treated so kindly. Then, she becomes part of the community in the Olinka village, as well as family to the missionaries who brought her there. Then, the most surprising truth of all- after traveling all those miles, she learns the truth about her and Celie’s past.

There’s a reason this became a bestseller, not to mention a contemporary classic. The Color Purple is bold, honest, heartbreaking, and empowering, especially for women of color. When Celie finally finds strength to stand up for herself and speak her mind, I cheered. Walker’s frank conversational narration and emotionally charged scenes about the taboo topics create a fast paced, compelling novel. I highly recommend that if you haven’t, you should give it a read- though keep in mind, it’s still considered controversial and contains many triggers of abusive, violent, and sexual nature.