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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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.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Today’s review lends courtesy to the Not Your Momma’s Book Club, as it was the group’s book pick for the month. I thought it sounded like an interesting historical fiction novel, which you all know I love, so I was pretty excited to read it. The only problem was, it’s such a recent release that I ended up being like, 62nd on the hold list at my library, and I don’t like paying for new books when I don’t know if I’ll like the author or the book for sure. So I thought, well maybe an e-book or Audible had a cheaper copy. Negative on the e-book, but lo and behold, I hadn’t signed up for the free 30-day trial of Audible (this is not a promo)! So, I did that and downloaded Before We Were Yours, my first Audible download. It took me a little to get used to the narrator’s voices, but once I got into the story, I couldn’t stop listening.

The book alternates between Memphis, TN in the 1930’s and present time in Aiken, SC between characters Rill and Avery.

In the 1930’s, Rill Foss is twelve-year old girl, who lives in a shanty boat, the Arcadia, on the Mississippi river with her parents, Queenie and Brownie, and her four younger siblings- Camilla, Fern, Lark, and Gabian. They live a simple life on the river, and evoke the magic of nature, love, and music within the family. One stormy night, her mother goes into labor, and Rill stays nearby with Brownie and the midwife, witnessing her mother struggle to deliver twins. It’s a difficult birth, and even the midwife insists on getting her to a hospital before mother and babies lose their lives. Torn about leaving the children and going out into the storm with Queenie in such a state, but finding no alternative, Brownie leaves Rill in charge of her young siblings. Shortly there after, the local police raid the river town of the local children and bring the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, deeming them orphans and falsifying paperwork and information. Desperately, Rill tries to keep her siblings together but it’s a futile challenge. The woman who runs the home is a child trafficker- kidnapping, scamming, scheming, blackmailing, and brokering these children to wealthy upper-class and high profile couples. Though the children know the truth, they are beaten, punished, and threatened into submission, or if they continue to deny their “new identities”, they suspiciously die or disappear, never to be heard from again. Rill knows that she has to get back to the Arcadia with her siblings, no matter what the sacrifice.

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In present day Aiken, Avery Stafford is a poised, educated, ambitious and savvy lawyer, raised in a political family and groomed to follow in her senator father’s footsteps. Her parents and her have a complicated relationship, as they are more traditional, having expected her to go to college and get a “MRS. degree” and settle down, like her sisters. Avery is engaged, but she’s comfortable with her fiancé, and they aren’t in a rush to the altar. However, when her father’s health starts to decline from cancer, she’s under a lot of pressure to start making decisions- about her wedding and her career path. She decided to spend some time away from her life in Washington, DC to help with her father’s platform appearances in Aiken, and the discussion about nursing home care comes up. While visiting a local home, she meets a woman named May Weathers, who happens to know Avery’s grandmother, Judy. Finding this odd, since her grandmother’s altzhiemer’s has catastrophically impacted her social outings and Avery had never heard of May before, she visits Judy, only to find more questions than answers. She knows there is a secret in her grandmother’s past, and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth. Time is of the essence, and she needs to find answers before her grandmother’s secret is lost in the past.

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I finished the audiobook a few days prior to writing the review, because I needed some time to digest this one. The things that Rill and her siblings went through are absolutely horrendous to me, and it made me ill to know that though this story is a work of fiction, it’s based off the true accounts of survivors that were adopted out by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. It’s a heavy subject to handle, and the novel is haunting. Wingate’s story, right down to the last page of her author’s note, had me in an emotional choke hold. There were moments when I know I made audible gasps, clenched my fists, and released sighs of relief. The suspense of the story lines are wagered just so, revealing everything piece by piece until things come full circle in the end.

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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.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

The proverbial skeleton is about to be out of the closet! Latham kept me hanging on the edge of my seat and turning pages, determined to figure out who the body was before it was fully revealed…but I truly couldn’t figure it out until the very end.

Rowan Chase is woken up to the sound of construction. When she gets up to investigate, she finds something more mysterious than the renovation. The workers have found a body long dead in her decades-family-owned servants house. Unused but for storage for almost a century, the workers were converting the building into a man-cave for Rowan’s father. Quickly the workers leave, and Rowan calls up her best friend James to help her investigate. When they start looking at the remains, they noticed a wallet, a gun with “Maybelle” inscribed on it, and the messy remaining mix of lime and blood.

in 1921, William Tillman is a young man in the midst of racially tumultuous Tulsa. He’s the son of a Osage woman and a blue collar man, trying to impress his crush Addie and his best friend, Clete. While at a speakeasy dubbed the Two-Knock, Addie and a black man named Clarence walk in, and Clete immediately urges Will to run him off for talking to a white woman. Will is drunk and belligerent, but even then he knows that he doesn’t think this is right- however, he causes a ruckus, picks a one-sided fight, and Clarence is forced to leave. Clete runs to the crooked police, which trickles to the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan (or wanna-bes), and Clarence is killed. Will knows this is just as much his fault as Clete’s and the others.

As Rowan tracks down the past on her house, the town, and the skeleton in her back yard, Will recounts the time leading up to the Tulsa race riot of 1921. In alternating chapters, the reader is piecing together the clues that will reveal who the skeleton is, while Latham describes a dark and scary time in American history, and reminds us that history often repeats itself if we let it.

My in-real-life book club picked this for our monthly read. We wanted a female author or a strong female lead, and out of a strong pile of books fitting the bill, we chose Dreamland Burning and got both. I’m curious to see what the members of the group thought about the book, but I was definitely absorbed in it by 50 pages in. I will say that both main characters bothered me at first- their privilege was showing and made them a little unlikable in the beginning for me- but once I got into the unraveling of the story, I realized that both Rowan and Will were able to change for the better and I was so proud of them by the end.

I plan to do some more reading up on the events in this book, but I did do a few searches, and what I have found about the riot is nauseating. There are images of the KKK, images of the town on fire, articles with info disputing how many people of color were killed that night, and even worse things. I highly suggest this read, as it is such a good mystery and a great way to open discussion on race, class, and historical context, but I also would say to keep in mind that this book, though fictional, is still based on a true, horrible event. It’s certainly one that’ll open anyone’s eyes.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I’m almost at a loss of words when it comes to this book. How could anyone read it without their heart shattering?

I guess to start, I’ll be the first to admit, politics are not my favorite subject. I’ve never liked confrontation, and I rarely paid attention to international conflicts. On September 11, 2001, I was a terrified fourth grader who didn’t understand what was happening in the world- but I was mollified by the promise that American soldiers were going to protect me from the terrorists. Growing up, I realize and confess, I was put in a privileged American bubble and only heard scraps of information about the war on terrorism and the conflict in the Middle East, mostly because I didn’t seek out information.

Now, as an adult (who is still working on adulting) I’d realized that I needed to wake up and pay attention to what is going on in the world. I read the headlines every day from various media outlets (because contrary to popular belief, just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it must be true), and form educated opinions about current events. I still keep many of those opinions to myself, but I’ve come to enjoy discussing what is happening in the world- although at times (especially under our current administration) it tends to get me down- with family and friends.

At any rate, I Am Malala has been on my TBR for a long time. I knew it was a must read, and I had heard about Malala in the news, so I was somewhat familiar with her story… or so I thought, anyway. Reading Malala’s story in her own words not only educated me on the adversity in Pakistan and it’s turbulent history, but also the culture of a woman’s life under the reign of the Taliban.

Malala introduces herself and her family, starting from the day of her attack and working backwards. Her grandfather was a traditional Islamic man who was known for his ability to give amazing speeches in their community. He raised his son to also be a strong man of faith, and despite troubles with a stammer, helped to make him a renowned public speaker as well. As Malala’s father was also a fierce believer in children’s education, and eventually started his own school despite financial and economic hardships.

When Malala was born, her father rejoiced despite the common belief that boys were more prized than girls. Malala grew up in her father’s school and loved the educational environment. She would listen to the teachers tell stories, and when old enough, became a devoted pupil. She was interested in politics and history of her country, and intrigued by human rights. In Pakistan, females were not encouraged to go to school for both religious and economic reasons, with the common mentality being that education was meant for males, and a waste of resources and money on females. There was also the traditional belief to practice purdah, where the females of the household are completely covered and hidden from males that aren’t close family. Malala’s family was more modern in this context. Her father wanted education available to girls, allowed Malala to not cover her face, and encouraged her to speak out for the right of female education.

When the Taliban took over Swat (the area where Malala lived), extreme politics overturned the government, and Malala and her father became a target for speaking out against them. Their school was repeatedly told to shut down and disallow girls, and fined for absurd reasons. The town was terrorized by militant groups raiding homes in search of forbidden property like DVDs, CDs, and TVs- anything that could counter the propaganda being promoted by the leader of the Taliban. Anyone found- or accused- of speaking against the Taliban was targeted and either killed or flogged in public and left to die in the streets. Everything was done in the name of Islam, stating that the reasoning could be found in the Quran- yet many were uneducated and couldn’t read the original Arabic text, therefore relying on the translations and interpretations. Eventually, war came to the area, displacing millions of people in Swat- including Malala and her family. Through the tragedy, Malala and her father stayed true to their beliefs that peace, not violence, was the answer, and that education should be available to everyone.

When the Taliban was driven out of Swat and Malala’s family returned home, normalcy was still difficult to find, and everyone was still living in fear. However, Malala put on a brave face and continued to speak out- reaching locally and internationally- advocating for female education, ignoring the threats on her life. Though she was only fifteen, she was wise beyond her years and had faith in the Islam she knew, not the one projected by extremists. Then, one seemingly normal afternoon, Malala was shot.

As Malala tells her own story, I struggled to fight the heartbreak. This teenager lived in a paradise that she watched transform into a living hell, and survived the nightmare of it all, not losing an ounce of her faith or giving an inch in her beliefs. She is an absolute inspiration, and I was both in awe and shock as she recounted her short 16 years on earth. I personally would go to bed at night after reading a few chapters and have nightmares just from what I had read. As I said before, I live a privileged life, and even my imagination can’t handle what Malala went through.

I absolutely think I Am Malala is a must-read. We owe it to her, and to those who went through, and continue to go through, the fight on terrorism and the fight for basic human rights.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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Oh. My. Heart.

For those of you who haven’t read Divergent and Insurgent, you know what to do…

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Read them? Good, because there is no way I can write about Allegiant without spoilers. I’ll try to leave out what I can, but there is just SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.

Let’s start with a quick summary. At the beginning of the book, the Factionless have taken control of the city, declaring that there will be no more faction system. Tris is under arrest for treason, for trying to help stop the attack on Janine- which was done only to help release information that has been hidden for years. Tobias and Tris were at odds, since he was working with his mother and not with Tris, until the very last minute, when Tobias helped release the hidden information behind his mother’s back. The information contained a message from one of the original settlers of the establishment, revealing that there was life outside the city limits and why the establishment was originated.

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Now, as the novel continues, the point of view switches between Tris and Tobias every chapter. This was a little tricky for me, because for the last two books, I’ve been completely inside Tris’ head, and then getting into Allegiant, I had to start thinking like Tobias as well. There were a couple of times where the pace got fast, and as chapters whipped by, I had to go back and double check who’s point of view I was reading from. I disliked having to do that as it slow my pace, but at the same time, it was interesting to get the multiple points of view. I believe it made sense for the story to split the views, and come the end of the book, it was definitely necessary.

As the novel goes on, the reader finds out what is beyond the city establishment, and the whole story of how the economic structure came to be and how the ongoing genetic reconstruction experiments occurred completely redefine the lives of the main characters. As layers of the truth are revealed, you can predict an uprising coming from Tris and Tobias, but how it played out completely astounded me. This revelation complicates the fierce relationship problems between Tris and Tobias. One minute, they are on the same team, ready to fight, absolutely absorbed by each other. The next, they’re racing against each other, throwing the harshest dagger-like comments at each other, and barely speaking. Add the additional character’s conflicts, and you can see why this novel packs a punch. Basically, your heart is the punching bag, and Roth knows how to hit it- and even if you saw it coming, it still hurts.

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I don’t want to give the ending away, but I have to talk about that ending. The minute that the rebel group decides to send in a certain someone to set off the “reset” serum, I knew Tris wouldn’t let that happen. When she makes it through the first set of doors, I was thrilled that once again her Divergence won out. But then I knew that when you-know-who showed up, it was over. And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that Roth would do that to her readers. And I fought back tears because I was both sad AND angry. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where this situation occurs, and I wasn’t expecting it. At least there is resolution, and I guess in retrospect, one of the themes running through the series is moving on despite the past.

So, with that in mind, I’m moving on from this series a little battered, but with no regrets. It was captivating and exhilarating, and I’m crushed that this is the end. Well, at least until I get my copy of Four, but even so. Despite the ending, I completely recommend the read.

Also, I’m gonna leave you with this, in hopes that you giggle.

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