Thursday, June 18, 2020

Review: Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories by Oksana Zabuzhko

Title: Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories
Author: Oksana Zabuzhko
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Publish Date: 2014 (original, now in translation)
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Oksana Zabuzhko, Ukraine’s leading public intellectual, is called upon to make sense of the unthinkable reality of our times. In this breathtaking short story collection, she turns the concept of truth over in her hands like a beautifully crafted pair of gloves. From the triumph of the Orange Revolution, which marked the start of the twenty-first century, to domestic victories in matchmaking, sibling rivalry, and even tennis, Zabuzhko manages to shock the reader by juxtaposing things as they are—inarguable, visible to the naked eye—with how things could be, weaving myth and fairy tale into pivotal moments just as we weave a satisfying narrative arc into our own personal mythologies."

My Two Cents:

"Your Ad Could Go Here" is a collection of short stories by Ukrainian author, Oksana Zabuzhko. In this book, she explores everything from siblings, to what it means to be a woman, to the political turmoil of her home country. I had a chance to visit Ukraine in 2011 and it holds a special place in my heart so I am always looking for ways to get back to Ukraine, at least through reading if I can't visit. This book was a great taste of Ukrainian life.

The subject matter of these stories explored so many different areas and some of the stories could be quite difficult for sensitive readers to get through. I, on the other hand, really appreciated the rawness of the stories. The author doesn't flinch from the difficult and sometimes runs head first into some dark territory. It did take me a bit to get into some of the stories but there were others that were rather gripping. My favorite of the book was the story that the book is name for - it was very good!

One interesting thing about this book is that each of the stories seemed to have a different translator. It made me wonder about that choice: was it a conscious choice or just a coincidence? Would any of the various translators translate the story differently. This had absolutely no bearing on my feelings about the book but it is interesting to think about!

This would be a great pick for someone who wants to explore parts unknown with an author that forces you to keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

HFVBT Review: The Highlander's English Bride by Vanessa Kelly

Title: The Highlander's English Bride
Author: Vanessa Kelly
Publisher: Zebra
Publish Date: May 26, 2020
Format: Paperback
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Lady Sabrina Bell has never been so embarrassed in her life. Not only did her new suitor fail to appear for their morning rendezvous in Hyde Park, but a thief pushed her into the Serpentine. Being rescued by a burly Highlander just adds to her humiliation. Nor is he content with rescuing her just once. Even when Sabrina travels to Edinburgh as part of King George's entourage, Graeme Kendrick is there, interfering, exasperating, and so very tempting...

Once notorious for being the most unruly Kendrick brother, Graeme now runs dangerous missions for the King's spymaster. Yet nothing has prepared him for Sabrina. The only child of a wealthy earl, and the pampered goddaughter of the king himself, she is stubborn, impetuous, and far too good for him. He doesn't deserve her, but he can protect her and then send her safely back home. But the bonny Sassenach has her own ideas—and a plan for seduction that no red-blooded Highlander could resist..."

My Two Cents:

"The Highlander's English Bride" is the story of Lady Sabrina who finds herself being rescued from the most embarrassing situation when she goes to meet her suitor, the Marquess of Cringlewood, in the park only to find herself alone and under attack. Luckily for her, Graeme Kendrick is there to hear her cries and rescue her. When he finds out who she is waiting for (the very same man that has threatened his family), Graeme is ready to walk away but he can't just leave once he meets Sabrina. This event kicks off a chain that will bring Sabrina and Graeme together in new and surprising ways.

This book is the third book in Vanessa Kelly's Clan Kendrick series. Graeme is the brother of the starring heroes from the first two books. I really liked getting to see what his family was up to! Although this book is the third in the series, you will have no problem picking up right from this book. You get a chance to catch up with everything that happened in the previous books. Some of this detail bogs down the story but is useful if you are not familiar with the previous books!

I really liked the romance between Graeme and Sabrina. They were never supposed to meet and they definitely were not supposed to fall in love but when they meet, the chemistry between them very quickly turns into something that neither of them can walk away from. It takes awhile for the romance to really heat up between them as they are both initially fighting their attraction as much as they can. Falling for each other eventually feels inevitable as neither one can stay away. This book fit the bill for me when I was desperately seeking a comfort read! I'm interested to see where this series goes next!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

We Need Diverse Books!

I have often been at a loss of words over the past few weeks. What happened to George Floyd was devastating and so needless. Even before this event, I had been thinking a lot about inequality with regard to the pandemic. The pandemic is affecting various groups of people differently with regard to things like who is affected by COVID-19, who has health insurance, and who holds which jobs. When the world began to think about reopening, many of the jobs that were or are in the first phase of reopening fall to many occupation holders with few safety nets (grocery store, public transportation workers, etc.). These first phase workers are somewhat canaries in the coal mine, who knows what could happen with COVID-19. So you have all of this going on and then you have the tragedy that happened in Minneapolis and it is no wonder that everything boiled over.

I'm angry. I'm angry (but not surprised) about George Floyd. I'm angry that we as a society constantly seem to be prioritizing things over people. I'm angry that things are so disparate for different people. I'm angry about the crackdowns on free speech that we've seen over and over again the past few days. I don't have all the answers (in fact, I doubt that I have any of the answers) but I know that things need to change.

If you found this blog, you probably already know that I make sense of my world through books.  And that's what I have been desperately trying to do to make sense of all of this: I'm trying to read books that shake me awake, shake my beliefs, shake my assumptions, shake my prejudices. I want to learn. I want to be a better person and a better ally to those suffering. I see you. I stand with you. I am here for you.

I want to fix this so badly. I want my generation to be the generation that finally stands up and says enough, let's make things right. I don't have all the answers (I'm really not sure I have any of the answers) but in the words of one of my favorite bands, "to change the world, it starts with one step, however small." My small step may not change the world but it is something. We need diverse books. Books allow us to see ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, others in a new light. Books help us understand familiar and unfamiliar situations better. They help us to take a walk in someone else's shoes. It is so powerful and empowering to be able to see yourself in the pages of a book. Reading a book is a low-risk way to allow you to get to know people both familiar and unfamiliar to you. Books make you more empathetic. They have the power to thrust you in the middle of someone else's struggle and see things in a new light.

Particularly with my Around the World Reading Challenge, I have become even more painfully aware of how far we have left to go to literature reflecting the world around us, particularly in the realm of adult literature. This is why things like the Walter Grant make me so excited. The Walter Grant is a grant for writers and illustrators who fit in one of these categories:
    • Person of color
    • Native American
    • LGBTQIA+
    • Person with a disability
    • Marginalized religious or cultural minority
  • The Walter Grant is a small way to move towards more diverse books. What does having more diverse books do for us? It makes it so anyone can pick up a book and see themselves in it. It makes it easier for someone to take that proverbial mile in someone else's shoes. It ensures that more voices are heard. It ensures that more people are able to tell their own stories in their own voices. Representation is super powerful. More diverse books certainly does not fix everything but perhaps it is a start.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Review: Little Sister: A Memoir by Patricia Walsh Chadwick

Title: Little Sister: A Memoir 
Author: Patricia Walsh Chadwick 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Publish Date: April 28, 2020
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Imagine an eighteen-year-old American girl who has never read a newspaper, watched television, or made a phone call. An eighteen-year-old-girl who has never danced—and this in the 1960s.

It is in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Leonard Feeney, a controversial (soon to be excommunicated) Catholic priest, has founded a religious community called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Center's members—many of them educated at Harvard and Radcliffe—surrender all earthly possessions and aspects of their life, including their children, to him. Patricia Chadwick was one of those children, and Little Sister is her account of growing up in the Feeney sect.

Separated from her parents and forbidden to speak to them, Patricia bristles against the community’s draconian rules, yearning for another life. When, at seventeen, she is banished from the Center, her home, she faces the world alone, without skills, family, or money but empowered with faith and a fierce determination to succeed on her own, which she does, rising eventually to the upper echelons of the world of finance and investing. "

My Two Cents:

In "Little Sister," Patricia childhood is spent in a cult called "The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart." Started as a sect based on Catholic doctrine, the cult is led by a priest who will be excommunicated and a couple of... accomplices (I can't think of what else to call them). The group takes their beliefs to the extreme and everyone is expected to do what the leader, Leonard Feeney, says they must do in order to save their souls, even if it means giving up their children. Patricia is one of these children. This book provides an unflinching look at a terrible situation but it's also a story of great resilience!

As a parent, it is so hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a parent who would be willing to give up their children. Patricia's parents are so moved by what they think this group offers that they are willing to give their children over to essentially be raised by other adults in the group beginning at age 3. They go from being the primary parents to only seeing their children on rare occasions when Patricia and her siblings have to refer to their parents by new names doled out by Feeney. It was so hard to read about how Patricia tries to get used to this new world.

I am always impressed by writers who are able to write about really difficult situations, particularly when they are first-person accounts. I felt for Patricia throughout the book. She goes through so many things that seem just so hard to believe. She and the other children in the book go through a lot of abuse and mistreatment that was sometimes hard to read about.

Her story is inspiring and it was really wonderful to read how she comes into her own as a young adult. She is able to overcome so much. Humans are just so amazingly resilient. This was a riveting memoir and would be a perfect pick for anyone looking for a story of triumphing over what could have ended tragically!

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