Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: Sadness Is a White Bird

Sadness Is a White Bird Sadness Is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jonathan, at 19, is the narrator of this novel, told in letters written to his friend Laith from military prison in Israel.

This novel is about the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, but on a much more personal level. It is about family and family history, and how that molds our path. It is about friendship and the barriers that arise, how far intimacy can go when it confronts your identity. I found it overall to be just a bit too long, but enjoyed the read.

Jonathan moved with his family to Israel, where he is getting ready to join the military. In his younger years he befriends Palestinian twins, after his mother meets their mother at a protest.

Jonathan is Jewish, and is finding his identity inside Israel where he is the majority, an experience he hadn't had in the United States. His new friendships are tenuous, and he instinctively hides his friendship with Laith and Nimreem from his Israeli-Jewish friends. (Laith and Nimreem, coincidentally, also consider themselves to be Israeli but have to endure far more curfews and checkpoints than Jonathan does.)

At one point he goes to Greece to explore his family's roots, and he uncovers still-present racism, hatred, and learns more about the deaths of his family members, and the destruction of their lives there. This is a part of who he is and why he wants to be in the military, but there is a bit of idealism in his sense of duty, of military service. Nimreem knows this and confronts him in various ways, from yelling to poetry (the work of Mahmoud Darwish is important in this novel, and the title comes from one of his poems), but it takes him more time and experience to understand what she is trying to say.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through NetGalley.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: What Are We Doing Here?

What Are We Doing Here? What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a lightweight read, as Robinson is an academic first, one who happens to write novels. Most of these essays are speeches Robinson gave at universities between 2015 and 2017, on themes of religion, politics, holiness, humanism, etc. She was clearly on a John Edwards, Calvinism, and Cromwell kick because several of the essays reference these characters, as well as looking at the true history of America and its "Puritan roots." While I believe Robinson understands something deep about humanity, I personally prefer the experience of her perspective of it in her fiction than in her essays, but there was is one favorite that I feel everyone should read, one that I luckily found myself reading on Presidents' Day. It's called "A Proof, a Test, an Instruction," and looks at Obama's presidency from a different perspective. It can be a balm for people weary of 45. I also think it's interesting to note that it is one of the few written for print rather than a speech, and I think it is in more of a type of essay I enjoy reading - it has more personal reflection to balance the scholarship and points she is trying to make than the rest of them.

So this won't be for everyone, but if you are interested in religion and theology, in examining current events through a historical Calvinist lens, or want to delve deep into her thinking, this will be the book for you. I saw her speak a few years ago at the university where I work, and her quiet command of her topics is really something.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through Edelweiss. It came out today, February 20th, 2018.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: White Houses

White Houses White Houses by Amy Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to this book. I'm a longtime fan of Amy Bloom, and like how she writes somewhat quirky people inside relationships.

I like the idea of reading the untold story of the unknown (but open secret) lesbian lover of one of the greatest first ladies we've ever had in the United States.

But I think the author's lack of experience in writing historical fiction does not serve her well here. The pieces of the story are interesting but yet it is somehow not very well told.

It may still be worth reading for some - the relationship between Lorena and Eleanor definitely has some fire in it, and I liked imagining Eleanor through Lorena's eyes. At times I felt like I lacked some crucial details about the historical context that I wasn't getting from the book itself, things that would have helped me better understand the story. There are also some unfavorable comments about FDR, alongside some insights into his appeal, also coming from Lorena's perspective. Her childhood and circus past were... well, they were something else. At times it felt exaggerated and difficult to read as historical fiction. I'm not sure if it's because of the actual facts of the story being that extreme or if it's the writing, but I feel as if I'd have to read some biography of both Lorena and Eleanor to truly understand it all.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to this title through NetGalley. The book came out this past Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

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Review: Virgin

Virgin Virgin by Analicia Sotelo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was hooked from the first poem, "Do You Speak Virgin?" from this impressive debut collection by Analicia Sotelo.

My favorites included:
"Ariadne's Guide to Getting a Man"
"My Mother & the Parable of the Lemons"
"My English Victorian Dating Troubles."

What I like about them - the way they feel youthful, but not naive. The way the poet's voice knows her inexperience but moves through the world deliberately masking her understanding of it so other women feel safe, and she herself is safer (but not from love.) The way there are slight elements of Mexican culture, the way someone who grows up in another country still has some cultural references from their background. The division of poems into sections like "Myths" and "Parables." The characters that have already started to recur in her memory, her dreams, and now her poems. Great stuff.

I had an eARC from Milkweed... Virgin comes out February 20!

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Review: The Undressing: Poems

The Undressing: Poems The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't say enough about how much I liked this poetry collection, in fact reading some of them aloud made me sob my eyes out. That's how deep and emotionally affecting they are, but not in an Instagram poetry way. This is the real stuff.

The poems are about desire, belonging, and family. My favorites are "Love Succeeding" and "Sandalwood," but the longer title poem is pretty unforgettable.

I need to go back and read his earlier work!

I had an eARC from the publisher and the title is out February 20, 2018.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Reading Envy 110: The Accidental Love Episode

Casey Stepaniuk, aka the Canadian Lesbrarian, makes her first official visit to the Reading Envy Pub, and brings books she's read and liked recently. Discussions include Vancouver Island, bisexual representation, and YA characters that we want to empathize with! We ended up talking about relationships and love a lot in many of our book picks, so happy valentines day, accidentally.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 110: The Accidental Love Episode

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Books Discussed:

 

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Republic of Dirt: A Return to Woefield Farm by Susan Juby
The Dry by Jane Harper
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
White Tears by Hari Kunzru


Other Mentions: 

Out On The Shelves on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley
I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro
The Change Room by Karen Connolly
The Alice Series by Susan Juby - Alice, I Think is the first book
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
Home to Woefield by Susan Juby
Tournament of Books
Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai
To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This by Mandy Len Catron
How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays by Mandy Len Catron
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis
 
Related Episodes:

Episode 107 - Reading Goals 2018

Stalk us online:

Casey's blog,  Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian
Casey's articles on Book Riot
Casey on Twitter
Casey at Goodreads 
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This month's bookclub pick, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, starts in England with an aging attorney setting up a trust. Most of the story follows Jean Paget, who spent most of World War II in Malaya as a prisoner of the Japanese. The journey after the war is the best part. It's a slow journey to get there, but paid off. Warning - there are some racist comments in here that seem a bit harsh even in 1950.

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