February Book Reviews

Short month means short list of completed books, right?

**Cringe**

And one of the books I finished I started in 2018.

**Cringes even harder**

I started a handful of books this month but I had a hard time completing anything. Unique to this month is the fact that I highly recommend both of the books I read.

The Best American Short Stories 2018 Edited by Roxane Gay – I already wrote a review on this but THIS WAS GOOD. I haven’t picked up many shirt story collections but when I saw Roxane Gay was the editor I said “TAKE MY MONEY.” She did not disappoint. She selected diverse and thought provoking stories.

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley – The article that ignited the internet has become a book. I’ll be writing a long post on this later but the big takeaway is I think this should be required reading for everyone.

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2019 January Book Dump

January found me with stacks of half finished books. This usually isn’t my MO however, I have had outside forces influencing me. I’ve hired someone to help me clean my house and she picks up my books and stows them away. She is a lifesaver in getting me and keeping me organized. She has made finishing books difficult.

In addition to the large pile of half finished books, I am trying to work my way through all the books I purchased in the past year. Most notably all of my Odyssey Bookshop First Edition selections. I also had some time off from work and visited friends. Each friend I saw gave me at least one book to read. Sharing books you love with people you care about really is the best.

Little by Edward Carey is a delightful historical fiction novel about the origin of Madam Tussaud. Madam Tussaud left conflicting information about herself. Carey creates a lovely tale about how he imagined her life was. Note: This was an Odyssey Bookshop First Edition Selection

Girl Wash Your Face– Everyone loves it. I did not. She did have some interesting takes but some of them were wildly off. I find the origin story of her and her husband to be the most disturbing. Look for my blog post later this month about it.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – This is my book club’s February selection and it was GOOD. Moriarty pokes fun at the wellness industry showing how crazy it can be but you can also see yourself in any one of the characters. Or at least I can.

It was a wild January and I’m looking forward to a more relaxing February. What did you read in January?

Becoming by Michelle Obama

To be completely candid, I don’t even remember why I put her book on my wish list for the library but it arrived. I figured I might as well give it a shot. The result? Hands down one of the best books I read in 2018. 

Why did I love it so much? Because of her willingness to share so much of her journey with the public. I only had an inkling of who Michelle Obama was outside of being the First Lady and Barack Obama’s wife. I knew she was a lawyer but I had no idea of any of her professional accomplishments or what her life was like.

She is an extremely driven and accomplished woman. I think what I respected the most about her book was her describing her realization that corporate law was not for her. She did all of the “right” things and still wasn’t happy. It is a difficult concept to grasp when you have achieve your dreams and realize they are not what you thought it would be. I also think that it shows tremendous courage to leave a financially secure job to find a job that makes you happy.

Furthermore, her willingness to talk about her struggles with infertility and in her marriage. Marriage is hard work. Infertility is something that so many women struggle with.  For a woman like Michelle Obama to come out and talk about her struggles helps the to make it acceptable to talk about these difficult topics. I think it’s important to talk about our struggles as well as our successes.

Okay. I’ll stop gushing now. Go out and read the book. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!

I like to use the New Year and my birthday as the times to reflect and refocus. It also helps that they are about 6 months apart from each other.

I am proud of myself for starting this website. I have grown my audience on the website, instagram and twitter from zero to about one hundred. I’ve been able to keep up a semi-regular posting schedule on all of the platforms. This has been a great project for me.

Which brings me to 2019 and my goals for the Literary Lady with Libations site. My goal is to post at least three posts on a month on here, grow my followers on Twitter and get my Instagram feed on a more regular posting schedule.

In terms of my personal, I am ready to crush some books this year. I really want to focus on reading more diverse books. I have a tendency to read a lot of fiction. I want to read more non fiction. I want to read more authors from different backgrounds than mine. I want to read more short stories. More poetry! And the only way to accomplish that is by making a conscious choice to pick books that are a little bit outside of what I would normally pick up.

And lastly, I want to get out more and explore the different offerings my community has. I have to up the libations game! There are so many new places popping up. I have to get out there and frequent them.

What are your goals for 2019? Reading or otherwise. Travel goals? Let me know in the comments! Let me know if there is anything different you would like to see on here too! I’d love to have suggestions of what you want to see here other than book and restaurants posts.

#FashionVictim

Anya St. Clair is a fashion assistant who finally has her dream job. Now all she needs is Sarah Taft to realize that she is her best friend. Sarah is the person who inspired Anya to join the fashion world. Her boss throws a wrench in those plans when she dangles s promotion between Anya and Sarah. If Anya secures the promotion, she knows she will finally get Sarah’s approval. She will stop at nothing. Thus begins Anya’s dark descent into securing her promotion. Pretty soon, all of Anya’s enemies (real and perceived) begin dropping like flies.

This book is a hilarious satire about the fashion world and female competition. It also looks into hidden female rage. Women are not allowed to be angry. It is drilled into our head that we can’t be angry or upset ever. Women are taught to always smile. Furthermore, it is drilled into women’s head that they need to be thin and young looking in order to be successful. While this is true across industries, it is especially true in the fashion world. As Anya guides us through her world, she observes that many of these standards are unfair but she still works to fit into the standards. Even though her methods are far from conventional, she manages to get the end result she wants.

Seeing as we are about to embark on the holiday gorge of extreme consumer spending, this book is the perfect book to review this week. I found this book in the Cosmopolitan magazine monthly book recommendations. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I think the blurb said something about fighting your best friend for a job promotion. Similar to our unreliable narrator Anya, that blurb is not quite how I would describe the novel if only given three sentences.

Final Thoughts: Big props to Amina Akhtar for coming up with this story and sharing it with the masses. It’s definitely a dark twist on what type of people the fashion industry breeds but it is  highly entertaining. Thank you Amina for spinning your fashion world observations into a wickedly funny novel.

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

The book was well written. My problem with the book is that I took issue with the story. I found the main character to be unlikeable and annoying. Walsh wrote a weak and simpering female protagonist. She highlighted all the bad stereotypes about women and wrote a book about it.

Why did I find Sarah unlikeable? I think my distaste from the book comes from the values that the main character seems to protrude. Sarah obsesses about Eddie who has stopped talking to her after seven ‘magical’ days together. SPOILER ALERT: He is brooding man, with a dark past that they are connected but they end up back together.

Give me a freaking break. This is everything wrong with people now. They hang onto the idea of someone forever, hoping that they will come around. If someone stops talking to you with no further contact aka ‘Ghosting’ instead of using their words to communicate what is wrong, then you need to RUN, not walk in the opposite direction of that man. This novel plays into the fantasy that so many woman have. It supports the idea of women falling in love with and hanging onto a man’s potential. Potential is why woman waste time in terrible relationships or terrible jobs.

With that being said Rosie Walsh is a good writer. I could never say she writes poorly. She has the mechanical skill to put together a story and obscuring details to have a better twist. I wish she had written better characters and a better story.

Can’t like every book that you read though. I did finish it so I’ll give myself a pat on the back for it.

The Plot Against America By Philip Roth

Dystopian fiction everyone! Who doesn’t love a little bit of alternative history? I have always enjoyed the genre. I find myself reading more of it lately. There are definitely a lot more of it being published in the Trump era but there is a plethora of ones that a couple of years older but still strike a cord in today’s environment. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth is a great example of that.

The Plot Against America was published in 2004. Written as if it were an autobiography of his life, Roth tells the tale of what happened to himself and his family when Charles Lindburgh beat FDR and became the President of the United States in 1940. It is a fascinating examination of how quickly life as we know it can dissolve into something totally and completely unrecognizable.

14 years later and his story still resonates with a reader. I found it particularly relevant in America’s current political climate.The book brings into sharp focus how much politics plays a role in our daily life. I found myself comparing the fictional America that Roth created and the America that is happening here now. I find a lot of glaring similarities between President Lindburgh’s America and President Trump’s America. Citizens are constantly asking themselves, can he do this? Is this legal? It was all done under the idea of protecting the US citizens.

The questions that I kept asking throughout the novel were: Who does this make it safer for? Who gets to decide what is safe and what isn’t? Why do the Jewish neighborhoods have to be broken up but not the Italian or the Irish? Why are the Jews labeled an unAmerican but not any other group. Roth describes the effect of ‘othering’ and the wide ranging effects it has. His novel paints a realistic picture of America’s slow descent into a  nation that allows for the ostracism of its own citizens. The notion that it can happen here creeps into the readers mind and does not leave. There is no big event, it is the accumulation of all these actions that land the characters in an unrecognizable America.

Final thought and takeaways from the book: It’s important to pay attention to the little actions our leaders take. It is the sum of all the little actions that will have the biggest impact on our country. The book was dense. It took awhile for me to get through the book but as always Roth created an intriguing and engrossing read.

With Election Day being tomorrow, I thought this review was timely. This book shares the message loud and clear that elections have consequences. Maybe if more people read Philip Roth’s book before 2016 we wouldn’t be in this current situation. Sadly, we can’t go back but only go forward so get out and exercise your right to vote!

 

 

 

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

***WARNING..SPOILERS INCLUDED*****

The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon  was recommended by a Literary Lady Libations reader (Shout out to Chuck!!).

Kwon’s novel follows the story of Phoebe and Will. Both are wounded and broken in their own ways. The main storyline follows Phoebe’s descent into a cult while Will painstakingly tries to be the one to bring her back.

Kwon said that it took her ten years to write this novel. I find that particularly interesting because she touches on a topic, that until recently was pretty taboo to discuss in public. Phoebe is sexually assaulted. What is even more interesting is that Kwon has the sexual assault be perpetrated by Phoebe’s boyfriend. Will rapes Phoebe.

Before people scoff and say that it is a one off and this is a work of fiction, let’s take a look at the statistics surrounding sexual violence and college students. Sexual violence in relationships is all too common. Below are a couple of statistics regarding college aged women and dating violence (taken from National Coalition Against Domestic Violence):

  • 1 in 6 (16%) college women has been sexually abused in a dating relationship
  • Nearly 1 in 3 (29%) college women say they have been in an abusive dating relationship.

Kwon handles sexual violence in a relationship with a nuanced look. I think that Kwon, unfortunately, captures an accurate portrayal of what happens when rape happens in a relationship. The rape just unfolds on the page and then we move on from it. It could almost be described as a foot note in the novel. However be the conclusion of the novel it’s clear that the sexual assault could be described as turning point of the novel. The ramifications of the experience appears to have set Phoebe and Will on a path they would not have travelled down otherwise.

In addition to suffering from sexual assault, Phoebe has extreme guilt for killing her mother. This guilt drove her in all aspects of her life. It was the parrot always on her shoulder that progressively began squawking louder and louder. In an effort to wash away her sins and save the babies she ended doing the opposite.

Guilt is a powerful emotion. I would consider it one of the main themes of the book. Kwon’s writes about the many forms in which guilt and show up in a persons’ life. She portrays the outsize role guilt can play on our actions and our state of mind. How Will and Phoebe deal (or don’t) with their guilt has a huge impact on the course of their lives.

Kwon gives an ending to the story. It is a very satisfactory ending. However, I couldn’t shake this book. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings swirling in my head. How much of Will’s background did you think impacted his actions? Do you think if Will was the typical college student he would have behaved the same way? Would he have driven relentlessly towards ‘saving’ Phoebe? What played a bigger part in Phoebe’s path to the cult- her guilt or the sexual assault?

If you haven’t read it, I would recommend picking it up at your local library or indie bookstore. It is one of the better 2018 debuts I have read.

 

 

 

The Daisy Children by Sofia Grant

**SPOILER ALERT: This blog post has spoilers**

I have absolutely no idea how this book ended up on my library queue. It showed up at the library and I read the back and I was flummoxed. Nothing rang a bell. It didn’t even seem like a book I would typically read.

The Daisy Children follows three generations of women but told from the perspective of Katie and Margaret. Katie is Margaret’s grandchild. The story is told between Katie and Margaret’s perspective. Margaret was the replacement child her parent’s had after her sister was killed in a tragic accident. Katie is Margaret’s grandchild. At it’s heart, the novel is a romance story.

Katie is a thirty something woman, unhappily married, when her estranged grandmother, Margaret, passes away and names her in the will. Katie is brought back to her home state of Texas and meets her cousin Scarlet. Together, the cousins discover their shared past and begin to take steps to empower themselves to live a better life. Because it is a romance novel, Katie ends up finding out her husband is having an affair and decides to take up with the handsome wounded vet who is Margaret’s neighbor.

The novel uses a real life accident that occurred in Texas as a focal point of the story. It is the thing that connect all the characters together. However, the idea of the daisy children or the replacement children is completely a work of the author’s imagination. Using this accident as the point that ties the novel together was interesting even thought the novel as a whole was pretty shallow.  The characters didn’t have a lot of depth and it was very transparent how everything was going to end up. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book and I wouldn’t recommend picking it up unless you are a serious Romance genre fan.

Who is Vera Kelly? By Rosalie Knecht

Two words to describe Who is Vera Kelly? are: Slow Burn. The novel flips back and forth from Vera’s present to her past. While it is confusing at first, the reader is slowly lead through these ‘past’ chapters and begins to see how Vera ended up in her present. It seems as though the author is purposefully making the story confusing because the characters path to her present situation and occupation was not straight forward. It had a lot of a twists and turns which I found to be very engaging.

I came across Who Is Vera Kelly? on a listicle article about highly anticipated books. The only reason this caught my eye is that Vera Kelly is the name of a professor at the college I attended. I read the description and the book is a spy novel and follows Vera on her exploits in 1960s Argentina.

This gave me pause because the professor in question, quite openly, discussed her life as a spy. She was imprisoned in Central American prisons for spying. She immigrated to the United States at some point and is now a professor. My interest was peaked. Not enough to add it to my order list for the library but it was in the back of my mind. Fate brought me to the book, when it was predominantly displayed at the library in the New Books section. I was on my way to grab a book I ordered and picked it up too

Who Is Vera Kelly? was a short book. However, it had a lot of topics packed into the book: CIA, Cold War culture, American interventions, LGBT scene in the 1950s/1960s, and  student revolutionaries to name a few. While very diverse, Rosalie Knecht, tied all of these topics into her story  and characters and made them fit in seamlessly. Nothing seemed forced or cliched with the characters.

This is the second book Rosalie Knecht has written. I am very interested to talk with her about her book and what the inspirations were for the novel. If I had the chance to meet her, I would have to ask her if she knows the Vera Kelly I know. A lot of her story sounds very similar to things and situations that Vera experienced and told her students about. I can’t help but think “Did she steal Vera’s life and make it a novel?!”. Maybe or maybe not. Maybe I like this story so much because it is legitimizing the stories I heard from Vera’s students in college. It makes Knecht’s story more enjoyable because I know what she is describing in her novel isn’t so far fetched.

Longer than the usual review but I really enjoyed the book. I definitely recommend picking it up if you are interested in the Cold War and Latin American politics.