Book Review: Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

girls burn brighterTitle: GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER
Author: Shobha Rao
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Pages: 304
Publisher: Flatiron Books
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

I’m struggling to decide just how I feel about this book. So, first off, if you’re going in completely clueless like me (why do I not read book summaries properly), massive content warning for rape. This book deals with human trafficking, so you can imagine the content here. This is kind of why I was so unsure of what I thought when I finished it, but that’s no fault of the book itself – I just don’t really like reading books about things like rape and human trafficking. Which isn’t to say that the scenes in this book were overly graphic or exploitative, but there were still some instances where I felt like it was a bit too much, like all this trauma was just being piled on and on with no real purpose (there were definitely some scenes I, and the narrative, could have done without). I expected something totally different of this book, but I don’t like to give a book a low rating just because it didn’t meet my own expectations, especially when the book is objectively well-written.

That’s the second thing I want to talk about: the prose. I thought this was a really beautifully-written, thoughtful book. The narration is kind of omniscient, which I don’t always like, but here it meshed well with the lush, lyrical prose. The prose and some of the narrative choices give this book a kind of mythic quality; indeed, there are so many coincidences occurring it seems one would have to suspend disbelief to be able to enjoy this book.

At its heart, it is a story of friendship between two women, Savitha and Poornima. Though they spend much of the book apart after being separated, Poornima spends literal years structuring her life in ways that will lead her to find Savitha. This is also a book about misogyny’s ugly depths. Most of us know men are demons, but this book elucidates that truth unflinchingly. Is there a single male character in this book who isn’t absolute trash? Perhaps Savitha’s father had redeeming qualities in his youth, but otherwise all the men are pretty horrific, and even some of the women have become warped by internalized misogyny.

But I liked how the misogyny was presented through a distinct cultural lens. Though we all live in a patriarchal world, misogyny takes different forms depending on where it is manifesting. American misogyny is going to look very different from Indian misogyny. For example, dowry is a big issue in this book. Dowry is the payment a bride’s family is expected to provide to the bridegroom and his family upon marriage, seemingly for the upkeep the new bride will require. As you can imagine, the great financial strain this puts on bride’s family’s means that the impoverished will begin resenting their daughters. In one harrowing incident in this book, Poornima’s father recounts a anecdote when he almost let Poornima drown as a child because he sees daughters as expendable and expensive.

My main issue with this book, narratively speaking? That goddamn ending. There’s no payoff. Literally the entire book has been building to a very particular climax and then, right when you’re expecting the payoff, that moment of climax and resolution, the book simply ends abruptly. I literally double-checked the ARC I had to make sure I wasn’t skipping pages or missing an epilogue, because the ending was so abrupt! Perhaps this is just a pet peeve of mine as a reader, but I like closure, which this book desperately needed. Otherwise, with the way it is, it just feels incomplete.

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Book Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

freshwaterTitle: FRESHWATER
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Release Date: February 13, 2018
Pages: 240
Publisher: Grove Press
My Rating: ★★★★★(4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

How does one talk about a book that is essentially a very personal memoir? Freshwater is a semi-autobiographical tale about a young Nigerian-Tamil woman named Ada who lives with multiple selves. That is, her consciousness appears to be made up of a group of ogbanje, spirits from Igbo folklore. They are one and they are many; the book’s narration is delivered from three perspectives, that of all the ogbanje, one particular manifestation named Asughura, and Ada.

To say that this book was mind-blowing is an understatement. I had seen a lot of hype surrounding Freshwater on Twitter, and I had sort of come to the conclusion that this was going to be a straightforward metaphor for multiple personality disorder. It’s not, and not just because the author has straight-up said that it’s not. You’ll find yourself doubting as you read. It’s actually quite a spiritual tome, which I was not expecting, so I found myself constantly having to adjust my expectations and my perceptions.

That’s the thing about Freshwater: it completely challenged all of my perceptions of reality, particularly the traditional Western understanding of psychology. It’s easy to forget that the field of psychology is artificially constructed, that mental illnesses are not ontological realities but very human and very Western categories created mostly by men who came with their own biases and particular worldviews. To my understanding, this is what Freshwater is challenging. Ada is considered mentally ill by some of the people in her life, but she – and her ogbanje – do not believe it to be so. Are we meant to take the ogbanje literally, then? Are we meant to believe they are real? Perhaps. I have to say I’m not entirely certain. I would love to sit down with the author and just have a lengthy, in-depth conversation about this book.

The prose is absolutely stunning. I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs multiple times to savor the lyrical and sensual prose. It maintains a certain elegance throughout, even as the events occurring in the narrative veer from ugly to mundane. There’s something about it that almost makes you want to believe this <>is a story told from the perspective of ageless spiritual beings. For my fantasy readers, this has elements of age-old epic fantasy that made me shiver in delight. I’d recommend this book to absolutely everyone, for it is an unprecedented foray into unfamiliar realities.

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Cover Buys

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Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm. This week’s topic:

FEBRUARY 6TH – Top 5 Cover Buys

Now, I don’t actually buy a ton of books, so I just talked about the books that I added to my TBR because of their cover. Not just because of their cover, though – their summaries enticed me to, but the major draw was the cover.  I…kind of overdid this a bit, since I have nine and not five books, but oh well. Pretty covers and all.

Does anyone see the pattern? Because I sure do! It seems I love really detailed, busy covers with a ton of color and pattern-work.  I think the exception is The Crimson Ribbon? I especially love it if covers are bordered in the corners (I’m sure there’s a word for this), like Under the Pendulum Sun (the only book here I actually own, purchased without reading the summary, because THAT COVER), Jane Steele, A Curious Beginning, and Beast.

Don’t get me wrong; I sometimes like simple, minimalist designs as well, but there’s just something about this style that makes me feel like the artist is taking full advantage of the fact that they’re, well, an artists.  You know? Pretty much anyone can make a decent minimalist cover design, but these covers here take some serious skill.

P.S. I have to give a shout-out to The City of Brass and the two books in the Dreamblood Duology.  They don’t really match the style I discussed above, but they’re absolutely gorgeous and take some serious artistic skill too.


P.P.S.
If I ever get a book published and I get to have some say over the cover, I’m showing them this post.

Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

stalking jack the ripperTitle: STALKING JACK THE RIPPER
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 326 (on Kindle it’s 276?)
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆(2.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

Despite being such a short book (my Kindle says 276 pages!), Stalking Jack the Ripper took me a remarkably long time to read, which tell you a lot about its pacing. For a murder mystery set in Victorian London, this book sure is a predictable snooze-fest. That’s essentially my main issue with it; I could have overlooked all the other flaws if the book had been as fast-paced as it promised. Instead, it dragged and dragged, with a lot of totally pointless scenes, which is some kind of accomplishment for a book this short.

It’s a shame, because I did like the atmosphere here; it was compelling enough to keep me reading. Unfortunately, a genre thriller set in 19th century London inevitably had me drawing a comparison so the infinitely more compelling Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, which was the best book I read last year. Perhaps if I hadn’t had Goodman’s book to compare this to, I would have been less disappointed.

I’m likely also thinking too critically here. The heroine, Audrey Rose (what is with that name! seriously, I know Audrey is a historically accurate name and all but I cringed every time I read it), reads like a 21st century teenager transplanted to 19th century London, and she keeps talking all about how she can be smart and pretty at once. I know, I know, this isn’t a treatise on feminism, who cares about anachronism in a genre thriller, this is probably really empowering for teen girls, etc. I know. I just wish the author had been a bit more subtle about it rather than banging us over the head with it constantly. Again, I can’t help but think of The Dark Days Club – the heroine in that novel is strong and eschews certain aspects of traditional femininity, but she does it realistically, within the bounds of how a 19th century woman would think.

As for the killer’s identity, it was pretty obvious by the mid-point of the book, especially when the writing started laying it on really, really thick with a red herring. Red herrings are not supposed to be that obvious! You may as well have said “this is exactly the opposite of what the truth is.” It made very little sense to me, character-wise, and it seemed like it was just done for shock value. The character seemed to do a complete 180.

The romance is actually the least terrible thing in this book? Usually I detest the Inexplicable Heterosexual Romance, but in this novel it was neither inexplicable nor detestable. The love interest, Thomas Cresswell, is kind of unique when it comes to male YA love interests, and I found him oddly charming. So he was fine. There were basically no other characters, though? The only other female character was Audrey Rose’s cousin Liza who was…fine, I guess, but I really thought that Audrey Rose would use her gender to talk to the prostitutes and other disreputable ladies of the East End. That’s my own fault for having that expectation (this actually happens in the sequel to The Dark Days Club, and goddamn I really need to stop comparing these two books!).

After all this I’m still kind of tempted by the next book in this series though? There was definitely something compelling about this book despite all its flaws. Perhaps it’s just the setting. This one was Victorian London, the next book is a boarding school in Romania, the third book is a cruise ship…it’s like the author is pulling ideal settings out of my brain. But can setting and atmosphere really be enough for me to keep going? Who knows. Tune in soon to find out.

What do you guys think? Does the sequel get better? Should I invest my time and energy or nah?

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Intimidating Books!

top-5-tuesday

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm. This week’s topic:

JANUARY 29TH – Top 5 intimidating books

I chose to go with books still on my TBR that I’m a bit afraid to start because of the commitment they require.  (I may have included six books instead of five because I couldn’t decide, but shhhh!)

***

malazanGardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erickson: Adult fantasy is always a little intimidating, but none more so than this book in particular. It’s not especially long – for adult fantasy 666 clocks in at just shy of average – but it’s ridiculously dense. I think I read the first chapter a few years ago and had to put it down because it was just too much.  It’s also the first of TEN books, all of equal or longer lengths. It’s a time commitment and one hell of an investment.  Not to mention that I’ve heard a lot of people say that it takes a long time to really understand what’s going on; the author just sort of tosses you in and you’re left to fend for yourself. But I’ve heard so many great things about this series that I really want to give it a shot, at least.


93134The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe: This is THE Gothic novel, but classics are always such a hit or miss for me that I’m afraid to take on such a huge tome when I might end up struggling with it. In general I think I like Gothic novels (lmao I think I’ve read all of two), but not only is this one long and dense, it’s super old (published in 1794), so I’m also up against outdated language that may make the reading process much slower than it otherwise would be.


271276Middlemarch by George Eliot: I’ve heard such great things about this book from people I respect, but again, it’s a hit or miss classic, and it clocks in at a whopping 900 pages! It’s written a bit more recently than Udolpho, in 1871, and I’m actually a tiny bit obsessed with the 19th century, but this is still a super intimidating read for me.  It’s one of those books people read in high school or English Lit classes and hate, you know? So I don’t know. I want to try it someday though!


29983711Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: So many of my friends on here have read this book and loved it, and it’s definitely subject matter that is interesting to me (Korea and Japan in early 20th century), but it’s also the type of book I normally go out of my way to avoid. Omniscient narration of a family saga? Ordinarily I wouldn’t touch it, but my friends think so highly of it I think I have to at least give it a shot.


870998In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif: So, Ahdaf Soueif is a really prolific and prestigious Egyptian author who is known for incisive commentary on gender and politics.  This book is supposed to be one of her truly great ones, a chronicle of the life of a young Egyptian woman.  I’m always looking to read more literature that directly relates to my heritage, but again, I’m usually not into this type of novel.  I may enjoy all the references to my own years in Egypt and my own culture, but it’s very likely I will struggle through what sounds like a character driven novel.


10692The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova: This book is so weird. I don’t think I even understand what it’s about, only that it has something to do with Dracula. I still remember when this book was first published, how frenzied publishing houses were and how much praise was heaped on it.  It also involves old libraries and international travel and rare archives and things that make me shiver in delight! And of course, Dracula! The summary just make it sound so creepy and fascinating, but I’m worried that I’m completely misunderstanding what this book is about and I will end up super disappointed.


Have y’all read any of these books? What were your experiences? Let me know!