I thought I would do an update with the books I’ve been reading lately, etc. So… Here’s a March wrap-up.
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Please note: I received an ARC of this book in for my honest review and participation in the TLC Book Tour.
I read and enjoyed The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel. When I found out she was writing an adult mystery, I had to get my hands on it. The Roanoke Girls is the story of a missing woman, an insanely dysfunctional family, a small town, and a woman returning home to look for her missing cousin.
It had me at “missing woman” and “dysfunctional family.”
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
My Sister Rosa–The story of a nomadic family, a reluctant son, and a psychopathic sister. What would you do if you saw danger in your ten year old sister that no one else did?
We follow seventeen year old Che as he navigates his new life in NYC. Never staying in one place longer than his first childhood home in Sydney, Australia, Che hates moving. All he wants to do is go back to Sydney, back to his friends.
Once Che starts to settle into his new city and his new boxing gym, he meets a girl that makes New York seem not so bad. The beautiful, powerful, lithe, muscular Sojourner—Sid to her friends. He also begins to make friends with the caustic Leilani, daughter of his parents’ friends and benefactors the McBrunights.
Che never truly feels settled though. No matter where he is, no matter how cool his friends, he can never escape his sister Rosa, and his desire to protect her—and protect others from her.
That’s another thing about moving so much—no one else can see what Rosa really is. When Che tries to tell people, they don’t believe him. All they see is the sweet little blonde-ringletted ten year old in front of them. Even his parents make excuse after excuse.
What can Che do when he is not there to watch Rosa? What can he do about the new “friendship” she has made? How can he stop her from manipulating those around her? How far will she go to get what she wants?
This book was a great blend of contemporary realistic YA and mystery. It had the best elements of both. This book gets kudos for diversity, great friendships, swoonworthy romance. It also has the serious creep factor in little Rosa.When I began the book, I thought I was getting into a thriller. Although this book definitely has thrilling elements, I wouldn’t call it that. It’s not straight-up one genre. I liked reading a contemporary from a guy’s perspective—I don’t read those a lot. I’m thinking I should give it a try. And maybe one actually written by a dude.
I did have a couple of qualms, though minor, with My Sister Rosa. There were no Oxford commas and that bugs the shit out of me. I get that some of the words were with the Australian spelling, but I feel like “Woah” is always wrong and that was in there more than once. I also found Sojourner’s brand of Christianity a little unsettling. It’s definitely good to be loving and accepting of all people. But to me, the description of her faith came across as a bit of a cop out of the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too variety.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. If you want an exciting, interesting read with a little bit of creepy, I’d recommend My Sister Rosa.
Note: This book does have some mature content.
The Fate of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #3) by Erika Johansen
Eight months or so ago, I discovered the work of prominent feminist writer and activist, Jessica Valenti. She’s been doing great work for several years (which, apparently, I’ve been oblivious to), including writing and co-writing six books and founding the website Feministing. After reading some of her stuff, I began eagerly anticipating the spring release of her memoir, Sex Object.
When Sex Object first came on my radar, I began frequently checking the library listings until I was able to put a hold on it. When it came in for me, it was crisp, shiny, and new in its protective plastic sleeve. I wanted to eat it.
The moment I got home, book in hand, I cracked it open and began to read. I devoured it.
Valenti’s writing is raw and unflinching. She draws you in and forces you to see the realities she presents. You can’t look away.
In Sex Object, Valenti presents essay after essay detailing her, often horrific, experiences. From a young age, there was a piece of her identity that was thrust upon her: sex object. She did nothing to garner this attention, but it was given nonetheless.
A high school teacher once told me that identity is half what we tell ourselves and half what we tell other people about ourselves. But the missing piece he didn’t mention—the piece that holds so much weight, especially in the minds of young women and girls—is the stories that other people tell us about ourselves.
Valenti explores this with grueling honesty as she brings us back and forth in her timeline, detailing the ways this has affected her life and continues to do so—in countless and different forms.
When I reached around the halfway point, I knew this wasn’t a book I could just finish and forget about. It wasn’t a book that I could return to the library and never really look at again. So, naturally, mid-read, I went out and bought myself a copy.
Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t a perfect book. However, it is an honest and important read. Stories like Valenti’s are key pieces in the broader conversation that we all need to be having about sexism, objectification, and harassment. I may have read some fair critiques of Sex Obect, but none of them take away from its value.
One such critique is the seemingly haphazard array of stories throughout Sex Object. The transitions between chapters and sections are often quite jarring. You go from one horrific tale to the beginning of a seemingly innocuous anecdote several years later, and so on and so forth.
I don’t find this a detracting factor. I think this pattern of storytelling embodies what Sex Object is all about. It is jarring and uncomfortable to suddenly find yourself the center of unwanted, sometimes aggressive, sexual behaviour and attention.
While reading Sex Object, I found that I don’t share much of Valenti’s personal experience. I didn’t grow up in a large city. I didn’t use public transit (and still don’t). I grew up in an upper-middle class family, in a small, insular community. I wasn’t exposed to the same things Valenti was as she grew up and matured as a woman. If I experienced such objectification, it was always rare, and almost always treated with a laugh. It was never to such an extreme that I felt more than a little uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, however, things have changed. I’m still not in anywhere near the same circumstances as Valenti, but I now find myself relating to her stories more than ever.
Over the last nine months, I’ve dropped four dress sizes. For the most part, I am proud of myself and feel good and healthy. However, when summer came, I was awash with attention I’d previously rarely received.
When I changed to a summery wardrobe, I wore dresses that exposed (gasp!) my legs, and tops that exposed (gasp!) my shoulders, and things with waistlines that were (gasp!) fitted. And men have noticed. And they have been vocal about it. This is insulting and uncomfortable on so many levels.
I first noticed it at work. Customers gawking at me as I walk by. Male customers repeatedly seeking my help with things they don’t actually need help with. Older men calling me “sweetheart” and plying me with “harmless” flirtatious conversation where they hadn’t before.
This doesn’t just happen at work.
I’ve recently moved into the city and have taken to going for walks regularly. It never occurred to me that an afternoon stroll alone (or even with another girl) might be an occasionally uncomfortable experience. But it is.
I’m a library assistant. Before that, I worked in retail. Smiling at strangers is second nature to me. I do it without even thinking. However, on my walks, I’ve now started to think about it. And stop myself. Just look straight ahead, I tell myself when I pass people on the street.
I know that not everyone is a creep, but at this point I’ve had too many men leer at me in response. I don’t want to see it. I try not to. I try not hear the honks or shouts or whistles as cars drive by.
These incidents may not all happen in rapid succession, but they happen at least once a day. I had been so proud of my weight loss. But now, some days, I feel worse than ever. Outfits that had previously made me feel pretty give me pause. What kind of attention do I want to receive today? I have to scold myself.
If I let thoughts of these men decide what I’m going to wear or do, I’m just giving them more power. And honestly, that’s what they’re after. They seem to think that their thoughts and desires—and the expression of such—are more important than my comfort or safety. They don’t see me as a person.
But I am a person. I am a person with thoughts, feelings, and my own identity. We all are. I wish there was a magic wand I could wave to change this about the world. But, sadly, there isn’t. All we can do is keep our heads up, not accept this as “normal,” and keep talking about it. This kind of attention is not a compliment. It’s harassment.
Valenti’s purpose in Sex Object is an important one. She will not brush off these things. She will not pretend that they don’t happen. She will not for one moment accept that they are in any way okay. Instead, she details her experiences and shows how not okaythey are, how horrible they are. She shows us that these are not one-offs. They are not harmless. These comments and actions are expressions of the deep-seated beliefs that society holds about women. They are a symptom of a greater problem. These attitudes lead to real violence against women.
While my daughter lives in a world that knows what happens to women is wrong, it has also accepted this wrongness as inevitable.
Although I am not a re-reader, I can see myself reading Sex Object again. It made me think about and reflect upon issues that I had previously not personally experienced. Its raw, unflinching, brutal honesty made me shudder at the realities women and girls face, every day. We, like Valenti, need to keep talking about this and stop brushing it aside. We need to stand up, reject this dehumanization, and not consider it “normal” or “inevitable.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take my cue from Valenti. Society may try to make us out to be sex objects, but let us refuse to accept it.
Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of Maker’s Mark, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.
On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.
When Maggie comes back to New York to look after Celine’s things, she gets a glimpse of sides of Celine she never knew. As she digs deeper, she becomes more and more convinced that something isn’t right. There is no way that Celine would have killed herself, and Maggie wants to prove it.
Maggie’s investigation leads her down a dangerous path as she searches for the truth. This thriller explores relationships and secrets. It begs the question, how well can you really know someone? People have so many facets–and some of them they’d do anything to hide.
With twists and turns, thrills and romance, K.A. Tucker weaves a mystery that is entertaining, engrossing, and thought-provoking. It kept me guessing and turning the pages. Although I would have liked a less convoluted ending, this one was still pretty good. If you love a good thriller, give this one a go!
Black Apple by Joan Crate
The main character in Black Apple is an indigenous girl named Sinopaki. When she is torn from her family and sent to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls, her name is changed to Rose Marie. All indigenous names were changed to Christian ones.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
All we ever wanted was just to play songs and shows that mattered to people, that mattered to us. Music that summed up the messiness of life, that mitigated that nagging fear of hopelessness, loneliness and death.
Before I read this book, I didn’t know that much about Carrie Brownstein. I, of course, know her from the hilarious show Portlandia, but I hadn’t heard of the punk band Sleater-Kinney before. I really love Portlandia so when I had the chance, I was eager to learn more about Ms. Brownstein.
Carrie starts by telling us about her bumpy childhood and the relationships she has with her family members. She paints a picture of an endearing girl, unsure of herself, troubled not only by teenage angst, but by a disease that plagued her mother. In these times, she would turn to music and comedy.
When she moves on to her time in university, she begins to delve deeper into her love of music. This was the early 90s and the heyday of the Riot Grrrl punk movement. Carrie was in the pacific northwest of the US and was in the epicentre of a lot of this music at the time. The way she talks about it makes you feel like you are right there with her, alongside her as she takes part in this music evolution.
Carrie is an amazing writer. She gets to the heart of what it’s like to want to do something that matters, to express yourself, be an artist. She speaks honestly of trouble, loss, self-doubt, friendship, love, music, and everything in between. Her memoir is relatable, evocative, and totally engrossing. She’s a very intelligent woman and it shows.
Though I came to know Carrie through her humour, there’s not much of that in this book. If you’re looking for laughs, this isn’t the place. But if you’re looking for a well written, insightful memoir-meets-cultural-history, you’ll love this.
This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang
Note: An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher for an honest review.
Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.
Janie seemed like your typical manic pixie dream girl. While this trope seems to be played out and a little annoying (to me anyway), I think it stems from mental illness—at least in this case. I think Janie is probably bipolar, or something along those lines. She has really high highs, and really low lows. She latches on to anything that is beautiful. She has her head in the clouds. She’s a dreamer.
Overall Rating: B
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.
What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.
Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year.