Trascendent Kingdom

Author: Yaa Gyasi

Published: September 1, 2020

Publisher: Knopf

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from my local Indie (Old Firehouse Books)

Key Words: family relations, spirituality, race, drug use

My Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts:

  1. I LOVED this book! I am often turned off from any books with a religious bend to them, and this book certainly has that. BUT, I soaked in every word. So if religion is a trigger for you, you might want to give this one a go anyways-I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

2. There were so many themes in this book and honestly, I went into it a bit blind-and I think that made the reading even more beautiful. Gyasi takes on religion, immigration, mental health, addiction, family dynamics with an ease and grace that I’m not sure I’ve ever read before.

3. Another thought I had about this book was the way that Gyasi wrote about science and religion. You don’t see that often in books, or in real-life if I’m being honest, and I think there is something to this. We spend a lot of time putting up a divide between these two topics, but maybe if we move closer to the center, maybe some real change would happen in this world.

4. Overall, I really loved this book. I was lucky to see Gyasi and Roxane Gay virtually speak on September 1st through Strand and it made me love this book (and Gyasi) even more, if that’s possible!

5. Highly suggest this one!

bookishfolk…read instead.

The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennett

Published: June 2, 2020 

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from my local Indie (Old Firehouse Books)

Key Words: family relations, race issues, identity, LGBTQ+

My Rating: 5 stars (I’d give it more if I could)

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My Thoughts:

I literally could not love this book more if I tried. I opened it up, thought about it every second I was not reading it and still, weeks later, I’m thinking about it on a daily basis. It was one of those books for me for sure.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Bennett is a genius at weaving together a multi-generational narrative with different locations, POV, time periods and thoughts in a flawless way. When I say flawless, I truly mean flawless.
  2. Although this took Bennett years to write and it was written before the death of George Floyd (but certainly not before the death of many, many Black people at the hands of white people and police) this book seems absolutely current to what is happening at this moment in history.
  3. The cultural nuances in terms of race, age, colorism, motherhood, the Black community, matriarchal families, and gender identity was something that I can’t even imagine writing all in one book, but Bennett did it spectacularly.
  4. This is a book that looks at systemic and internalized racism, brings it to the forefront and allows the reader to sit in it for a minute. In sitting, I learned so much.
  5. The character development was out of this world-I know these characters now as humans.
  6. There is queer representation!!!
  7.  I will, for sure, read this book again and I’m typically not a double dipper with my books…or french fries for that matter 😉

P.S. Brit Bennett also wrote The Mothers and although I didn’t love that as much as The Vanishing Half, it’s definitely a fantastic book and one you should also pick up 🙂

There you have it folks! Find me over on Instagram and let’s chat books! I also create greeting cards and other paper goods (with a lot of bookish themes too) over at PAGEFIFTYFIVE. You can find me there too! And lastly, I own a shop called Makerfolk where we sell items from handmade makers around our city, our state and throughout the US. That’s me in a nutshell 🙂

Bookishfolk…read instead.

Godshot

Author: Chelsea Bieker

Published: March 31, 2020

Publisher: Catapult

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from my local Indie (Old Firehouse Books)

Key Words: cults, coming of age, mother/daughter, religious trauma

My Rating: 4 stars

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My Thoughts:

First, give me any books about cults and I’m in, 100%. Add that the cult revolves around some bizarre religion-yes please! So I knew this book was going to be right up my alley. I immediately ordered it from my local indie and it didn’t disappoint. Second, books about disastrous mother/daughter relationships are also my jam…so another check on my list! Immediately upon porch delivery (thanks Old Firehouse Books for being so quick), I dug in and barely popped out until it was over. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The atmosphere in this book was VIVID. Parched and dry land surrounds this town and I could almost taste the dust as I read. That is some magical writing right there.

2. If I could live in a world full of women somehow, I would. Also, cult-y Christian men are the worst (only my personal opinion folks). Screw the patriarchy!

3. Flawed characters is the name of the game and Bieker’s writing of them is amazing. I didn’t even know where to put my brain when it came to some of these characters (in the best sense that is). Do I feel bad for them, sad for them, mad at them, all of the above at all different times?! Most of the characters, yes, that is exactly how I felt about them. And then some I just despised. It was the definition of flawed characters and I’m always sold on that.

4. Humans are resilient and we really see this through the lens of Lacey.

5. There are some funny bits in this book and you’ll appreciate them so much and find yourself laughing and then almost feeling guilty for laughing. It’s all part of the experience of Godshot.

Ultimately, Godshot is about a young woman coming into her own and suddenly realizing the world she grew up in isn’t actually what she thought it was. ( I have a VERY similar story. No, I didn’t exactly grow up in a cult per say, but I did grow up in a fundamentalist Christian household and church and some of this book hit veryyyyyyy close to home. I walked the walk until I opened my eyes as a young teenager, looked around, asked questions, got curious and saw what was actually happening. I can remember it like it was yesterday and oh boy, thank goodness I opened those eyes!

If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, The Water Cure or The Girls-I think you’ll want to add Godshot to your must-read list! This is a debut novel and I’m real excited to see what else Bieker has to offer us!

As always, find me on Instagram, shop my paper goods at PAGEFIFTYFIVE and let’s be friends!

Bookishfolk…read instead.

Going Dutch

Author: James Gregor

Published: August 20, 2019

Publisher: Simon and Schuster   

Where I picked up my book:  Publisher (#partner) THANK YOU

Key Words: LGBTQ, romance, foodie, relationships

My Rating: 2

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My Thoughts: I enjoyed parts of this book, but with some major caveats. Let me first talk about the things I didn’t necessarily love:

  • One the main characters, Anne, was portrayed as being a single, desperate, slightly pathetic, vulnerable, but highly intelligent woman who is willing to put up with a lot of bullshit from a man (including essentially, paying for friendship and love) AND THEN she was described as overweight. And that blew all hope for me. I am OVER the whole fat people troupe where an overweight woman can’t find true love hence, they should go for what they can get. Usually a jerk who has ulterior motives. Nope, I’m not into it in any fiction (or in real life for that matter) but especially when a man is writing.
  • I didn’t love any of the characters in this book, but Richard was the worst. He is a cheater, takes advantage of a woman and just gave me all the ugggh feelings. It was virtually impossible for me to sympathize with a narcissistic, self-righteous, selfish man who takes advantage of women who are lonely and vulnerable.
  • What were the plot points? Man is bi, man takes advantage of a woman, man tries to have his cake and eat it too and fails, man breaks it off with partner, man goes back to “pathetic” woman, woman takes him back? And they eat out a lot in NYC. I found that slightly weird.
  • Lastly, and maybe the part I liked the least, was that being bi seemed to be treated as a negative and that is a stereotype which needs to be eradicated once and for all in the gay community and in our community at large.
  • There was a sense of entitlement in this book mixed with slightly pretentious vibes. I don’t know if those are attributes the author possesses in real life (I hope not), but I couldn’t help but feel them throughout this book.

What I did like:

  • The NYC vibes were everything! I visited New York a while back and I think Gregor did an amazing job writing the city as a secondary character.
  • The dating scene felt more true to life than how a lot of books portray dating. My personal life was nothing like this, but I have so many friends that would see themselves in this book for sure.
  • Writing was smooth and it felt intimate. It was a really well-written book and with tweaks to characters and plot, I think I would have loved it!
  • Queer vibes-I’m always here for the queer vibes.

So as you can see, I didn’t love this book. I struggled with not only the main characters (especially with how Anne was portrayed), but with the actual plot of the story as well. It just didn’t do much for me and it’s unfortunate, because I think it had a lot of potential. As a queer woman, I was also really bothered with how bisexuality was treated as a negative. There is also a sense of entitlement in this book and although it’s hard to pinpoint specifics, it just reeked on entitlement and a ‘higher than thou’ attitude that turned me right off. Ooof…that was hard to say, but how I feel.

I think if there were some changes made to this book it would have been a book I enjoyed, but as it stands…I was disappointed. I won’t necessarily shy away from other books Gregor puts out into the world but maybe I’ll be a little weary.

There you have it! Come find me on Instagram or find my paper goods here!

Hope you’re staying safe inside and happy reading!

bookishfolk…read instead.

A Good Neighborhood

Author: Therese Anne Fowler

Published: February 4, 2019

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Where I picked up my book: Free from publisher. THANK YOU!

Key Words: class and race issues, community dynamics, family dynamics

My Rating: 2.5

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My Thoughts: 

I’m having a tough time reviewing this book and here’s why. This might be a bit long-but bear with me. I enjoyed the story. I always, always, always love delving into the thick of family dynamics and into the brains of different members of said family. I love a book that deals with race and culture where it doesn’t just bring up the topic, but it asks its readers to dig deep and really put yourself into these characters heads (for good or bad). I LOVE a book that isn’t afraid to ask tough questions of me as a reader. A Good Neighborhood did all of that. Yes, it seemed like there was a lot going on it the book, probably too much for my taste (environmental concerns, interracial dating, race relations, class relations, sexual abuse, influences of power, extreme religion, mental health concerns, and even more). It was a lot to pack into one book and I think it would have been beneficial to discuss less topics more thoroughly, but I still wasn’t turned off by that alone.

Here’s where I should stop myself though and give you a little background about what this book is about. A Good Neighborhood (this title should have been in quotes I think) is about 2 neighboring families. One family consists of a son who is biracial and his mother, who is black. They live in an older home with neighborhood friends, host a monthly book clubs, they don’t own a television, they listen to a lot of music, old trees are well-loved on their property and beautiful gardens are the heartbeat of the family. Their home ALSO now back up to a newly established neighborhood. The other family that moves right behind the Alston-Holts’ family are a white, rich, entitled family who has just had a mansion, for all intents and purposes,  built in the new development. The father owns an AC company and walks around like an entitled white man of privilege (in my humble opinion). Their house has disturbed the existing trees, they put in a fence, an in-ground pool and drive their fancy cars in and out of the neighborhood. They purposefully take up space. They are the epitome of entitlement and we see that from square one. I despised this family from the very beginning. There is a lot that goes on, and doesn’t go on, between these families that I don’t want to spoil, but you can probably see where some issues between them might arise.

So now I will come to the part of the book that made me feel a bit off. This author is white, and although she confronts this fact in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, I felt like there was something innately off. I don’t like to read a book where a white author put themselves into the shoes of a Black person and speaks for them. We all remember the feedback that happened with The Help and is currently happening with American Dirt? Fowler mentioned that she approached this project with respect, for accurate representations and was mindful of the ways white people have gotten things wrong. I appreciate that. She went on to say that she saw Zadie Smith give a talk and “in essence, Smith said an author can and should write whatever she wants to as long as they do their homework.” Hmmm…this alone had me questioning the authenticity of that statement and also had me thinking, well…just because one Black person says this that doesn’t mean you have permission or better yet, doesn’t mean some people won’t question it. So, this is me questioning it. It felt off to me and even weeks later, I’m having trouble putting into words what exactly felt off. Here are some thoughts: I don’t think white people should put words into Black people’s mouths (hasn’t that happened for long enough already? It’s time for white people to be quiet and let people of color speak for themselves. In both the world as a whole, and in fiction. Second, when you say you’ve done your homework, what homework have you done? I would genuinely love to know and that might make me change my mind about all of this. But just mentioning one Black person as if that gives permission doesn’t seem to validate much for me. Third, when only white people are praising your book but you’ve said you’ve done your homework, this leaves me wondering where the Black people are that helped you do your homework. How are they seeing your story play out from their seat at the table. AND that ending just put me over the edge. Again, I don’t want to ruin this book for you, but I will say-Black people shouldn’t be left (in real life or in fiction) to prove points to white people. People of color shouldn’t be used to teach white people lessons and that’s what this book felt like to me.

So there you have it. I wasn’t expecting to write such an intense review or to have such extreme opinions about this book. Overall, I enjoyed the plot. It kept me interested and I spent many night flipping through the pages to see what was going to happen next. I LOVED the environmental/ecology aspect of the book and by far, Valerie Alston-Holt was my favorite character and I still think about her regularly. To be honest, I’ve thought about this book a lot in the past few months. BUT, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and unfortunately, this book just didn’t work for me as a whole. I’m just not sure if it was a white woman’s story to tell. In my opinion, white people have spoken for Black people too much already and have used people of color to prove points one too many times. I think if this story was written by a Black author, it would have been a very different, and much stronger, story. The idea is great-it just felt off in it’s execution.

Thanks for sticking with me on that one! As always, come find me on Instagram and let’s chat books! If you’ve read this one, come talk to me about it! I’m 100% open to talk about my review and what I might have gotten right, and what I might have gotten wrong too. I love a good bookish chat 🙂

Bookishfolk…read instead.