fiction · YA

Quiver- Julia Watts

Religion can be a touchy subject in fiction, but it’s also one of my favorites to read about, and when I spotted Quiver by Julia Watts on another blog (whose name I neglected to write down, I’m sorry! If I freaked out about this book in the comments of your review, let me know it was you and I’ll credit you here!!! I really need to start writing this stuff down!), not only did I immediately know what it would be about based on the title, I checked right away to see how quickly I could grab a copy. A local library branch had it in stock and I had to fight to not jump in the car at that moment. (I waited two days, until we were there anyway. Is that not some serious self-control???) I may have done a happy dance when this was finally in my hands.

Libby (short for Liberty) is the oldest of six- soon to be seven!- homeschooled kids. Her fundamentalist Christian family is reminiscent of some of those famous mega-huge religious families, where the men work to support the family and the women stay home and give birth to as many babies as biology God allows. Libby and her siblings are extremely isolated; they have no friends outside their own family unit (friends at church are never mentioned), they live far out in the country, and the only time they ever seem to leave their house is to go to church. Even Mama doesn’t go to the doctor, though this pregnancy seems to be wearing harder on her than any other; Daddy catches all her babies at home, and there’s no need for outside medical care. It’s not always easy for Libby to submit and obey, but she’s doing her best to be the kind of daughter her parents demand.

Enter Zo, the gender-fluid David Bowie superfan daughter of the family who moves in next door to Libby. Zo’s homeschooled this year as well. Along with her little brother Owen, she befriends Libby and her siblings, and the two mothers forge a tentative friendship as well. It’s only when the dads get involved that things go awry, forcing the new friends apart. But when an emergency happens, true friendship comes through, and some characters will have to examine everything they thought they knew about life.

Quiver is a fabulous dual narrative YA that will make you think and will infuriate you in times. Straightaway, I was grinding my teeth when Libby, who is 16, began a game of Scrabble with her 14 year-old brother and thinks, ‘…I know that since he’s a boy I should never make him feel like he’s not strong or in charge.’ Dude, younger brother. Win on your own merits or get out of the game. And when Zo’s family moves in, Libby’s mother doesn’t just go over to say hello, she asks her husband for permission first. EW EW EW. The thought of being married to someone who acts as my prison warden is nauseating at best.

There’s a really lovely scene where the mothers are chatting about crafting and children and the school system that drives home the point that families like Libby’s and Zo’s have so much more in common than not, a point that’s also brought up in Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity (which is SUCH a fabulous book). The women are able to look past their differences and see only what unites them, but enter the men and suddenly everything’s a theological pissing contest, and it’s all downhill from there.

Over on Goodreads, I gave this four out of five stars. While nearly every scene rings true to everything I’ve read and noted about patriarchal, quiverfull families (the clothing, the strict routines, the financial struggles, the physical discipline, the single-minded adherence to the more legalistic aspects of religion as a self-identifier above everything else), the final scene with Libby’s father seemed a bit over the top and forced. While I do think there was plenty of room for him to act unreasonably, the extent of his actions were a bit too much for me without evidence of that kind of behavior towards his wife beforehand (the children, yes; the wife, no, and we never had the chance to see how he treated people outside his family other than Zo’s parents, never anyone with authority over him). That was the only scene that I felt rang a tad bit hollow; otherwise, this was fantastic. Ms. Watts gives a balanced look at the realities of growing up in a family with more children than money, one whose tight confines might not always be a good fit, and Zo’s confidence and determination to both be and celebrate every aspect of herself provide both a wonderful contrast and a deeply necessary breath of fresh air.

I very much enjoyed this and am looking forward to checking out more of Ms. Watts’s books. Have you read this? I’d love to hear your thoughts if you did.

Visit Julia Watts’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


20 Questions

Today, we’re going to play 20 Questions, which I borrowed from Blair over at Feed the Crime (her answers are here). The cat in the photo is Piglet; he’s one of my two ridiculously patient cats who put up with my daughter’s insane love of dress-up.

Let’s begin!

How do you feel about cliff-hangers?

If they’re at the end of a chapter, cool. If they’re at the end of the book, ALL OF THE SCREAMS.

Hardback or paperback?

If it comes from the library, I prefer hardback, but if I’m buying, I prefer the bigger-sized paperbacks. The smaller ones, like category romance-sized paperbacks, I have a hard time holding open sometimes, but the bigger ones are easier.

Favourite Book?

Oh JEEZ. You can’t ask a book blogger THAT. SO many books, but Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel and Back Home by Michelle Magorian top the list.

Least Favourite Book?

Oof. I really didn’t like Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, nor did I enjoy A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. (Not even linking them, that’s how grumpy they made me.)

Love Triangle… yes or no?

That’s a no from me, dawg. I find them kind of icky.

The most recent book you couldn’t finish?

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer. Right off, the dialogue seemed forced and unnatural to me, and within a few pages, I noped out and moved on to the next book.

A book you’re currently reading?

I’m going to start this really neat little book called Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations (Reproductions of Official Second World War Instruction Leaflets), foreword by Jill Norman. I try to be a good steward of my resources, so this will help, plus I’m fascinated by wartime rationing. After that, it’s The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

The last book you recommended to someone?

Ooh, I’m not actually sure about this!

Oldest book you’ve read (based on publication date)?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (which is a seriously weird story), published in 1831.

Newest book you’ve read (based on publication date)? 

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin, which was published in January of 2019.

Favourite author?

Oh gosh. Christina Lauren, Diane Chamberlain, Jennifer Weiner, Jennifer Crusie, Rainbow Rowell, Stephen King, Emily Giffin, James Michener, Ted Conover, Susane Colasanti, Chris Crutcher, Jon Krakauer, and I’m gonna stop there, because otherwise I’ll be here all day.

Buying books or borrowing them?

I think that answer’s obvious. If I’m not home and I’m not running errands like groceries or driving the kids somewhere, I’m probably at the library. (I’m seriously there an embarrassing amount.)

A book you dislike that everyone else loves?

I really wasn’t a fan of The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, which has almost four stars, so I think that probably counts.

Bookmarks or dog-ears? 

Bookmarks. My library has stacks of them for patrons to grab, so I always have a few floating around the house.

A book you can reread over and over?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald are books that I seem to take away new things each time I read them (which I do, every now and then).

Can you read while listening to music?

Ugh. No. I can read with the TV on and with my daughter playing and running around, but music makes me lose focus.

Multiple POVs or one POV ?

The more, the merrier. I love dual/multiple narratives.

Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days on average?

Depends on what I’ve got going on. On the weekends, my husband and daughter do a lot of projects together, which frees me up to read and I can plow through quite a few books during that time. During the week, I read when I can, which usually means while my daughter watches TV or naps, when I’m waiting in the car to pick my husband or daughter up, etc. Little bits of stolen reading time here and there.

Who do I want to tag?

If you want to do this tag! You’re it. 🙂


An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace- Tamar Adler

Over the past two years of reading down my Goodreads TBR (it started at a terrifying 332 books; after reading over 200 books and purging about 50, and of course adding a few along the way, it’s now down to a more respectable 65, which is a lot more manageable), one of things I’ve learned about myself is that I enjoy reading books about food. I would have said differently before the start of this project, but a peek through the lists of books I’ve read the past few years says otherwise. I cook almost every night of the week and occasionally at lunchtime as well, so I’m always looking for better, more efficient means of using the resources I have available to me. Thus, when a like-minded friend suggested An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler, I added it to that TBR list.

This book is not so much cookbook as it is the musings of a woman who truly knows her way around food. While there are a handful of “1/4 cup this, 2 T that” type recipes, it’s more a treatise on learning to cook without recipes. Ms. Adler is a proponent of cooking by taste, adding a dash of this and a splash of that (probably olive oil; there’s a lot of olive oil-usage in this book) in order to come up with dinner. No need to buy specialty ingredients; she makes the case that a perfectly acceptable and possibly wonderful meal can be found even when the shelves are looking a bit bare. Almost anything can go into an omelet (and this is something I agree with. I’ve made curry omelets, chili omelets, leftover vegetable omelets…); anything can be mashed and spread on toast; and if it’s edible, it can become a soup of some sort.

This book is probably best read a little at a time, or read for certain chapters (I was a big fan of the chapter titled How to Chase Your Tail, about using up odds and ends and preventing food waste), as reading it straight front to back makes it a bit dry and somewhat overwhelming. She does tend to wax a bit poetic on cooking, turning boiling water and cooking dry beans into subjects worthy of deep contemplation, which isn’t a style I particularly enjoy. If you’re looking for a bit more accessibility when it comes to learning to cook, I would recommend Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School first; Ms. Flinn rounds up a group of women who can barely boil water and soon has them carving up entire chickens, baking their own bread, and creating gourmet meals from simple ingredients. That book has the immediacy and the friendliness that this one lacks. That’s not to say that An Everlasting Meal isn’t an enjoyable read, but it does skew a bit towards to the more flowery when it comes to food writing. It’s definitely full of inspiration, though, and makes cooking without a recipe seem simple. (I’m not quite a foodie and am not nearly as comfortable as Ms. Adler in cooking without a recipe, but I try, mostly with success!)

It did inspire me to clean out my refrigerator, however! It needed it, and I had a weird, life-stress day on Friday, so I burned off that nervous energy in part by overhauling my refrigerator, an important step in preventing food waste. (The more of your fridge you can’t see, the bigger the chance you’ll let something get away from you.) My fridge is sparkling clean now and I’m ready to create some delicious new dishes out of my fabulously stocked kitchen.

Do you enjoy books about food? How comfortable are you when it comes to creating meals without recipes?

Visit Tamar Adler’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


I Hear the Sunspot- Yuki Fumino

Another book from Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge! # 11 is a book of manga, which I’ve never read before in my life. Graphic novels, yes; manga, nope. Both my son and husband have enjoyed manga in the past, but I never felt the pull to engage with it, mostly because I’m not a big series reader- I don’t like the pressure of having to hunt down the next book in the series, nor do I want to wait if someone else has that specific book checked out. (Which is stupid, because I’m perfectly fine waiting if someone has the standalone book I want checked out. My brain makes no sense sometimes.)

So with manga in mind, I checked out the stacks at a local library branch. The one I’d hoped to read wasn’t in, so I began to dig for another standalone and finally found I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino. The synopsis sounded lovely, so into my bag it went.

This is where you can maybe laugh at me a little. I did realize that manga read differently than the books I’m used to, so I opened what I would consider the back cover while sitting at my daughter’s gymnastics class and began to read, but pretty soon, I was confused. Thank goodness for smartphones so I could google how to read manga, because I honestly don’t know if I would have figured it out! I didn’t find the process intuitive at all. Maybe my brain just doesn’t work like that.

I Hear the Sunspot tells the story of two boys, students who attend the same school. Taichi is poor and doesn’t seem to have access to regular food. He’s on the hunt for work, because he’s desperately in need of money, but his circumstances don’t ever dull his outgoing personality. Kohei is struggling. Ever since he began losing his hearing, his social life has shrunk to almost nothing and he’s increasingly feeling isolated and depressed. Taichi answers his ad requesting a note-taker for class and the two begin a symbiotic relationship of sorts; while Taichi’s notes leave a lot to be desired, his friendship and understanding mean the world to Kohei, who returns the favor by bringing Taichi food that his mother has cooked. If you read closely, there’s a little bit of a love story there as well, one that’s gentle and sweet and utterly adorable.

The story was great. I enjoyed the budding friendship between Taichi and Kohei and the growth both characters experienced. The descriptions of Kohei’s mother’s food seriously made me hungry, too (I need someone to bring me lunch every day!). I really struggled with the format, though; I kept having to think back to the swirly pattern I saw when I googled how to read manga, and even then I often had to reread to make sure I was reading in the correct order. My husband and son didn’t seem to understand why it was so difficult for me, and I’m not sure either.

Any suggestions on what I could do to improve my ability to read manga? (Read more of it, obviously, but if I’m doing something wrong that you can pinpoint, I’m all ears!) I’m not sure if I want to read more, simply because I struggled with the format so much, but I’m leaving that door open, because hey, a book is a book, right? 🙂 I’m glad I did read this, as the story is so sweet and I’m always happy to try something new when it comes to books.

If you can read Japanese kanji (and lucky you if you can!!!), you can check out Yuki Fumino’s website here and follow her on Twitter here.


Tag: 30 Interesting Questions

It’s a chilly, breezy Saturday in the neighborhood (as evidenced by the cozy little nap my Reba is taking on MY pillow; don’t you wish you could sleep that soundly?), and I’m not much feeling like venturing out, so today I’m borrowing a tag from Sara over at The Bibliophagist (which is a seriously amazing name for a blog!). Here we go!

1. What are your nicknames? What do you prefer to be called?

My husband usually calls me Steph or babe; in my everyday life, I generally prefer Stephanie.

2. How often do you doodle? What do your doodles look like?

Hoooooo boy, I have ZERO art skills. I once drew a horse that my husband thought was supposed to be a dog, and now my horsedog is the stuff of family legends. I don’t doodle all that often because my doodles are worse than stick figures.

3. What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep? Toss and turn? Try to get up and do something productive?

I’ve spent the better part of my life struggling to fall asleep, but it’s a lot better these days. Listening to podcasts helps put me out (current listen: Book Riot’s All the Books with Liberty and Rebecca). If I truly can’t fall asleep, I get up and read downstairs for a bit.

4. Do people consider you to be talkative or quiet?

Every report card I ever got in school included some version of the phrase, “Stephanie is so quiet!”

5. What makes you cry?

Holy crap, just about everything. My family, books, TV, my cats, stress, frustration, anger, happiness. I’m a crier by nature.

6. What is your biggest pet peeve?

People making more work for other people. Leaving messes, not putting stuff away, asking other people to do things that they could easily do themselves. I worked in retail for years and the people who would treat the employees like their own personal maids and personal shoppers drove. me. NUTS.

7. How many times a day do you look at yourself in the mirror?

Usually only when I’m getting ready or before I go out.

8. What is the strangest thing you believed as a child?

I believed for YEARS that there was a bear loose in our house at night, because I could hear it snarling and growling.

Turns it out was just my father snoring.

9. What is the guilty pleasure you enjoy too much to give up?

Norwegian pop music! I could listen to Bare Min by Morgan Sulele forever- it’s been my ringtone for four years now. His Du Er Så Deilig is super happy-sounding as well. Always puts me in a good mood. 🙂 I have some serious Norway-love going on here!

10. Who performs the most random acts of kindness out of everyone you know?

That would be my mom. She’s always bringing us things, doing nice things for other people simply because she’s kind. She’s good people.

11. How often do you read the newspaper? Which sections?

An actual physical newspaper? Only rarely. My daughter was the kind of toddler who would’ve pulled it apart and eaten the entire thing (I’m not actually joking here…), so we got away from reading newspapers. Occasionally, my mom will bring up a copy of my hometown newspaper for me to read, which I always appreciate.

12. Which animal scares you the most?

I’m like Indiana Jones; I. HATE. SNAKES.

13. Are you more likely to avoid conflict or engage with it?


14. What is the most recent compliment you’ve received?

My dad told me he was proud of me yesterday for something I’ve done, and that felt pretty good to hear. 🙂

15. What question are you tired of hearing?

In no particular order: “Why?” “What’s for dinner?” “Where’s my/Have you seen my ____?” “Can you drive me to ____?” “Can you get me ____?” The life of a stay-at-home mom!

16. What is the strangest thing you have eaten?

Back in my meat-eating days, my then-boyfriend (now husband!) and I traveled to Paris, where he proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower (swoooooooooon!), and then we took the train to visit his family in Belgium for Christmas. Someone had asked what they were serving for dinner, and one of the items the person responding mentioned was sanglier. I blinked and thought, ‘Wait, isn’t that wild boar?’

It was indeed wild boar, and it was what we had for dinner. 🙂

17. Do you have a whole lot of acquaintances or just a few very close friends?

I’m definitely more in the ‘lots of acquaintances’ group these days, and not many close friends either. I don’t get out much, mostly because I’m always ferrying husband and kids where they need to go!

18. Do you have a catchphrase?

It….probably involves a few swearwords, so I’ll just say yes. 😀

19. What’s your all-time favourite town or city? Why?

Hm. I have places I’ve loved being. Paris. Raleigh, NC. Traverse City, MI. Mystic, CT. I don’t know if any of them are an all-time favorite, but I’ve enjoyed them all.

20. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?

Stephanie has always sounded like the name of someone who’s a whole lot more outgoing and extroverted than me! I’ve always figured I should have a quieter name, like Beth. (Of course, she didn’t end up so well in Little Women, soooo…)

21. When was the last time you lied?

I try not to lie, but if I do, it’s usually a lie to mask my anxiety, like, “Oh, that sounds great, I’d love to come!”, when I’d really love to stay home and read and not be around groups of people!

22. What’s something that amazes you?

Honestly? People that live their lives without anxiety. Like, you just wake up every morning and…function? You don’t worry about every little thing? That seriously amazes me, because I have a highlight reel of everything that could possibly go wrong at any given moment running in my head at all times. To not have that must be so fantastic.

23. Would you rather be the first person to explore a planet or be the inventor of a drug that cures a deadly disease?

Space scares the crap out of me (SO much potential for something to go wrong!), so I’d happily stay home and cure something terrible.

24. What is your favourite amateur activity?

I’m not entirely certain what this question means, but I’ll agree with Sara, I enjoy baking, although my creations never look as nice as the ones in the cookbooks or on the blogs. They taste just fine, though, and that’s what counts.

25. What was your first thought when you got up this morning?

It’s usually some form of, “WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???” Weekday alarm goes off at 5:50 am, and my daughter usually wakes us up around 6:30 am on the weekends. I’m a very tired person.

26. What is your favourite song (at least at the moment)?

Morgan Sulele’s Andre Enn Meg charmed me and made me laugh the other day (it’s one of those songs that when I discovered it, I was cracking up and wanted to share it with everyone I know…but none of my friends or family speak Norwegian, so no one would appreciate it in the same way!).

27. List someone you know and describe them in five words.

My husband is hardworking, intelligent, determined, trustworthy, and awesome. 🙂

28. You can select one person from history and have them truthfully answer one question. Who would you select and what would the question be?

I would love to sit down with Fred Rogers and listen to how he handled the challenging moments of life. He’s one of my personal heroes and I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read about him.

29. Which celebrity or artist do you resemble the most?

I don’t think I resemble anyone at all (other than my dad!), but I’ve had two people tell me I look like Geena Davis, although I’ve never seen that.

30. What do you want me to know?

Books are amazing and life-altering. The Norwegian language is gorgeous and sometimes makes me cry, I find it so beautiful. Beets are disgusting. I hate putting dishes and laundry away. My deepest wish is that someone invents a self-cleaning kitchen and then gives me one immediately.

And that’s it! I’m not going to tag anyone personally, but feel free to steal this, as I love learning about other bloggers. 🙂


The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses- Joy Castro

The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses by Joy Castro is another book that’s been hanging out on my Goodreads TBR list for…a while. Ages ago, I had my TBR list in a notebook; then I switched to keeping everything bookmarked in a favorites file on my laptop; finally, after my daughter was born in 2014 and spending approximately 87 hours a day nursing, I used that time to transfer all those books over to Goodreads, and there this book sat, waiting for me to get to it.

I’ve read books by former Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past and other than one (Deliverance at Hand: The Redemption of a Devout Jehovah’s Witness by James Zimmerman), they’ve tended to make me shy away from reading more because they’re all so…bleak. Grim. There’s so little joy in their lives, what with the inability to celebrate holidays, birthdays, etc (every other religion, with maaaaaaybe the exception of Christian Science, it’s enjoyable for me to read about, because there are good things about all of them. Celebrations, feast days, holidays, happiness, joy. All of that is sorely lacking in descriptions of life as a Jehovah’s Witness). Their lives all seem full of nothing but church service after service and drudgery, and although I understood exactly why they left, it didn’t inspire me to read the next ex-JW memoir. The Truth Book is a little different though, as it’s not a straightforward leaving-a-religion memoir.

Joy Castro was adopted into a family that was very active in the Jehovah’s Witnesses church (moreso on her mother’s part than her father’s. He is disfellowshipped- basically excommunicated- for smoking when Joy is young). Her father was fun-loving, always up for a spur-of-the-moment trip to wherever his job with the airlines could ferry them; her mother never ceased to have a sharp, biting comment for or about Joy. Her brother Tony is born when she’s five, and five years after that, her parents divorce due to her father’s serial cheating. It’s when her mother remarries to a man Joy never names that Joy and Tony’s true nightmare begins.

This man is a fellow Witness, a respected leader in their church, but almost immediately, he begins beating Joy and Tony with a belt, punching and kicking them, and of course being verbally creepy with Joy (including in front of Mom, drawing her into these conversations as well). He comes up with complicated rules that the children must follow and beats them if they make a mistake. He holds Joy down and cuts her hair when a piece slips out of place. He comes up with a system of doling out food that ensures the children will starve: he is allowed a double portion of food (because of course he is), Mom gets one portion, Joy gets a quarter of what Mom gets, and Tony gets 1/8 of what Mom gets. If Mom gives him more than that, the stepfather beats him with a belt. In the two years she lives with him, Joy doesn’t grow at all and loses 16 pounds.

The horror doesn’t stop there, and here’s where the trigger warnings come in: while she never writes of explicit, outright sexual abuse, it’s clear that there is MAJORLY inappropriate touching going on, including forced undressing, and some inappropriate photos as well. In one of the most horrifying scenes, Mom professes weariness due to her husband’s sexual appetite and appears to be considering either asking Joy to help him out or offering Joy up to him, when the last time her daughter complained of her stepfather’s touching, Mom’s reply was, “Ridiculous. What would any man see in you?”

I try to keep an open mind, and at first this memoir seemed to be of abusive parents who happened to be Jehovah’s Witnesses (rather than the abuse being related to them being Witnesses), but about halfway through, she tells another Witness family of everything that’s going with her stepfather, and then later tells the church elders.

No one does anything.

Not a single person.

They knew everything that was going on and did nothing. The church elders even told her, after hearing about her stepfather’s physical and sexual abuse, that Joy’s role as a child and a girl is to submit to her stepfather. This, in my eyes, is pure, unadulterated evil, and those who see the abuse and ignore it are no better than the abusers.

Joy is eventually able to escape, going to live with the father whom her stepfather had turned her against, and her brother follows six months later, not without some drama. Life isn’t exactly perfect there either, but it does improve, and the fact that Joy and her brother have survived and become any kind of functioning adults, let alone adults who flourish, is nothing short of a miracle. What they survived was monstrous.

Hearing Ms. Castro recount her stepfather’s horrific abuse and the disgusting way her mother stood by and let it happen made for a rage-inducing read. Multiple times, I had to set the book down and seethe; what kind of parent does that? I would’ve better understood if Joy’s mother had been in dire financial straits before marrying him, but she owned half of what sounded like a successful business (selling it and giving her creep of a husband all the money and becoming a stay-at-home wife at his behest, of course). Due to her church forbidding divorce except in cases of adultery, she stayed, and that infuriates me, for so, so many reasons.

This is another tough read (I seem to be doing a lot of those lately; I think I need a breather after this). I didn’t learn anything new about growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness that I hadn’t already known (Deliverance at Hand, which I mentioned before, is a more thorough example of that if you’re interested in understand more about the specifics of the religion), but I now understand how deeply the church can affect a parent and what it makes them willing to tolerate and sacrifice in order to remain a loyal member. What a shame, for all of us, that so many people are willing to forfeit their children’s health and physical safety for the hope of a better afterlife. I don’t judge much, but I do judge that, and harshly, because everyone has the right to grow up safe and protected and loved. I wish Ms. Castro and her brother all the peace in the world, and for their being surrounded only by people who love and care deeply for them.

Visit Joy Castro’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body- Roxane Gay (Book Review)

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay is another amazing book I picked up thanks to Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge. I’m absolutely in love with all the new authors I’ve been discovering thanks to this challenge and I’m so glad I finally got past my fear and decided to participate.

First off, this book needs a few trigger warnings. If you struggle reading about rape and disordered eating, this is not the book for you. Be kind to yourself and choose a book that will better serve your mental health and wellness, or read this with plenty of support lined up, because this memoir is brutally honest, a raw, painful read that still manages to contain great beauty while presenting the world with the author’s open wounds.

Roxane Gay is supermorbidly obese, a condition she directly attributes to being gang-raped at the age of 12. Even writing that sentence, I have to stop, take a breath, elbow away the anger and sadness that reading her story made me feel. Because of the horrors perpetrated on her that day, she began to eat in an attempt to both make her body feel safe again, and to take back some sort of control over her body. And because she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to her, this left her family baffled by the changes and constantly making suggestions as to what she could do in order to make her body socially acceptable once more. Despite her frustration with her family’s ‘help’, Ms. Gay understands that it comes from a place of love and knows that she’s lucky to have the support system she does.

This is a memoir of what it’s like to take up space in a way that’s not accepted by society: the constant hurtful comments, the fears of whether any given place will be able to accommodate someone of her size, the difficulties of maneuvering a body hundreds of pounds heavier than average. Beyond her size, Ms. Gay is a person, one who suffers deeply with every breath she takes because of what was taken from her by that group of teenage boys, but because of what the world sees, she’s relegated to being only a fat person and nothing more. Her pain is palpable, exuding from every page in a stinging wallop that will leave you teary-eyed and wondering why on earth humans need to be so cruel to each other.

This is by no means an easy read, but it’s helped along by the beauty of Ms. Gay’s straightforwardness. Blunt, concise, and to-the-point, she never minces words and confronts you head-on with her grief, asking only for understanding, for acceptance, for love. Hunger will open your eyes to the obstacles Ms. Gay faces, not just from her body, but from her mind as well, and it will make you view the experience of obesity in an entirely different way.

While weight isn’t my challenge (due mostly to genetics; I look like my tall, thin father with long hair and boobs), when it came to emotions and pain, I could relate to so much of what Ms. Gay has written. My constant struggle with anxiety and depression is organic; my brain is just a jerk that enjoys lying to me, but the feelings remain the same, and so when Ms. Gay writes things like, ‘I was scared of so much as a teenager,’ and ‘It was not as easy to believe these truths as it was to know them,’ while our pain doesn’t stem from the same place, those words resonate deeply with me, because I feel it too.

I truly appreciated the section where she discussed how being as heavy as she is has opened her eyes to the challenges faced by people with disabilities. I’m not disabled, but I do have several conditions that cause me chronic pain; there are occasions where navigating the world is difficult for me, and this hasn’t been helped by…well, by people. The last time I needed to use my cane (and when I use my cane, I can’t walk without it and I’m in massive pain), I had several people slam into me at the store and grumble about my moving so slowly as they walked away (NO KIDDING, JERKFACE, MY BODY DOESN’T WORK). Ms. Gay writes about how she’s better informed about access- stairs, ramps, handrails, etc- and reading this part made me tear up (again. I did that often while reading this ). It’s rewarding when people whose challenges are not your challenges consider you and bring you into the conversation, and I’m grateful to Ms. Gay for both pointing this out and for expanding my understanding of the hurdles faced by larger people due to their size.

Ms. Gay says that she worries that she’s not brave, but my God, this book is nothing BUT bravery. Page after page of writing about the worst thing that ever happened to her and the devastation it wreaked throughout her life, to be so very honest and willing to expose so much requires levels of courage I can’t even begin to fathom. I’m so grateful that Roxane Gay has shared her story with the world. May we all learn from it and acknowledge each other’s humanity with our thoughts and actions, and may Ms. Gay know nothing but love, peace, and kindness from here on out.

If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your take on it. Have you read Ms. Gay’s fiction or other works? This is my first by her, so I’m definitely curious about her other writing.

Visit Roxane Gay’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


Between the World and Me- Ta-Nehisi Coates

BookRiot suggested Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me as a book by a journalist or about journalism, #5 on their Read Harder 2019 Challenge. I’d been wanting to read Coates for ages now, and this seemed like an excellent place to start.

I’m not even sure what I can say that would even begin to do justice to this beautiful, painful little book. Written as a letter to his teenage son, Mr. Coates covers a wide range of topics: the danger of making ones way through life in a black body; the fear he feels for his son when teenagers like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and his friend Prince Carmen Jones wind up dead on the street with no consequences for the people who kill them; the breathtakingly cruel history of slavery, and the trauma and consequences of that history that still resound in our justice system and in everyday lives of black people; and the story of how he became the man he is today.

Mr. Coates conveys his anger, his frustration, his pain, and his wonder at his son and being a father in such eloquent, moving language that had I wanted to write down the most meaningful quotes, I would’ve ended up copying out the entire book, and if I had wanted to underline the parts that touched me deeply, angered me, made me think, there would’ve been a line under every piece of text . This starts on the very first page and doesn’t end until the last, with the imagery of sheets of rain a haunting metaphor for the grief one feels when we look around and are able to see all the trauma White America has inflicted and continues to inflict on people with black skin. I am deeply, deeply ashamed and angered. We should be so much better than that, but we actively choose not to be, and it’s infuriating.

This is an important book, and although I have yet to fully engage with audiobooks, I feel as though this would make a stunning one. Mr. Coates’s impassioned words deserve to be voiced out loud, as so much of the book reads like the most powerful speech you’ve ever heard. If you’ve enjoyed this as an audiobook, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I think this is a book everyone will be handed in school, if not now (as it should be), then in the future. It deserves to be read widely, repeatedly, until its words are engraved on our souls, until we finally GET IT, and then even more so that we never forget.

View Ta-Nehisi Coates’s writing at The Atlantic here.


WWW Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I’m participating in WWWWednesdays, hosted by Taking on a World of Words!

From that blog:

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

What I’m currently reading: I just started The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses by Joy Castro. It’s a book that’s been hanging out on my TBR list for ages, so I’m glad to finally be tackling this one. I haven’t read too much yet, but so far, Castro’s mother sounds like a nightmare.

What I recently finished: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (reviews to come). Both just utterly blew me away- how could they not, being as deeply honest and heartbreaking as they both were? Heavy reads, but necessary, I think.

What I’ll read next: I’ve got a stack of library books waiting for me on the shelf where I keep them (I lose SO many fewer books this way! No more gasping at that ‘YOUR BOOK IS DUE IN THREE DAYS’ email with, “But I thought I returned that!!!!”, followed by a frantic search. One stack is for stuff I haven’t read; the other stack is for what I’ve finished. Plus it’s right where everyone can see it in the kitchen, so I look super smart with all those books!). I’ve got a manga book whose title escapes me right now- not my usual fare, but one of the tasks for Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge is to read a book of manga, so here we are. I’ve got The Cider House Rules by John Irving; I’ve read him in the past and have adored his work, so I’m looking forward to losing myself in one of his worlds again. I have two books about various aspects of food, and a really neat book about mending and repairing things at home during WWII that I can’t wait to get to. I’m excited for what’s to come, literarily speaking!

I’d love to hear what you’re reading! Leave a comment, leave a link, let’s talk about what your reading plans are. Are you searching for your next great read, or do you have a towering stack just waiting for you to make time?


Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married- Abby Ellin

A book of nonviolent true crime. That’s #19 on BookRiot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge, and when I saw Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin on their list of suggestions for that topic, I knew that had to be my pick. Because…reasons.

Abby Ellin fell in love. Known in the book only as the Commander, he was a self-identified doctor, an elite member of the US Navy who worked secret missions at places like Guantanamo and China. His work took him away for long periods of time, and as things began to not add up, Ms. Ellin began to question the Commander’s truths. ‘He had an answer and an excuse for everything,’ she said, a line I understood well. And luckily for her, the entire thing unraveled before they could get married. So much of what the Commander had told her about his life was a life, and he eventually served twenty-one months in prison.

Because of this, Ms. Ellin takes an intense look at people who are duped, and the people who do the conning: the why, the how, the how-can-we-avoid-this. She interviews experts in psychology, in social behavior, social scientists who have published studies about lying, heads of companies that purport to teach people how to identify liars (it’s harder than you would expect), all in an attempt to better understand not just what the Commander did to her, but why she so readily fell for it. Her questions, her shame, her guilt at her own possible complicity in her being duped, I understood well, because I’ve been in her shoes.

I won’t get into details, but years ago, I loved a man who lied to me, A LOT. About who he was, about what he was doing, about the path our life together was taking. His lies sent me and my family on multiple wild goose chases that wasted so much time and money, and for nothing, so that he could participate in self-aggrandizement one day more. It was infuriating, it was heartbreaking, it felt shameful beyond all measure. We so desperately want to believe the people we love, and it’s so difficult to pull ourselves away once we realize this is no longer healthy for us. I glanced at a few Goodreads reviews that seem to chuckle at Ms. Ellin and wonder how she could be so stupid, when the reality is, unless you’ve lived it, you don’t truly understand how easy it is to be duped.

My curiosity was piqued by her coverage of Peter Young, who, along with a friend, liberated mink farms in the Midwest in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, then went on the run for years. One of those mink farms happened to be in my hometown, and while I wasn’t living there at the time, I understand the effects are still felt in the area’s ecosystem to this day, since my father has spotted mink in his backyard from time to time. She also recounts the stories of other famous people known for living double lives, such as Charles Lindbergh, who, in addition to being married to Anne Morrow Lindbergh and fathering six children with her, had a 17-year relationship with a German hatmaker, a relationship with her sister, and a relationship with his secretary, fathering seven additional children between the three women. That’s some serious deceit (and also he was a garbage person for a lot of reasons, including his hatred for the disabled, but I digress).

And the upstart of it all is that it’s really difficult to detect who’s lying, either through training or specialized machinery (there’s a reason why lie detector tests aren’t admissible in court). Ms. Ellin’s conclusion is to go with your gut. If something doesn’t sound right, it’s probably not, and it might not hurt us to be just a little less trustworthy sometimes.

Visit Abby Ellin’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.