mini-review · Reading Women · stuff I read

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.

The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer.

I was very interested in this International Man Booker winner, the first Arabic-language winner of the prize and the first-ever novel by an Omani woman to be translated to English. Catapult was kind enough to approve my galley request. It is a beautifully-translated novel comprised of linked vignettes (best descriptor I have since the narrative is only vaguely linear with many narrators and points-of-view). Alharthi’s dream-like narrative uses the many perspectives of three generations of a family to capture a country and culture transitioning into the modern world.  There are a LOT of characters and the narrative shifts back and forth in time, so this definitely isn’t a fast read, but they’re all so interesting, especially the three sisters Mayya, Asma, and Khawla, Mayya’s husband Abdullah, and Zarifa, a woman formerly enslaved to Abdullah’s father.

Celestial Bodies is out now.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

44600621Summary from Goodreads:
Ali Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters (the two she put to work while they were still in utero), covering everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.

In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so heavily that she became a popular Halloween costume. Wong told the world her remarkably unfiltered thoughts on marriage, sex, Asian culture, working women, and why you never see new mom comics on stage but you sure see plenty of new dads.

The sharp insights and humor are even more personal in this completely original collection. She shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy and reveals stories from her life off stage, including the brutal singles life in New York (i.e. the inevitable confrontation with erectile dysfunction), reconnecting with her roots (and drinking snake blood) in Vietnam, tales of being a wild child growing up in San Francisco, and parenting war stories. Though addressed to her daughters, Ali Wong’s letters are absurdly funny, surprisingly moving, and enlightening (and disgusting) for all.

I did snort-laugh many times while reading. If you like Ali Wong’s stand-up, Dear Girls continues a lot of jokes and themes from her specials. She does a lot of raunch humor about body fluids and sex but also about the grossness of pregnancy and motherhood that kind of gets swept under the rug. The format of letters to her daughters is a little odd since they’re quite small now but it does make some of the pieces endearing. The letters about visiting Vietnam and learning more about her Chinese (father) and Vietnamese (mother) heritage were lovely.

I didn’t quite get the necessity of the Afterword from her husband; it was nice, but tonally weird. There is also a joke that occurs late in one of the last chapters which perpetuates the stereotype of multiple personality disorder and violence which is very 😬😬😬.

Dear Girls is out October 15.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

43126457Summary from Goodreads:
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.

Trick Mirror is a good collection of long-form essays (nothing wrong with a short hot-take, but a well-researched and laid out essay is becoming rare), all of which deal with the ways in which feminism and femininity are packaged and served to us. Our yoga pants, our television shows, the internet, our relationships, our celebrities. Outstanding essays include “We Are Old Virginia” and “The Cult of the Difficult Woman.”

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me by Keah Brown

39297013Summary from Goodreads:
From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America.

Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty One aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.

The Pretty One is a very well-written essay collection about living as a disabled woman of color – how these intersections affect personal relationships, self-worth, internalized ableism, seeing one’s self (or not, as is the case) in books, film, and TV, and mental health. She writes so bravely about self-destructive thoughts and the plan to end her own life in a way that I think we don’t often “allow” in disability literature and she credits books by Sarah Dessen and Toni Morrison to helping her. Brown has a refreshing, direct but conversational style. A writer to watch.

The Pretty One is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #1)

39863092Summary from Goodreads:
Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
– Nude pics are by invitation only
– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
– Protect your heart
Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears.

Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

Coming off of Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, I was ready for some angsty, dating sexytimes in the new Modern Love series. However, Rai changed up the dynamics of this book.

Rhiannon (sister to Gabe from Hurts to Love You) has launched her dating app and is gearing up to acquire an old-school rival matchmaking service. However, their new spokesman? A hookup who ghosted her for their second date. Nerp! She’s been scalded by toxic dudes before. Blocked!

Samson didn’t mean to ghost his sexy, intriguing match but a family emergency happened – by the time Samson remembered his date he’d been blocked. Plus, it turns out she didn’t even use her own name! They’re thrown together by chance in a live interview at an industry event and have to make nice for the camera. Once Rhiannon and Samson clear the air, Rhiannon still wants to acquire his aunt’s matchmaking company and Samson needs help actually using a dating service for work purposes. So they agree to a series of advice-giving “dates” under the guise of helping Samson navigate the dating scene.

And, oh yes, there’s still a spark. A great, big, forest fire-level spark.

The Right Swipe is a second-chance, slow-burn-but-very-hot romance between Rhiannon and Samson. They are two capable professionals approaching 40 so if you like competence *pr0n* (it me!!!), get yourselves this book. I was 100% here for the emotional work the couple does to overcome their own baggage because it’s baggage that we all have: how do you trust again, how do you navigate a C-level position with the unrealistic expectations we put on women at that level, how do you make a life after walking away from something you love. Rai also has excellent commentary on the effect of the #metoo movement and the CTE controversy in professional sports. This is also an incredibly diverse romance – almost all major characters are people of color – and you’ll get some serious style envy from Rhiannon’s personal assistant Lakshmi, who is a serious fashionista and makeup genius. (I’ve already asked Rai if Lakshmi is going to meet Sadia’s Influencer sister….apparently maybe, but not as a couple?)

The Right Swipe is out today!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and bought it on my nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #3)

42599067Summary from Goodreads:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other

After an “oops, we made a mistake” night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking.

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

Now you know why I had to get The Proposal finished ASAP – The Wedding Party galleys went live! LOL.

We met Maddie (Alexa’s best friend) and Theo (Alexa’s work husband) in The Wedding Date and they don’t like each other, even though they’re Alexa’s attendants at her wedding. It’s bit Pride and Prejudice – Theo thinks being a stylist is a waste, Maddie thinks Theo is a stuck-up snob. They have a little one-night stand at the beginning of The Wedding Party – and intend to never speak of it again – but since they have to interact because of “bridal party” duties they keep finding themselves alone together. Soon, Maddie and Theo are hanging out (I had a really bad pun here but I am going to spare you) outside of wedding duties.

4 stars overall: The beginning of the book felt rushed but I liked how Theo and Maddie found themselves caught in the trap of “we said this was a fling but how do we admit this is more” because God forbid you show anyone your softer bits or give ground first. I loved Maddie’s idea of creating a way to help low income women with style tips was aces and how she remembered what her mother went through as a single parent without a large income or support. I read this book while I was on vacation in San Francisco – it was really neat to be able to put the geography from the book together with the real streets and neighborhoods (and the climate – even though it was late May it sure as heck wasn’t very warm at night!).

5 great big stars for Alexa: She makes a big appearance here as Maddie and Theo’s bestie (and sets up the “I love you” scene SO WELL) and I ❤️ her.

Now, if having a great story for Maddie isn’t enough, Maddie’s awesome mom Vivian is going to get her own HEA in November! Christmas romance! In England! Royals!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

43192004Summary from Goodreads:
Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Claudia D. Hernández’s lyrical debut follows her tumultuous adolescence and fraught homecomings as she crisscrosses the American continent.

Seven-year-old Claudia wakes up one day to find her mother gone, having left for the United States to flee domestic abuse and pursue economic prosperity. Claudia and her two older sisters are taken in by their great aunt and their grandmother, their father no longer in the picture. Three years later, her mother returns for her daughters, and the family begins the month-long journey to El Norte. But in Los Angeles, Claudia has trouble assimilating: she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish sticks out as “weird” in their primarily Mexican neighborhood. When her family returns to Guatemala years later, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either.

A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts a complex self-portrait of the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.

Knitting the Fog is a moving memoir told through essays and poems about the author’s childhood in Guatemala and migrating to the US at the age of 10. It’s a very slice-of-life book, full of the details that a child remembers about playing with neighbors, the oddities of the neighborhood, and being raised by strong women. However, I found the balance of poetry-to-prose memoir made it tricky to read. In my opinion, the prose essays were the stronger of the two styles and could have been enlarged.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

39025960._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
In twelve stunning stories of love, family, and identity, Xuan Juliana Wang’s debut collection captures the unheard voices of an emerging generation. Young, reckless, and catapulted toward uncertain futures, here is the new face of Chinese youth on a quest for every kind of freedom.

From a crowded apartment on Mott Street, where an immigrant family raises its first real Americans, to a pair of divers at the Beijing Olympics poised at the edge of success and self-discovery, Wang’s unforgettable characters – with their unusual careers, unconventional sex lives and fantastical technologies – share the bold hope that, no matter where they’ve come from, their lives too can be extraordinary.

Home Remedies is a wonderful collection of short stories about Chinese citizens in the “new” China, immigrants, Chinese Americans (first and second generation), family, love, ambition (or lack thereof), desire, and the way that life seems to spin out of our control. Beautiful sentences. Though some stories seem to just end, like we need a few more paragraphs to get a good conclusion. The beginnings are all fabulous; Wang really knows how to draw the reader in.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.