Book Reviews

Moxie Review

Title: Moxie
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Genre: contemporary; feminism; ya; realistic fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Moxie girls fight back!Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Review: 4 Stars. I read this book on the heels of Samira Ahmed’s Internment. (You can read that review HERE). To say Moxie was a departure from that would be a gross understatement. However, this book was fun and a delight to read. Vivian was a strong and caring and carried the book the whole way through. She was a three dimensional character and really well written by author, Mathieu. She was nerdy and unsure, but strong and caring when she saw others needed her to be so.

Inspired by her mother’s glory days, she creates a zine for her school to empower the girls to fight back against the patriarchal structures in place that hold them back.

What I like is that Mathieu brings up events that are relevant for all girls in all high schools. Dress codes, rape culture, inappropriate groping, lack of administrative support… these are all things girls face in countless high schools.

What’s more, these girls, through their collective coming together because of the zine get actual results. It’s really cool.

The boyfriend character is interesting. He keeps doing this “not all guys” thing and I think I get that he’s trying to learn, and Mathieu is trying to make a point, but his repetitive “I’m not those guys, I’m sensitive, look at me, I get it, you’re cool,” schtick didn’t really sit well with me. I’m wondering if she did this to point out how annoying it is, but the fact that Viv and he stay together in the end makes it all the worse. Like, sure, he’s trying, and sure, he’s quasi-supportive, but like… just because he’s the first guy that ever showed interest in her doesn’t mean she has to stay with him and teach him how to be “not all guys.”

I don’t think it was Vivian’s job to teach him how to be a decent guy. It’s not her job to teach him to shut up and just listen. It’s not her job to realize that girls who say the administration tried to cover up a rape or attempted rape aren’t lying.

/rant
Either way, this book was GOOD. Really good. That boyfriend piece is really just a small part of the plot and the rest of it is really female empowerment centered. The female friendships are strong and the driving force of Vivian’s kickstarting Moxie in the first place. The girls in this high school stand proud and tall together, even when they aren’t sure how to do so, and it’s really remarkable. This book is inspiring. And quick. It was fast paced, fun, well-written, and going in my classroom library.

Moxie girls fight back!

Internment Review

image1Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genre: contemporary; ya; science fiction; dystopian
Synopsis: Rebellions are built on hope.
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review: 5 Stars. Internment was exactly as described. Chilling. It was haunting and hard to read, and yet, I couldn’t put it down. I was transfixed by Layla’s horrible reality in our too-close future. Ahmed writes that it’s fifteen minutes into the future of America and it did indeed feel that way.

My heart was in my throat as I turned each page, hoping for a decent ending for the people in Mobius. Not a happy ending, because there could be no happy ending for this book, I knew that for certain.

This book was HARD. I hated every single thing this book made me witness. Every single horror I had to be complicit in, almost. You know? Like… it made me think about what I would do after the 2020 census, if things played out like they did in the book. It makes me wonder if I’m doing enough now. People are literally in cages at the border right now.

Samira Ahmed wrote this book in response to the 2018 refugees being taken from their children (see Author’s Note). Layla and her family were in a liberal town, in a liberal state, and her neighbors, her friends, they just let them get captured and taken and stamped with a permanent barcode, and put in an internment camp.

Where there are unspeakable horrors and atrocities, there is Hope. Layla and the people of Mobius do the unthinkable in the face of the unknown, because the fear helps them focus on the end goal. Her bravery and her endless faith was inspirational.

This is the type of book that makes you think about what side of history you need to be on. It reminded me of The Hate U Give (see my review for that one HERE), of Night by Elie Wiesel.

It was painful and hard, but necessary to read it. It wasn’t my usual book, but I needed to read it, especially right now. Ahmed’s use of timely political rhetoric, unfortunate and unpresidential rhetoric, and current events makes this book a must read in this day and age.

The Author’s Note is something I want to make copies of and read with all of my classes. Often I tell my classes that if we don’t read our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Ahmed writes that we look back to our history to use its rhetoric for instances like this.

As hard, horrifying, and raw as Internment was to read… it was worth it. I would recommend this book to everyone.

The Poet X Review

THE-POET-X-e1542251351500Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: poetry; ya; contemporary; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Review: 5 Stars. Have you ever read a book and literally read every single word? And focus on every single word? Maybe you have, but I haven’t. I read really fast, I mean, fast, and so I go through words like… Pop Rocks. You don’t just eat one Pop Rocks piece at a time, you pour the package into your mouth and get the experience that way. I take in full sentences like that, not word over word, but full sentences at a glance.

It’s really hard to explain. I understand everything I read, with amazing clarity but I’ve never focused in, really looked at the words used in every single sentence in a book until The Poet X.

Of course I’ve analyzed literature and poetry for school work, and I read words out loud of course, but if I think about words on the page, The Poet X, made me think about the economy of words, and the precision with which to use them.

The whole book is poetry, told in narrative, about Xiomara, a Dominican girl growing up in a strict home, trying to find her voice. She uses this book as her journal so readers gain insight to her as she writes her feelings down about her family, religion, growing up, boys, and poetry.

Acevedo has a powerful way of expressing the thoughts and feelings of a girl growing up in a stifling home. Of a girl growing up in a body she has no control over. She’s got so many powerful poems in this book.

My favorite is “Unhide-able” because Xiomara is trying to come to terms with her body in a house that wants her to cover up her body, in a neighbor that wants to catcall her body, in a generation that wants to speak out about her body and the jealousy that comes along with it. She writes:

“I am I unhide-able.

Taller than even my father, with what Mami has always said / was “a little too much body for such a young girl.” / I am the baby fat that settles into D cups and swinging hips / so that the boys who called me a whale in middle school / now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.

The other girls call me conceited. Ho. Thot. Fast. / When your body takes up more room then your voice / you are always the target of well-aimed rumors, / which is why I let my knuckles talk for me. / Which is why I learned to shrug when I name was replaced by insults.

I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am” (7).

So many women go through this same thing. So many teenagers and women alike just have to take this kind of criticism and this kind of rumor gossip mill stuff and Xio captures it perfectly here in this one poem. Xio learns to shrug the gossip off, like many of us do, but at 16 — what kind of message is she internalizing?

At the climax of the book, Xio writes, “The world is almost peaceful / when you stop trying / to understand it” (223). It’s so powerful, right? Acevedo has such a gift for language. If you’ve never heard any of her actual spoken word, please do yourself a favor and go (HERE) now. She’s so amazing.

The story Acevedo weaves through her poetry is one about self acceptance more than anything but it takes a huge family detonation to come about. That hit home for me. I think it does for a lot of people. It’s so relatable and honest. It’s hard to find out what we’re meant to be when we aren’t allowed to be ourselves, right? I think Acevedo captures that so well in this book.

Do yourselves a favor. Get this book. Binge it. You’ll thank me.

 

** I don’t have any affliation with Barnes and Noble, buy it anywhere you want, just buy it.

These Witches Don’t Burn Review

image1Title: These Witches Don’t Burn [1/?]
Author: Isabel Sterling
Genre: fantasy; ya; paranormal witches; own voices; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Review: 5 Stars. When my book group, the Lit Coven, (find them HERE) decided to read this book, I was late to the party. I’d instituted a summer book buying ban and decided against reading anything I didn’t already own, but obviously I folded, (DUH) and bought this. It only took me reading the description before I was clicking BUY and devouring it upon its arrival.

Okay, so let’s start with setting. I’ve only been to Salem three times, but Sterling put me back there pretty much immediately. From the touristy areas where all the witch shops are, to where the more suburban houses are, it was New England through and through. She did a great job at setting the scene and using the historic undercurrent to highlight the very real threat for her main characters in 2019. I loved how this modern day clan of witches lives and breathes the history of what happened in 17th century Salem, and Sterling’s writing made that happen for me.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about this book are the very real and relatable characters in this book. Hannah is a solid main character. She’s, like many of the other MCs I tend to like, not perfect, but learning and growing. She relies on others, seeks truth, doesn’t just accept things as fact, and questions everything the adults tell her to believe. Go Hannah!

She trusts her judgment and believes in her friendship with Gemma, even when she knows it goes against everything she’s ever learned. She trusts her heart and her mind. But she’s a teenager, so she’s also learning how to come to terms with heartbreak, and relationships. She’s also a really strong example of an unapologetic and badass lesbian. I love Sterling’s writing of her character.

At one point, a side character,  Benton thinks he can persuade her to date him, and she’s like, um, “no dude, I’m gay.” The way Sterling injects the social commentary of turning girls straight here was so smooth and so easily done, just a quick conversation. Then it was done and handled, and then both Hannah and Benton move on, as friends.

Morgan is also badass. She’s bi, and so cool. Hannah assumes she’s a lesbian, there’s a clarifying convo in there about assumptions, and then they move on and it’s literally no problem. Another cool move by Sterling. Morgan is confident, calm, and perfect for Hannah— the complete opposite of Hannah’s ex, Veronica.

Veronica is the epitome of unhealthy relationship.

———-Okay, hold up————

Listen. I promise this book is about witches. But Sterling’s writing is SO GOOD we have to talk about how she writes these characters.

Okay, back to Veronica. So unhealthy. Manipulating. Wishy washy. She wants Hannah back, but only so Hannah doesn’t have someone else. Ugh. But so well written. Isabel Sterling. You are so so good at writing characters and character interactions. For real.

The plot itself is kind of like a mystery whodunit but with witches and a teenage love triange thrown in for good measure — if you’re into that sort of thing. As it’s in Salem, and it’s called These Witches Don’t Burn, there are some assumptions you can make, right? Someone wants to burn witches. So people are after Hannah – the witch. Despite, everything though, throughout the whole book, I wasn’t actively trying to figure out who it was that was trying to hunt witches. I’m usually pretty good at guessing who the bad guy is, but this time, it took me a bit to figure it out.

BUT
I REALLY LIKED that. I liked not knowing. I didn’t want to figure it out. I wanted to enjoy the story and the mystery. I was so wrapped up in the characters and the drama of the romance and the family / clan dynamic that I didn’t guess who the witch hunter(s) was/were until the end.

These Witches Don’t Burn was amazing. I am putting it in my classroom with a big huge 5 Stars on it so my kids know it was an amazing read.

 

Circe Review

circe-madeline-millerTitle: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; historical fiction; retelling; mythology;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review: 5 STARS

Circe was, to date, my favorite read of 2019. I’d read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles first (you can read my review of that one HERE) and knew going in that I would love the writing, but I didn’t realize quite how much.

With authors’ second books, you find yourself hoping for greatness, and in series, you’re generally hyped and not too severely disappointed, but in standalone books, it’s hard to gauge. Is it going to be as good as X? No? Oh well… But Madeline Miller does not disappoint with Circe.

Yes, this book is in the same universe, and yes, Achilles and Patroclus appear here, but this book can be read before or after The Song of Achilles and it won’t really matter if you know your original myths.

Miller has done her own retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey from a different viewpoint. The Song of Achilles was the Iliad and Circe is the Odyssey. That’s really what these books are for me. They’re retellings of Homer’s epic poems. But instead of The Best of the Greeks getting the glory (ie: Odysseus in this novel, Achilles in her first) it’s really Circe who becomes “greater.”

Against all odds and literally ALL GODS, she thrives and becomes so powerful that the Olympians and the Titans are afraid of her. I think that is so badass. Like, she’s the first “come at me bro” in history. She doesn’t do his for her own glory like the heroes do either, she does this because she has to stay sane. She’s a goddess, it’s not like she’s going to wither away and die, or starve, but she could definitely go mad, right? But instead, Circe becomes the best of them all, and even Telegonus realizes it before the end of the novel.

I am IN LOVE with Madeline Miller’s writing style and below, I’m going to write out one of my favorite scenes to demonstrate (see: fangirl) a little. You can skip over the italics and what’s in between, and come back after the long ——- if you’d like to avoid anything directly from the book.

“Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.”

Miller’s description of the inescapable reality of Circe’s plight is tragic and so beautifully written. It mirrors what she does as a character to the men on her island, except that as nymphs they suffer endlessly — immortality really is a beast when you’re a prize to be sought after, isn’t it?.

Later in the same passage, she talks about pigs escaping and throwing themselves over cliffs. Circe wonders, “if it were a man… would I pity him. But it was not a man.”

Walking by the sty she comments on how they are only sorry to be caught, not sorry for invading her island and her person, and her power and ruthlessness is on full display as she shows them no mercy here. I love the straight up potency Miller fills her with as she says to the pigs, “Sorry you were caught… Sorry that you thought I was weak, but you were wrong.”

In that moment, reading that passage, I had full on goosebumps.

———————————————————-

Overall, I really loved how Circe, as a novel, is able to tell us so much about the Greek world. We meet major heroes and characters from myth like Minos, Daedalus, Jason, and Medea. We learn more about Circe as the witch in myth, and how a witch is certainly different from a goddess, and in her case, more powerful, and more feared.

But in the last 100 or so pages, Miller does something brilliant I think. She answers some of my most pressing questions about Odysseus’s return to Ithaca. She’s filled in the gaps on the Odyssey story. It’s really ingenious because Circe is in exile, on a tiny island, and yet, her narrative completes the story that spans the entire Greek world.

We also get to see a vengeful and spiteful Athena, and while I love grey-eyed Athena, patron of wily Odysseus and benevolent Athena— this one was better. It makes me think that maybe Miller’s gearing up to give us the Medusa story we all deserve?

If you haven read either of Madeline Miller’s texts and you’re ready for a more mature take on Greek myth— pick up both of her books now!

I Thought it was Just Me Review

51Nu-VjkudLTitle: I Thought it was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.”
Author: Brene Brown
Genre: nonfiction; self-help; psychology; feminism;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Shame manifests itself in many ways. Addiction, perfectionism, fear and blame are just a few of the outward signs that Dr. Brené Brown discovered in her 6-year study of shame’s effects on women. While shame is generally thought of as an emotion sequestered in the shadows of our psyches, I Thought It Was Just Me demonstrates the ways in which it is actually present in the most mundane and visible aspects of our lives—from our mental and physical health and body image to our relationships with our partners, our kids, our friends, our money, and our work.

After talking to hundreds of women and therapists, Dr. Brown is able to illuminate the myriad shaming influences that dominate our culture and explain why we are all vulnerable to shame. We live in a culture that tells us we must reject our bodies, reject our authentic stories, and ultimately reject our true selves in order to fit in and be accepted.

Outlining an empowering new approach that dispels judgment and awakens us to the genuine acceptance of ourselves and others, I Thought It Was Just Me begins a crucial new dialogue of hope. Through potent personal narratives and examples from real women, Brown identifies and explains four key elements that allow women to transform their shame into courage, compassion and connection. Shame is a dark and sad place in which to live a life, keeping us from connecting fully to our loved ones and being the women we were meant to be. But learning how to understand shame’s influence and move through it toward full acceptance of ourselves and others takes away much of shame’s power to harm.

It’s not just you, you’re not alone, and if you fight the daily battle of feeling like you are—somehow—just not “enough,” you owe it to yourself to read this book and discover your infinite possibilities as a human being.

Review: In 2016, I found a TEDtalk about being vulnerable by Brene Brown and I used it in my classroom for a PBL Project on character development. In it, she says, “Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” And it’s something I’ve never forgotten. But I thought that Brene Brown was just a researcher who did that one totally transformative TEDtalk and then disappeared back into her research lab.

I use that talk with my classes and I use that quote daily. It’s the header on my class website, it’s how I try to go into the world, it’s how I try to teach.

Then I had an extra Audible credit and needed to use it. (I don’t really use Audible as much as I should, FYI, there are so so so many good choices out there right now.) And then a familiar name popped up Brene Brown. I clicked purchase and started listening.

It’s almost 11 hours of content was just as transformative as her TEDtalk. She talks about guilt and shame and how they’re different. But most importantly, she does this for women. How these things apply specifically for and to women. In the work place, in the home, in relationships (all kinds of relationships too, sisters, mothers, husbands).

She provides readers with terms and definitions, with scenarios, and with questions you can ask yourself and journaling prompts so you can go through things at your own pace.

I bought the physical book too. I wanted to go deeper into some of the things she talked about with my therapist. Some of the things she talked about hit different for me. Like, they made me think about my own situation differently and I wanted to take specific passages into sessions so that we could work through them.

This book really is titled perfectly.

Everyone thinks they’re alone in shame.

They aren’t.

Where the Crawdads Sing Review

image1.jpegTitle: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: fiction; historical fiction; realistic; mystery; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Review: This novel was selected for me as part of an impromptu book club. If you’ve seen my usual book choices, you can see that it doesn’t exactly fit in with my book choices, but I wanted to give it a fair shake. I read this as a kindle read so as I provide this review, I’ll be giving percentages instead of page counts to talk about how I felt as I read along.

To be 100% honest, I almost DNF’d this book around 23% through. I was BORED. I get the appeal of a girl and a place. I truly do. But that’s not my story and there are too many books on my tbr that ARE my story. But, it was for book club, so I kept going. There was an element of crime drama and the non linear storytelling that I kinda liked, so regardless of whether I liked Kya or not, I kept reading.

But then it got so, so, so predictable that by 50% I did DNF it. I was totally done with it, book club be damned. I was 100% sure I knew how the crime plot was going to shake out, I didn’t have any strong tie to Kya or Chase or Tate or anyone else, except for maybe Jumpin.

The one thing I didn’t count on was being shamed for DNFing it at book club. I thought I had enough to speak on when we started talking about it… (50% is a LOT to talk about AND I’m an English major and an English teacher tyvm) I guess by me not finishing it in the first place I was bashing the pick of it? Or maybe I made my opinion of it too well known, but anyway, I was made to feel guilty enough that I went home and stewed over finishing it so much that I did just that!

I finished the dang book. And you know what, it was exactly what I thought it was going to be. The crime plot shook out exactly as expected, the good guy was the good guy, the bad guy was the bad guy, the the marsh was the marsh.

Here’s the good:

Delia Owens is a beautiful descriptive writer. Her description is out of this world. She created the marsh as it’s own character and imagery is her god damn forte. Holy cow can she paint a picture.

Here’s the not so good:

It felt predictable from the start.Maybe it was supposed to. Maybe you’re supposed to guess it from the beginning. This wasn’t for me.

I just felt like I wasted my time. Like I said in the beginning… There are too many books on my TBR for me to feel guilty over DNFing a book.