Oh my goodness, let me tell you about a 2017 Goodreads Award nomination that just blew me away. I can’t believe there isn’t more buzz around this book because it surprised me so hard. Dang.
The American Dream. Many people talk about it, but no one really knows what it means. Some people work their entire lives to try and achieve it and some people succeed. Sadly, sometimes it takes death to figure out that not only you achieved the American Dream, but excelled beyond it.
When I first started reading this book, I honestly thought this was going to be one of those super YA stories about a young woman who is on the brink of growing up and falls in love. Yes, it is all those things, but there is so much more to this than just vapid annoyance.
Trigger warning. Please note that this book has themes of:
- Mental health issues
- Eating disorders
- Drug abuse
“A novelist is a person who lives in other people’s skins.” – E. L. Doctorow
I didn’t know much about Forough Farrokhzad. I’ve actually never heard the name before, but when I received this book from Netgalley, I was interested in reading the life of a poet and how that life can be fictionalized to tell the tale. I didn’t know that fiction was really the only way you can tell her story.
An epic fantasy with daring sword fights, magic spells, but no prince in disguise. This is a book you’ll want to read, fall in love with, and hopefully see it turn into a movie.
Here’s more about the book
Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
It’s kind of tough for me to put into words how much I liked this book. While it did have its flaws and it wasn’t the most perfect read, I still enjoyed it. I wanted to read this book in particular because it takes place in the Middle East and that’s one of the areas I wanted to focus reading this year.
From the synopsis of this book, you would think that this is a simple tale about a young woman who finds herself in a magical universe right in the middle of Cairo. However, this book is way more than what this story tells you. The book is deeply steeped in Middle Eastern culture, folklore, history, and there is also some hints at Islam as well.
In its essence, this is a book about the power struggle between two tribes of the Daeva. One group called the daeva believe in the power of fire while the other group, the djinn, don’t. This division between the two groups of people causes for some massive political and social issues amongst the people. Let’s not even get into the half-human born folks that live in Daevabad as well.
What I personally loved was Nahri. She’s a daeva born into the human world and lived on the streets her entire life. She’s a thief and a liar and she knows nothing about the powers she possesses aside from the occasional wound healing very quickly. When she summons Dara, her Afshin, he whisks her away to the world she belongs.
As you can see, there’s obviously some issues with someone who grew up in the human world coming to a world made up of magical beings. This goes double for someone who can heal and bring something to the world that’s been missing for a few years.
I loved reading this part of the book because you get to learn about these worlds alongside Nahri. You get to see her thoughts and how she reacts and her reactions were completely natural.
The epic battles throughout the story were also well created and thought out. I can see the fights in my head between the people and the emotions were definitely prevalent in the reads. These were some of the parts that really drew me into the story, made me care about these characters, and eventually made me want to read more.
It took me a while to get right into the book mostly because the world building was a little off. SA Chakraborty would explain a concept of the daevas or the djinn to you, which was a little confusing. However, then you see Nahri ask the same questions you asked yourself and suddenly everything makes sense.
Nahri and Dara don’t arrive in Daevabad until halfway through the book. In my opinion, I feel like it should have been sooner so that we can learn alongside Nahri all the little details about the world. I had to do a lot of googling to understand the certain weapons they used, the origins of the djinn and daevas (there’s an origin and you can look it up!), and even some of the Arabic phrases she threw in there every once in a while.
There is also an issue with the wording of things. Whenever Chakraborty introduced a new point in the plot, it was really confusing and I needed to read it a few times over to understand it. It may have been the way I was reading, but it definitely threw me off and pulled my final star. Even though the world building was a little confusing for me, it was immediately nullified by the elaborate writing, the action and adventure of it all, and reading about a world that I don’t regularly read.
The end of the book got me hooked and I will admit, I shed a few tears. I know this is the first book from a debut author with another book in this series coming soon. The first books are always the toughest, but if they grab you enough, then you’ll definitely want to read the second. I will definitely be looking out for the second book in the future.
- Hardcover: 544 pages
- Harper Voyager (November 14, 2017)
- Rating: 4/5 stars
- Buy The City of Brass on Amazon
Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.
My friend, Michaela, at The Ardent Biblio recently talked about reading War and Peace for the first time. If you aren’t aware, War and Peace is considered one of the best books of all time written by the most prolific writers, Leo Tolstoy.
However, it was originally written in Russian, is over 1400 pages long, and it takes place during the Franco-Russian War. Unless you’re actually studying the text, there aren’t many people who decide to pick this book and read it. And if you do decide to read it, there’s a lot of families, a lot of names, and a lot of important moments you have to remember.
But a copy of the book has been sitting on my shelf for years. I even dedicated some time to read Anna Karenina (Tolstoy’s other epic classic) a few years back only to stop reading it one day and never picked it back up.
When it comes to books like this, I’m immediately intimidated. I felt the same way about Game of Thrones when the show first came out. I was weary with reading the novel because of all the characters, the places, and the events you had to remember. I think this is one of the many reasons why I put off reading War and Peace.
Today just happened to be the day I decided I will read it. I know that some of this influence does come from Michaela, but the other part comes from the fact that I’m currently watching the TV adaptation of the book. Here’s a trailer below:
So you must be angry at me for watching the BBC version of this show rather than reading the actual novel. Don’t worry, I will definitely read the novel in time. I just would rather watch the show first before diving into the book.
I think we’ve come to a day and age where reading classics (or some more difficult fantasy novels) has become easier. Aside from the myriad of translations you can choose from (definitely check out The Ardent Biblio post about it above), many of the beloved classics from yesteryear are now available on TV. Movies and retellings and mini-series have been made in abundance for so many classic books. I remember the day I watched all of the BBC Pride and Prejudice and after watching the epic mini-series, I decided to read the book. I read Little Women after watching the 1995-film version with Winona Ryder for the millionth time.
Similarly to many other books I come across, I always have a tough time with visualizing characters and people. With a ton of names and events, it’s hard to keep track of them all. I always find myself flipping from the front of the book and the family tree and the index back to the page I was reading. God forbid the author doesn’t even give you that! Even when the novel is simpler, I always find myself using some actor or actress I feel is appropriate for the main character instead of dreaming up someone in my head. I should have gone into casting or something for these movies.
What watching the show does is allow me to visualize what may have been more difficult without. I’m able to see who exactly is Pierre and Andrei and Natasha and all the others. I can see them in my head and when I read the book I can use that to help shape the story. When I go to the book later on, I’ll be able to read with those characters in mind and be able to visualize the nuances of their emotions and reactions.
I’m also able to visualize the story. You may think that this will spoil a novel for me, but it doesn’t. When a book is as popularized to make a movie, I feel like the spoilers are gone. You already know what’s going to happen or you can read about them online. But the visualization of the story allows me to follow along and understand the bigger events that happen.
Of course you’re not going to get the whole book in the show. If anything, the shows and movies provide a bone structure for you to go back and read the book and fill in the muscle and the tissue. A movie without the book isn’t the same as the movie with the book. You get to a battle scene with its gore and guns and fighting and for some reason these scenes have always been really tough for me to envision in my head. Instead, I get this battle scene played out for me and I can go back later and fill in the gaps I missed about that scene.
The last added bonus of watching the movie before reading the book is that you’re never disappointed. I’ve read books before watching the movie and felt the upset of it not being true to the film. I’ve seen movies that were even better than the book and that annoys me to no end as well. Watching the movie before the book sets me up for good reading with well-crafted scenes and if the adaptation is really good, it can really blow the book out of the water (but that’s a post for another time).
Y’all probably hate me now because I do this weird method of watching the adaptation before reading the book, but for some reason it’s worked for me. I’ve been able to really enjoy some of my favorite classics because I was able to watch them played out like this. It’s also great when the people who made the movie put in the extra work to make it incredible. With an adaptation like War and Peace, there’s a lot of ground to cover in more than just three hours. I mean, look at what happened with the Lord of the Rings movies.
This is my first time unboxing a Capsule Books box. I thought the idea was quite an interesting one and I definitely wanted to get my hands on one to see what it’s all about.
Capsule Book boxes take on reading in a different way. Instead of thinking of themes between books, you can pick your box by feelings. For the winter, the choices are Roar of the Fireplace, Alone at a Party, and Frozen Over.
I chose Roar of the Fireplace, because it’s the feeling of sitting at home with a big glass of wine and thinking about all those little things you might have messed up. It felt like this was right up my alley in terms of lifestyle. I love ruining a cozy moment with my crazy brain. You can read more about that box here.
Each box comes with three books, a little note going deeper into your box choice, and a few little extras. For this box, I also received a little bookmark as well. The box also includes a pre-stamped envelope for you to send the news about Capsule Books to a friend. It’s not even just a postcard, but a little notecard in a kraft envelope. So cute!
Here’s a little bit more on the books I received in my box:
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?
Aimee Bender’s stories portray a world twisted on its axis, a place of unconvention that resembles nothing so much as real life, in all its grotesque, beautiful glory. From the first line of each tale she lets us know she is telling a story, but the moral is never quite what we expect. Bender’s prose is glorious: musical and colloquial, inimitable and heartrending.
Here are stories of men and women whose lives are shaped–and sometimes twisted–by the power of extraordinary desires, erotic and otherwise. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is the debut of a major American writer.
SPHINX by Anne Garreta
Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, among others.
A beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and their lover, A***, written without using any gender markers to refer to the main characters, Sphinx is a remarkable linguistic feat and paragon of experimental literature that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly-gendered French language.
Sphinx is a landmark text in the feminist and LGBT literary canon appearing in English for the first time.
The Universe of Us by Lang Leav
Lang Leav presents a completely new collection of poetry with a celestial theme in The Universe of Us.
Planets, stars, and constellations feature prominently in this beautiful, original poetry collection from Lang Leav. Inspired by the wonders of the universe, the best-selling poetess writes about love and loss, hope and hurt, being lost and found. Lang’s poetry encompasses the breadth of emotions we all experience and evokes universal feelings with her skillfully crafted words.
So far, I’ve only read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender and I’m already blown away by how awesome this box is. This book, one of which I’ve never heard of in my life, is able to better encapsulate the feeling of being inadequate and insecure with yourself while trying to love someone else. It’s an incredible collection of short stories and I can’t wait to get into the two others. I’ll be sharing what those are below.
With these boxes, you only get three books every season, so it’s not too much of a burden on your TBR if you have a lot of books to read. Also, you can take 15% off your first box by using SIMONE15 at checkout.
Simone and Her Books is affiliated with Capsule Book boxes. This is an advertisement post, but the opinions and reviews of these books are completely honest and my own thoughts. Capsule Books doesn’t have any influence on the posts written about it.
I don’t know about you, but I need a break from the world. Sometimes the news or my life or even my reads get so heavy that I need to step away from everything and just enjoy myself. Self care is a real thing and something I try to always keep in mind. That’s why I chose to read this book. It felt like the right time for me to step away from all the heavier reads coming across my desk. I’m so glad that I did.
Here’s some more on the book:
Jonny knows better than anyone that life is full of cruel ironies. He’s spent every day in a hospital hooked up to machines to keep his heart ticking. Then when a donor match is found for Jonny’s heart, that turns out to be the cruelest irony of all. Because for Jonny’s life to finally start, someone else’s had to end.
That someone turns out to be Neve’s twin brother, Leo. When Leo was alive, all Neve wanted was for him (and all his glorious, overshadowing perfection) to leave. Now that Leo’s actually gone forever, Neve has no idea how to move forward. Then Jonny walks into her life looking for answers, her brother’s heart beating in his chest, and everything starts to change.
Together, Neve and Jonny will have to face the future, no matter how frightening it is, while also learning to heal their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.
As you may have guessed, this was definitely a sweet story. It’s filled with heartwarming love between two teenagers who are separated by one giant lie. And you may think that a book like this would just be a candy for my sweet tooth, it’s always good to step away from being serious and just relax.
I went into this thinking that it would be the story of a young person who was scorned in the past by someone and then fell in love again. However, I didn’t actually think the heart mentioned in the story’s title was a literal heart. When Jonny receives his brand new heart, you already know that it belonged to Neve’s twin brother, Leo, who had died in a weird accident on the beach. However, what you don’t know is the lives both Neve and Jonny lived before they met each other and after they met each other.
This story was definitely your typical outcasts falling in love with each other although the circumstances of how they meet are not your typical outcast story. Jonny basically stalks every victim that fit the profile of his new heart. All he knew was that it belonged to a 15-year-old boy and he died recently. Not a lot to go off of, but apparently enough for him to research online and possibly find some possible donors. I didn’t find this part of the story to be as strong. It felt like the search was a few short clicks and not a labored event for him. He didn’t visit any other possible families and he came out to this fundraiser Neve’s mother was running. It was too easy especially with the amount of info he was provided.
Tamsyn Murray is definitely a great writer too. She’s not the type of person to fuss over big words and the voices of both Neve and Jonny were pretty clear. The jury’s still out for me on whether I like books with interchanging POVs, but for Jonny and Neve it helped to move the story much faster.
I loved that the story also included some illustrations Jonny drew. He includes panels from superheroes he created. He outlines his favorite day. He even draws Neve and when Neve was seeing them for the first time, we were also seeing them for the first time. That was a nice little device to really draw the reader into the book.
When Neve and Jonny finally meet, Jonny does that one thing that happens in a story like this; he lies. He lies about his condition. He lies about how he knows Neve’s brother and he lies about being the heart recipient. Of course a story like this requires a big lie before the big reveal. It’s not the reason why you’re reading this story, but you end up waiting for it throughout the story. When does the truth come out? How will this affect their lives? Will their newfound friendship survive it?
I think the one big glaringly obvious issue with the story is the way they treated mental health, grief, and loss. For Neve, she handled it poorly. She didn’t go to her therapy sessions and she didn’t really cope with her brother’s death. However, she also hoarded pills and planned to kill herself because the lack of affection and attention she craved from her parents. This whole part of the novel is written in her point of view and no one takes the time to sit her down and speak directly about how she’s doing. She just struggles alone, which feels a little irresponsible of the author. And sadly, it all comes to a head at the end of the story.
For Jonny, I mean, I figured there would be much more talking to a counselor. He just received a new heart and things were just moving along like it didn’t matter. Wouldn’t there be an adjustment period? Shouldn’t he be talking to someone to process his emotions about receiving a heart? I just feel like these mentally exhausting moments from both of these characters were underdeveloped and the focus was more on the loving relationship building between them. It was nice, but I just wanted something a little bit deeper than this surface story. Perhaps I’m asking too much from a piece of candy.
I received this book from The Novl in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the method I received this book and I was not paid to write this book review.
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Poppy (December 5, 2017)
- Rating: 3/5 stars
- Buy Instructions for a Secondhand Heart on Amazon
Simone and Her Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.
November seemed to go quickly, but also jam packed with news, articles, and great reads. I had a blast this November and here are some of the highlights.
Thanksgiving at my in laws
I’ve never had Thanksgiving at anyone else’s house before. I’ve always had it with my family with the same meal and the same sides to be expected. The same guests too! But this year, I got to explore what other people observe for their Thanksgiving.
If you ask my friends, I always bring up how Thanksgiving is one of those meals that is the same for everyone but different as well. We all have the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Coming from an immigrant family, many of my Thanksgiving included things like kimchi and rice and even a little lasagna.
I have this great pic from a feast like this many years ago and there, right in the middle of the table, is a pan of lasagna. I’m not sure who brought the lasagna, but it really isn’t Thanksgiving without it on the table.
So this Thanksgiving, I was thankful to have a place to go and share a meal with my other family. The food was slightly different than what I would see, but there were some subtle differences. Like my family never watches football…ever. Also, we don’t have the adults fighting over the desserts. Most of the adults passed over dessert making room for a cup of hot tea.
It was fun to hear family stories and laugh with people who welcomed me into their home. I think it was the most American Thanksgiving I’ve ever seen!
Alright, enough chit chat, let’s hit the books.
Books I read
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
- Warcross by Marie Lu
- Sourdough by Robin Sloan
- Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Links from the Internet
This is probably my favorite part about the entire post! I get to share the articles and essays I found this month and LOVED! Make sure to definitely check these out when you have a chance!
I found this really great article from 1995 about what Little Women was really about. I was doing some research on an article about women and literature and I was just enamored by this detailed article about Little Women. Definitely check it out!
My favorite thing this month was reading this article about Colin Kaepernick and how GQ found him his own team while he still is banned from playing in the NFL. It must be really difficult to follow your dreams only to be thrown out from your dreams because of what you believe in. How do you manage to do both? Are they mutually exclusive? I don’t know, but this article was great to read!
This is a reminder for myself that I need to pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez because this interview really blew it up for me!
I feel like I should mention this, but I’m super sad that The Mindy Project is done. However, I found this wonderful article about how great the show was and how it really appreciated the romantic comedy genre.
Continuing my work to become a better writer, I found this wonderful essay in NY Review of Books about writing memoirs especially after a family member has died.
I’m such a nerd because Mara Wilson aka Matilda wrote this article for Elle magazine about young female actresses and how they’re sexualized at way too young an age. It also dives into Millie Bobbi Brown and the controversy she didn’t mean to cause, but did because she’s 13 and yeah, that makes sense (eye roll).
I am so happy that people are seeing Lena Dunham for what she truly is and writers like Zizi Clemmons are taking a stand against her backhanded, racist comments. Take a look at the official statement in this article.
I love me some great essays lately and this one from TheMillions.com talks about how we shouldn’t forget that a walk in the woods in a book shouldn’t replace a real walk in the woods. This was a pretty interesting read!
I love Sophie from Main St. and Maple and how candid she is about her struggles to find work in a very male-dominated career. Good luck! I know that something will find its way to you and don’t give up! Come out to the coasts where women are totally wanted to help break down those barriers!
This was one literary piece from Electric Lit about how women turn themselves into trees when approached by unwanted desire. It’s moving and poetic and makes you want to tear the years of bark growing over you.
That’s it! Thanks for reading my blubber about the Internet. Honestly, I love sharing these articles with you!
Until next time!
I’ve only tried to make bread once in my life and while I did have a tasty loaf, I can’t say if it was the best bread in the world. However, I have an inkling that Lois can.
SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan is the story about a woman named Lois Clary who arrives in San Francisco with a computer science degree. She begins to work at a small tech company building mechanical robot arms to help people do ordinary things.
As a newcomer to the city, she didn’t have many friends so she spent many of her nights at home ordering food from the local restaurant called Clement Street Soup and Sourdough. Every night, she would order the same delicious spicy soup with their famous sourdough bread. And as she ordered, she became friendlier with the two brothers who owned the restaurant.
That was until one day the boys had the move back home due to immigration reasons. Before the two boys left, they gifted Lois with their starter for sourdough bread. It’s an ancient starter that has been passed along generation to generation. The boys left the starter with Lois to keep providing that she takes care of it everyday and makes sure to feed it.
As the skeptic that she is, she goes ahead and does what the boys say, but little did she know that this starter is about to take her on an interesting journey.
San Francisco tech and sourdough go together like peanut butter and jelly. These two things are so synonymous with the city that it makes sense to put together a whole book about it. It was an easy read with an interesting story, but it wasn’t a wow for me. It was good and I liked it, but I wasn’t thinking this could be the best book he’s ever written. What I liked in reading a story about carbs also lacked in some other technical things.
The story is kind of set up like little pockets of time. Each chapter represents one story and the entire book is a culmination of all those stories. It didn’t have the same beat that your average book would have, but each story spoke along the same lines. It’s about bread.
You see Lois get the starter and try to bake her first loaf of sourdough bread. She’s never baked or cooked anything in her life, but she was somehow magically able to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. I know that bread isn’t easy and from the people I know who have tried to make it, no one has done it perfectly.
Yet, you see her bake a loaf and her reaction seemed like this was easy and doesn’t really require much. I understand if Robin Sloan was trying to use the starter as the reason for all the great baking, but I don’t know if you can bake great bread right from the get-go without considering that maybe it’s the starter?
Lois immediately catches the baking bug and start not only making bread for herself, for her friends, for her office, for everyone. One person suggests that she try and sell it and thus begins her story to really make something from the bread. Throughout this, you get little hints and clues as to what might be the cause for her success and you see the magic of the starter. It’s like reading someone’s diary on how they got started with baking bread and all the different things they did to get the bread they wanted. It was more telling than it was showing which made it kind of dull for me.
Then all of a sudden, the sourdough changes on her and about three quarters of the way into the novel, the story really picks up. I was kind of confused by why this didn’t happen much earlier in the novel to help really push the reader along. I really wanted to see what happened with the dough, but even the ending was wrapped up into a neat little bow. I just wanted a little bit more, just another taste of that delicious bread rather than being told.
However, the book did keep me interested because I did end up finishing it. I think it had something to do with the starter, finding its origins, learning how to hone it, figuring out where all of this leads. You get to read about all these things through the email correspondences Lois has with Beoreg, the guy who gave her the starter. It almost feels magical and alive and that was more intriguing to me than listening to her figure out how to make more bread. Like well kneaded dough, these pieces were sprinkled in like bench flour to keep you from getting stuck.
My favorite part is really the descriptions of the bread. The fluffy and doughy centers where people slabbed butter on top and I wish that this story was more about that than learning how to double the bread output Lois was making everyday.
I think what really drew me to the story was the idea that Lois was going into a vocation that she was good at, but not passionate about. Then, you see her start to make bread and become obsessed with creating a beautiful loaf that pleases a lot of people. She questions her job, she questions her motivation, and then she finally figures out what she wants. I think that’s a story that a lot of people can relate to especially when you work in a field that you’re not a fan of. You just want to see Lois succeed because you want to succeed and that’s a resonance I know far too well.