Review: When You Read This

When You Read This by Mary Adkins

Genres: Chick Lit, Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


For four years, Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. But Iris has died, taken by terminal illness at only thirty-three. Adrift without his friend and colleague, Smith is surprised to discover that in her last six months, Iris created a blog filled with sharp and often funny musings on the end of a life not quite fulfilled. She also made one final request: for Smith to get her posts published as a book. With the help of his charmingly eager, if overbearingly forthright, new intern Carl, Smith tackles the task of fulfilling Iris’s last wish.

Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris’ big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who’s been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.

Told in a series of e-mails, blog posts, online therapy submissions, text messages, legal correspondence, home-rental bookings, and other snippets of our virtual lives, When You Read This is a deft, captivating romantic comedy—funny, tragic, surprising, and bittersweet—that candidly reveals how we find new beginnings after loss. 


What I loved about this book is that it is just regular people living regular lives. There’s no catch or hook or surprise murder mystery or magic to make this book more interesting. It is literally just people talking to each other. YES.

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Discussion: Problematic Content in Historical Fiction

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts the other day, and they started talking about Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, a book which remains the only Steampunk novel I’ve actually enjoyed. I admit I was a little taken aback when the hosts mentioned that they had a problem with the way Priest talked about Chinese-Americans in the novel. Many of her characters are outright racist, but then what else would you expect from the Civil War era? I hadn’t batted an eye-lid at it when reading.

But as I started thinking about it, this is something I have noticed people critiquing other historical fiction for as well. Specifically the two things I most often see historical fiction critiqued for is racism or inclusion of asylums.

As I am right in the middle of reading a historical fiction novel with some extremely offensive language right at this moment, I thought I would take a second to weigh in.

First of all, let me start by saying that we can not go back and change the past. Like or not, people in the past made mistakes. They were racist, they were anti-gay, they didn’t know how to handle mental health problems, they killed people who were inconvenient to them. The past SUCKED. I don’t know why it is that we are so drawn to it, but there it is.

So the way I see it, any author writing a historical fiction novel has three choices for how to deal with history’s problems:

  1. Ignore the problem all-together. Make everyone white, straight, and healthy.
  2. Put the diversity in there, but make your characters okay with it, even if that means losing some authenticity.
  3. Write your novel authentically, even if that means leaving in some problematic content.

The first option, I hope we can all agree, is not acceptable. By pretending the past was all hunky-dory we loose all opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and we risk continuing to marginalize those who were treated poorly by continuing to ignore their voices. Even Regency Romances aren’t doing this anymore.

The second option, including diversity but making your characters okay with it, is I think the direction a lot of readers would like to see historical fiction go. But here’s the thing. (And keep in mind, this is my opinion.) By writing characters who are universally accepting we continue to white-wash history.

If ignoring the marginalized populations ignores their voices, so does pretending that the dominate culture wasn’t marginalizing them. If ignoring the problems of the past keeps us from learning from them, keeping your protagonist out of the problem does the same thing.

And, most important to me, books are often supposed to make you feel uncomfortable.

It’s been my experience that when authors include “problematic” or offensive content in their historical fiction novels, they do so on purpose. They want you to see that the characters were racist (or what have you) so that YOU can see it is a problem. The characters might never see it as a problem, but the reader should.

So the book I’m reading right now is Whiskey When We’re Dry, a 21-st century Western by John Larison. It includes a lot of the same offensive anti-Chinese-American language that Boneshaker does, and the character is equally ambivalent about it. I mean, people call her horrible Mexican slurs all the time, why should she be fussed that they do the same thing to the “chinamen”? It also includes a LO-O-OT of anti-gay slurs. In particular, the men in the novel are very concerned with being “a fish”. Larison does this explicitly and on purpose. It should make you uncomfortable because it is AWFUL. It makes the main character, Jess, uncomfortable, because as she knows literally nothing about sex she’s not sure what it means or why it is wrong. As she eventually starts to figure it out, it makes her even more uncomfortable as she selfishly realizes that the gay-ness of one of her friends could seriously screw up her own situation.

But Larison does this to set up the exploration of Jess’s own sexuality. As Jess begins to realize that she is not attracted to men, the stigma surrounding “fish” is at the forefront of her mind. Surely the same stigma would be applied to her. It affects what she does, as well as how and why she does it.

Had Larison ignored the stigma surrounding queer people in the wild west, the novel would not only have lost authenticity, but it would have lost a lot of the power behind the love story. It’s uncomfortable for the reader, but not near as uncomfortable as it would have been for the dude whose gentiles were cut off because he was discovered having sex with another man. We can NEVER forget that these kinds of atrocities happened, and writing a character exploring LGBTQ feelings in that era has a special kind of power to it.

So as far as I’m concerned, bring on the racist historical fiction. But I would love to hear YOUR thoughts, because I know this is a multi-faceted issue.

Sorting Hat Sunday: Runaways

Alex Wilder looked at the kids in his compartment with him and rolled his eyes. How was he stuck with these idiots? They didn’t have half a brain to rub together between them! And was the little girl actually crying?

But if he was being honest, this group had some possibilities. They might not seem like much, but they would probably be pretty easy to manipulate. He could probably get them to do exactly what he wanted. And, let’s be honest, the girl with the black hair was really pretty. Really REALLY pretty.

He relaxed in his seat. He was going to have to play it cool. Make them think he was just another kid like them. Alex smiled. He was going to like Hogwarts.


Alex Wilder

Okay, so if you’ve read Runaways, this is a no-brainer. If you haven’t, GO READ IT! It’s amazing. I’m in love.

Alex is … a tactician. He knows how to play the people around him, what they are likely to do next, how to get them to do what he wants them to do. He’s a huge asset to the Runaways because he can almost read their parents’ minds, so great are his tactical skills. But … he doesn’t always use his skills for good. He’s grown up in a life of luxury, so he is accustomed to getting what he wants. While he is horrified by the evil his parents do, he is often the one leading the Runaways to make questionable choices of their own. And he is ambitious in that the whole group was HIS idea, and HE is keen to take charge. Then in the final episode of season 1…. well, he knows what he wants and he takes it. So even though he could be sorted into Ravenclaw for his smarts, that’s definitely not where he belongs.

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Review: An American Marraige

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Genre: Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel. 


Wow. What a beautiful book. The writing was so lush, and lovely, and lyrical. I was expecting this to be a powerful book, but I was completely taken by surprise by how incredible the writing was.

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Calendar Girls April Theme

Hey Calendar Girls!!!

IT’S SPRING BREAK!!!! WOOOOOOOO! Who’s ready to sleep in??? THIS GIRL!!!! Bet when you were in school you didn’t realize the teachers were MORE excited about spring break then you were, lol.

So I’m ready to revel in my time off, but it’s time to start looking forward to April. We want to make sure everyone has plenty of time to think about the prompt and get a post ready! Because I know none of you wait until the night before to pick and book and right a post. I mean, I know that I don’t! *shifts nervously in seat*

The votes are in, and it was very close, but the theme for April will be…


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The 90s Kid Book Tag

I AM A 90s KID AND I AM PROUD!!!!

Seriously, I love the 90s. My childhood was so amazing. We had video games and computers and stuff, but it wasn’t as constantly invasive as it is now. (I say on my BLOG which I am writing instead of sleeping…) (The hypocrisy is not lost on me.) We had the best TV shows, the greatest music, and just generally happy lives. I am so nostalgic for 1999 pretty much all of the time.

So when I saw this tag on The Literary Phoenix a few months ago I couldn’t resist bookmarking it for a later date. I don’t do as many book tags as I used to, so it’s taken me a while to get to it, but I love tags and I’m so happy this is how I’m spending my Sunday night. 🙂

Rules:

  1. Please, please, please steal this tag and spread it around!  I only ask that you link it back to The Literary Phoenix so that I can see everyone’s answers!
  2. Freeze tag was all the rage in the 90s.  Tag someone (or many) you think would have fun with this!
  3. Have fun!

Pokemon

Gotta Catch ’em All! The author you need every book from.

I don’t typically auto-read an author, I still have to find the synopsis interesting before I’ll want to read it. But I have read literally every single book by Rainbow Rowell except Carry On, and a friend recently convinced me that I need tor read that one, too. I mean, I started reading comics just so I could read her Runaways run, okay? Y’all, my love for this woman and all of her books cannot be understated.

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Review: An Ocean of Minutes

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.

But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.


This book is so different from what I was expecting. The time travel elements were essentially just a plot point, not a major player in the function of the story. Instead this novel operates as a dystopia.

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