Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

My Thoughts:

For such a short book, I thought the plot dragged on for the first two-thirds of the story until What I Saw becomes a very different book during the last third. Many of the plot developments felt entirely unnecessary and unrealistic. Anyone paying a smidgen of attention will spot the “tragedy” coming from a mile away and feel totally underwhelmed. Evie’s relationship with Peter is horrendously inappropriate, regardless of the time period. A fifteen year old should never, ever be pursued by someone in their twenties. And because I was never able to look past this plot point, I felt Evie and Peter’s relationship was ridiculous and I actively wanted them to separate.

I found Evie’s characterization to be inconsistent. At times she behaved like a twelve year old, and at others was spouting profound comments like a grown adult. The characters in this story are largely forgettable and incredibly unlikeable. I felt zero sympathy for any character save the protagonist and narrator, Evie. And I only felt a little sorry for her because at fifteen, she’s only a child who shouldn’t necessarily know better. But the adults in What I Saw are awful to themselves and to one another. Evie’s mother, Beverly, was particularly frustrating as she would act under the pretense of Eve’s best interests, and then do something else to undermine Evie’s emotional health and well-being. Both of Evie’s parents are abusive and are perpetuating cycles of abuse.

I am pleased that Blundell touched on the Anti-Semitism prevalent after WWII. One storyline surrounding the Graysons reveals the hateful attitudes towards the Jewish community that still hasn’t gone away. I think Anti-Semitism is an often overlooked form of discrimination and Blundell did a good job of providing some historical context in this book for discrimination and the many shapes it takes.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. Thankfully, this is a quick read and I started and finished What I Saw in an afternoon. I liked the setting and the hints of post war glamour mixed with a still recovering country. I am left unclear as to why Blundell thought this particular story needed to be told. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

forgettable

a coming of age story

troubling

a quick read

predictable

This book contains content warnings for…

sexual assault of a minor

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 284

ISBN: 0439903467

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read What I Saw and How I Lied? What YA historical fiction would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Thoughts:

Astonishing Color handles suicide and depression quite well. Leigh’s mother Dory was never written as being ‘broken’ or ‘at fault.’ She was receiving medical care and was supported by her immediate family. I was not a huge fan of the magical realism in this story but I think that’s more about a personal preference than anything else. I also wish that the secondary story, about Leigh and Axel’s changing relationship, wasn’t present. I read this as a story about loss and grief in one family. Each time Pan cut to a memory of Leigh and Axel the plot became disjointed. This storyline felt unnecessary to the central themes.

Leigh and her parents felt very real to me. Their family dynamic genuinely reflected a family that loved one another but also was unsure how to handle some shifting circumstances. It was very clear that Leigh was surrounded by people who loved her but also had their own ideas about what was best for her.

I really enjoyed learning so much about Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. Taiwan is not often a setting in books, particularly YA books, so this was a pleasant change. It was great to learn more about Taiwan through Leigh, who was getting to know more about her family and history for the first time. I also appreciated the frank depiction of being mixed race and the uncomfortable microaggressions faced on a frequent basis. As someone who is also mixed race, I recognized the racist and inappropriate questions, stares, and insults Leigh faced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I liked this book but I wouldn’t read it again. I had a hard time connecting with the plot and the characters because of my own backstory. My mother died several years ago and I was unable to get on board with some of the magical realism in this story as a result. I did enjoy the colorful writing, exploration of a new culture, and the focus on mental health. I don’t think I would recommend this to someone who was young when their parent died, but otherwise I would recommend this book. It’s worth noting here that this book is incredibly well reviewed on Goodreads and I am clearly of the minority opinion.

This book is…

imaginative

colorful

slow-moving

full of magical realism

a coming of age story

This book contains content warnings for…

suicide

depression

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 472

ISBN: 031646399X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What book about refugees would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

My Thoughts:

The two plot lines and time periods worked really well in this book. We spent enough time with each story to get to know the characters well and to feel invested in the overall plots. The parallels between the two stories well well crafted. Both Nour and Rawiya experience terror, heartache, love, and courage. I did prefer Nour’s present day storyline because of its relevance to the recent refugee crisis. Salt and Stars goes a long way toward detailing what a refugee might experience and the ways in which current aide systems are failing the very people they’re trying to support.

Nour was definitely my favorite character. I loved her honesty and her inner thoughts. Having suffered considerable loss, Nour speaks and thinks eloquently about grief, loss, and love. She holds stories, especially the stories her father taught her, very near and dear to her heart. Her relationships with her family felt very real to me, especially as someone who is also one of three daughters. These family dynamics felt genuine because love is beneath all of their interactions. It’s even clear that this family loved and misses their father, who also loved them, based on the ways in which they reflect upon their grief and try to find a new way forward.

Admittedly, I have not read many books about the Middle East, which was one of the reasons I did enjoy this book. Salt and Stars takes place in a few Middle Eastern countries and I learned a lot about different cultures, languages, and geographies. And with the two different plot lines, this book felt like an opening into a whole new world. One of which still exists and the other was like a window to the past. I loved that none of the characters looked like me and spoke different languages. Salt and Stars reads like a love letter to Syria and the wonderful people who call it home.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I found the story to be very compelling and engaging. And the writing is just so incredibly beautiful! This was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and absolutely needed to finish. I didn’t cry like I thought I might, but I was very caught up in the high stakes plot and character decisions. I would highly recommend this book, especially if you love stories about families.

This book is…

lyrical

poignant

moving

beautiful

creative

Publisher: Touchstone

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 368

ISBN: 1501169033

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Map of Salt and Stars? What book about refugees would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the premise of The Belles, and how Dhonielle Clayton blends our reality, fantasy, and folklore in order to craft this unique world. This book had a number of twists and turns that I never saw coming! I’m hopeful that Clayton can continue the suspense in future Belle books. The level of detail in this book is astonishing. Clayton takes the time to name exact shades and hues of colors used in clothing and beauty treatments. While this attention to detail certainly enhanced the richness of this fictional world, I sometimes found it distracting. I wanted Clayton to move slightly faster with the plot or a tumultuous scene and be spared every single detail. The pacing of The Belles ultimately led me to rate this book four stars instead of five. At over 400 pages, some of the details could surely have been spared.

This book is a wonderful reimagining of our society’s obsession with physical appearances and beauty. Clayton makes a number of jabs at forced unrealistic body modifications and the desire to look like someone else. Camellia, and presumably the other Belles but the reader is not privy to their inner thoughts, hesitates to alter someone’s appearance drastically or negatively. She believes that humans should look different from one another. In The Belles, the characters most obsessed with beauty are portrayed negatively, which again serves as a criticism of our culture. On the positive side, I loved that Clayton showcased a wide variety of hair colors and textures, skin tones, and facial features without privileging a specific look. This choice not only proves that diversity can be this easy, but also emphasizes that beauty is not one look only. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and all of which are beautiful.

I really liked Camellia as a protagonist. And this may seem odd, but one of my favorite things about Camellia is that she always acts her age. By this, I mean that Clayton knows how a sixteen year old girl behaves. Despite the enormous pressure Camellia faces, we see her real age and self as she interacts with boys for the first time, learns to stand up for herself, and has lots of impulsive reactions. I also loved the strong female-female relationships showcased in this book. While not all of these relationships were positive, a number were. Camellia and Bree, her servant, are honest and trusting of one another. And Camellia has a beautiful sisterly relationship with her Belle sisters that feels realistic and heartfelt. Clayton clearly prioritized having well-defined characters, and it shows.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! The Belles is a fun read that I would definitely recommend for some light weekend reading. I think this book serves as a great introduction to the as yet unpublished books in this series, and this one ends on a nice cliffhanger. This is a YA book, but I don’t think that should stop adults from reading The Belles!

This book is…

detailed

surprising

diverse

lengthy

a great first book for this series

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Genre: YA fantasy

Page Count: 440

ISBN: 1484728491

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Belles? What YA fantasy book would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.

It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.

My Thoughts:

One of the things I love about Little Women is that the story follows the March family through many years of their lives. Over time, we see the March family experience all sorts of different situations as they grow up together. Their trials run the gamut from sisterly quarrels, standing up for oneself, disagreeing with a husband, and learning to love. I find Little Women to be such a comforting book, for Alcott crafted the March family with considerable care and love.

Each and every character in Little Women is well rounded, charming, and fun to read. I always love reading Jo’s struggle to overcome her quick temper. As I myself suffer from the same fiery tongue and easily provoked emotions. I think many people would benefit from taking Mareme’s advice to heart, and think before speaking. Jo is often the favorite of the March sisters, but I’m also a big fan of Meg. She is bright, well mannered, and kind. But more importantly, I love Meg for her faults and how she tries to overcome them. The March family is poor and Meg, despite her overflowing love for her family, is tired of being poor. She wants to have nice things and not have to worry about paying for them. I really appreciate reading Meg’s struggles with this as I think that it’s a common feeling for most people. We all want the luxury to buy nice things when we want without breaking the bank. Meg works hard to be more patient and considerate when it comes to making purchases.

At times this book can feel a bit preachy with some of its religious overtones. But the lessons learned in this book are always well intended, helpful, and more about having a bigger heart, loving one another, and honoring one’s family. I enjoy these lessons, even as an adult. I think many of the lessons preached in this book could be beneficial to many people and there’s always something to learn from Little Women.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! This was my second time reading Little Women and I loved it even more the second time around. I think this book is a classic for good reason and is definitely a book that everyone should read. This story would also make an excellent read aloud!

This book is…

heartwarming

lovely

enlightening

touching

endearing

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: classics

Page Count: 504

ISBN: 0143106651

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Little Women? What classics would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

My Thoughts:

I loved the initial premise of this book. I’m a big fan of mystery novels, and really enjoyed the beginning of The English Wife, in which one half of a married couple is found dead and the other half is missing. This plot is difficult to discuss without giving anything away, but I found the story to be extremely compelling and creative. There were quite a few plot twists and I can honestly say I never saw them coming. Lauren Willig uses flashbacks brilliantly in this story. Through these flashbacks we learn just enough at a time to keep the plot moving forward without answering every single question.

The characters in this story were incredibly diverse in terms of temperament, but certainly not in terms of race. Bayard and Annabelle make a great pair and play off each other nicely. My favorite character, though, was Bayard’s sister, Janie. I loved her tenacity, her intelligence, and took great pleasure in reading her character development. Per any mystery novel this one has lots of murder suspects, which always makes for fun reading. This book definitely has plenty of characters to love, hate, and to love to hate.

A few notes follow here about the ending, and I promise I won’t spoil it!

This story does not completely wrap up in the end. While some plot points are resolved, one or two are left up in the air. I’m not sure if Willig intended this solely so the reader can make up their own mind, or if a sequel is expected. Usually, I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings. I prefer to know what happened. But Willig did a nice job of tying enough loose ends and leaving a little bit unsaid in case there is a sequel.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I read much of Willig’s series, The Pink Carnation, but this was the first non-Carnation book of hers that I’ve read. I love that Willig writes complex characters, complicated plots, and romance on the side. I thought this book was a very fun read and I would definitely recommend this book, especially for historical fiction fans.

This book is…

surprising

engaging

full of twists and turns

unputdownable

satisfying

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 376

ISBN: 1250056276

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Lauren Willig’s books? What other mystery would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the plot of The Death of Mrs. Westaway. While there were some elements that I didn’t fully understand as they were revealed, Ware did a great job of tying everything together in the end and explaining all. I also loved that the reader was piecing the story together along with Hal, who makes for a great protagonist. Hal is determined, realistic, and likeable. I liked Ware’s take on the unlikeable hero as the reader knows what Hal is doing is wrong, but still wants her to succeed anyway.

The pacing in this book is interesting. At first, the story moves along slowly. The pace does pick up a bit and become more engrossing towards the middle and definitely keeps the reader engaged in the end. But for me the beginning lagged a bit. Additionally, this is one of the few stories I’ve read in which I wished for an epilogue. I wanted to know more about Hal’s next steps and what would happen with the Westaway family. This is left up to the reader’s imagination. Usually I prefer when an author doesn’t spell everything out for the reader but I do think this book needed it.

I loved that this mystery really revolves around the women in the Westaway family. Ultimately, this story is about choices. Sometimes we make good choices and sometimes they’re bad. But The Death of Mrs. Westaway is about making choices and living with the consequences. I believe that every character in this story is suffering under the weight of the consequences of their actions. I found it fascinating to read how decisions can play out within one family and several generations.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! The Death of Mrs. Westaway felt different than Ware’s previous novels. There’s no active murder investigation and much of the action revolves around conversations. In a lot of ways, this book actually reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel. I love Agatha Christie, so the slower pace was not a problem for me. But it might be something to keep in mind if you need more of an action driven plot. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of more traditional mysteries and Old Hollywood Movies.

This book is…

surprising

clever

well-written

engaging

old-school

Publisher: Scout Press

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 1501156217

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Ruth Ware’s books? Are you excited to read The Death of Mrs. Westaway?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself.

My Thoughts:

The mystery in this book is incredible. Penny does a fantastic job of blending two seemingly disparate cases, keeping the reader guessing for a long time. CC’s death is all at once shocking and fascinating. With a cunning plot to rival Agatha Christie, you’ll never guess just how CC was electrocuted during an outdoor curling match! I also really enjoyed the clues that Penny slowly and methodically presents to Gamache and the reader. What I love about Penny’s writing is that she provides enough clues to the reader that they could put two and two together on their own, but the solution is always just out of reach until the conclusion.

Penny paints small town life with such a loving and yet also critical brush. This town and the detective force each have so much to offer, but neither world is perfect. Secrets abound everywhere. Penny hinted at secrets that Gamache and a few other characters hide in her first book, but secrecy really kicked into gear in this second book. We learn more about Gamache’s backstory in this book, which really speaks volumes as to who he is as a person. I’m also curious to learn more about a few of the other detectives, as it seems that some people are not quite what they seem.

One of my favorite things in Penny’s writing is her characters. Every single character we meet, both on the detective force and those residing in Three Pines, is memorable, quirky, and human. Many of these characters are extremely set in their ways, which makes for contrasting personalities all over the place. I especially love that Gamache prioritizes listening in his investigations. This choice leads to interesting conversations with his fellow detectives and the townspeople. There is so much to be said for listening and understanding, particularly during a murder investigation. This component reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel, in which the investigators had to rely on intuition and conversations to solve a case.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I’ve quickly become a huge fan of Louise Penny and you can expect to see me reading the rest of this mystery series. I thought this second part was very well done and it was refreshing to be reunited with so many characters from the first book, Still Life. I’m definitely excited to see where this story goes from here! I would highly recommend this book, and if you haven’t read any Louise Penny, be sure to read my review of Still Life here.

This book is…

shocking

slow-burning

enticing

insightful

charming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 313

ISBN: 0312541163

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read A Fatal Grace? What mystery series would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every woman has a secret life . . .

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

My Thoughts:

I was pleasantly surprised at how many layers the plot contains. Yes, Nikki is teaching a story sharing class, but this book also tackles arranged marriages, grief, immigration, love, cultural divides, and a mystery. I found that this book was a little slow to start, but really picked up about halfway through. I loved that snippets of the erotic stories were included in the text! This was a really fun choice that really grounds the reader within the story and connects them with the characters.

I really enjoyed Nikki as a protagonist. Her character felt very real and relatable to me as she struggled to discover what to do for a career and how to balance her more traditional family with her preferred modern life. Kulwinder had the most interesting character journey, though. Initially, she comes across as very closed minded and distant. But as more and more of her backstory is revealed and she finally comes to terms with certain elements of her life, Kulwinder relearns how to feel joy, hope, and pleasure. The women in this story learn how to fight for themselves and stand up for what they believe is right.

I was really excited to pick up this book, not only because of its unusual subject matter, but because this story focuses on an Indian immigrant community. Stories like these aren’t usually pushed to the forefront and I enjoyed learning about so many different kinds of Indian foods, customs, and beliefs. This book was really eye opening. I also loved that this book really featured women of all kinds, and by that I mean that they had wants, needs, and dreams of their own. These women were kind, vindictive, nurturing, and sexy. These women were allowed to fit into as many boxes as they saw fit, rather than be defined by any predetermined labels.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I discovered this book because it’s the March pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club. This was a really fun read and a quick one, too. It’s a great book to read in public as the title is so eye catching! I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy stories about family life and intergenerational stories.

This book is…

surprising

heartwarming

funny

sexy

enlightening

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 320

ISBN: 0062645110

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows? Would you have the courage to share an erotic story in a class?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts:

I was only barely aware of the infamous Lizzie Borden and the unsolved murders of her father and step-mother. And when I say barely aware, that last sentence was pretty much all I knew. See What I Have Done does a great job of providing information about this case and the details of the Borden family’s life. Sarah Schmidt is not offering brand new facts or hypotheses about the investigation, but is instead how things might have transpired on that fateful day. Schmidt does an excellent job of keeping the reader on edge throughout and always unsure of whom to trust. I love that this book alternates perspectives of some of the key players, and with an additional invented character. This choice offers lots of insight between the characters and we learn so much more about everyone’s past. Despite the ambiguity of this case, you’ll finish this book with your own opinion of whether or not Lizzie Borden murdered her parents.

I would just like to start by saying that Lizzie Borden was a horrible person. Regardless of her potential involvement with the murders, she was mean, vindictive, and greedy with everyone else she met. I do enjoy reading stories featuring unlikeable women characters, but Lizzie Borden certainly takes the cake. I really loved reading about her sister, Emma, and the family maid/servant, Bridget. Their perspectives shed considerable light on Lizzie’s nature and context for her emotional responses after the murders. I was especially struck by Emma’s waffling between her need to flee her stifling family and her long ago promise to take care of Lizzie. This struggle felt extremely real to me and I thought Emma and Lizzie’s dynamic was very sisterly.

I also think it’s worth noting here that this book is creepy. It’s certainly not horror, but Schmidt does not shy away from depicting gruesome and bodily scenes with intense detail. She describes smells, tastes, and feelings with eerie precision, and I could see this book being too much to handle for some. Personally, I thought these writing choices added atmosphere to this story and really set the tone for the disturbing nature of these murders.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I discovered it because it was nominated for the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which is a UK prize. You can read the rest of the longlist here. Despite being over 300 pages, this book is incredibly readable and impossible to put down. This is definitely a one or two sitting read! I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy true crime and more gruesome murders.

This book is…

eerie

nerve wracking

full of twists and turns

shocking

disturbing

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 328

ISBN: 0802126596

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read See What I Have Done? What do you think about the infamous Lizzie Borden case?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!