Book Review, Fiction, Review

Book Review Round-Up: January 2021

5.00 avg. rating (99% score) - 2 votes

Review of ‘Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You’, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi—Must read

A wonderfully written and very engaging book about an extremely difficult but just as vital topic: the history racism, mostly in the United States.  It helps understand a little more why things are the way they are today, which can help readers in their individual and/or collective pursuit of the elimination of racism.  The tone was tongue-in-cheek at times, usually at times when the topic was getting particularly difficult to read—and so came off almost as a gentle check-in, which I really appreciated.  I would add this title to the reading list of anyone who is opposed to racism.  Even if one is not interested in becoming actively involved in anti-racism work, understanding the way that racism influences one’s day-to-day life, from the way society is structured around you to the media that you consume, will help individuals become antiracists in the way that they approach their daily lives.  And if everyone did that, well, we would build an incredible world in no time.

Review of ‘The Vanishing Half’, by Brit Bennett—Must read

An exploration of racism and its effects on the lives of two women, identical Black, white-passing twins, one of which marries a Black man and has a dark-skinned Black child, while the other uses the paleness of her skin to pass off as White, marrying a White and having a White child.  The discomfort of the latter sister with the colour of her skin, the way she manages her life, the way her daughter finds out about her Blackness and the way the two women discuss it, offer an insightful exploration into the trauma of microaggressions as well as the intersection of racism and colorism.  The financial status achieved by each sister offers another layer of insight, this time into the intersection between racism and poverty.  The violent death of their Black father at the hands of White men, who beat him up to a pulp in front of his twin daughters, offers insight into the consequences of the trauma of racist violence.  This is a book to read slowly, requiring each chapter to be sat on for a few days at a time, to really reflect on the reasons why each character might have had to do what they chose to do.

Review of ‘Love Is A Revolution’, by Renée Watson

A lot of time seems to be spent these days looking at what others are doing, either to glorify or trash them.  Either way, this is a terrible way to live.  It keeps us from figuring out the various ways we can all lead a healthy, successful life.  In the case of Nala, it causes a rift between her and her cousin, Imani, as the way they choose to help others—the former by spending time with her family and the latter, by becoming a member of a community organization—is different.  Which is sad, because it’s very clear to me that it isn’t about choice; we can only build strong communities if we have strong families, and we can only have strong families when these are focused outwards, serving the community.  It comes as no surprise, then, that what I loved most about this book is how the perceived dichotomy between serving outside the home and at home is explored and that the conclusion—that neither cousin has a coherent life—is quite satisfying.  Top that off with some great writing, loveable characters, and important topics such as racism, environmentalism, and body positivity, and you are set for an inspiring read.

Review of ‘Untamed’, by Glennon Doyle

I really liked being welcomed into Glennon Doyle’s inner thoughts.  She’s very candid.  Doesn’t adhere to convention when it comes to writing in that her chapters are the length they need to be to share the point that they are meant to share, and I like that a lot.  I think though that what I appreciate the most is the insight into her personal journey and the way that she learnt and she let go of what she did in the past that she knew, at the time of writing, had been wrong.  I mean imagine a world of people who are able to live and learn and let go of the past and just keep their learnings with them as they go along, swapping outdated learnings for new ones.

Review of ‘Glimpsed’, by G.F. Miller

A delightfully insightful book about a couple of important concepts for this day and age.  It’s partly a look into the concept of good intentions gone wrong that has strong “white liberal who isn’t racist but doesn’t stand up against racism” vibes.  It’s also partly an exploration of how wishes coming true does not guarantee happiness.  Quite the contrary, in some cases: our wishes, the very ones we are certain will lead us to boundless joy, can end up doing exactly the opposite.  It’s also a larger exploration about how happiness isn’t just about having things or achieving a certain social position; it’s about our sense of purpose and the relationships we have.  And, finally, it’s also a look into the reasons why we should and shouldn’t help others; when helping others is done to boost our own self and our own self-esteem, we become blinded to the negative side effects of our actions, whereas helping others in a true spirit of selfless service helps keep us on the straight and narrow.

Review of ‘The Cousins’, by Karen McManus

A mother disinherits her four adult children; the next generation is invited, some 20 years later, to spend their summer at her island resort, so that they can get to know one another.  Why were the adult children disinherited and why the three cousins were invited are the central mysteries of this book, but of course McManus has more than one trick up her sleeve—and I’ll leave it at that.  The Cousins is very different from the other books McManus has written, but is just as well written, just as intriguing, and just as thought-provoking.  The main difference: the mysteries to unravel aren’t as anxiety-ridden as in previous books.  The pace was slightly more leisurely, making it more of a laid-back book to read, more like a puzzle to be solved than a heart-pounding race.  I really appreciated the way the author explored the effects of family interactions on others; there was just enough digging to make readers in the same situation think and perhaps understand a little more about what they were going through.

Review of ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’, by Ashley Poston

Celebrity culture is an interesting thing, at least from the perspective of someone definitely not famous.  It’s so easy to deify someone who looks and acts perfect on the screen and yet also so easy to demonise and abuse them.  Honestly I feel like the whole system of celebrity is wrong.  While I would hate a world without movies, television, etc., and even a world without award season, I would prefer it didn’t come with the darker side of things—especially when it comes to abuse of any kind.  The Princess and the Fangirl explores to a certain extent the effects of this negative side of celebrity culture on one person, and it’s really not pretty.  And while there is only so much a book can do with regards to changing an entire culture, I do hope that this one makes fans think a little about their own contribution to celebrity culture.

Review of ‘The Code for Love and Heartbreak’, by Jillian Cantor

The social awkwardness of the main character helps in two regards.  The first, it can give insight into our own awkwardness (and makes us feel so seen!)  The second, it can help us understand someone in our own lives that might be socially awkward in similar ways.  I found myself cringing at times, as I recognised some of the mistakes that I myself have made; at other times, I found myself understand some of the things that friends of mine have said and done.  Other than that, this book is a cute love story, romantic and other, that underlines the importance of real teamwork and what winning truly means.

Review of ‘Bookish and The Beast’, by Ashley Poston

The third of the series (the second one being the afore-reviewed The Princess and the Fangirl), I found this book on the one hand well written, easy to read, engaging, and very relaxing.  On the other hand, I found that there was an opportunity (in all three books, for that matter) to explore some very important concepts related to celebrity culture and its dangers to society general, let alone to the people at the centre of this obsession.  I felt there were many missed opportunities to do some character development; Vance’s reason for being the way he was didn’t come off as believable.  A bit more exploration of how he came to be would have made for a more satisfying read, but also for a more insightful one.

Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for the physical Advanced Reader Copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic advance copies through Netgalley!

5.00 avg. rating (99% score) - 2 votes

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