April Hopefuls

I am usually not a spring person, but the fact that spring is here and I can read outside on my deck on warm days is fabulous. It was a hard, snowy winter in New England, and I am looking forward to more sunny days and to watch the flowers and trees bloom in my new yard.

I mentioned this in my March Wrap-Up, but this month, I submit my Master’s thesis (post forthcoming). Because of that, I am going to be realistic with my books this month.

I am going to try and read 3 books in April (two will look familiar because they were in my March Hopefuls list). Here they are:

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series)

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6)

I am about halfway through this one, so I know I will finish this one AT LEAST. So far, I am OK with it … it’s hard to shift focus to a new storyline and keep up with the new characters (should have done the tandem read, but I am reading these individually for a buddy read). Overall, I am a fan of the Throne of Glass series, and I enjoy it more than ACOTAR.

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly (Lilac Girls # 3)

Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3)

This one was just published on March 30. I absolutely loved her two books, and I got this one on audio to listen to while I color. I love historical fiction and the premise of sisterhood and strong women … and I love sunflowers, so this book is a win. I will be prepared to cry like with every Martha Hall Kelly book.

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

The Lost Village

This book is a little out of the norm for me, but it gives me spooky, Blair Witch Project/Midsommar vibes that I think I need in my life. Also, it explores the topic of mental illness and the mistreatment of women with mental illness, and that is a topic I am very interested in (read “The Yellow Wallpaper” if you really want your blood to boil).

What are you planning to read this month?

Check out these posts to see what I’ve read this year:

January Wrap-Up

February Wrap-Up

March Wrap-Up

January Wrap-Up

I thought I would share my January wrap-up (over a month late)!

January was a very good reading month for me. It was freezing and snowy in Connecticut, so I used that opportunity to cozy up in my new reading nook and read 6 books. I enjoyed most of them!

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown (Beartown, #1)

I will let my review speak for itself, but this was definitely one of Backman’s best books. A Man Called Ove still has my heart, but this one really touched me and has stuck with me ever since. Backman is a go-to author for me, and after hearing how much other readers loved this one, I was not disappointed.

The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention (An Artist's Way Book)

I received an advanced listeners copy (ALC) from Libro.fm, and while I enjoyed most parts, I found a lot of the meditations and tips were repetitive from other books that I’ve read before. I wished that I had something new to take away from this book, but I still enjoyed listening to get a recharge.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden

I discovered Kristin Hannah a few years back when I read The Great Alone (a great book), and after reading The Nightingale (now one of my favorites) and Firefly Lane (another one of my favorites), I had to read Winter Garden with a buddy group on bookstagram. I really enjoyed it! I thought it was a little slow going at first but was soon captivated by the story.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)

I have been reading the Throne of Glass series since last year with a buddy read group and I am really loving it. I discovered Sarah J. Maas last year during the start of quarantine, and her books have literally helped me get through the pandemic. So far, Queen of Shadows is my favorite of the series (there are 7 books and a book of short stories). I finished Empire of Storms in February (loved it) and I will be starting Tower of Dawn this month!

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea

I really, really wanted to love this book as much as everyone else. Unfortunately, I was exhausted when I finished it. Hear me out: Her writing is beautiful, but she paid too much attention to the bookish atmosphere and aesthetics than the actual plot. The stories within the story? Beautiful. The character development and plot? Not so beautiful. I was lost in the last 150 pages, feeling unsatisfied at the end. BUT — she can certainly create beautiful prose. I plan to read The Night Circus in April because people love it so much.

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

The Prophets

I listened to an advanced listener’s copy (ALC) from Libro.fm, and I found the narration to be astounding. I heard that the physical book can be hard to follow with the different chorus of voices, but listening to the audiobook and the narrator grounded me as I took in this powerful debut. This book was unique, beautiful, and heart-wrenching.

Have you read these? If you are interested in any of these books and learning about trigger warnings, please don’t hesitate to email me: kass.readsbooks@gmail.com or contact me on Instagram: @keepitkassual.

Review: ‘The Broken Earth’ Series

I did not know what to expect when I started The Broken Earth series, but I was not disappointed. The series started popping up on my Bookstagram feed (@keepitkassual) in the late spring, and I knew that it was something I needed to get my hands on!

The glossy Hugo Award pictured on each cover is more than well-deserved. Author N.K. Jemisin presents some of the best storytelling that I have ever read with shifting points of view and poetic, poignant prose. You are constantly on the edge of your seat as you read, concentrating on every word as you learn about Essun and her story.

 

Orogenes are a specific race within the Stillness with a power called sessapinae, giving them the ability to control tectonic activity within the earth. Also referred to as the derogatory term, roggas, orogenes are oppressed, feared, and hated beings; they are seen as the “Other” within the Stillness. Essun, an orogene herself, kept this secret from Jija. She believes that Jija has taken Nassun somewhere to kill her, so she sets forth to find them and seek revenge on Jija. That is the premise of the story. Essun’s quest to find her daughter. What readers are presented with is so much more, however.

What I liked about The Broken Earth series was that the books shed light on many important social topics, including environmentalism (the Earth seeking revenge on the beings that destroyed it), systemic racism, and classism. The books aren’t just limited to those themes, however. They also explore individualism, resistance, LGBTQ relationships, and gender equity. These topics are important, and they are impeccably intertwined throughout the books.

The first book was my favorite, for it seemed the most organized.  I enjoyed the shifting points of view. Essun’s story is told in the second point of view, so, you, the reader, are Essun. You are the protagonist. The Fifth Season also follows the stories of Damaya and Syenite, two other orogenes. The ending of the book will leave you feeling exhausted and duped … but in a good way.

The Obelisk Gate has the one thing that a reader of the fantastic enjoys: world-building. Hundreds of pages of it. So much that it almost came across as disjointed and hard to follow. This might be because I don’t enjoy lengthy world-building, but it’s high fantasy, so I should have been prepared for it. I do read and enjoy Tolkien, don’t I? He loves to talk about trees. 

The Stone Sky, the final book, can be read quickly because you don’t want to put it down once you start. Jemisin’s writing is entrancing. The mother-daughter struggle is profound as you discover that Nassun’s powers go beyond what Essun could have ever imagined. This difficulties that they face stretches to the very end. The finale is truly heart-wrenching and fast-paced. You’ll finish feeling heartbroken yet satisfied. You will find yourself experiencing a complex array of emotions. That’s because it’s such a complex series.

In The Broken Earth series, Jemisin presents readers with the following question:

What are we willing to sacrifice to avoid positive change?

The Broken Earth series is a profound glimpse into our present and our future. It’s important now, more than ever, to have conversations about climate, race, and human rights. We must make sustainable change. We have to save our world.

. . . . .

N.K. Jemisin was the first writer to win three consecutive Hugo best novels awards for science fiction and fantasy. As a Black writer within the fantastic genre, her books feature strong Black characters struggling and combating important social issues. 

You can learn more about N.K. Jemisin and her work here.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: ‘The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna’

Since I’ve finished Juliet Grames’ debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, my mind has been in somewhat of a haze. This is a good thing. That’s how I know I’ve read a really good book.

IMG_3374.JPGThere is so much to this novel; so much heartbreak and power. It will be hard for me to eloquently explain how much I loved this book, but I will do my best!

My introduction to this book started by being introduced to the author herself. One chilly evening, I drove from my workplace in downtown Hartford to Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut, to meet and have dinner with author Juliet Grames.

 

I didn’t know much about her debut novel, so I spent the days before the event reading and researching. I read the novel’s positive reviews and the impact it has made on Italian-American women and families. I read about how it effectively portrays what Italian immigrants faced when they emigrated to America, and what the women faced in their small villages in Italy after their husbands left them behind.

Synopsis

From Calabria to Connecticut: A sweeping family saga about sisterhood, secrets, Italian immigration, the American dream, and one woman’s tenacious fight against her own fate.

For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted.

In her rugged Italian village, Stella is considered an oddity—beautiful and smart, insolent and cold. Stella uses her peculiar toughness to protect her slower, plainer baby sister Tina from life’s harshest realities. But she also provokes the ire of her father Antonio: a man who demands subservience from women and whose greatest gift to his family in his absence.

When the Fortunas emigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina must come of age side-by-side in a hostile new world with strict expectations for each of them. Soon Stella learns that her survival is worthless without the one thing her family will deny her at any cost: her independence.

In present-day Connecticut, one family member tells this heartrending story, determined to understand the persisting rift between the now-elderly Stella and Tina. A richly told debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a tale of family transgressions as ancient and twisted as the olive branch that could heal them.

The event

At the event, Juliet, a warm and gracious person, spoke of her novel and how it is based on her grandmother and her family emigrating to the United States. I couldn’t believe that a woman could have that many near-death experiences, but Juliet and her mother (Stella’s only daughter) confirmed!

Juliet read one of her favorite passages from her book. It details what Juliet’s great-grandmother (named Assunta in the book) had to do to survive with three children while her husband was in America. As she read, the Italian-American women in the room nodded with tears in their eyes (from laughter and sadness), saying that it reminded them of stories from their mothers and grandmothers. I sat there in awe after hearing this powerful passage (removing some spoilers):

“This was how the years passed. Assunta tended her three living children…she stitched their clothes and scrubbed them, washed out their diapers and kept them fed with bread she baked from the flour she ground from wheat she grew in the garden she tended. She preserved and pickled and salted and stored so they would never go hungry, even when there was nothing. To keep them warm through the winter she gathered firewood on the mountain and carried it home tied up in a linen cloth she balanced on her head, with Giuseppe strapped to her chest, Stella holding her left hand, Cettina her right. Assunta dug her own stones out and turned her own soil and pruned her own trees and drew her own water from the well five, ten times a day to cook and clean.

This was the trouble with emigration—it dismantled the patriarchy. Because really, what did Assunta, or any woman, need a husband for, when she did every goddamn thing herself?” (43)

Once I heard this, I knew I had to buy this book. Feminist tropes? Strong women? Yes, please. Plus, her family emigrated to Connecticut and lived a block from my office in downtown Hartford. There were many interesting ties. I read it in three days. I spent each night staying up way past my bedtime, and I never wanted it to end.

The review: 4.5/5

It’s hard to believe that this story based on real women. Juliet’s grandmother did have an accident that caused her to never speak to her sister for the rest of her life. This is her family’s story. This is what women and families faced, and continue to face. It is an important story about culture, family, and emigration.

albumtempHardship and trauma are such hard topics, but ones that we must read about. It helps establish our character, create perspective, and keep us far from ignorance.

I was intrigued by the patriarchal values that were, and still are, instilled in Italian culture and many cultures. I was enamored with the woman portrayed in this novel—the strong, raw story of Assunta and the life that she lived in Italy. The trauma and turmoil that Stella went through during her childhood and adulthood, married to a man she did not want to marry, constantly put in situations that shook her to her core. Not to mention, the physical trauma that she went through with her near-death experiences. It was gut-wrenching at times, but sometimes, you can’t turn away from the stories that make you uncomfortable. These women didn’t turn away; they persisted.

This book brought raw emotions. It brought tears and heartache, and I found myself having trouble disconnecting when I closed the book for the night. These are real people who went through so much struggle just to live the American Dream that many take for granted. There is still a struggle; there is still injustice. The women in Juliet’s family faced such strife, from poverty to heartbreak to the patriarchy. It was a remarkable book, and I’m so grateful to Juliet for sharing her family’s story.

If you’re interested in buying The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, you can buy it here on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.