The Diviners

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Libba Bray
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fiction, YA, Paranormal
Pub. date: Sep. 2012 (read Aug. 2020)
Series: Diviners #1

The Diviners has been on my TBR for AGES, so I’m thrilled that I finally got to it. It took a little bit longer than I would have liked, but it was a good read! I heard that the book has a slow start, which was definitely the case, but if you’re willing to stick with it you’ll find an impressive cast of characters and a unique plot.

This is definitely something I haven’t seen done before in YA. It’s paranormal, which I’m not really a fan of, but setting is key. The Diviners is set in 1920’s New York and Libba Bray does a wonderful job capturing the atmosphere of the time period. Our story centers around 17 year old Evie O’Neill. She has a quirky habit that she can read people’s history from objects, which until now she’s only used as a harmless party trick. But when she accidentally spills the local town gossip, her mother ships her off to New York to live with her Uncle.

Evie is quickly drawn into the glamour of New York and gets into all kind of shenanigans with her best friend Mabel and mischievous Sam. But her Uncle is the curator of the museum for the supernatural and when the police approach him about a ritualistic murder, Evie is drawn into the murder investigation.

This book covers so many genres. It’s YA, but mystery is a key element of the story, as well as the fantastical elements, historical content, and even a bit of horror. The story is downright creepy, though its characters keep it light. The plot is slow developing in the first half, but I quickly went along for the ride in the second half.

What makes this a winner though is the characters. It’s a large cast of characters and every single one of them has a richly imagined backstory. I feel like I’m still getting to know most of them, but this is one of those series where you can tell the first book is really only the tip of the iceberg for the plot. Bray introduces the idea of diviners and that something dark is coming on the horizon. We don’t really know what it is, but can feel it looming throughout the course of the book.

Lastly, I have to commend Bray on the representation in this book. It would have been so easy to write a book about 1920’s New York and have absolutely no representation, but here we have a black numbers runner, a queer musician, and all kinds of immigrants and misfits. The plot maybe could have done with a bit of trimming, but overall a fun read – can’t wait for the next one!

She Said

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Genres: Non-fiction
Pub. date: Sep. 2019 (read Aug. 2020 on Audible)

I’m getting in a bad habit of not writing any reviews for a while and then doing them all at once, which definitely isn’t great for remembering the details. I’ll do my best, but it’s been about a month since I read this one.

I jumped right into She Said pretty much immediately after finishing Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill about the same topic. It was a lot of reading to do about one sleezebag, but I think reading them back to back was a good call as I was already familiar with the large cast of characters that makes up the story.

While Farrow seemed to have more testimonies and evidence of criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey deserve a lot of credit for being the first to break the story. Journalists have been trying to break this story for decades and kept being stymied, so it definitely matters that these two women were finally able to do it and it really opened the door for others like Ronan Farrow to bring this man to task.

One of the most shocking and memorable parts of Farrow’s book for me was the extent that other people went to to cover up for Weinstein. In this book, it was more the silencing power of NDA’s and the strength in numbers that left the largest impression on me. Kantor and Twohey talked to so many women and it was almost impossible to get anyone to go on the record. The biggest factor was that most of the women had signed NDAs and no one was willing to break the silence without similar stories from other women to back them up.

Ashley Judd was one of the women who really helped break the story open and I found it meaningful that she was willing to finally open up about her experience to Jodi and Megan because it was the first time she’d been approached by female journalists. It was also meaningful that the journalists boss was also a woman and yet another reason why having women in leadership positions is so damn important. While NBC was running around like chickens trying to kill the story to protect Harvey, the women at the Times were actually doing something about it. Respect.

Overall the book covers a lot of the same things. If I have to hear one more story about Weinstein cornering a woman in his hotel room asking for a massage I’m going to puke. But I thought She Said did a way better job at exposing Lisa Bloom for being such a snake. Reading about her in Farrow’s book I was like, ‘oh wow Lisa, low blow’, but this book really goes into the depth of which she was involved in helping Weinstein and exposed how a woman who made her name supposedly standing up for women, was actually actively trying to discredit and slander them. In essence, she really sucks.

What I really liked about this book was that it didn’t just focus on Weinstein. There’s a good part of the book dedicated to how disgusting Matt Lauer is and an even larger part about Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh. A lot of reviewers felt this was a bit of a tangent, but I’m actually so appreciative to the authors for choosing to include this. I followed Kavanaugh’s hearing pretty closely at the time and I had no idea how reluctant Blasey Ford was to actually come forward. She tried to back out of it so many times, but ultimately gave up her anonymity to speak up for Americans because she just couldn’t justify not doing it.

Blasey Ford is recognized as one of the most reliable and best witnesses for a recount of sexual assault. She presented herself incredibly well at the hearing, speaking eloquently and specifically about what had happened to her. Almost everyone, even republics, agreed she was a good witness. Then Brett Kavanaugh got up and threw and hissy fit and was still confirmed to the highest court of justice in America. It’s repulsive.

Where Christine Blasey Ford failed was in being the only one. What all the women in the Weinstein case understood was that you can’t take someone down with only one story. You can’t even take them down with 2 or 3, you literally need dozens. What does it say about our society that we are so against believing women. Even if Blasey Ford’s testimony wasn’t true, do we really want a supreme court justice that we have to question in such a way? Much less one that is OBVIOUSLY not unbiased, highly driven by emotions, and threw a fucking temper tantrum at his hearing. If anything, he’s unfit to be a judge because of his temperament, no further evidence needed.

Finally, the book ends with a retreat with all the women that had come forward with allegations coming together to reflect on their stories, how it felt to come forward, and how we need to support and believe each other. It was really a beautiful part of the book and made me so much more appreciative to the two journalists for their work. While Farrow wanted to break the story and expose Weinstein, I felt these two women had compassion. They care and empathize for the very fact that they are women. Whether or not you have a story of rape or harassment like the women in this book, literally every woman has a story. It may seem small or as Roxane Gay would say, not that bad (also a great anthology, read it), but they all matter.

The Last Story of Mina Lee

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Genres: Fiction
Pub. date: Sep. 2020 (read Aug. 2020)

Special thanks to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with an advance copy of The Last Story of Mina Lee in exchange for an honest review.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Last Story of Mina Lee because it sounds like everything I love in a book – a multi-generational family drama about an immigrant family trying to fit in in America. It instantly reminded me of Jean Kwok’s books, which I love, and is quoted as being great for fans of Celeste Ng, whom I also love.

It tells the story of korean mother and daughter, Mina and Margot Lee. Mina moved to America in the late 1980’s to escape the trauma of losing her family in Korea and ends up living in LA, becoming pregnant with Margot. 26 years later Margot is living and working in Seattle and comes home to find her mother has passed away. Margot believes there may be something suspicious in Mina’s death and begins to investigate, discovering along the way that Mina had a lot of secrets. Margot struggles to come to terms with what she learns as she mourns the death of a mother she feels like she never knew.

The story takes place across two timelines. One is the story of Mina’s arrival in America and the first year of her life in LA. The second is modern day Margot trying to find out what happened to her mom. It’s a great family drama about the challenges of bridging two cultures and what drives people to seek a challenging undocumented life in America. It’s about how you never really know the history people are carrying with them and the way in which our secrets can haunt both us and the ones we love.

I thought this was a great debut novel, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I’d hoped. I felt the author struggled to keep the story moving at times and that the dual timeline wasn’t as well executed as it could have been. I was enthralled with Mina’s story and found it fascinating to learn about what drove her to America and the challenges she faced once arriving. It sheds a lot of light on how undocumented individuals are taken advantage of and can easily become trapped. How employers can abuse and manipulate their workers under the threat of reporting them to ICE. Unfortunately I didn’t find Margot’s story quite as engaging.

I struggled to understand why Margot was so suspicious of her mother’s death, I understand it was her own way of grieving her mother, but I didn’t really love the decision to try and link the present and the past. Mina’s life in the 1980’s was in most ways totally separate from her present day life, and I didn’t like how the author tried to link these two timelines so closely when they were so far removed from one another. The mystery element just didn’t really work for me and I think I would have preferred a more simple family drama about Mina’s life and Margot mourning the loss of someone she thought she knew but discovered she really didn’t. The right elements were all there, I just would have like to see some greater emotional exploration over the mystery.

But overall, it was a solid debut and I would give it 3.5 stars. Despite finding some weaknesses in the plot, I thought the writing was good and I’ll definitely be interested to see what else Nancy Jooyoun Kim writes in the future. I thought it was actually being released today and timed my review as such, but I see now on Goodreads that it actually released a week early, so happy 1 week since publication!

A Very Punchable Face

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Colin Jost
Genres: Humour, Memoir
Pub. date: Jul. 2020 (read Jul. 2020 on Audible)

This was a fun read that pretty much delivered what I was expecting, with a few surprises. Not totally sure why I picked this one up, I think I just saw it Audible and thought it would be a funny listen. I don’t really know that much about Colin Jost or have any particularly strong feelings about him, but I always get a kick out of watching him and Pete Davidson on Update so I figured why not give it a go.

Like most memoirs of this type, the book is a collection of stories, mostly funny, about Jost’s intro to comedy and his time at SNL. The essays are good and I laughed out loud at more than one of them, although I was left wondering how one person, who never really does anything dangerous, can injure themselves so many times. He had some interesting insights into what it’s like working at SNL – the long hours, the seemingly endless amount of rejection, and how you always have to be prepared to just roll with the punches (pun intended).

I think jost is a little too fond of Staten Island and maybe needs to be more critical of its flaws and that he should probably get over the google incident, but what stuck with me were his more meaningful essays about his mom and the NYC fire department. As a community of firefighters, many were first responders for 9/11, including Jost’s Mom, and I really appreciated his thoughtful essay on what that was like for him and his family. I’m a sucker for men who openly love their moms (hello Trevor Noah), so I really liked this essay.

Beyond that I don’t have a whole lot to say. Jost alludes at the end that he may soon be moving on from SNL and I would agree with his assessment that after 15 years, it’s probably time. I’m interested to see what else he’ll do next. There’s just one thing in this book he’s wrong about; Aidy Bryant. She is the best cast member.

Catch and Kill

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ronan Farrow
Genres: Non-fiction
Pub. date: Oct. 2019 (read Aug. 2020 on Audible)

Catch and Kill was one of those books that I read the synopsis for ages ago, added it to my TBR, and then promptly forgot entirely what it was about. My book club voted for this as our August book and I enthusiastically purchased the audiobook thinking this would make for a great listen! I was mostly right.

The book is great. I vaguely knew it was about Harvey Weinstein, but I had no idea it was also about years of cover up and a culture of silence at prominent news outlets. There’s a lot more to be found within these pages than just the breaking of the Weinstein case and the follow-up #metoo movement. What really stuck with me was the level that powerful men go to to both silence and discredit women, but also the level that other powerful men will go to to protect the power of other men. There is so much gaslighting of women, it just really struck home how much women are up against in Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and really just in general. It’s ironic that people like Donald Trump cry fake news at liberal media outlets and then it turns out that those same media outlets are in fact protecting other wealthy white men like Donald Trump.

I have to give props to Farrow, this was a wonderful piece of journalism. It really does read like a thriller crime novel and at times I struggled to believe the scope of influence that Hollywood’s powerful have over the entire industry. How widespread a network serial abusers have, the insane amount of power, and how far the industry will go to protect their talent. What is most terrifying is the culture of NDA’s that seems to exist throughout our entire society, well beyond the confines of protecting just the rich and powerful. In the wake of the #metoo movement, it’s become evident that so many companies use NDA’s to protect any and all levels of powerful men, even those that are not Hollywood famous. What’s more frightening (to me anyways) is the many abusers working for organizations that are not newsworthy. Those women face the same shame and sabotage to their careers with none of the fanfare (by which I mean press interested in exposing their abusers or access to funds to seek legal counsel).

The book has a large cast of characters that at times feels a little confusing, but Farrow maintains a compelling narrative throughout the entirety of the book. I feel like I’ve attempted other audiobooks of this nature where I got lost in all the names, but for the most part I was able to follow along with Farrow and keep most people straight. Where I did think the book could use a little improvement though was in providing adequate backstory. I felt that Farrow assumed I had more knowledge about the book and who he is than I actually did. I had no idea who Farrow was before reading this and he would often allude to people or events without giving the proper context. It’s a small complaint, but at times I felt he was little ahead of his reader.

The only other complaint I have was with Farrow’s accents in the audiobook. They were truly terrible and really took away from the narrative. Apparently every single person Farrow knows has some kind of accent and he is terrible at all of them. It was distracting and frankly a bit embarrassing. But what was worse was his impersonations of women. Please please please, don’t try and use a voice when you are reading for women. It was insulting. He made all the women sound really breathy and bad. Just use your own damn voice. Your accents and impersonations add nothing and are distracting from an otherwise good audiobook.

The one part of this audiobook though that you will not get from the paperback is the recording of Harvey Weinstein. I can’t remember the name of the women who took the recording, but it’s the one where he’s trying to get her up to his hotel room (I know, that could be anyone, Weinstein is disgusting) and she is protesting and he says “I’m used to that”. I assume the paperback has a transcript of the recording, but the audiobook has the actual recording and it is chilling. His coerciveness and entitlement is repulsive – I could easily see this being a trigger for victims of abuse though, so please be aware.

In conclusion, this was a great piece of investigative journalism and I applaud Farrow for his conviction in sticking with it, but more importantly, my praise goes out to all the women who were a part of this story. To the women brave enough to come forward with their stories; to the women whose careers were ruined; to the women who reported and were ignored or hushed with NDAs; and to the women who have not come forward but who have still suffered all the same. They are the real heroes of this story. I hope that your courage will allow the women who come behind you to be heard, believed, and amplified.

If you’re looking for another perspective, check out She Said, by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey, which I will be adding to my TBR. Please read this, but more importantly, please believe women.