Return of the King

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: JRR Tolkien
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: 1954 (re-read in Oct. 2019)
Series: The Lord of the Rings #3

I re-read the first two books in the series back in June, but I got a little sidetracked over the summer before finally picking of Return of the King this month. I’ve had the goal to re-read Lord of the Rings for several years now and I’m so proud to have finally accomplished it!

The Fellowship of the Ring has pretty much always been my favourite of the 3 movies, but there’s no denying that it’s the weakest of the trilogy in book form. Tolkien spends a lot of time in the Shire in Fellowship and to be honest, it’s pretty boring, But TT and ROTK don’t suffer from that flaw at all! I found them both to be so fast paced and Tolkien has really created the most immersive fantasy world and some of the best heros and anti-heros.

All of the characters have grown so much since they first set out from Rivendell and it was really enjoyable to watch Merry and Pippin come into their characters in this book. Legolas and Gimli’s roles are much smaller in this book, but there was a marked change in Aragorn’s character as he finally lays claim to his birthright. There are also some really wonderful secondary characters in this book. I really liked Theoden. He suffers a little bit of pride in the Two Towers, but he’s incredibly kind and selfless in ROTK Eowyn is also totally badass in this book and it’s so fun to watch her and Merry team up and prove themselves.

Faramir proves himself at the end of TT, but is driven by his need for the approval of his father, which results in some bad decisions. However, you cannot doubt his love for his city and his people. Even Denethor seemed to be a better character in the book then his is portrayed in the movie. He is obviously flawed, but he has been corrupted by the seeing stones and is grieving the loss of his son. Unfortunately, he fails to maintain morale and be loyal to his soldiers and citizens, so it is hard to forgive him his faults.

I talked a lot about Sam in my review of TT and I have to devote some time again to him here because he is really the hero of the series for me. Sam is the most selfless, loyal, and caring character. He never gives a thought to himself and gives his whole being over to the cause of the ring and Mr. Frodo. I don’t want to dismiss Frodo’s role in the story, because he is also a hero, despite his failings. He was served a very hard choice and a heavy burden, and it took everything he had just to carry that burden.

But undeniably, he could never have made it to Mount Doom without Sam. Even when Sam is rejected by Frodo, he never gives up on him. He thinks little of himself, but he is one of the most courageous characters. He is driven only by love for the shire and Frodo and he is propelled by hope. Frodo has no room for hope, so Sam takes on that burden too – constantly pushing the two hobbits forward by his belief in a better world. The chapter where they are climbing the slopes of Mount Doom was one of my favourite chapters and I was totally inspired by Tolkien’s writing of these two characters and their ability to just keep pressing on despite all the odds stacked against them.

If I have one complaint about this book though, it’s that the climax is followed by 100 pages of “what happened after”. It’s not surprising because Tolkien is an indulgent writer, but it’s a little hard to power through for so long once the ring has been destroyed. Although, it is a story of epic proportions and in some ways it does feel fitting to give it all this closure.

The Scouring of the Shire is definitely Tolkien’s indulgence at its best. The whole chapter seems entirely unnecessary, but I have to admit I did still kind of love it. It seems more appropriate as a short story, but it was fun to watch the hobbits flexing their muscles around the shire to purge it of all the “ruffians” and “sharkey”. Plus it wasn’t totally without virtue and serves to highlight how all of the hobbits have grown and been changed by their experiences. Most poignant to me was Frodo’s total aversion to violence. I would argue that Frodo actually saw the least violence throughout his quest, but he is the most impacted by it. He wants to save the shire, but he is adverse to partaking in any more death.

But overall, this is a totally epic conclusion to a classic fantasy series. There’s a reason people respond so much to Lord of the Rings. Tolkien lived in this world and explored every part of it, so it’s existence feels so complete. It’s a classic story of good versus evil, but it is filled with flawed and inspirational characters. Now I can’t wait to go re-watch the entire movie trilogy to complete this experience!

Recursion

Rating:
Author: Blake Crouch
Genres: Science fiction, Thriller
Pub. date: Jun. 2019 (read Oct. 2019)

Okay, I need to get my thoughts down about this book before I start to forget them! Recursion was my book club’s pick for October and I was pretty excited to read it because we also read Dark Matter together a few years ago and all really liked it. I really hadn’t wanted to read Dark Matter, but I ended up loving it, so I was cautiously optimistic about Recursion.

I am going to have to give the edge to Dark Matter, but Recursion takes you along the same wild ride as Dark Matter does. Crouch writes this really interesting blend of sci-fi and thriller, which I think works really well. His plotlines are totally f-ed up, but embody everything that makes for a great I-cant-put-this-book-down read. They have lots of mind-bending science and crazy plot twists, but also maintain a nice balance of emotional depth and characterization. It’s easy to get caught up in the science, but Crouch always grounds his characters through their relationships and it makes for a much more compelling read.

I think it’s best to go into Dark Matter and Recursion blind, but if you want a small synopsis, Recursion basically looks at memory functions – how we remember (or don’t remember) things and how those memories impact our personal well being and understanding of time. What would happen if we could record and map our memories? Would it help people who suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s, or does it have the potential to completely warp our sense of time and space.

I did really like this book – it has a strong start, it’s very engaging, and it’s definitely hard to put down. But I ultimately decided to give it 3 stars instead of 4 because I struggled with the last third of the plot, which I found numbingly repetitive, and I thought the ending had some major plot holes.

But that’s all I’ll say about that for now. For the rest of this review, I’m going to have to get into some spoilers. I have a lot of thoughts about the ending and I’m hoping that other readers (or my book club) might be able to clear up some of my questions, but if you haven’t read the book and are planning to, definitely tap out of this review now. Major spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned!

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So here’s where I struggled with this book. I thought it had great pacing during the first half, but the more messed up everything got with the chair, the less interested I got. The world ending time loop at the end was a nightmare and it just went on forever. It gave me anxiety while also being super long and boring. You could tell Helena was taking the total wrong approach to ending the time loop and with every reset I was counting how much older she was getting and just kept finding it less and less believable that she would be able to live the same life over so many times without losing her mind. By my count she was like 282 years old when she finally died!! As someone who has not even yet reached the age of 33 (the length of the time loop), I found it hard to fathom reliving your life for that long. I thought it was realistic that she finally just passed away from sheer mental exhaustion, but it was a little annoying to have Barry then come in less than a year later and solve everything. Helena was the hero of this story for me and it was really annoying to watch stupid Barry take all her glory.

Fellow readers, I need your help in understanding the ending, because to my mind it has some serious flaws. Here’s all my issues:

1. How did Barry just go back to a dead memory? Going to a dead memory killed the original test subject (forget his name), so why was Barry able to do it? I feel like this should have been explained.

2. On that note, when the first guy died from going to a dead memory he had this wonderful experience where he went to heaven (or whatever you want to call it), which was enough to make him kill himself later, how come no one else had this experience in their many deaths?

3. Barry basically solved the time loop by going back to the original timeline and stopping Helena from dying, which is what started Slade’s obsession with the chair, but I don’t see how this was any different than Helena going back to the age of 16? She was always returning to that time because it was still part of her original timeline, but the fake memories would always still catch up with everyone later. Wouldn’t the fake memories still catch up with everyone in Barry’s original timeline?

4. Or does the memories not catching up have to do with the fact that Barry is springing off of a dead timeline? I don’t really get why that would matter though, I guess the fake memories from the other timelines haven’t been created when you launch off a dead timeline, but it still begs the question, how did Barry return to a dead timeline?

5. What happened to Helena’s memories from her original timeline – the one where she worked for the R&D company? Slade apparently kills her for the first time in 2018, but I don’t remember her ever gaining those memories?

I think that mostly sums it up. But like I said, it was kind of disappointing to see Barry solve the problem, especially when Slade tells us that Helena originally figured it out and then he reset her memories (which also doesn’t make sense, she would have got those memories back n’est pas?) Or did she not get the memories back because Slade went back to a dead timeline? That would make sense actually, maybe that is the answer to why she never remembers Slade killing her either? I guess I will go with the answer that previous memories don’t catch up with you in a dead timeline, which would explain a lot of my confusion and questions 3-5, but still raises the question of how you travel to a dead timeline?

Anyways, this helped me sort through my thoughts, but still doesn’t change my rating. Crazy action doesn’t always make your story compelling and I just didn’t find the last third of this book compelling. But I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the ending and all the plot twists! Am I right about the dead memories thing? Do you have the answer to any of my other questions? Would love to know what everyone else thought!

The Witches are Coming

Rating: ⭐
Author: Lindy West
Genres: Non-fiction, feminist, essays
Pub date: Nov. 5th, 2019 (read Aug. 2019)

This is another review I should have published ages ago! The Witches are Coming was also really high on my list of most anticipated books of 2019 and I wasn’t expecting to get an arc, but then it changed publishers and I ended up swiping a copy on Netgalley.

I used to read these essay type books about feminist issues all the time, but it’s been ages since I’ve picked one up. They were starting to get a bit repetitive, but I really enjoy Lindy West’s second book. I was a little on the fence at first, but she killed it with some of her later essays and I really liked it.

I’m struggling to remember many of the essays now, but the one that stands out in my mind is ‘What Is an Abortion, Anyways?’ Abortion is so controversial and so relevant in the United States right now and I thought this was a really good thought piece about it. She also discusses the #metoo movement and how things having been changing in her essay ‘Anger is a Weapon’. Women can literally never win. We’re mobilized by anger at the status quo, only to then have that anger used against us. It’s so hard to pursue justice when you’re not allowed to be loud, angry, or passionate about it.

So please forgive me for not reviewing this sooner. I am fuzzy now on a lot of the essays, but I was definitely interested in what Lindy had to say. She’s perceptive, relevant, and relatable. I did read her first book Shrill, although I haven’t seen the TV show, but I think I may have liked this book even more than Shrill. Keep on writing and being awesome Lindy!

The Witches are Coming is available in stores Nov. 5th, 2019.

A Woman is No Man

Rating:
Author: Etaf Rum
Genres: Fiction
Pub. date: Mar. 2019 (read Aug. 2019 on Audible)

I have failed this book by waiting so long to write my review for it. I have been in a major book slump for months now. I’ve still been reading a decent number of books, but I haven’t really been excited about it or super motivated to read. I’ve been relying mostly on audiobooks to propel me through the drought, one of which was A Woman is No Man.

This was pretty high on my most anticipated list for 2019. I’m not really sure how it got on my radar, but I love all the diversity we’ve been getting lately and I was really excited to read it.

I originally gave this 4 stars, but with the time that has passed since then, it sticks out in my mind as more of a 3 star read. I really liked Isra’s story and found it really interesting and upsetting to read about the experience she had moving to America and trying to fit in with her new family. A Woman is No Man highlights the stories of Palestinians who have immigrated to America and the challenges they face in trying to maintain their culture while adapting to the vastly different American culture.

Isra grew up in Palestine, but was sent to America to marry Adam and live with his family. As expected, Isra struggles with the change at first, but mostly because she is extremely isolated. Though she lives in America, Adam’s family act as if they are still living in Palestine and do everything they can to hold on to their culture. Adam is seen as the provider for the family and his mother is very much the matriarch of the family. She is hard on Isra and the family doesn’t permit her to leave to house (because what would people think of a woman out on her own without her husband!).

Isra does start to adapt and works hard to please her husband. They are thrilled when she becomes pregnant, but place a huge amount of pressure on her to birth a boy and are immediately disappointed when she births a girl instead (Deya). I really liked Isra’s story and it’s her voice that really carried me through the book. She is extremely oppressed, with a violent husband and a threatening and overbearing mother-in-law. She becomes depressed and develops a very unhealthy relationship to her daughters. She loves Deya, but the pressure to produce a son is overwhelming and it infiltrates its way into her relationship with Deya and poisons it.

Isra’s story is the story of millions of women. She is told she is less than for being a woman and she is totally at the mercy of her husband’s family. It’s enraging to read her story, but also extremely truthful.

The other part of the book focuses on Deya, her daughter. We know from the beginning that Deya’s parents died when she was young and that she is being raised by her grandmother (Isra’s mother in law). I didn’t like Deya’s story as much, but it does provide insight into another part of the immigrant experience. Though Isra was unhappy, because she was marginalized she just accepted what she was told and never fought back against it. It was just accepted that this is the way things are. But Deya grew up in America and attended public school, so while her grandparents have tried to raise her as a good Palestinian girl, she has learned to question things. Her grandmother wants nothing more than to marry her off, but Deya wants to go to college and tries to rebel against her family.

I couldn’t relate as much with Deya though. I tried to understand why she struggled to disobey her grandparents and just went along with their attempts to marry her off, but I wanted her to take a bigger stand against them. I understood that Isra had no support outside of Adam’s family, she had no where to turn, but Deya would likely have had other support networks. But their family still mostly lived and worked entirely within the Palestinian community, so I guess it would be hard to break out of those cultural traditions. This is a minor criticism though because I am not the target audience for this book and have to acknowledge that my experience is different. Deya’s narrative probably means the world to someone who grew up in similar circumstances.

I also didn’t really like the end of the book. It reminded me a little bit of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – not the tone of course – but that at the end the entire story just seemed to descend into this crazy soap opera. It seemed a little bit over the top and I wanted to hit Sarah for being so cryptic and not helpful. Like Deya is a teenager, help and support her in trying to figure things out instead of being like, “no, you have to do it yourself”. That’s stupid. There’s power in asking for help and it’s belittling to decide that another person is better off without your help. Let them make that decision on their own.

So overall I’m between a 3 and a 4, but I’ll leave it at 4 stars. Definitely some great themes and a very promising debut novel.

Little Women

Rating:
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. date: 1869 (read Sep. 2019)

Little Women has been on my TBR FOREVER and I’m so happy to finally have read it! I picked up the world’s ugliest copy of Little Women at a book sale back before I was a book collector and it has just been sitting on my shelf taunting me for years. So thanks very much to my book club for this one because we decided to do classics month for September and we all read a different classic. Plus I couldn’t have had better time timing to read this with the new movie coming out this Christmas.

So what did I think? Little Women is exactly the kind of classic I love. It’s poignant and character driven. At times it reminded me of Anne of Green Gables, although it poses no threat at dethroning Anne as one of my all time favourites. I really liked Meg, Jo, and Beth, and even Amy grew on me over time. It’s a book about many things, but mostly it’s about family, love, and growing up. And I do love a good coming of age book.

I have to admit though, as much as I enjoyed the themes of this book, it is damn boring at times. I felt like I never built up any momentum while reading it. When I started I calculated that I had to read 2 chapters a day in order to finish in time for book club, which would usually be a joke for me, but I really did struggle to read more than 2 chapters a day and finished it with only 2 days spare. I did pick up speed at the end, but it was more out of a desire to move on to something else.

So I did want to acknowledge that there is a lot of fluff in there that I think could be cut out, but honestly that could be said of most classics. However, I did still give this 4 stars, despite my pacing frustrations. It is a little heavy with 1800’s morality, but there’s a lot to love about Little Women. Namely, Jo. The novel features all 4 of the March Sisters, focusing on different sisters at different times, but it’s hard to deny that Jo is the main protagonist of the story. Which makes sense when you learn that this is a largely autobiographical novel, with the author cast as Jo.

Jo is the kind of independent, rule-breaking, inspiring woman that I love to read about. So much of classic literature is focused on men and written by men, that it’s always amazing to see mold-breaking women like Anne Shirley, Francie Nolan, Scarlett O’Hara, and Jo March. There were (and still are) so many expectations placed on women about what their goals should be and what roles they should fulfill as they mature. The roles primarily being wife and mother. But women are amazing and not content to sit within the roles that society has defined for them and I love reading about women who try and break free of that mold – doesn’t matter what the era – but it is particularly more impressive in older books.

Jo March is a girl who wishes to an extent that she could be a boy. Not because she particularly wants to be a boy, but because she wants the opportunities afforded to men. The only role that’s ever been defined for her is housewife and she wants to be free and independent to chase after her own dreams. And Jo’s biggest dream is to be a writer. She faces all kinds of challenges in getting her work published, but it’s something she decides to go after because she loves to be able to provide and take care of her family.

So I do think that Jo is pretty revolutionary for her time, but what I really loved about Little Women is that Alcott doesn’t want to showcase just one kind of woman. Yes, Jo is different and important, but I loved the contrast between each and every sister and how each of them was just as special as Jo and their dreams just as important. Jo initially struggles to understand her older sister Meg because she sees all the talents that Meg has to offer the world and it breaks her heart to see them lost for Meg to be a housewife. But we all have different dreams and they are all valid. We need women that want to break down the barriers that have confined us, but we also need women that have a great love for people. Women who are kind and empathetic and want to take care of others.

Amy and Beth have different dreams still. Amy is spoiled and selfish and thinks mostly of herself, but learns to control her ego and to put her efforts into others and not just herself – that being kind and selfless can still bring us rewards beyond what we could dream. I do wish Beth had played a larger role in the story. She is extremely shy and battles health issues throughout most of the book, so her interactions with other characters are much less than the other sisters, but she does serve to demonstrate how every individual has the ability to have a profound impact on those around them.

I have to get into some spoilers now, though this is a 150 year old book, so there’s probably not a whole lot left to spoil for people, but I have warned you nonetheless. Spoilers ahead.

One of my favourite parts of this book was Jo and Laurie, though they broke my heart more than once throughout reading. I loved that they became such good friends in an era where boys and girls weren’t really encouraged to be friends with one another. Their upbringings and circumstances were very different from one another, but they were still able to develop a close bond, despite the differences in their experiences. But what I loved most was that Jo rejected Laurie’s romantic advances and that was the end of it!! I thought that was totally revolutionary for a book published in the 1860’s! Because they’d been such close friends growing up, you expected for romantic feelings to develop between them. I wasn’t surprised that Jo rebuffed Laurie because that was totally in line with her character as an independent woman, but I was totally expecting for Laurie to try again to win her over and that she would change her mind. I loved that she knew they weren’t meant to be together, was firm in that belief, expressed her feelings, and then moved on without jealousy or regret. It was wonderful.

But then of course, Alcott has to go and ruin it all by deciding to pair up Laurie and Amy. This was completely disappointing to me because it’s a jarring change after watching Jo and Laurie interact together for 80% of the novel. It was like she had to give everyone a happy ending. I’m glad that Jo and Laurie were reconciled, but I’m sorry, if my best friend who professed to be in love with me started shacking up with my sister, I would definitely be a little pissed and jealous. So I guess Jo is just a better person than I am. I’ll also blame the setting a little because it’s not like casual dating was a thing back then.

I wasn’t really feeling the professor either, but hey, even the most independent of women still want to love and be loved and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that message.

On a side note, I finally let myself watch the trailer for the new movie coming out at Christmas and OMG it looks so good! Like I seriously think it looks even better than the book because there won’t be any over-indulgent rambling. Emma Watson and Saiorse Ronan are two of my absolute favourite actresses and I think Saiorse is actually the perfect casting ever for Jo! Plus Emma as Meg and Meryl Streep as Aunt March! Not a huge Laura Dern fan though, so we’ll see how she does as Marmee. I haven’t really seen any of Timothee Chalamet’s movie’s, but he’s pretty much exactly how I pictured Laurie, so I’m excited for it!

So overall, I thought this book had some flaws. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the patience to read through it again, but I can finally say I have read it and it did live up to my expectations!