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!

Advertisements

Top 10 Books of 2018

I read over 100 books this year, so it is incredibly hard to narrow the list down to just 10 books! I really like reading new releases and this year almost half of all the books I read were published in 2018, so like last year, I’ve decided to publish two lists. This will be my top 10 favourite books that were published in 2018, and my second follow up post with be my top 5 favourite books that I read in 2018, but were published in other years. Without further ado, here’s my top 10 of 2018, in order this year!

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie has been making waves this year and was my first Courtney Summers book. I started reading it on a 3 day kayak trip and was totally enthralled with it the entire weekend. It’s a powerful read, but one of the things I actually liked most about it was the format. Sadie tells the story of a young woman named Sadie – when her sister turns up dead, Sadie disappears from town and goes on a mission to track down her sister’s killer. What made the format so unique was that half of the book is told in the style of a podcast investigating what happened to Sadie, while the other half is told from Sadie’s point of view as she moves through rural America trying to track down the killer. The podcast reminded me a lot of Serial and I thought it made for a really interesting and dynamic read. Summers doesn’t hold back any punches in this story and it’s really a book about how girls and women disappear and are murdered far too often. I can’t take another dead girl.

9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After was a bit of a slower read compared to some of the other books on this list, but is the writing and the story ever beautiful! It tells the story of Taiwanese-American teenager, Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. In her grief, Leigh believes that her mother has come back as a bird and is trying to communicate with Leigh. In an effort to learn more about her mother, she decides to take a trip to Taiwan for the first time to meet her grandparents. The story is filled with magical realism and is a beautiful coming of age story about grief, mental health, the pains of growing up, and the importance of chasing after the things that you love. I really liked the portrayal of mental health and depression and how anyone can be impacted by them and how there’s often no rhyme or reason to why someone might suffer from depression. I loved the cultural aspects that were woven into this story as well as Leigh’s relationship with her friend Axel and how it evolves throughout the story. Mostly though, I just loved this for the beautiful writing and would definitely recommend to anyone!

8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage has been featured on pretty much every “must read books of 2018” list I’ve seen on the internet and was featured in Oprah’s book club, so I was intrigued to read it. It’s about a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s marriage is abruptly cut short when Roy is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and incarcerated for 12 years. They try to maintain their marriage, but 12 years is a long time and Celestial starts to drift away from Roy. However, when Roy gets a surprise early release after 5 years, everyone’s lives are thrown into turmoil. Celestial has moved on and is unsure what to do in the face of her husband’s release. Roy on the other hand, is still hugely invested in Celestial and wants to give their marriage another shot. It’s a thought provoking novel on the justice system and what it means to be black in America. I really liked it because there were no easy choices for the characters and it was a critical look at the impact prison can have on the individual and their greater family and community.

7. Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

I’ve been reading Saga for the last two years, but for some reason, Volume 8 hit me a lot harder than any of the other volumes. I also read Volume 9 this year, which I liked, but didn’t love, but something about Volume 8 struck me differently. Saga is a graphic novel series about an intergalactic romance between two soldiers on opposing sides, Alana and Marko. The series starts off with them giving birth to their daughter, Hazel, and the entire series is them gallivanting around the galaxy trying to avoid all the individuals that think their marriage and relationship is an abomination. Volume 8 deals with abortion and I think it’s one of the reason’s why I liked it so much. The whole series is incredibly diverse and examines a number of different relevant social issues, and this issue looks at some of the reasons why women and couples decide to have abortions and why all reasons are valid. Overall, I would highly recommend the series, I’ll just put a disclaimer that the series does include a lot of sex and nudity.

6. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery to me why I liked this book as much as I did. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good romance, but I think it was because this was one of the rare New Adult books that I could actually relate to. I find there’s a huge gap in literature between stories about teenagers and stories about adults. There’s not a lot of great books about people in their mid-twenties and this book really that need. The Simple Wild is about 26 year old Calla. She grew up with her mom in Toronto, but she’s been estranged from her father, who is an Alaskan bush pilot, since she was 2. When she finds out her father has cancer, she decides to finally make the trip up to Alaska to meet him. She’s never understood her father’s life or why he would never leave his job to be with her and her mother. She finally has the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but fears it may be too late. At the same time, she meets her father’s best pilot, Jonah, and despite having almost nothing in common, they strike up a friendship that evolves mostly out of the two of them teasing one another. I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jonah, but this book has so much more going for it than just romance. I’m obsessed with any book set in Alaska and this was a great story about taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

5. Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad is a collection of stories about rape and rape culture that definitely needed to be told. I listened this anthology as an audiobook and I thought every single essay added something valuable to the collection and as a whole, the essays were extremely diverse. The premise of the book is that any story about rape, assault, or rape culture deserves a space and to be heard. People often refrain from sharing the things that have happened to them because they think they are not that bad compared to what has happened to other people they known. Gay wants to break down that idea that there is any kind of scale for breaking down the things that happen to us. Every story is that bad and every pain deserves to be acknowledged. It is only by sharing our stories that it becomes evident just how pervasive and widespread rape culture is. Your voice deserves to be heard – what happened to you is that bad – there is no hierarchy of pain and we acknowledge you.

4. Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This was my first Toews book, but I was totally blown away by it. It’s a short and simple book, but so startling in it’s honesty. Women Talking is based on a Mennonite community in rural Bolivia where the women were continuously subjected to sexual assault in secret by members of the community. They were not believed and were told that they were being punished for their sins. Eventually it came out that several men in the community had been knocking the women out with animal anesthetic and raping them in their sleep and they were arrested. This is the re-imagined conversation that took place between the women in deciding how to move forward from this ordeal. As they see it, they have three options: they can do nothing, stay and fight, or they can leave. It is extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking. Even though these characters are imagined, I was inspired by the women and their ability to forgive, love one another, and use humour to move on with their lives.

3. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Okay, now we’re into the top 3! It’s hard to organize the lower end of this list because I liked all those books but they’re not the top books that stand out to me and it’s difficult to rank them. But the top of list is easier because they were my favourite books that I read this year, starting with Wundersmith, the sequel to Nevermoor. The Nevermoor series is a new middle grade fantasy series that I am obsessed with. I’ve compared it multiple times to Harry Potter, not because it’s like Harry Potter, but because it reminds me of all the things I loved about Harry Potter and in how it makes me feel. Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, destined to die on the eve of her 11th birthday. But instead, she is whisked away by enigmatic Jupiter North to the land of Nevermoor, which is filled with magic and flying umbrellas and gigantic talking cats. It is such a fun series filled with so much whimsy! The world building is incredible and the plot is clever and has a lot of depth. I am in love with the characters and the world Jessica Townsend has created and I cannot wait to see where she takes this series in the future!

2. Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Our Homesick Songs took me totally by surprise. It’s historical fiction about Newfoundland’s cod fishery and the moratorium in 1992. It’s about family, community, loneliness, music, and love of place. The Connor family has always lived in the small rural, island town of Big Running and has  always survived off the cod fishery. When the fish disappear, many families are forced to make tough decisions about their future and leave their homes in search of work on the mainland. Aidan and Martha try and avoid that fate for their children, Cora and Finn, and instead decide to share a job at one of the camps in Northern Alberta. But as their community slowly disappears, Cora and Finn struggle with the changes to the life they’ve always known and the hole in their community. As a Newfoundlander, this book spoke to a part of my soul and I absolutely fell in love with Hooper’s writing style. I can see how it might not work for everyone, but her writing evoked such a feeling of homesickness that I felt I’d just moved right into the pages with Cora and Finn and Aidan and Martha. It’s a beautiful story about family and community and the links that tie us together. It’s a heartbreak story that was a reality for many Newfoundland families and I thought Hooper did a wonderful job of transporting her readers back to this time and place. I love the way she tied music into the story and I know this family will stick with me for a long time.

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

And the number one spot goes to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I read this book back in June and nothing has been able to top it since. It was an extremely emotional, but enjoyable, reading experience and even 6 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Setting is everything for me in this novel. The Great Alone is set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on the Albright family: Ernt, Cora, and their daughter Leni. Ernt is a POW from the Vietnam War and suffers from PTSD. He’s worried about the direction the government is going and in an effort to get back to the land, moves the family to the small town on Kaneq in Alaska. They move in the height of summer and Leni is totally enamoured with the landscape and their hand to mouth existence. It’s hard work to survive in Alaska and the sense of purpose and the long summer days keep Ernt’s PTSD at bay. However, when the long winter starts, Ernt’s demons start to get the better of him and Leni begins to wonder if she’s more at risk from the dangers lurking outside her door or from the dangers lurking within. It is a heartbreaking story, but Hannah creates such a sense of place and community that I just totally fell in love with. The writing is beautiful and every character is so well imagined and developed. A wonderful story about family and community, but also about the challenges women faced in the 1970’s and still face today.

Girls Burn Brighter

Rating: 
Author: Shobha Rao
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Mar. 2018 (read June 2018 as audiobook)

This was a super heavy read. At one point I’m sure I read the synopsis for this and thought, a book about disenfranchised women who find power within themselves, how empowering, sign me up. But between reading the synopsis and downloading this book as an audiobook, I totally forgot the plot and was super disturbed at how dark this was!

Girls Burn Brighter is set in India (amongst other places) and focuses on the friendship between two young women, Poornima and Savitha. They are only friends for a short period of time, but they develop a strong relationship during that time and come to realize that the other is the only person to ever truly love and care for them throughout their lives. They are torn apart by the circumstance of being young women of marrying age in India and both suffer some truly atrocious acts of hatred and spite against them.

It’s totally evident if you read the synopsis, but I did not realize this was a book about human trafficking. Human trafficking is one of the great injustices facing our world today and yet there is very little literature devoted to it and it makes for a truly upsetting read. I suffered through this book along with both Poornima and Savitha. It was uncomfortable and hard to read and that’s exactly how a book about human trafficking should be. A few months ago I read a book, A Girl Like That, about the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia and was truly appalled.

For some reason I thought India treated women better (than Saudi at least), but this book shocked me in its malice. The men in this book had so little regard for women and many of the men in the novel truly despised them. Yet I had no problem imagining these men and their cruelty. I did know I was getting myself into a tough read, but this book really made me despair for humanity. It also tells the story of two strong women who, despite all the suffering that has been visited upon them, still yearn and aspire to a better life. They find strength in the love they have for one another and no matter what shit life throws at them, they always continue to pursue something better for themselves, and in Savitha’s case, something better for her family too.

I listened to Girls Burn Brighter as an audiobook, but I’ve since decided to switch back to non-fiction for my audiobooks for a while because this is another book that the audio just didn’t quite do justice to. The writing is quite flowery and I think I would have liked it a lot in written form, but in audio I tended to get a bit distracted by the writing and sometimes would zone out.

The ending is oh so frustrating. I knew I was approaching the end and I was so nervous as to how the author was going to end things and while I don’t fault her for the ending, it was still torture! The plot was a little unbelievable for me, partly because I couldn’t believe so much hardship could be experienced by two people, but also in that the coincidences in this novel were just a little too far past believable for me. But it is a great story about the strength and perseverance of women. Just mentally prepare yourself before you go into this book because it was honestly one of the most emotionally draining books I’ve read it a long time.

Milk and Honey

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genres: Poetry
Pub Date: Nov. 2014 (Read Mar. 2018)

I read Rupi Kaur’s second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, last year and really liked it, so I decided to pick up her first book as well. These are both poetry anthologies with feminist themes that tell short stories of heartbreak and healing, explore love and sexuality, and promote self-love. The books are also illustrated with sketches, which makes for a nice reading experience.

This is a very fast read, I read the entire book in under an hour in one sitting. Milk and Honey is Kaur’s debut novel – I definitely liked it, but I think I liked her second book a little bit more than this one and it had stronger themes.

Milk and Honey is broken into 4 parts, the Hurting, the Loving, the Breaking, and the Healing. Kaur addresses a lot of themes in this short book, looking at love and sexuality and the the heartbreak that can accompany it. I thought it had a strong start with the chapter on the Hurting, which is a devastating look at abuse, and I really liked the last chapter, the Healing, which is cathartic and empowering.

I didn’t love the middle section, especially the Loving, which I personally found a little over the top. Kaur is very descriptive of her feelings on love and relationships in both her books and love for her seems to be an all-consuming feeling which I personally find a little intense. For me love is about the little moments. Those small, every day gestures in which your partner demonstrates their love for you and the closeness you build with that one person. Kaur is very intense in her love (and her break-ups) and I just couldn’t relate because I have always felt very grounded in who I am, whereas Kaur felt a little defined by her relationships. That said, I’ve been in the same relationship for the last 7 years, so I definitely can’t relate to that feeling of “new” love anymore, which is totally fine.

However, Kaur is also very much about self-empowerment and self-love, which I enjoyed. I thought these themes, and the feminist undertones, were stronger in The Sun and Her Flowers, which is probably why I enjoyed that anthology more. Milk and Honey is still a good, quick read though and there were several beautiful passages, here’s one of my favs:

i want to apologize to all the women
i have called pretty
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is the most you have to be proud of when your
spirit has crushed mountains
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re pretty
but because you are so much more than that

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Rating: 
Author: Lisa See
Genres: Historical Fiction
Read: July 2017

 

Where do I start with The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane? There was so much going on in this book – the plot was so layered and there were so many interesting themes underlying the story, but somehow it all worked and was immensely compelling. (disclaimer: there may be a few spoilers in here, but I think most of what I talk about is covered in the synopsis, which is pretty detailed)

Goodreads has been selling this book to me hard all year with their advertising, but for some reason I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it. I read Dragon Springs Road earlier this year, which I liked but didn’t love. It’s probably unfair to compare the two books, just because they happen in China, but I found the pacing slow in Dragon Springs Road and I expected The Tea Girl to have a similar pacing, but I found this one so much more compelling. I don’t know a whole lot about Chinese culture, so I appreciated both novels and learned a lot, but there was a lot more going on in See’s novel.

Starting with the narrator, I absolutely loved Li-yan. She had such ambition, despite the constant belittlement from her family and the refrain that she was unimportant because she was a girl. Li-yan was born into the Ahka culture, which like many cultures, values boys far beyond girls. The Akha are a very tight knit people and view the village more as a collective than group of individuals. They believe everything has a spirit and they have many customs to protect against bad spirits and encourage good spirits. They believe it is everyone’s job to bring more children into the community and everyone always hopes for the birth of healthy sons.

I appreciated See’s writing because in the beginning the Ahka seemed so backwards to me and some of their practices were extremely horrifying. But throughout the course of the novel See was able to make me really appreciate their way of life and they did progress to abandon some of their more troubling customs (namely the killing of “human rejects”).

But I loved Li-yan because despite being told she was worth nothing, she had such ambition to pursue a better life through education and a desire to be someone. She convinces the village and her father to allow her to pursue her education and becomes the first educated person in the village. She faces so many struggles, but she always persevered and made choices (some of which were very tough) on what she felt was best for herself. Some readers might condemn her for giving up her child, but I didn’t fault her. She really would have had no life if she had decided to keep Yan-yeh. In many cases she was forced into some of her decisions, but I especially loved her decision to leave San-pa. I fully expected her to stick things out no matter how toxic things became, but when she finally recognized what was going on, she made a decision for herself to leave, even though she risked being sold or killed if she was caught.

She made so many wrong choices and at times really disappointed me, but I could sympathize with her decisions and forgive her for them. I was sad when she got distracted from her studies and ignored the advice of her family about San-pa, but she was so young and blinded by love, which I think we’ve all been at the young age of 16. She punished herself for so long after her failed marriage though and I was glad to see her find the strength to love again. 

I thought her relationship with her mother was beautiful. In the beginning I didn’t like A-ma because she was so harsh with Li-Yan, but she really grew on me and it was wonderful to watch their relationship grow and to see the softness in A-ma after the birth of Yan-yeh. I really enjoyed all the mother/daughter relationships in this book and the relationships between all of the women.

I didn’t enjoy the format of Hayley’s story as much (I think I would have preferred 1st person POV), but I learned a lot from her experience as well. I’ve thought about the challenges immigrants face in moving to America/Canada, but I haven’t put much thought into what it must be like to have parents that don’t look like you and to have so many stereotypes forced upon you. You always expect that your parents would be people that you could relate to and take advice from, but when your lived experience is so different from theirs, it must be so difficult not to have that shared experience and reassurance from your parents.

It was also interesting to learn a little bit about the one-child policy. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Chinese mothers and it’s upsetting to see girls so little valued in a culture. It was interesting to read about Li-yan’s experience giving up her daughter and I’d love to learn more from other perspectives of women who’ve had to make decisions to give up their daughters.

And of course there was the tea. I didn’t think I could find tea so fascinating! I had no idea there was so much history behind tea and I’d never heard of Pu’er tea, so it was interesting to learn about how tea production changed Yunnan province, world tea markets, and became such a phenomenon. What I really liked about this book is that it started in the 90’s. I couldn’t believe there were villages in China that were so remote and unconnected to the world within my lifetime. It was fascinating to see how they evolved and changed as the modern world came to them in search of tea. It gave me a whole new appreciation for tea!

There is so much going on in this novel, but it all worked and was immensely compelling. It was a beautiful novel about the struggles women face, the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the ways in which we change and adapt to the world around us. Would definitely recommend!