[774]: The Order of Nature by Josh Scheinert

I was browsing Amazon for Alan Hollinghurst’s novels when this popped up as suggested reading. I read the synopsis and thought that it’s pretty much on par with the type of books I’ve been reading lately. Though, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve been all over the place with my choices as of late.

In My Own Words

This is a story based on the author’s experiences from his travels in Africa. A continent that has some countries with some pretty strict laws against homosexuality. To be honest, and even before I even opened the book, I was already anxious. I think I know what I was getting into from the get go. I don’t know how else this could end well knowing that Andrew and Thomas’ relationship would lead to one of them in prison, if not, both. But I persevered, after all, we don’t learn anything from the sidelines or in our comfort zones.

There is an underlying almost suspenseful tone to this book. Not in the way that makes one feel like a serial killer is on the lose. But the danger is right around the corner, regardless. It is in the way that constantly made me anxious for them, and in the way that I was on alert for some possible snitch that would expose their covert meetings. The excitement of the burgeoning relationship only added to the feeling of euphoric madness. And while this book’s primary focus is their trials and tribulations that came after their exposure, I think Andrew’s life in The Gambia is a great education into a world that maybe us westerners couldn’t possibly conceive. A world where having multiple wives is okay, but loving one person of the same sex isn’t. Though, if I’m being honest, there is probably a corner of the western world where such belief and practice still exist.

I’m always in awe of missionaries and volunteers who would put their lives in the front lines. When they know that being in dangerous countries could mean peril at every turn. I felt the same way for Andrew. He researched The Gambia before he volunteered. He knew that as a gay man, he has anticipated the feeling of isolation not only for the literal distance from his family and friends but for being a person whose very identity is considered an “abnormality” and therefore not accepted. I supposed he didn’t anticipate to fall in love, however.

I wish I can tell you that this has a happy ending. Unfortunately, it does not. It will, however, strengthen your desire to accept more. To love more, to be kind. And to be thankful that you’re not in a situation where your life and freedom do not hang in the balance for being with the person that you love. It also makes me realize more and more that governing a country based on religion only helps a few, and that it doesn’t serve its purpose. It is more destructive than not. This couldn’t be truer with the state of our politics nowadays.

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[773]: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Half the population of America has been silenced. Women has been relegated to speak at a maximum of 100 words per day. Their rights to read, write, sign; to educate themselves, to work, has all but been eradicated. They are home makers, existing to serve the men in their lives, the government and the church.

For Dr. Jean McClellan, who was a neurolinguist by profession before this nightmare happened, the stakes were higher. After all, she saw it coming and did nothing. Now, as her six-year-old daughter continues to digress into muteness, she was angry with herself, her husband, Patrick who has direct access to the current president, and the sitting administration influenced by the extreme religious right. She holds the key, because before she was forced out of her job as a neurolinguist, she has discovered something. If she could only find a way back into her lab and stop the nightmare, she’d be able to give her daughter and the rest of the girls in America back their voices. But she knows very little about the scope and magnitude of the government’s plans.

Hailed as a The Handmaid’s Tale copycat, Vox did its best to re-imagine an America changed; one that is loosely based on Atwood’s nightmarish dystopian world. Where women were virtually powerless and voiceless. According to Google, women on average speak at least 16,000 words per day. But this world only allows women to speak 100. Imagine being restricted to 100 words a day. The silence that would drive anyone insane; the helplessness you feel as you try and fail to teach your child — a girl child to speak and knowing that you have very little words allowed to say. This is that stark, quiet world.

And while I enjoyed this novel, I felt there were a few aspects that were glossed over. I felt like there were too many questions unanswered about the genesis of this world. Like the American people didn’t fight too hard for the women and considering 50.8% of the population comprises of women, I don’t think it was feasible that they just let the government take away the rights of many. Yet at the same time, they’ve been down this road before. They’ve taken away rights of people for the sake of other people’s religious rights. And they are slowly chiselling away at the Roe v. Wade rule to protect women’s rights to their body. Laws are developed and enhanced over time, and perhaps that’s where my incredulity comes from. That this law was severe, cruel, and permanent.

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[772]: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy Moore has had some recent upheavals in her life. Her boyfriend just broke up with her, she needs to move out of his flat, and what’s worse, she finds out later that he’s engaged. In desperate need of a place, and soon, she answered an ad for a flat share — a time share of sorts, in which she would have a roommate but they’ll never see each other. He works at night, she works days. And in the weekends, she has free rein of the place. They sleep in the same bed, but not together. It’s quite ingenious, actually. And one that could be financially beneficial for them both.

Through missives left on post it notes, Leo and Tiff develop a friendship. One that will be cultivated as they get to know each other very well. On paper, they have nothing in common. But as the days go by, and through their interactions, they realize that their connection is more than they’d ever experienced in any other partners they’d each had in the past — which complicate things as Leo is with someone and Tiff is trying to get on with her life.

This was a wonderful contemporary romance that had more heart and seriousness that what was let on. I enjoyed it very much as I’m a fan of romances with a little more depth. I just don’t want a meet-cute, then an adorable story about two people and their relationship. I mean, don’t get me wrong, The Flatshare is THAT but it also gave me more. I especially looked forward to them actually meeting face to face for the first time. The excitement it brought was more pronounced somehow just because their relationship was already developing into something more even before meeting in person.

The Flatshare also contained heft in plot by way of a few story lines: i.e. Tiff’s obsessive ex, Leo’s search for a veteran whose friend had very little time to live; and Leo’s incarcerated brother who was wrongfully convicted. I felt like Ms. O’Leary made sure that there were complexities in the plot that would not at all feel contrived.

Over all, Ms. O’Leary’s debut novel hit all the right spots for romance and contemporary fiction for me. I enjoyed the humour, the innate chemistry between Leo and Tiff, and the subtle emotions the novel made me feel. It’s quirky and just an all-around feel good story about two people connecting in the most unusual of ways.

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[770]: The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

It’s 1953 in Tehran. The country, for the most part, was governed by a democtratic prime minister. But it was in the grips of communism, regardless. Demonstrations happened every day, kids at school were divided in their ideologies. Roya, idealistic though as she was, remained somewhat detached. Her days were filled with family, school, and a once a week trip to a stationery shop where, for at least a couple of hours, enabled her to luxuriate in the words of Rumi.

Then one day, with a blast of cold wind, in came Bahman, ‘the boy who would change the world’. He had a penchant for politics. He was staunched in his belief that his country will remain unaffected by the pressures of globalization. He was handsome, charismatic, idealistic, and he shared Roya’s love for Rumi’s poems. The shop owner, seeing the palpable connection between the two, decided to intervene. Thus the relationship, albeit, short-lived, blossomed until Bahman’s proposal of marriage.

Then on the eve of their marriage, and on the night of the coup d’etat, Bahman disappeared. Desperate, Roya did everything she could to find him. Broken-hearted, not only for Bahman’s betrayal but for her country’s demise, Roya left Iran to study in America. It would be 60 years later would have the chance to find out why he never showed up at the meeting place they agreed to meet.

This novel is so sublime; quiet in its beauty. And despite the strife the country went through over the years, it still managed to paint Iran in all her glory. I can barely imagine this Iran, some sixty odd years ago. A country that somewhat progressive, depending on who was at the helm. In the backdrop of Bahman and Roya’s story was a history lesson of how many times their government was manipulated by outside forces, and how their people fought long and hard for peace and independence. Ideologies change over time; factions switch from one belief to the next so the country went through years of upheaval politically and socially.

They had one immovable force in their way: the dreams of a mother who favours status over the happiness of her own son. They were apart more than they were together. But even with the separation, their lives were governed by the memories of each other. And yet, their loved endured through decades. They each married different people but 60 years later, it’s as if nothing has changed.

The Stationery Shop was one of those unassuming novels that makes your heartache in the subtlest of ways. It spoke of a bravery for Bahman and Roya to move forward in their lives even though they know they will not be together. Roya’s life in America was not always the easiest. Being Middle Eastern and a woman at that, lent for some prejudice with which she had to contend. Bahman, on the other hand, grew to care for the woman his mother chose for him to marry. But despite the pretense, the memories of their young love was a ghost that haunted them.

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[769]: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Full disclosure: this book wasn’t in my radar until Jimmy Fallon featured it as a summer read for his book club. And while I don’t usually take any celeb’s reading suggestions to heart, there’s something about this book that called on my bibliophile sensibilities. And boy, was I happy I picked it up. This was an enduring, heart-captivating read about family, mental health, friendships, love and forgiveness for the people we love no matter the veracity of how they wronged us.

This is a story about two families whose lives are irrevocably connected regardless of time and circumstances over the years. We first meet the two patriarchs of the Stanhopes and the Gleesons in 1973. Besides being in the same profession (cops), they have nothing in common. But somehow, they end up living right beside each other. Behind closed doors, one wife dealt with the loneliness of young motherhood (Lena, Francis’ wife) while the other lived with mental instabilities that isolated her even in her home (Anne, Brian’s wife).

Years later, a friendship between Francis’ youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter blossomed. When they were both fourteen, and during one of Anne’s episodes, a violent crime was committed that would change the trajectory of their lives. What followed was years of loneliness for both Peter and Kate as they tried to deal with the fallout of the tragedy that struck their lives.

This is one of those books that no matter how ugly your connections were, fate somehow, someway, intervenes. That regardless the distance or how many years have passed, the connection can’t be severed. As in the case of Peter and Kate. Because of how their stories were intertwined, they’re never too far away from each other’s thoughts. And while Kate tried her best to move on, Peter, being the sensitive soul that he was, couldn’t. He loved Kate right from the beginning, and vice versa. Despite their families’ wishes to not see each other, and the mental and emotional baggages that came along with them, they were irrevocably tied.

My heart ached for Peter. He was, for all intents and purposes, abandoned by his own parents. Even though both were physically present, they had emotionally checked out from his life since his knowing years. His mother suffered from a mental illness that made her unstable. She was abusive at times, catatonic, most days. But on her good days, she was a mother who doted on Peter. His father, on the other hand, did his best. And unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t strong enough to carry the load. He left Peter in the care of his brother, George — who gave him the emotional support of a father.

In the end, and in the rubble of years of heartaches and disturbing pasts, love survives. Forgiveness endures. Family remains. I think those were the foremost lessons I have gleaned from this book. There are no villains here. Just people surviving from one day to the next.

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[768]: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian, a ninety-year-old woman looks back at her life as she pens a letter to her best friend’s daughter. In an attempt to explain the connection she formed with her father over the years, she recounts her life as a woman whom, at first, couldn’t find her place in the world.

Confounded by her lack of prospects in both marriage and career, her parents shipped her off to New York in the care of an eccentric aunt. Peg owned a dilapidated, struggling theatre far and away from the vicinity of Broadway. In New York, she will discover freedom to be herself surrounded by women who will show her independence as well camaraderie borne of survival and artistic creativity by way of theatre. Starting in 1940, her story spans through decades of love, friendships, ruined relationships, war and heartbreaks.

In 2006, Eat, Love, and Pray was one of my favourite non-fiction novels. It was a book about a woman who showed great courage to leave what was familiar and venture all over the world to find herself. It was honest and awe-inspiring. It spurred on a curiosity for her other work. Unfortunately, I was convinced that Eat, Pray, and Love was a fluke — in my own opinion, anyway. So I never did find out exactly how versatile her writing was. City of Girls might’ve done its best to convince me to finally dive in to her backlist, though.

This book felt like it had two faces: the first half aimed to tell the story of women living in a commune above a theatre whose lives were, for the most part, untouched by men. To be clear, men were present but they held very little relevance to the occupants of the Lily theatre. They were side players in the periphery of their lives — which, I thought, was fantastic and one that I’ve rarely read about.

But with the entrance of Peg’s ex-husband, and the emergence of a play that eventually helped put Lily back on the map of theatre-goers, men were, all of a sudden, catalysts to the heartbreaks of the women in the theatre. Don’t get me wrong, women had choices here. Their lives turned out the way they turned out because they chose the paths they chose. I’m not facetious enough to strongly believe all men were evil in this novel. I just found it odd that things started falling apart once men started playing a bigger part in the second half of the novel.

Overall, City of Girls was a fantastic historical fiction in the tradition of The Great Gatsby. Elizabeth Gilbert introduced us to a set of extraordinary women in their own rights, flaws and all. And while the novel was very dense in its heft, her style induces a cathartic zen attributable to good writing. It felt like slipping into warm bath water. Familiar, comforting and a balm to one’s soul.

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[767]: Save Me From Dangerous Men by S.A. Lelchuk

I mentioned on my inaugural Listening Library post about how wonderful my Libby app has been. How it affords me the practice of perusing books, reading them, then buying a copy if I may so choose. This is one of those serendipitous occasions when I loved a book so much that I just had to get a copy.

I love a great whodunnit novel, but more so when it features a female detective. Nikki Griffin is one such character and more. She has this almost supernatural ability to stay level-headed during the most stressful situations. Even while she’s getting tortured and beaten to within an inch of her life. She has the strength and prowess of an MMA fighter and is probably the kind of person you would want in your corner if you happened to find yourself in an abusive relationship. In fact, besides being a bookstore owner, that’s exactly what she does: she hunts down violent, abusive men and give them a taste of their own medicine.

I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for a PI, but I’ve read a few of them whose traumatic dark pasts were the catalyst as to why they are in the profession. Nikki’s, however, seemed like the source of her superpower, so to speak. She has a brother who’s so far gone that she has no choice but enable his drug addiction. I also think that the guilt she carries of how he turned out plays a factor. She loves and cares too much for all the women she helped and the brother who is the source of both her strength and weakness.

It seems like I’ve only talked about Nikki and not about the case that is the crux of the novel. Basically, she was hired to follow an employee suspected of selling company secrets. But slowly but surely, she uncovers something far more sinister than what was let on. Allow me to be a bit of a nerd here for a moment. If you’ve seen Captain America: Winter Soldier, the premise of what Nikki uncovered was similar minus the super weapon that could target them The creation of a technology that will enable the government or any factions to eliminate suspected terrorists and supposed government enemies without due process.

The investigative part of this novel was done quite well. The twist was a surprise and didn’t feel like it was contrived. Overall, Save Me From Dangerous Men was a fantastic debut. A fast-paced, badass pulp fiction of a novel with an equally badass character. What’s more, she can freaking recommend a book on a dime. She’s well-read, fierce, and a kick ass vigilante/assassin who uses her smarts as much as she uses her muscle.

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[766]: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren

THE UNHONEYMOONERS

Book Review

The writing duo of Christina Lauren hardly disappoints. Apart from Dating You/Dating Me, that is, which I had a tough time getting into because of the characters. Also, Autoboyography which was so good up until that one moment when the broken hearted boy did something so stupid that I can’t even. Sigh. Anyway, they continue to write entertaining romance novels that are funny and sexy. They are also so proficient in witty banters between characters. I guess that’s one of the advantages of being a duo.

In The Unhoneymooners, we meet Olive. A self-proclaimed unlucky soul who can’t catch a break. Unlike her sister who manages to win every single contests she enters. As luck would have it, she wins her entire wedding – including the honeymoon. But throughout her unlucky streak, Olive never once did she feel envious of her twin sister’s lucky draw in life. Their relationship is a loving, supportive one. They have each other’s backs no matter what and will do just about anything for each other.

It is unfortunate that she can’t warm up to her sister’s fiancé and especially to his brother, Ethan. Things has always been contentious since almost to the day they met. For some inexplicable reason, they just grate on each other’s nerves. So when the entire wedding party and guests came down with the worst case of food poisoning, Olive’s luck either turned for the better or worse – depending on who you asked.

Ethan and Olive spends the next week in beautiful, balmy Maui trying not to kill each other and staying out of each other’s way. Unfortunately, fate has another plan. Day by day, their relationship grows from cantankerous to something else entirely. And with every change in the dynamics of their relationship, comes the revelations of the real reason why they can’t stand each other.

I really enjoyed this one. Christina Lauren are authors whose works I repeatedly go back to when I’m in need of an escape. I’ll never tire of them, I don’t think. The Unhoneymooners became just one of their works that I’ll read and reread.

There are a lot to love about Ethan and Olive. The banters, the antics they pull on each other, the way they love each other’s siblings to a fault; and the way they sometimes forget that they hate each other. Olive, despite being plagued with unholy luck, was one of those people who accepts things for what and how they are. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t take steps to somehow change the status quo. In fact, she’ll do just about anything to finally gain employment even as far as to coerce Ethan into faking a marriage. Ethan, on the other hand, also has something to gain by agreeing: to prove to his ex-girlfriend that he’s moved on. (Sidenote: having a free holiday in Maui only to have it spoilt it by seeing your ex with their current flame staying is not my idea of a good time.) Long story short, mishaps ensue. But amongst the comedy of errors was a realization that they were actually good together. And theirs could work if they could only get past all the hang-ups of their past encounters.

The one thing they have in common was how much they love their siblings and to what end they’ll do to protect them. But it’s that instinct that might be detrimental to their pursuing a relationship.

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[765]: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

B O O K R E V I E W

La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

4 out of 5 Stars

Philip Pullman is a celebrated author whose work I’ve yet to experience. Therefore, I was not ready for the wildly imaginative world he created here. However, and based on some reviews I read on Goodreads, this does not quite compare to his previous work. But if you’re like me who bore no certain familiarity to his older novels, I think you’ll be just fine – awed, even.

The first book to this series introduces as to an alternate universe. This is a prequel to His Dark Materials series – which, I’ve not read. So you might get lost with some of the aspects of the book. For example, I have no idea what alethiometers are, their functions and why they are held with great importance. In this world, everyone carries their daemons on their person. And the daemons are characterized by animals. They’re not inherently evil, in fact, they’re more like your guardian angels.

Malcolm, our boy of the hour is one of those very astute, loyal and brave characters. From the first moment he laid eyes on baby Lyra, he knew he would do anything to protect her. Soon, the identity and protection of this baby becomes his primary goal in life. Even putting his own life in danger. There are a lot of mysteries yet to be uncovered about Lyra’s identity. I don’t know why everyone is clamoring to find her and possess her. But my guess is she’s important in His Dark Materials series? *shrugs*

As if things can’t be more perilous for our Malcolm and his quest to protect baby Lyra, a flood pretty much washed away everything and everyone that he could rely on. So for the entirety of the novel, he was afloat on a boat with Lyra and Alice, with whom he’s had a contemptuous relationship to begin with. Things were terse, dangerous what with a lunatic on their tail determined to take Lyra away.

One thing’s for sure, I’m excited that I’ve finally get to have the Phillip Pullman experience. If only for the introduction to his work. And who knows? Maybe I’ll decide to read his other books as well down the road. This was dark for a novel geared towards younger audience but over all, I’m sold.

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[764]: Raze by Roan Parrish

I can always count on Roan Parrish to deliver stories with a lot of heat and plenty of heart. Raze, the third installment to her Riven series, is yet another testament to this fact.

Here, we get the story of Huey, the AA sponsor extraordinaire who owns and runs a bar of all places. Not only is he a former addict himself, but he managed to become an anchor for a few who continues to fight their demons day in and day out. Though at some days, he too, has his demons to fight. But through a rigorous routine and living a life free from emotional entanglements, Huey has managed the life of sobriety for the last ten years. Albeit, a lonely one at that.

Along come Felix; a guy who is about to shatter Huey’s carefully created world. Huey was not ready for Felix’ sunny disposition, but he couldn’t help but be drawn in regardless. These two souls didn’t know it at first, but they — in their own ways, needed each other’s help to break free from the doldrums of their existence.

I love how different they are. Huey’s quiet but imposing personality matches well with Felix’ happy-go-lucky friendliness. However, they have being nurturers in common. Felix has been the caretaker of his family – his mom and his sister. While Huey has taken care of anyone who needed the support during their weakest moments. Unfortunately, the years of being everyone’s pillar and support, and his predisposition to help others becomes yet another weakness he had to overcome.

Felix had so much insecurities that held him back. He just didn’t think he has a lot to offer to anyone. Once he was freed from his family responsibilities he was able to step back and reassess what he wants to do with his life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy. The usual insecurities plagued him.

I’ve been enjoying this series a whole lot. I’m not always aware when they come out, but when I see it, it’s an instant download. I guess you can say that Roan Parrish is my go-to author for M/M romance.

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