[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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[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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[763]: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

I’m not much of a fantasy reader. Most of the books I’ve picked up in this genre are truly an intensive labour of love. But when I decide to read one, it’s usually because I’ve been persuaded through word of mouth. This couldn’t be truer with The Poppy War.  It’s been a popular choice for fantasy and non-fantasy readers alike as of late.  The main attraction for me is that it features a heroine who came from the poorest and most ridiculed part of the country to become one of the greatest warrior that ever lived. But the road to get there was far from a walk in the park.

Much has been said about the novel’s brutality, and yes.  They’re of the stomach-churning variety. The author didn’t skimp on the shock and awe factor. The first half of this book focuses on Rin’s training at the Academy in the hands of the masters. Because she was nothing but an orphan from a poor province, no one considered her worthy to earn her place in the prestigious Academy or even worthy of a second look. But she sure showed them.  Armed with determination and an ability to soak up knowledge, Rin quickly rose up to the challenge and gained infamy.

In the Academy, she meets the Lore master Jiang who would teach her how to hone her power, call on the gods, and harness her untapped potential. The training was grueling to say the least. It was a series of testing and skirmishes meant to determine those who were not only merely good at what they do, but the best of the best to carry on defending the territories against the Federation.

Of course, it’d be remiss of me if I don’t mention the battles. My eyes tend to glaze over when I’m in the throes of reading such scenes. But this is one of those rare occasions when I couldn’t look away.  They were descriptive, visceral and not at all gratuitously violent. After all, who doesn’t want to see the evil faction fall in the hands of the least likely heroine? This would not be a book about war without deaths, blood and gore so expect those in spades.

I am not the most reliable reviewer of fantasy novels because I have a very small quantity of books in my arsenal. As well, I don’t seek them out. But even I can admit this was pretty kickass and I’m excited and terrified for the installment in equal measure.

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[761]: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Publication Date: April 13th, 2004

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil. 

If you’ve read any book by this author, you’d know that she has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re a witness more than a reader. She pulls you into the story so viscerally that it’s as if you’re dragged from where you’re sitting right into the pages of the book – as a bystander to whatever fucked up scene is happening. Like a dream or a nightmare that you’ve become a part of.

Admittedly, I have no idea what “Bacchanal” murder is. Later on, I find out that it’s when you’re in a euphoric/mindless state that you have no clue what you’re doing. Nor you’ll remember what it is you did whilst in the moment. So it goes that six, privileged bored people set out into the woods, high, drunk, starved and completely off their fucking minds with the intention of just being in a rapturous state. What happens after was the murder of a farmer whose land they trespassed. The state of his body when found, however, will make even the vilest of serial killers flinch. Right away you can tell that the group is hiding a secret – the knowing looks and the jittery nerves that come off from them was palpable.

This is not your typical murder/mystery novel in a way that you’ll be hunting for the killers. You know who the killers are from the get-go but how the murder happened was the most riveting aspect of the book. Not only that, one of the characters decided to play the blackmail card and put everyone on their toes by having the murder hang over their heads even though exposing them would mean he himself would be exposed.

Our narrator, Richard Pappin is the unfortunate sob who got inadvertently involved just because he was a part of the elite Greek class with whom only these six people were enrolled. He was mesmerized and maybe a bit starstruck, so much so that he knowingly involved himself in the covering of the crime. He was a lonely figure; an outlier from Texas whose family could live with or without his presence. In this group, he suddenly found a camaraderie that’s been missing in his life. This was what made committing the cover-up an easy pill to swallow for him. For the first time in his life, he belonged somewhere.

There is no deeper meaning to the book. Classism or elitism ran rampant; as well, drug use and alcohol. Other than that, it’s just a murder story and the lengths people will go through to cover the crime. Even so far as committing another one. In the end, I supposed they got their comeuppance, but not in the way that criminals should’ve met theirs. Life, guilt, and fate probably had more to do with their karma more than anything. I read Ms. Tartt’s Goldfinch two years ago and to this day, I’m still in awe of her writing and story-telling chops. I say The Secret History is much less complicated than Goldfinch. But still no way less than stellar.

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[760]: In Another Time by Jillian Cantor

This book was a bit of a surprise. It’s romance and history set in the backdrop of Nazi Germany. But what made it surprising was the time travel elements — perhaps I should’ve warned you about spoilers. Oh well.

Max and Hanna met before Germany lost its mind and allowed Hitler to brainwash them into thinking the Aryan race was superior. I found this particular plot point to be interesting as it showed how the German people slowly fell into the narrative that Jews did not belong in Germany. As well, how some Jewish people were lulled into a complacency. They didn’t think one person could influence an entire nation to do his evil will. It most certainly is chilling to hear the propaganda being echoed down South in the present, only the supposed enemies this time are asylum seekers and illegal immigrants crossing the border. Not only that, it’s interesting to see how Hitler slowly and effectively made work of turning the media and his political rivals into the enemies of the people. Which is also what’s happening in the States. If we’re ever not to repeat history, I hope people are paying attention.

Anyway, believe it or not, this book is a historical romance between a German and a Jewish girl. I’m always ready for heartbreak when I pick up a book set in World War II. So business as usual when I decided to read this book. Like I mentioned previously, this has time travel elements. It reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife in such a way that Max kept disappearing on Hannah, so aside from the German-Jewish coupling a taboo at that time, their relationship was tenuous at best. I felt Hannah’s frustration because just when they were making headways in their relationship, Max disappears on her (through no choice of his own, mind you). Over the years, the pattern repeats. I felt like they were apart more than they were together.

Despite of that, I did enjoy this book. It was not pretty, nor as historically significant as The Tattooist of Auschwitz. But it still made my heart ached as any novels in this setting usually do.

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[759]: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Ms. McQuiston’s debut novel comes in heavy with the greatest of praises that it was almost intimidating to pick up. All the reviews so far touched on how ridiculously sweet and fun it was. So because I am but a feeble human, I was unable to ignore the call. 

I mean, how could I? The story in itself combines romance and humour set in the backdrop of America’s quasi-current political climes. We have here the first son of the first woman POTUS initially involved in years of antagonistic rivalry with the English prince culminating in a disastrous scuffle at a well-publicized event. So when both countries’ PR teams decided the only way to clean up the mess was to have them do charitable public events, the two will have no choice but to address the long-standing feud. 

Enemies to lovers is one of my favourite romance tropes. But it only works if the author can pepper the dialogues with witty and funny banter. As well, the chemistry between characters also has to work. Red, White and Royal Blue, thankfully hits all the right notes. Alex and Henry couldn’t be more perfect than if I drew them in my mind and told Ms. McQuiston how I pictured them. 

This book also touched on some social issues plaguing the annals of American politics but only to a lighter degree. I was glad that being a bisexual wasn’t painted in a shade that most bible thumpers only knew how. It’s how I imagined the Americans could be: accepting as to have a woman president, whose ex-husband is a Mexican who is also a sitting Senator. 

Their kids, along with the vice president’s granddaughter, make up the White House Trio; the perfect magnet for young, impressionable voters. The media and the social media, for that matter, follow their lives like the celebrities that they are. When a romance between the first son and the prince of England came to light, their lives and global politics will never be the same. 

So comes the choice between finding their own happiness or potentially ruining the lives of their parents, and in Henry’s case, the throne. 

This book was absolutely amazing, addictive, and an absolute darling. I have read and re-read it many a times since it hit my Kindle. It reminded me of how I felt reading The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. It was just oh so good and my favourite kind of read for the simple reason that made me forget about the weariness of the day. 

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[755]: Darius the Great is not Okay by Adib Khorram

First time author, Adib Khorram takes his readers to the sights, sounds, and people of Iran. A country, in my own opinion that has had a reputation as a dangerous territory. 

After reading this book however, I was left awestruck by its wild beauty, rich culture, historic and picturesque architecture. 

In this book, we meet Darius, a product of a mixed-race marriage who can’t seem to find his purchase in the world in which he grew up. His dad might be as White as they come, but his features are pure Persian. He’s an awkward, quiet teenager who finds himself a target among his peers. So when his parents announced that his family was headed to Iran for three weeks, he welcomed the opportunity to find refuge from his life in America. 

In Iran, he’d hoped to garner some closeness to his grandparents, especially his grandfather whose illness had taken for the worse. He also wanted to learn about his mom’s Motherland, her people, their relatives, and soak up traditions and culture. In the hopes that he’d learn to understand why he’s never felt comfortable in his own person and why he’ll always feel like the outsider no matter where he is. 

He finds more than he bargained for in Iran. He, too, was taken in by the beauty of the country; the warmth and acceptance of his people, and most of all, a step towards understanding the only thing he seemed to have in common with his father: depression. Both take medications in precise synchronicity. Darius, for the most part, gets along with his dad. They have the same affinity for Star Trek. And yet, they seemed miles apart when it matters. 

Darius has never been able to get along with his peers. So finding friendship in the least likely places confounded him the most. 

The thing is, I never had a friend like Sohrab before. One who understood me without even trying. Who knew what it was like to be stuck on the outside because of one little thing that set you apart.


This book is about belonging. It’s about finding your place in the world no matter where you are. It’s being comfortable in your true self, and understanding that you’ll only be happy once you accept that you can never be what people tell you who you should be. 

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