After reading this, I immediately stopped and started it over again. Toni Morrison is an author I have wanted to read for years, and the only reason I never got around to it was a fear of not being able to comprehend these complicated works of literary fiction. Luckily, I really enjoyed this book. By the end of my first read through, I will admit I felt like I missed some details. I was able to ascertain the overarching points and narrative, but I was still confused a bit by whose who but more so the structure of the novel. The book is presented at points in first person by a seemingly side character. Later, it gives another first person perspective, and a lot of the book in between is third person.
As you might imagine, that was difficult to follow and keep up with. While it may be a disappointing to my past literature teachers, I choose to review some readings aids after I finished the first time to figure out the things I was missing. After I did that, it made a lot more sense. My improved understanding coupled with a genuine desire to get as much as I could out of this novel motivated me to reread the novel. Admittedly, I listened to the audiobook, so it made it easier but also likely made it harder for me to catch all the details the first time around. Although, I think the beauty of audiobooks is that, if you have the time and enjoy the experience (which I did), rereading can be both fun and a great way of retaining more and more details about the books.
The book itself is written beautifully. I could appreciate the poetry in her Morrison’s words even if I struggled to pull all of the meaning, and rereading it helped me better ascertain the meaning. That kind of writing really lends itself to this kind of story. That is to say, a dark narrative about the pain induced by racism and how it can decay a person’s mental health. In this book, we focus on a young black girl whose desperate desire is to have the blue eyes of the white girls she sees being so admired. This is brought on by racism but also hatred and bullying by other minorities for her perceived status and family “ugliness”.
In my video review, I discuss how this racism is still alive today. Despite being set in the great depression, the novel feels all too modern in its content. It is a hard novel to read both mentally and emotionally. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you check it out. There is a reason this novel is so well regarded. It touches on major societal issues in a way that hits you to your core. I highly recommend to everyone.
In the end, I gave the book 4 stars the first time and 4.5./5 stars the second time.
Rating Break Down Writing Style: 9/10 Plot: 8/10 Characters: 10/10 Ending: 10/10 Engagement: 8/10 Enjoyment: 9/10 Comprehension: 8/10 Pacing: 9/10 Desire to Reread: 3/10 Special: 10/10 Calculated Rating: 4.255/5 Final Rating: 4.5/5 (3.5-4/5 originally) Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.
Update 8%: I keep stopping to restart this because I feel like I am zoning out at the start. I don’t think it’s the book’s fault entirely; part of it is my state of mind. Nevertheless, I’m using some online resources because if I can figure out whose who I can focus better. Is that cheating? Don’t tell my lit teacher.
Update 68%: This isn’t really working for me. I’m having the worst time following the characters. I googled it, and I made myself memorize who the the mom’s name is and who the kids are, but I’m still only getting bits and pieces. I feel like I’m wasting my time here. I am not going to give up just yet.
DNF at 78%: I could have “finished” this, but I didn’t feel like I could do that in good conscience. I restarted the audiobook on this 3 or 4 times (about half an hour in each time) because I could tell it wasn’t sticking from the start. I eventually did some googling and understood the story followed the twins and, for a time, their mother. That kept me informed enough to keep up with the story as it focused on her. Once the focus shifted, any handle I had on understanding what was going on, vanished.
I really wanted to like this, but in the end, I couldn’t follow the characters which meant the situations didn’t make sense. When I don’t have situational context of each moment in the story, it doesn’t stick. It’s like driving and realizing you don’t remember how you got where you’re at. Clearly, you were focused on the driving, but your mind didn’t consider it worth retaining. That is what this became. I tried so hard to follow. I don’t usually restart a book; I’m of the opinion that a book should be readable on its own. This one was special; it was one I really wanted to enjoy. Sometimes, I may be slow on the uptick, but it all would come together in the end. It was clear that wasn’t the case here.
The academic in me wants to drop everything and pick up the physical book to study it until it makes sense. That’s because I feel like there is a good story here to be loved. Sadly, I have too many other books I know I’ll enjoy more. This one had it’s chance. I may return to it, forgoing the audiobook, but not any time soon. You have no idea how much this pains me. 2/5 stars.
Rating Break Down Writing Style: 5/10 Plot: 5/10 Characters: 5/10 Ending: 0/10 Engagement: 4/10 Enjoyment: 5/10 Comprehension: 3/10 Pacing: 5/10 Desire to Reread: 5/10 Special: 3/10 Final Rating: 2.2/5 Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.
I decided to read this at the behest of my then girl friend as I knew it was her favorite book. In fact, it was what inspired me asking her to choose half my TBR this month (from my shelf). I choose to read Fall on Your Knees first of course. I am happy it is not disappointing. I am thoroughly enjoying following this family through the generations. It is a hard hitting family drama fraught with abuse, tragedy, and loss. I love a good character drama, and even more than that, I love a good domestic drama.
Ann-Marie MacDonald writes beautifully, and it is easy to get lost in her writing. She has an expert way of convey the naivety of the young girls in the story as we watch them grow into young women. I can definitely see how some people might not enjoy this, but it is exactly because the story is so tragic and real that makes it so enjoyable.
My biggest issue with the book is the length. I don’t exactly understand the overall structure. We have jumped from one member of the family to the next, but I would like to see a more cohesive message beyond the suffering of young woman as they learn to come into their own. Part of my frustration may have come from trying to rush it in the end, as I have about 10% of the book left. That is why I decided to let it sit rather than rush to finish it just because I have a readathon I am participating in right now. I would rather finish this off at a pace I can enjoy and fully appreciate it.
In the end, I really enjoyed Fall on Your Knees. This is one of the first books I’ve decided to try a new rating approach with where I rate a series of factors, weighted by how important they are to me, to come to decide on a final rating. I really enjoyed MacDonald’s writing, and overall, I enjoyed the plot of the novel. The length had be a little tired toward the end. I made a concious decision not to rush to finish this book before the January AYEARATHON to come back to the last quartor of a book with a fresh mind.
I am glad I decided to do that because it was much fresher when I returned to it. I think I also was able to better appreciate the ending which was great. MacDonald did a fantastic job connecting all the characters with the ending so that we really appreciate the overarching relationships of the women in this family. I enjoyed how she structured the book and and could easily follow along. I probably won’t reread it, but I think there is a small chance. I will admit that I used the “special” category to bump this novel up because I choose to read this at the behest of someone close to me. Because of that, I this book will hold a special place for me. All in all, 4/5 stars!
Rating Break Down Writing Style (7%): 9/10 Plot (15%): 9/10 Characters (15%): 10/10 Ending (1%): 10/10 Engagement (5%): 8/10 Enjoyment (25%): 6/10 Comprehension (20%): 7/10 Pacing (2%): 7/10 Desire to Reread (5%): 3/10 Special (5%): 10/10 Final Rating: 3.84/5 Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.
The Red Tent is a well written story that gives insight to the lives of women that are largely treated as props in the Bible. It follows Dinah the daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph (not the husband of Mary mother of Jesus). At the core, this is a story about women and their relationships as mothers and daughters. It spans the length of Dinah’s mother’s birth to Dinah’s death, and we gain a look at what it is like to be a woman during this time. The story starts strong in an intriguing and engrossing manner. By the end, I lost some of my initial excitement, but I leave it with an overall positive outlook.
Diamant gives Dinah new depth, expending on a story but also redefining it. I loved that the women of this story had more strength than I ever imagined during Biblical times. Don’t get me wrong, the patriarchy was strong in this time, and that is ever present. Nevertheless, Diamant writes these women with strength and resilience. The Red Tent is representative of that. The tent is for the period of mensuration and birthing because there is a strong stigma against men observing such things. This was a key part of their custom.
The custom was another thing that I really appreciated. I went into this expecting it to be a much more christian story, but instead, the customs Diamant describes feels completely alien to my expectations of religious custom, even during that time. What’s more, the story never mentions Jehovah explicitly. There are times where the god of one man or another is referred to, but it is treated as no different or better than the gods of Dinah’s or her parents. This is not a christian story. At the same time, it never feels that detached from christianity either. That is important because the customs feel so archaic and ancient, and it’s easy to forget many of the customs of the old testament are the same way.
In the end, this was a well written story that makes you appreciate your mothers. Perhaps the most effective piece of the story was Dinah’s relationship with her son. A mother’s love is so fundamental, and I think it’s easy to forget what we mean to our mothers. I appreciate the reminder. 4/5 stars.
In March 2015, I read Kindred, after years of wanting to read it. It was the year of women; I had become aware of my bias for men authors and dedicated 2015 to reading only women. In doing so, I read what would come to be my favorite book of all time (let alone the decade). This book had everything I love in a book: real characters, a dark premise, time travel, and addressed serious societal topics. In particular, I am very interested in the discussion of slavery and race because it is such an important part of American history. Even more so, it is a significant part of southern history, and as a white man I believe I have a responsibility to understand the atrocities of the past that is very much a part of my history.
It is next to impossible to tell somewhat what your favorite thing is. Favorite movie, show, or book. Every time I am asked this kind of question, I find my mind racing. Nevertheless, a few possible candidates always come to mind, and for me, more often than not, Kindred was always one of those that never left my mind. When I read it, I felt liked I loved it, but so much about how you read a book can be situational. That is, the mindset you are in at the time. I’ve always been hesitant to call a book I’ve read once, an all time favorite. There are other books I’ve read countless times, yet I still don’t feel like they are the absolute best book ever.
When I read this, I loved it. In fact, I have the draft of a blog postI started to make to talk about this book–something I had never done. I’ve since considered going back and writing this discussion, but I wanted to wait until I had reread it. Over the summer, I came across the Graphic Novel Adaption for this book, and I knew I had to have it. I read it this fall, but before I did, I started rereading the main novel in October. I got about a third of the way and stopped (I started it on a road trip with friends). I decided to finish it the last day of the decade because it seemed fitting. I am so glad I did. This reread cements this book as an all time favorite. Not just of the decade but of all time.
Reread October 2019 and December 31st, 2019
The first thing I love about this is Butler’s writing. It is easy to read and get lost in the world she develops. One of the few problems with the Graphic Novel was the pacing. It felt like it jumped or skipped details. Butler has created a fast paced novel, and by the end, it’s hard to imagine how quickly we’ve made it through everything in the book. Still, the book never feels rushed. Butler was a master writer and one of the most creative writer’s of the modern era.
The most important part of the book is how well Butler is able to bring to life something so many people mistakenly assume is in the distant past. She explores the nature of racism by following the a young man as he grows up to become his father. People are not born racist. Racism is learned. Nothing is more obvious in than that. Although, Butler makes use of this story to address common problems that still exist today. From the words we use to what people are willing to tolerate.
One thing I absolutely adored in this was how Butler focused so much on the strength and courageof all the slaves who lived in the past. Dana, the main protagonist, discusses how she just doesn’t have what it takes to survive long term. That is, there is only so much she can take. That is not a fault of hers; it is a recognition of how different things are these days. It also highlights how truly atrocious America was. The laws we had to the actions we made. Despite this, it doesn’t stop Dana from taking every opportunity she has to help slaves learn or do things they aren’t supposed to do. Regardless how scared she may be, she recognizes a moral obligation to act if you can. That is a message that is very important for everyone. If you can push back against atrocities, you have to do so.
Lastly, I wanted to discuss religion in the context of slavery and morality. I recognize, most readers are probably religious (most people are). However, slavery is the perfect example of how religion has been used to justify moral atrocities. Many say religion isn’t perfect, but it offers us moral guidance. To which I say, no, it does not. Religion is an authority, created by man for man. Morality is more than a command; morality is a conscious effort to do better by asking about how our actions effect others. The bible is full of guidance that can be twisted any way you like. Morality requires more. If you feel confident in your actions and choices, you should be able to demonstrate without referring to an objective authority figure. It is this kind of thinking that paves the way for slavery and other atrocities.
I love this book. I recommend it to everyone. 5/5 stars.
I enjoy Greek Mythology. My love for it probably started with God of War on Playstation back in high school (middle school?) and then continued during high school literature as we explored Greek mythology more closely. That continued as I fell in love with Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, then with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Still, I wouldn’t say Greek mythology composes a big part of what I read, but lately I have found myself getting back into it. I read Circe by Madeline Miller then A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes both of which have inspired me to continue with Greek myths. That is the main reason I chose to read The Silence of the Girls which is the story of a minor character, Briseis, from the Trojan War who gets taken by Achilles.
This review is coming a week or more after I finished the book because it has been a busy holiday, so forgive me if my review is slightly abridged due to limited memory.
I really enjoyed this book. It follows the life of Briseis who becomes the slave of Achilles and Agamemnon for brief time. All of these characters where in Haynes’s A Thousand Ships that I recently read, and I thought the two stories complimented each other well. Like a Thousand Ships, this is the story of the women who get trafficked in the course of war.
I found Barker’s writing and story easy to read and enjoy. I thought it did a good job adding a new side of the story with a new perspective of this classic myth. In that sense, it is a supremely effective novel. My biggest issue comes with the focus, which is less the women than Achilles himself. In fact, about half way in we begin to get chapters in the perspective of Achilles himself. One might perceive this as me being mad at the book for just not being exactly what I though it would be, and maybe that is true. However, it seemed to be this story was sold as a story of Briseis not Achilles. Instead, it was Achilles story through Briseis.
That type of approach does give us a new perspective into Achilles relationship with Briseis that seems like it might help us better appreciate Briseis’s struggle, but all we really got from his perspective was that Briseis was rarely more than a symbol of how he is not respected enough. I just wish Barker could conveyed that without focusing so much on Achilles.
Overall, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book, and my take away is just to know what to expect going in. 4/5 stars
This a fictional telling of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol and his life leading up to it. I don’t know a lot about Samantha Silva, and I think there are a lot of ways this story could be told. I am intrigued by the subject matter. However, I have no way of knowing whether I will like her writing style, so we will have to see if meshes with me.
This a very charming book that used a very Christmas Carol type atmosphere. This story of Dickens, I assume, is fictional. For starters, it treats Dickens as a Scrooge like character. That works well for making this story contrast well with the story at hand. Although, I had hoped this was a more traditional, story of his life. Even still, it suffers from the “rich man problems” premise. Dickens is famous but spending too much money, so he gets a little Scroogy. Then he goes through a bit of a slump. He makes some mistakes as he struggles to write this story his publishers want.
Overall, it felt like I was reading Dickens. He wasn’t selfish like Scrooge. He was more judgmental than he was selfish. Imagine a hipster deride you for using plastic straws. In any case, this causes some problems in his family life that Silva uses as the events that helped inspire various parts of the story. Honestly, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the story as much if I wasn’t a Christmas Carol fan. Even then, I thought it was too long. The ending was also too much. Silva leans heavily into making this story Dicken’s own Christmas Carol, and that wasn’t what I wanted.
Sure, it is charming and I can appreciate the nod to Dickens. However, in the end it’s a lesser Christmas Carol rather than a true detail of Dickens’s life. If you are a fan, you will probably like this. Just don’t expect it to be a true recounting. I am fine with creative choices, but the fact is if you are basically just going to remake a Christmas Carol, then it needs to stand out in some way. As I see it, you’re better off reading (or rereading) a Christmas Carol than this. 3.25/5 stars.
I am so torn on how I feel about this book. This is a story of an old woman who tells us about her life and her sister, who we find killed herself (or died accidentally) by driving off a bridge. This isn’t a spoiler. The opening line is: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” What unfolds is a story split between Iris (our narrator) telling the story her life and excerpts from her sister, Laura’s, “scandalous” romance novel, titled The Blind Assassin in which the male love interest tell his own story, The Blind Assassin which is a very sexist and poorly formed science fiction story. For nearly the entire book I mistook Laura’s book for her memoir of sorts. I thought it was a parallel narrative of part of Laura’s life.
Iris provides what I find the most compelling part of the story. It starts from her grandfathers perspective because his pride for his self made business plays such a pivotal role in shaping her father and his choices. This ripples through the story in a way that is representative of what make it so well told. Atwood has woven an intricate and compelling narrative about a family struggling to get by all while dealing with a stranger daughter (Laura). Atwood does an excellent job crafting a compelling story that is fairly sad and painful.
The fact that I didn’t understand the side stories were fictional (I had to google it) should tell you how this part of the book played for me. That is to say, I didn’t love it. Honestly, I didn’t mind the narrative of the wealthy woman and the hack writer; it was the long overdrawn segments of the science fiction The Blind Assassin that drove me absolutely mad. I recognize it has its merits. The dynamic between between the two characters reflects Laura’s own way of thinking about life and love. In fact, that story makes a lot more sense now that I know it was essentially a fantasy written by Laura. Still, Atwood digs into the hack writers story for so long that it just started feeling like a job. I was not enjoying it.
That sucks because I really enjoyed the main storyline. When I think about that, it is a solid 4 stars easy, but when I start to think about those parts that just drone on, I couldn’t give it that high a rating.Atwood is a more literary writer who. I knew going into this I may find the literary style difficult to connect with. Still, I am trying to read more of her books because she often has a lot to say in a novel, including this one. There are parts of this book that really didn’t work for me, but there were parts that did. I don’t regret reading it. Unfortunately, it has a lot holding it back from being a really great novel. 3.5/ 5 stars, rounding down.
I just started this, and I am already a quarter of the way through this 400+pg book. There is so much to love.
Let’s start with Mary Robinette Kowal herself. She narrates the audiobook. I am not usually a fan of self narrations. While an author knows better than anyone how they perceive a character expressing a line, I don’t think they’re as effective as (some) professionals (e.g. Stephen King). Kowal is an exception. I was very happy to learn she is a professional narrator. In fact, she is a part of the duo who narrates the Devil and the Deep that I have been reading. That makes transitioning into this story far easier.
The story itself is amazingly engaging. I don’t always like historical fiction because I can get lost in the details (see To Say Nothing of the Dog). Then there are instances where the details are beautifully integrated into the story and around interesting characters (e.g. 11/22/63, one of my favorite books of all time). I also find the concept amazingly intriguing. An asteroid collides with the Earth, hitting right around Washington in the 1950s. Politics aside, it is fascinating to think about the geologic effects of such a real threat. In Calculating Stars, Kowal puts us in a world where an extinction level impact event takes place, altering the course of history. The reality of this situation (an impact event effecting the globe) is all too real. Kowal takes us through the moments of the impact, detailing what distinguishes it between an impact event and an atom bomb. What’s more, she takes on a journey of scientific discovery as our characters determine just how severe the damage is. Let it be known, an extinction event does not happen over night. It takes time, but not always as much time as we would like. The level of realism here makes me think about the distinction as “Science fiction and of Margaret Atwood’s famous novel, A Handmaids Tale, that is often classified as Science Fiction even though Atwood disagrees.
I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth.
So, how much science fiction really exists here? Speculation, sure, but the event this revolves around is all too real. This work is a prequel to Kowals 2012 short story, The Lady Astronaut of Mars. That suggests there will come a point that science of the Calculating Stars transitions from existing to futuristic, and it will be an interesting line to follow. A lot of what we need for space exploration exists. Although, there still exists significant barriers to colonization and human transport to and from Mars. It is still fascinating to think about how this type of event would expedite the process. I look forward to seeing how Kowal takes us on this journey. At this point, I am all in.
Some Additional Thoughts
I was worried coming into this. There is a certain part of me that feared this story was made to benefit from the current zeitgeist that has evolved from works like Hidden Figures or the rise of #metoo. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, even if it were true, but often this is used as an excuse to redo what as already been done and reclaim it as your own. Or, it is just a blatant money grab. That isn’t the impression I am getting. I think this story has the potential of contributing to the dialogue rather than leech off of it. I am hoping for a new look at women in history and a glimpse of what might have been and hopefully still can be. What’s more, the fact that this builds on an existing short story suggests it isn’t just reactionary.
I’m nearly 2/3rds of the way through the book, and I am still loving it. I think it may even be one of my favorite books of the year, up there with The Fifteen Lives of Harry August. There is definitely plenty to say about it.
First, I’d like to discuss it as a historical work of fiction. Overall, I would say it doesn’t excel all that great. While I do worry about getting lost in details, I feel as though this story could stand a bit more details about the time we are in. Obviously, there are points of world building to put is in the time, but it feels superficial. I still love the story. I don’t see this as a major disadvantage, nor do I feel I am being taken too far out of the story. It just takes away from the realism. On that not, I want to change focus to the discussion on the current cultural zeitgeist influencing this story. I think it is very apparent that it is the case. However, I don’t think it does that in a bad way. The author takes very relevant and important issues of today and applies them to the past in ways that are justified. My issue is that the way the issues are resolved feels a little optimistic. Again, it takes away from the realism. This may just be a function of my own pessimism, but it is still interesting to think about.
The reason this story is so intriguing is that it essentially uses a entirely realistic event (asteroid impact) to facilitate the requirement of decades of progress (and more) for the sack of humanity. That means we have to deal with climate change, racism, antisemitism, sexism and so much more. The author is presenting us with a world where humanity is able to make use of the tragedy to achieve the progress they need to survive. That is very optimistic, but the inherent speculation involved is enough for me to still enjoy the story. Because, at the core, this story is one of hope. It presents us with modern problems being solved in a world where they are objectively harder to solve. Despite that, there is a clear path to doing these things. That, is inspiring and fascinating to consider. For that, I absolutely love this novel. I am lucky enough to still have a third of the book left, but let there be no doubt, you should read this book.
This is tied for my favorite novel of the year next the Fifteen Lives of Harry August–maybe I like it even more. I don’t have much more to say since my last update. It maintains the tone and excellent story telling. The one thing I want to do is backtrack, if only slightly, on the book being overly optimistic. I will avoid details, so as to prevent spoilers, but there is plenty of shitty moments in this story. Our characters are often put through the ringer, and Kowal does not shy away from making the issues of that time (and still today in some fashion) very prominent in the story. The biggest issue with getting to space is never about technology; it is about the human race holding itself back. This is ultimately a story of whether we will overcome our own flaws. It does not happen easily, nor does it happen uniformly. Nevertheless, this story presents a mindset where it is possible with the right motivations.
Perhaps that is what makes the story such a thrill to read. It is a blessing not to read a dystopian novel with hope. All I want to do is keep reading. The fact that there is a sequel already out is torturing me. It would be so easy to put myself into the next book, but I am going to try not to just yet. 1) It is time for Halloween therefore horror galore, but 2) when I am done, I’m done. Then its an indefinite wait for the next one. This is a chance to pace myself and enjoy.
Finally, I want to touch on the only other issue I had with the book. This question of historical detail. I don’t want to be berated with complaints saying I am misrepresenting the book, so let me be clear that there are plenty of examples of us being grounded in the times. Personally, I’d love a deeper dive into the politics of the time. Then again, this book feels perfect, so me yearning for more, detail and story, may just be another example of how great it is. What’s more, I recognize this story is meant to follow our main character. For that reason, our perspective is somewhat limited to her own. Branching out beyond that would risk losing some of that cohesion.