Kindred is a timeless novel about time. Imagine going about your day when you just get snatched into history because you have a connection – unknown to you at the time- to a specific individual you are linked to in history. And what if that time period just so happened to be 1815, when slavery was legal. Imagine this happening to you and you’re black. And a woman. That’s what happens to our protagonist, Dana- whose *now* is 1976. She must learn to survive in a world where she is considered property.
Nothing else I could say would do this justice. Parts of the novel reminded me of 12 Years A Slave. So if you’ve seen that film, you know this a story that will break your heart. Despite the tough subject matter, I recommend you read this. You will be better for it.
I love you, Octavia E. Butler!
Note: Kindred is soon to be adapted into a Netflix limited series. Release date TBA.
This novel is historical fiction at its finest. How the Oxford Dictionary came to be was an arduous process that took decades, and I didn’t realize until reading this novel how intense and long the process was. The credit usually goes to men. And with all those men, you can imagine that words used by or applying to women were dismissed…hence the phrase “all words are not created equal”. But there were women who contributed, albeit behind the scenes. Which leads to this heartbreaking and beautiful novel about the importance of words in both connecting and dividing men and women, and the reminder that what we say and do today will be a guide for the next generation. Words matter.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams introduces us to the fictional Esme, whose delightful curiosity leads to her mission to collect “lost” words from regular working women, including those who work for her. Although not rich, she is better off than most which leads to a sheltered existence and endearing naïveté. She is inspired by words starting at an early age because she regularly goes to work with her single father, who is employed at a scriptorium. One day, she finds a scrap of paper that says “bondmaid”. So begins her journey into finding words spoken by women or are about women that often get lost in meaning, or ignored entirely. Even as Esme herself experiences unspeakable loss, she continues to find words because she has the wisdom to know they will outlive her. They will outlive all of us. So they must be documented. And the people who spoke these words matter, too, and deserve to be remembered.
This was a sad one. It’s one of those books that rips your heart out, and leaves you feeling different even days later. Although the star of the show is the dictionary and Esme’s dedication to it, the novel has war, disease, death, and inequality peppered throughout its pages. I learned so much from Esme, how hard decisions shaped her often as a result of society’s unrealistic expectations of women. And her maid Lizzie? What a a beautiful character. Like the dictionary, this book tells the truth without any commentary. Because life is devastating, love is lost, and, yes, people will leave us.
The only reason I gave this four stars instead of five was because there were things that were introduced but never brought up again. What happened to Esme in school? It seemed to have traumatized her but it’s left so vague. And her time in the VA hospital spoke to Esme’s kind and generous nature, but was it necessary? Otherwise, this is 100% worth your time.
Conclusion: Read these words, because they will forever stay with you.
What an adventure Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff was! This coming-of-age story about two ten-year-old boys on the lam in the north woods of Wisconsin after they think they’ve committed a crime is so full of heart you’d have to be absent one yourself to not appreciate it. The story takes place in 1994, and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that it’s listed as “historical fiction”. I’ll be forever side-eyeing whoever made that decision.
There are definitely some religious undertones in this beautiful story of resilience and survival. But never preachy or critical. The boys, aptly nicknamed “Fish” and “Bread”, don’t have much, but they do have a strong bond only our children can achieve before life -and time- slowly chips away at their innocence. The first boy, Fish, is visiting his grandfather, Teddy, for the summer while his widowed, God-fearing mother, Melanie, stays back home. The second, Bread, who only sees Fish when he comes to visit his grandfather, lives alone with an abusive father, Jack. After a situation arises in which they feel they must escape the law, the best friends find themselves relying on tuna, slim Jims, and worms as they make their way through the wilderness. And while you will find yourself concerned for what will become of the boys, you’ll laugh at the hilarious (and adorable) conversations they have, and smile at the kindness and respect they show not only to each other but to the wildlife surrounding them.
I feel the need to mention there was a part in the book that reminded me of Stand By Me. So yeah, enter big-time nostalgia which almost brought me to tears. While this story and its characters are completely different, I immediately thought of the scene in Stand By Me where Chris (River Phoenix) comforts Gordie (Wil Wheaton) with no judgment or interruption. He just lets him cry. And that is the kind of love captured between Fish and Bread. The story differs, but the feelings are the same. I loved that even though the boys had it hard, they weren’t unkind. Too often we give attention to the people who become horrible and blame a bad childhood, instead of lift up and honor those who overcome the adversity, always respect others, and stay true to themselves in spite of it.
Fish and Bread aren’t the only characters you’ll get to know. If you ever wondered what the adults were up to in stories starring their children (E.T., The Goonies, etc), Raft of Stars has got you covered. We meet the new Sheriff in town, Cal, who hates his job, gets queasy at the sight of blood (kind of a problem), and is the hottest of messes as he deals with an outdoors he is not accustomed to. Then there’s Tiffany, a lonely purple-haired gas station clerk/poet who joins forces with Fish’s mom to track the boys down. Teddy, Fish’s stubborn grandfather and Korean War veteran who just wants some quiet goddamnit. Melanie, Fish’s devoted and religious to-the-point-of-scary mother. And then Bobby, the Barney Fife-like constable who has a small role in the story but was so hilariously optimistic you can’t help but appreciate his presence.
The biggest force of all, however? Mother Nature. Not to be messed with, taken for granted, or mistreated. The lives of all of the humans change within the pages of this stellar debut novel by Graff, but nature’s fury will always remain the same.
Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Dream Cast: (all from Wisconsin because why not?)
Fish and Bread: ??? Not sure because I don’t know of many child actors.
Life can suck. We hurt ourselves and each other. We get sick, or we lose others to sickness. We lose our parents, or our children, or both. There is poverty, hunger, homelessness. It’s all so much, this world. So, it’s no wonder that we often look for a little magic. And when we don’t find it, we are disappointed. And that disappointment makes us angry, cynical, or worse.
The Lost Apothecary, written by Sarah Penner, reminds us that we do have glimmers of enchantment at our very fingertips on this place we call home, the third rock from the sun. We just need to look for it, and when found, use it wisely. And thus, nature is magic.
This dark storyping pongs back and forth between 1791 and present day. Circa 1791, we meet Nella, a weathered and lonely apothecary who helps women poison their cheating or abusive husbands. She will help a woman, but never hurt a woman. Her poisons are only for men. And it’s all done on the down low, which has given her quite the reputation. Women leave a written message and leave it in a hidden spot on Bear Alley in London, and this mysterious apothecary, an evil tooth fairy if you will, fulfills their requests. She does this by giving the women elixirs she’s made by using different ingredients found in nature (bugs, herbs, spices, plants, etc). We learn that Nella, who I call the pharmaceutical barn witch, has had her own share of betrayal and loss, and this leads her to use her talents for evil. And she puts her concoctions either in food, or in a vial with a bear imprinted upon it. Her methods are awesome to read about, because who knew this and that, and a pinch of that, could kill you?
One day, Nella meets twelve-year-old Eliza, the youngest client she has ever had. And she’s immediately unsure of whether she can follow through with an order that involves a child. Eliza, a curious preteen who displays her innocence through fantastical beliefs, is enthralled by the lonely Nella, and a friendship emerges that changes both their lives. Eliza is an interesting character. She is more afraid of what she can’t see. But she’ll watch a man die, look around, and be like, “yo, you wanna go eat some lunch?”. Nella, ever the realist, reminds Eliza that there is no magic in this harsh world, while Eliza serves as a reminder to Nella that anything is possible.
Jump ahead to present day. We meet Caroline. A 34-year-old American woman who has just learned of her husband’s infidelity. She goes to London on what should have been their ten year anniversary trip. Instead of celebrating this milestone, her love of history is rekindled. While in London, Caroline finds a strange bottle with a bear imprinted upon it. And so begins an adventure to find the origins of the bottle, and the mysterious, nameless, apothecary she’s learned helped to murder trifling men two hundred years ago. Through Caroline’s search, she finds herself, and recognizes the importance of doing what makes her feel fulfilled as opposed to what others expect from her.
Overall, I liked the connection between 1791 and present day. The impact that men had on all three female characters can’t be overstated. Being a woman is hard, no matter the time period. Perhaps the author was making the point that men can be shit and this is what drove the characters to do what they did. I didn’t really buy it, though. Even though I despised the men, I never found myself saying ‘“good” when they were gone. Call me crazy but I’d rather they suffer? While I never have an issue with vigilante justice, I didn’t find myself pulling for the demise of these men, and thought surely we are better at revenge than this. Nella’s methods were clever, but hardly honorable. And it wasn’t lost on me that the women in 1791 used poisoned to try to get the life they wanted, while the Caroline’s husband, James, poisons himself in the present to try to get what he wanted. And in both instances, the separation of two centuries does not give anyone what they sought.
One thing that bothered me: Caroline’s cavalier behavior when she doesn’t know if she’s pregnant or not. I say this as a woman who has miscarried. While I’m probably just being sensitive, it hurt me to hear her drinking two glasses of wine, coffee, and putting off the pregnancy test when she knew it was a possibility. And bringing it up to the reader as she’s doing it. It was odd to read, especially when you see the impact such a loss had on Nella. When you feel robbed of a life that could have been, you don’t want to hear about someone else being reckless. Even if it is a work of fiction.
How ironic that a story about a woman that no one remembers is one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read. This was brilliant. I devoured this months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it. And that says a lot, because unlike an elephant, my memory is not long. What did I eat this morning? No idea.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwabis the story of a young French woman from a small town who, in a moment of desperation, makes a deal with a dark, demonic force in exchange for immortality. What follows is an epic tale, beginning in the year 1714, of what happens when you don’t listen to the town bruja and decide to make a deal with a handsome dark god who just so happens to look like the man of your dreams.
Yes, Addie gets eternal life, and the chance to experience the world and all it has to offer outside of the simple town she came from, but it comes with a cruel catch. No one remembers her. The minute someone leaves the room, turns their back, or falls asleep, they will forget Addie LaRue. Even her family forgets her. And this causes a lot of problems for our dear Addie, who must struggle to survive this way for centuries because no one trusts or cares about her. She learns to adapt, but it takes pain, sacrifice, and, often times, her self-respect.
Her demonic captor, Luc, visits her annually on the day she made the pact. And you soon realize that he (or “it”), is in love with Addie. Luc is manipulative, and even abusive at times. He uses tactics our worst boyfriend would use, such as ghosting her, or making her feel that only he can make her feel worthy. Nevertheless, Addie refuses to get out of the agreement (which she can do by giving him her soul), which angers Luc so he makes her pay in other ways. He has an underhanded but effective way of tormenting her, and is clever as hell by staying one step ahead of even you, the reader. Luc loves being the only one that remembers Addie, and his need for power and control over her plays out through the course of the book. And with that, Schwab has given us a ferocious literary villain who I can only describe as a cross between Lord Voldemort and Nurse Ratched. Oh, and the way he says “done”; gives me chills.
Between 1714 to present day, we take a ride with the immortal Addie through history and the world’s ever changing trends, fashions, and scientific discoveries. Schwab did her research, and it shows because you will feel like you are really in whatever time period and/or part of the Earth Addie is surviving through. You’re also reminded that our world has changed so much, in such a short period of time. But you’re also reminded of the constants: the second class role of women (Would Addie have been treated so poorly if she was a man? Spoiler alert: Nope), our overreliance on money, and our society’s need to always revert back to the worst in us, which we see through wars and disease. Nevertheless, I loved seeing the world through Addie’s eyes, and her incredulity at the things we take for granted.
In present day, Addie now lives in New York City. As a New Yorker, I really felt the loneliness Addie experiences. Yes, the city is packed full of people, but you are still very much alone if you can’t make meaningful connections. And those friendships are harder to gain than you might think. I also appreciated Schwab’s mention of there always being something new to find in New York, because how very true it is. And if you’re going to live forever, you might as well be in the biggest, most culturally diverse place in the world.
In New York, Addie meets the endearing Henry Strauss. Henry is a bookstore clerk who, to her shock, actually remembers her after he catches her trying to return a book he saw her steal. Henry is the only one to remember her since the curse began, and she eventually develops a relationship with him. We learn why Henry is the only one who won’t forget her, while she’s the only one who can truly see him for who he is. And finally, Addie meets a man who is her equal. From there, Addie finds she must choose between her mortality and that of the one she loves.
I’ll leave it at that. I’ve given enough away. One thing: I noticed there are readers who dragged this novel because of the way it ends. I thought it concluded in keeping with the lesson of the story, which is that what you wish for won’t always lead to the happiness you think it will. No, Addie didn’t get everything she wanted. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that finishes her story on her terms by having the upper hand, while selflessly giving what’s most precious to her to the person she loves. For some reason, the ending reminded me of Saving Private Ryan, when a dying Tom Hanks tells a young Matt Damon to “earn it”. How powerful it is to put others before yourself.
I loved that Addie does make her mark (hint: all seven of them), even though she can never come to enjoy the impact. She’s there in our books, our art, and most importantly: in the life of Henry, who, like many of us, struggle to measure up to the expectations of others. Sometimes the people who impact us the most, are the ones that never ask, or receive, the credit.
Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Addie LaRue: Phoebe Dynevor
Luc: Henry Cavill
Henry Strauss: Logan Lerman – no question about this one.
What an excellent work of historical fiction Kim Michele Richardson has gifted us. If you ever want to see the impact a government program can have on the lives of people who need it most,The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is one such example. FDR’s New Deal funded the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, a group of dedicated women who delivered books to patrons hit hard by The Great Depression.
This novel follows one such librarian, 19-year-old Cussy Mary Carter, who rides her ornery, but protective, mule named Junia through Troublesome Creek to deliver books to residents who are isolated, starving, and have little access to literature. Cussy’s love of books and thirst for knowledge is spread to the people to serves, and it’s exciting to read others appreciate what we often take for granted. How easy it is for us to get a book now? We don’t even have to leave the house. Imagine traveling half a day, or more, so that others can have what we now have at our fingertips.
Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner desperate to have her married off. This has been unsuccessful because our girl Cussy is blue. Not “sad” blue. Her skin is literally blue. Her father is, too. All because of a rare genetic condition. The result is insidious discrimination and violence from those who consider her, along with anyone not white, an abomination and unworthy of companionship. The result is Cussy doing what she can to change and, like all of us, she learns the hard way to embrace what we were given.
Although the traveling work is arduous, it gives Cussy great pleasure, and a sense of purpose, especially having been shunned by society. And having the story told from her perspective gives us the insight needed to understand her generosity despite having been so relentlessly beaten and bullied by others. We meet many of her patrons who call her Bluet. Often, they are grateful for the service she provides. Others are suspicious of anything secular and not as inviting. There are some parts of the book that made me hate people, only to be followed by interactions that really speak to how wonderful the human condition is when we accept the differences of a neighbor. There were also heartbreaking scenes within the pages of Troublesome, and while it was sometimes hard to take, it made the book that much more special because this is life. And sometimes life sucks.
Richardson is excellent at intertwining the narrative of Cussy’s travels in Kentucky with her medical condition so that you find you’ve received a history and science lesson all at once…minus the boredom.
I adored Cussy. There were times she would do something so unexpected, selfless, and kind, despite having been treated so poorly for so long, that it took my breath away. She’s a heroine, and very much a woman in the finest sense. Enduring hardship while always remembering that there are others who have it worse. Along with her journeys through rugged Kentucky terrain, we also travel along in Cussy’s quest for friendship, love, and acceptance. And what a ride it was.
Richardson, you made this cold-hearted Yankee cry.