Book Reviews: March 2022

I know I’m a little late getting these out as we are nearing the end of April, but work and writing articles has taken up a fair bit of my time as well as preparing for my boyfriend to move in and my adult child to move out into their first apartment. It’s been a whirlwind of activity, but in all of this I was able to complete nine books! Here are some thoughts about each that don’t give away the books.

I picked this book up on a trip to Arizona just before the pandemic really reared its ugly head. I went to the famous Antigone Books and this cover jumped out at me. I’d never heard of the author before and didn’t bother to read what the book was about because I was captivated by the cover. When I first started to read it, I had to put it down for several reasons. There were no dialogue tags…at all. At the time, I was writing my first novel and this sort of shift from normal wasn’t something my mind could tolerate. Secondly, it is a book about a virus taking over the world. It felt a little to right now for me, almost like reading about a trauma just before it happened. Forward to a place where the pandemic is just everyday business and I was able to get through the lack of dialogue tags and traditional indentations for paragraphs and muscled my way through. It is a translated book and this sometimes makes the transition to English a little choppy. It was an okay read, but I can’t say that I’d want to pawn it off on just anyone.

For some reason I have had a love/hate relationship with Sylvia Plath for most of my adult life. I have always found her poetry hit or miss and maybe all the stories of her personal life pushed me further away from her work. I tend to shy away from those authors that other people demand I read. It’s childish, but I like my authors genuinely found. I want to stumble upon them of my own volition. But here this book sat on my shelf, staring at me. I decided to read it just to remove it. Actually, I listened to this one while cleaning the house. It was apropos in some ways. I enjoyed the book immensely and probably much more than if I would have read it when it was suggested. I could look back on having had these types of feelings as a young woman and identify with what it meant in my own generation. Definitely a surprise enjoyed read for me.

This book was an early morning need-a-book-to-listen-to-on-the-way-to-work selection. Again, I didn’t know anything about the author or what the book was about. Often I try to expand the genres and authors I read/listen to in order to keep myself moving forward. This was a touching book about a girl growing up in Germany and that time just as the war was brewing and things started to not be safe for Jews in that country. It is a book that is multi-generational of the women in this family, how the daughter married and emigrated to America. The idea being that at some point she would have enough money to send for her parents and the heartbreak of their separation in uncertain times. A tear jerker for sure.

I often like to take my non-fiction books as audio-books as they lend to being able to do other things alongside listening. Facts are easier to collate this way for me. I have had an obsession with birds this year and this did not disappoint. This book is a great recounting of a young man’s journey to Russia to find these near mythical Fish Owls that some have seen but haven’t really been able to study. He suffers harsh Russian winters to complete his PhD thesis on the habitat and hunting/mating habits of these birds. It was exciting to discover and learn with him about these owls I never knew existed.

This book of poetry from Kerry Trautman was utterly delightful, but also inquisitive. She bought this portrait of a woman she didn’t know at an auction and as she looked at it each day, she began to develop conversations with her. The book is filled with musings of what Trautman imagines Marilyn would say to her or how she might judge her everyday life. The concept worked very well for me and it lends the writer and the reader an opportunity to create an imaginary life together. I highly recommend this collection.

I first heard of Sarah Kay through her TED talk and was instantly amazed at the amount of lines she could remember. I have a difficult time reading from memory and people who can manage this when it isn’t put to music, impress me. She also has a delightful storytelling manner. Having only heard her read once, I was able to instill her voice and cadence into the lines of this book filled with memories and love and heartbreak. The book left me with so many lines to think about in the context of my own life. When my friend was recovering from surgery, I gave it to her to read because even in the dark moments of this book, there is a quality of uplifting that can’t be denied.

I found this book at a library book sale. It is an utter stroke of kismet to find Jack Gilbert anywhere. Many years ago I read his collection “Refusing Heaven” and fell into this sort of melancholy love with his words. He is both sharp and tender in the way he spills the lines onto the page and since that time, I have looked for his books wherever I travel and never seem to find any. This tells me that he is the sort of writer that once he is in your collection and on the shelf, he doesn’t leave. We could all wish to have that enduring quality. I read this book while wandering around by the river and getting muddy. Best consumed outside.

I have been acquainted with Schumejda for many years now and even had the grace given to me to read with her several times. She is well educated but down to earth. She often writes about the everyday man/woman, about those feelings we are all too afraid to write about. I expected this when I got this book, but what took me by surprise was that this entire book is one poem that works out her feelings of disbelief, anger, sadness, grief, and forgiveness for something terrible her brother has done. It was a journey through all the emotions at the same time. The writing experimental in form and context but very cohesive and strong. It lent itself to the complexity of emotions trapped in the front and back cover. The art of Hosho McCreesh is spliced in between the long poem giving you a moment to catch your breath.

This was another library book sale find. The cover made me smile, so I thought I would give it a chance. I had never heard of Morgan Parker and I am always trying to expand my knowledge of poets in the world. This is a collection that does have some poems about Beyonce, but more over it is a book about how a contemporary African-American woman navigates today’s society. It was an interesting book for me, because though we are both women navigating the same world, it isn’t the same. I have privileges that she might not and these are not brought to light for me in a meaningful way most of the time as I shuffle around in my rural river town. I enjoyed the perspective, but also was made to feel like I needed to pay closer attention the way society treats African-American women.

Thanks for reading and I hope you find a few of these books interesting enough to give them a chance. Keep reading and writing. Be kind to each other. Buy Books!!!

Aleathia

Book Reviews: February 2022

Do you know how sometimes you are resistant to buying a book? For some reason I couldn’t get myself to pick this one up despite LOVING the cover art. My local book seller had quietly nudged me toward this book several times and I finally caved. She is a voracious reader and said it was in her top 5. That day another patron had also sung this books praises, so it was time.

This book is a journey through the age old question of what happens after we die? This is a speculation of course because we don’t really know, but it is one that I would like to keep close in my memory. It is a book about death, the time after death, and grief that is present in both those who are left behind as well as those who have passed. It is also a book about friendship and selflessness. It is a book about how we keep going in the face of hardship. I cried for the last two hours I read the book. Sometimes they were tears of joy and others sadness. I don’t always recommend books, but I don’t think it matters what genre you usually love, you will love this book.

This is a quick read both because it is more novella sized and the writing is very good. I had never read a book by this author, but picked it up because I am a nurse and it sounded relatable. It is a story about a girl from an immigrant family who lives in NYC and works as an orderly in one of the county hospitals. It is a book about family and friendships and about having the faith in yourself to move forward and upward in life.

This book I listened to which was a good choice. The setting is India and there I’m sure the pronunciation of many of the cultural items and names of things would have been butchered in my mind. It was nice to hear them pronounced as they should be. This is a story about a girl and her mother living in Pune, India. The mother is a bit eccentric for the times and they lived in an ashram for some time. In the present day, the mother is showing signs of dementia and the daughter feels obligated to care for her. Their relationship, through their whole lives, had not been close or comforting. The daughter often left to the periphery of everything. It is a story about family dynamics, breaks from culture, and personal identity.

This is another book that I listened to and it was read by the author. I had no idea what this book was about before I chose it, but did so because I currently have an obsession with birds. It is non-fiction and discusses the life of the author as a naturalist and her memories of birds and green spaces in the UK as she was growing up. It chronicles some wonderfully personal accounts of her adventures in nature while also providing information on several species of birds and their migrations, and what this means for the lands we live in. It also looks at how urban sprawl has changed or destroyed nesting areas for birds and what this means for the species.

Come on, who doesn’t love Samantha Irby? I listened to this as an audio book because Irby reads it herself and the way she describes her own life is both hysterical and bold. This was a great book to listen to in February because I need as much laughter as I can get stuck in the gray days of Upstate New York. Her honesty about how she lives her life in such an unapologetic way is refreshing. It made me take notice of my own habits and procrastination and investigate their origin. And sometimes, I just looked in the other direction. A delightful book.

I found this book at last year’s fall library book sale. I often try to scoop up as much poetry as I can possibly find, especially by author’s I’ve never heard of before. I find that it helps me to look at my own words in different ways. This entire book of poetry is the imagining of Barbie in different life settings, with careers, with comical thoughts about articulated limbs. It made me nostalgic in a way. I had Barbies and yes, they did make me feel like I didn’t fit in the class of a pretty girl, but they were also my therapy. I could dress them how I wanted, they were stand ins for people I couldn’t really express myself to. Sometimes, when playing Barbie with other girls, we explored cultural, sexual, and relationship ideas that our mothers were not willing to speak about. They were an education on what we thought being older might be like. There are some great poems in this book.

This is a smaller book of poetry from long time small press writer Michele McDannold. The poems in here feel like that space in life where you disconnect for a minute to wonder why people do the things they do. Or why you do the things you do? It is a book of quiet interactions and self assessments. Definitely worth the read.

I picked up this book from the local library for two reasons. #1 My boyfriend loves Lorca. I thought I should read some of his work because this in turn tells me something about my boyfriend. I had heard of Lorca as a writer, but honestly, I had never taken the time to read his work. #2 “Little Ashes” was an amazing film about the connection of Lorca and Dali. It moved me and made me cry so again, I thought I should dip into the work. There is merit to his language and in some poems I felt connected, but like all poetry from a time when I haven’t lived, it is harder to find a passion in the stanzas because I didn’t experience the hardships and cultural restraints of the time. It was still worth it for reason #1.

I just finished listening to this book before opening my computer to write this blog. Listening to this book made me realize just how little they teach us in school about black history. I vaguely remember hearing about the great migration, but not really understanding how long it was. It ended only 3 years before I was born. How could it be so absent from our education?

This is a non-fiction book that chronicles the journey Morgan Jerkins took when trying to find more information about her family history. So much of the facts of family history come from oral tradition and this makes it harder to trace if your family isn’t willing to talk or the elders pass away without ever having been asked what they know. This book is about the great migration but it was also a history on blended cultures with Native Americans of the southern regions and the persistent racism present in this country. It was interesting to follow the journey as she gathered more snippets of family story or a random name of a distant possible relative. Definitely an eye opening historical story.

Book Reviews: January 2022

I wouldn’t go so far as to say these are deep dive book reviews. I have never been a fan of those because they ultimately tell me too much and then I feel like I don’t need to read the book. I like the adventure of figuring it out myself, but on the other hand, it is hard to branch out and find new authors and types of things to read if you don’t know just a smidge. And before anyone gets super excited and thinks I’m a freakishly fast reader, some of this months books were started last month and some are audiobooks. Enjoy my 2 cents.

All Around Cowboy by Scot D. Young (Spartan Press, 2021) is a collection of poems that spans this man’s life living in the heart of Missouri. Scot has a way of showing us hard topics with a soft hand. He is a storyteller. The way the book unfolds allows for traveling from a time long forgotten to the present. It’s like riding a train where one only catches some things in sharp focus, just enough to let the mind wander in that space and find a connection, on some level, to our own lives.

Memorial by Bryan Washington (Riverhead Books, 2020) is about the struggles in love of two homosexual men from widely different cultural backgrounds living in Texas. But, it’s more than that. It’s a book about family, about choices, about doing the right thing, about finding your way in the world. I listened to the audiobook which features Bryan Washington reading one of the parts himself. It had a different sort of life listening to the book instead of reading it as it is split into sections based on the perspective of each lover. I started out reading it and then switched to listening to it.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (Simon and Schuster, 2020) is noted as a horror book which I didn’t find exactly scary. I used to read horror as a teenager and young adult, and I don’t think this book fits in that category. This book takes place on and off the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and is loosely about four Native American friends who go against tribal law and hunt on grounds they are not allowed to. To avoid prosecution, they have to waste all the elk they have killed and are banned from hunting on the rez. But one of the elk was special, one was pregnant. This book dives into dark fantasy and allegory. It didn’t scare me, but it definitely had me on edge. This was a book that I knew nothing of the author or the story before hand but loved the cover. It did not disappoint.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (Random House, 2020). I had this book on my list from the previous year and my kid had given it to me for Christmas. I finally worked my way through the book stack to get to it. This book is full of snapshots of Doyle’s transition out of heterosexual married life where she was miserable into a same sex marriage that changed her life. It is a collection of stories about self integrity, about knowing who you are and going forward with that, and about the joy and the struggles of having a non-traditional family. This book really spoke to me about breaking down the barriers of tradition from times that are no longer relevant. How many times to I approach a situation with my mother’s or my grandmother’s voice in my head instead of my own? It is a book about letting your wild come to the surface.

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron (Broadway Books, 1997). Every now and then I like to throw a non-fiction book in the mix to spice up my life…yes, that was comedy. I feel like non-fiction uses a different side of my brain than fiction or poetry and I like to active all the parts. My mother used to make fun of me and say I was “so sensitive” and it turns out that she wasn’t wrong. Some of the tenants of this book are a bit outdated for 1997 and not all together politically correct, but it did help me to understand some parts of my personality and how to help them heal from things I’ve experienced in my life.

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (Knopf, 2020). This was another book plucked from a list of books to read from 2020. I have been taking great effort to read authors I don’t know and genres that aren’t in my wheelhouse. Basically, I’m swimming outside my comfort zone. I listened to this one on audiobook because my library had it available and I wasn’t disappointed. The book follows a woman through her young adult life to almost middle age in vignettes of conversations she has with other women. There is a rawness to her perspective of herself, of other women, and of the environments she’s in. It is a book full of unapologetic inside talk that women have but don’t like to admit they have. There is a lot of alcohol featured in this book so if you are triggered by that or into sober living, it might raise some hackles, but I think it was true to the reality of life today.

Book Review: The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon

I started reading this book in 2020, but did not get to finish it. I’ve had quite a few holdovers from the year before as I read too many books at once and then not finish them. I chose The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon from the shelves of a used book sale. I liked the simplicity of the cover and how the smoke swirled across it. The way the title is in a hazy script made me feel as if there were an impermanence to the words.

Sometimes I choose books this way knowing nothing about the book or the author. I never read blurbs or jacket covers. I don’t want to know about the book before I read it and sometimes the cliff notes of what should drag me into the book, puts me off.

This book is written like a stream-of-consciousness style of writing because there are no dialogue tags, no notation that anyone is speaking. This is a narrator driven book through its entirety. Had I known this before I started reading, I would have closed the book and passed it on to someone else, which is why I don’t read blurbs. I need these challenges sometimes.

There is a deep sense of searching in the pages of The Polish Boxer. There is a hunger for life and for knowing. These are the things that kept me in this non-traditional fiction book. It is a book in which a character finds himself through the search for another person. It is a journey of disappointment and self-discovery. Once you get past the lack of dialogue tags and settle into what the author is trying to tell you, I think you will enjoy the ride.

Book Review: The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

Happy New Year everyone. Yes, I know, it’s the sixth. Better late than never.

Now that 2020 is out of the way, I can get back on track. The year was distracting, to say the least. I still managed to read some books, but my audio book game was off for sure. Somewhere in the summer of last year, I took part of a workshop with a book agent who was going to help us learn how to query an agent. For those of us without degrees in writing or any earthly clue what that even means, this workshop was going to be great.

It was until she gave us a homework assignment to come up with several comparative books to the ones we had written, but the caveat was that they had to be from the last five years. Insert panic. Waves of glorious, crying panic. Let’s just start with the fact that most of the books I read are from dead authors or from ones who are publishing, but not at the breakneck speed of mainstream fiction. I attempted to look up books which I thought would stand with my themes or time setting. I had a hard time taking books at their word and not reading them first to see if it was really comparable. Add to this the fact that I hadn’t read any recent fiction in a fair bit of time.

What does all of this have to do with N. K. Jemisin? I’m getting to that. This year one of my goal is to try to read a great number of Time Magazine’s Top 100 books of 2020. I am doing this to open my reading comfort zone and maybe grow as a writer. My palate for the word isn’t as broad as I had hoped, and I learned this from the workshop. My second novel has touches of science fiction and fantasy… both categories of fiction that I DON’T actually read. How do I expect to pull that off successfully? I have started my novel writing career as a pantser 100% and I’m telling you this is beyond painful in the editing phase.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin has found its way on Time Magazine’s list, as I’m sure it is on many others as well. Before this, I had never even heard her name. You may gasp, I get it. Her book about the creation of New York City from a multi-universe point of view rocked my world. I have to admit that I listened to this as an audio book and Robin Miles is an amazing voice actress. She made Jemisin’s words come alive. I was in this book. I could see everything she wanted me to see. I am not sure how many pages it is as a traditional book, but it was a whopping 16 hours of listening. It was a race to the finish line for me as it was due back in the morning with a waiting list already formed.

I’m not going to tell you anything more about this book because I think you need to explore it for yourself. The adventure is in parsing it all together like a puzzle. It was a fabulous way to start my new journey of writer’s I’ve never read before. Get ready. This year will be ripe with book reviews.

Book Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Photo from James Clear website

I suppose I am late to this pandemic party in a sense. Being a nurse has had me on the front lines the whole time. Shelter in place happened only four days a week for me and then I was at work the other three. I maintained a partial normalcy as far as that was concerned. All my social outlets were changed, but I was still leaving the house.

Living in New York State has had its advantages. Our Governor locked down the state rather quickly to help decrease the spread and we opened much slower than any other place. Despite this, I am starting to see increased cases in our rural community because many people don’t feel the threat is real. They walk the streets without their masks on because they don’t want to ruin their makeup or they are too cool or they just don’t care. Meanwhile, I have so many people that I worry about who could catch this virus and die.

What does all of this have to do with James Clear’s Atomic Habits? I thought you’d never ask. At this stage of the pandemic game I have lost my usual habits. Time has become strange and marked only by the days I work and Tuesday when I have my group meeting online. I started to lose interest in the things that bring me joy. I lost my schedule basically.

I am also dealing with a teenager who we discovered recently is high functioning ASD but has a hard time making routines and doing things they liked before due to focus issues and some changing health issues. When scrolling through the available audio books at my library, Atomic Habits popped up and as it is only a five hour listen, I thought I could squeeze it in.

This served two functions. I could learn how micro changes effect your habits and it has me back into audio books which had dropped off my radar during the height of the pandemic because I was no longer driving long distances to work and I couldn’t concentrate.

The book is full of very simple and helpful tips on how to build good habits and he has several different ways you can achieve these things depending on the type of learner you are. The rules are very simple and easy to manage. I did find the book a bit over plugged. After each helpful thing he announced you could find it on his website and then listed it. It was repetitive and clearly a marketing strategy which I know works. Kudos to him, but it didn’t get by me.

There are a lot of helpful resources on his book page that could steer you in the direction you need if you are having problems keeping up with your good habits or trying to build new ones. It was worth the listen or read, whatever you’re into.

Book Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

What attracted me to this book was its title and cover. The collage feel is something very personal to me and I enjoy smashing images together to make a whole new visual. I also enjoy, weather. 

Based on these ideas, I chose Weather by Jenny Offill.


As a general rule, I don’t read jacket information, nor do I read reviews before picking up a book. (Shakes head as she writes this review). Not that I don’t go to websites that review books. I only look at the suggested covers and make a decision that way. It spices life up, trust me. As a writer, it continually reminds me of how important cover art is in capturing an audience’s attention.

After finishing the book, I see it has been on the New York Times Best Seller list and that it gets a lot of stars on Goodreads. For me, this book did not hit the mark. Maybe my enjoyment of this novel would’ve required me to read the hard copy rather than listen to it. In the audio book this is the rambling of a woman in a stream of consciousness about the coming political climate surrounding a newly elected president with a mild overarching story about her family. It is possible the arc of the story was more poignant and relevant, but the delivery was so distracting that I kept looking to see how much longer until the book ended.

The primary character Lizzie feels cynical and wry. Her brother Henry is a hot mess of a man whom she has to care for even at the expense of her own family’s happiness. The interesting parts of this story were when Lizzie interacted with other people and drove the novel forward. The rest of the time you’re stuck in her head. I have my own ADD brain to deal with and that is misery enough.

I could be wrong about this book and once the library opens back up, I might give this title another try to see if reading rather than listening is the winning form for Jenny Offill’s words. As it stands, I’m giving this book a solid…. meh.

Book Review: Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

As part of my reading rotation, I randomly stick volumes of poetry into the stack. When we have our local Friends of the Library book sale, I usually pick up several authors I’ve never heard of before because the price point is pretty good. Two bucks isn’t a lot to lose on potentially bad poetry and even the worst collections have some lines in them. You have to mine them like diamonds. It can be hard work, but finding a line that changes you is worth it for both the reader and the writer.


Strangely enough, I found a copy of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish tucked in with my reference books. I’m not quite sure what my past self was thinking and this is the glory of my life. It’s always an adventure.

Photo “Mermaid Tail” by Ellen Yeast, Cover design by Howard Klein

The cover of Lucky Fish is quite beautiful which is most likely why I picked it up at a sale. The contrast of stark white with the iridescence of the fish’s tail is enchanting. It was clever to have the author’s name first, in the colors of the fish, and the title of the book in white nestled on the tail of the fish. I like clever things, a lot.

This collection of poetry is sectioned into three parts: A Globe is Just An Asterisk, Sweet Tooth, and Lucky Penny. Each of the mini collections within are uniquely of the writer, yet their tones and meanings are very different. I am unsure if it was the writer’s intention but the reader goes on a metamorphosis with her in the most subtle of ways. In each section, I had a few favorite poems which are to be expected. The overall effect of the book is expansive in its travels, but tender in small secrets.

Part 1: A Globe is Just An Asterisk

This part is filled with exotic places the author has traveled, places some of us can only dream of and will never see, but she does a great job of capturing their essence. The poems in here are filled with learning other cultures and how these different sights and smells change the integrity of the author. Have you ever traveled someplace magnificent and enjoyed yourself only to find that the deeper meaning of the trip comes after when you slowly take in everything, when it settles into your bones. These are those poems.

My favorite poem from this group is the opener, The Secret of Soil:

“The secret of soil is that it is alive–
a step in the forest means
you are carried on the back
of a thousand bugs. The secret

I give you is on page forty-two
of my old encyclopedia set.”

Part 2: Sweet Tooth

All of the poems in this section come from the writer’s memory of being a child, of her family, and her interaction with the world. As children we often don’t understand the importance of things we see, life is more basic than that. When we get older, we lose that sense of wonder where everything we come in contact with is something to behold in amazement. Life piles on us and we forget to find joy in small things. This section was poignant for me as I near the middle of my life. I look back and wish I would have stayed a little longer, enjoyed those moments that seemed to stop time and stretch into forever. 

My favorite poem of this section was one about her relationship with her father called Mosquitoes:

“Standing there in our driveway with him,
I smacked my legs, my arms, and my face
while I waited for him to find whatever pinhole
of light he wanted me to see. At night, when I washed

my face, I’d find bursts of blood and dried bodies
slapped into my skin. Complaints at breakfast about
how I’d never do it again, how I have more homework
now, Dad.”

Part 3: Lucky Penny

For a woman who chooses to have a child, the birth of that being is something that changes her forever. You might tell yourself you will retain all that adventure and cunning you had before they are born, but there is an evolution that comes over you when you realize that you have created another human. Your body knows just what to do even when you don’t. This section is about the birth of her first child and how it morphs her view of the world, how it takes everything that has come before in the first two sections and turns it into a lexicon for her new life. It’s possible that being a mother myself had me aligned with many poems in this section, or just that life looks a little more precious now in these pandemic times. I typically am not a fan of poetry that journeys beyond a single page. I like my poetry crips and metaphorical and to the point, but her five page poem called Birth Geographic was something to behold:

“Because I know talk like this frightens you, I will say this only once: If I am
ever lost or someone ever wonders if the cause of my death is by my own
hand–let it be known that I will never leave you one my own accord. Never. If someone takes me, I will scratch and bite until I gargle soil. My mouth will be an angry mouth if anyone rips me from you. The center of my hands boiled with blossoms when we made a family. I would never flee that garden. I swear to you hear and now: If I ever go missing, know that I am trying to come home.”

This book was published by Tupelo Press out of North Adams, Massachusetts in 2011. You can visit their website here. If any of my local friends would like to read this book, please let me know. It can use a good home.

Book Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

“The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman is above all else, a book about love.

Sure there are witches and magic and a bit of history. But the primary thread is love. The story is about a family of witches with the surname Owens. In the 1600s, their ancestor Maria Owens was killed and there was a curse placed on all the women of the family to lose the one they fell in love with. In the lineage, only women Owens are born until there is one son, Vincent.

Vincent, Frances, and Bridget are all siblings living in New York City in the 1960s. Their lineage as witches has been kept from them by their cautious mother Susanna who knew all too well of the pain of the curse against love. The children know they are different, but they don’t know how different until they go to Massachusetts for the summer of Francis’ seventeenth birthday. It is here in the family home paid for by Maria Owens in the 1600s do they find out about their gifts.

Their Aunt Isabelle gives them free reign to find themselves, to be children, and discover what they are made of. She teaches them spells, but moreover she loves them exactly as they are without trying to change them as their mother does. This home on Magnolia Street becomes a place they return to again and again.

“Don’t live a little, live a lot,” reminds Aunt Isabelle.

Each of the children struggle with their gifts and what they mean. They each do their best to stave off falling in love, afraid of the curse, but none of them can resist. I don’t want to go into any more detail about “The Rules of Magic” because I want you to experience the rich language filled with sensory description and heartbreaking tenderness of growing up a witch in the height of the 60s with war looming over them all. It is a book that covers family, love, individuality, strength of character, and perseverance.

What I will leave you with is my favorite quote which is something that I needed to be reminded of:

“The only remedy for love is to love more.”

Book Review: The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

This week I finished my most recent audio book after a very stressful weekend working in the ER. Covid-19 has been wrapping up much of my mind and making me incredibly stressed out. I have a long drive to and from work on the weekends and listening to audiobooks has helped me decompress some of these worries. When I chose The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld, I did so because the cover was beautiful.

I had a very dry period where I was unable to focus long enough to read a book, which was a trauma unto itself, but found my way back. Because of this long hiatus I lost touch with new authors and what was being published. Books these days can be a crap shoot. Many of the audiobooks I choose are based on the cover. I remember 20 years ago I spent an entire year choosing books this way. It was an incredible journey learning about new genres and writers. It helped me to jump out of my comfort zone. I was not disappointed this time either.

The Butterfly Girl is a book that has two narratives that not only cross each other, but unfold together in the most touching and beautiful way. Naomi is an investigator who works on missing children’s cases. She does this because she too was once abducted, along with her younger sister, and held captive in a bunker under strawberry fields. The sisters were orphans to start and once they were missing awhile, the search went cold. Naomi escaped her captor, but was unable to save her sister and spent the rest of her life searching for her. The hard part was, she couldn’t even remember her name.

The other narrative is about Celia, a twelve-year-old girl living on the streets on a skidrow in Oregon. Her mother is an addict and her step-father sexually assaulted her. After a series of abuses, Celia had the courage to tell someone about the abuse. Teddy, the step-father, gets arrested, but somehow convinces the jury that the child was a liar and gets set free. Celia, unable to live in the house anymore in fear of more abuse, runs away leaving her younger sister to fend for herself, much like Naomi did hers. 

Each of these main characters has something to hold onto. A sister. Naomi spends all her focus on finding the nameless sister which leads her to a town in Oregon. This is the same town that Celia lives in and on the streets is where they continue to cross paths. There are hard moments in this book as both Naomi and Celia recall the travesties done to them. It broke my heart and made me cry. I know there are children like this on the street everywhere, every day.

Rene Denfeld captures the essence of the hardship of life on the street and a life of abuse. The magical part of this book is Celia’s coping mechanism which lends the title of the book,The Butterfly Girl. Before Celia’s mother became an addict, leaving Celia to survive on her own, she had wanted to be a lepidopterist. She had shared her love of butterflies with Celia.

Throughout the book Celia visits the library to read about butterflies and sees them everywhere. They guide her away from danger and comfort her heart in the darkest times. It is a visual hope that life will once again be something she could trust.

The imagery in The Butterfly Girl is at times somber, but also beautiful in the delicate way each of these main characters see the world around them. They are cautious observers of their environments. This book was fast paced and well worth the listen as I’m sure it would be well worth the read.