Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review: Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement

Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #Metoo Movement by Toufah Jallow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Toufah Jallow won a scholarship contest in her country that was supposed to be her pathway to an education and a better life. The President/Dictator of The Gambia took an interest in her and when she rejected his advances, raped and humiliated her. As a teenager she fled the country, and in just a few years transformed herself into an activist for women's rights in her country and beyond.

She gets referred to as inspiring "West Africa's #metoo movement," but I think the truth is more startling because of the lack of conversation and understanding in The Gambia. Toufah explains how there are no words in three languages foe.the act. There were no support services for victims/survivors of sexual assault, and previous victims of the President/Dictator risked their lives and the lives and livelihoods of their families if they spoke up. The conservative community from which she came also had a pretty firm unspoken agreement that such topics are not discussed, and demonstrate in other ways (arranged marriage etc) that women do not have bodily autonomy.

In 2008, the UN started redefining rape as an act of war, and you can see that rhetoric here, but she also points out how courts are still demanding higher forms of proof when accusing someone of rape than of other war crimes (a section on the word "alleged" is quite powerful.)

I also didn't know of the political turmoil in The Gambia in the last five years, despite having read two novels set there during that time. Toufah's story probably could only have happened during this particular upheaval, although I believe she would have fought for women even if she couldn't have returned home.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Reading Envy 236: Best Reads of 2021

Jenny asked previous podcast guests to chat about their top reads of the year, whether or not they were published in 2021. Jenny also chimes in with her own obscure categories. Please enjoy hearing from Tina, Tom, Lindy, Trish, Andrew, Kim, Jeff, Elizabeth, Audrey, Scott, Robin, Mina, Emily, Chris, Nadine, and Ross.

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Reading Envy 236: Best Reads of 2021

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Books discussed:

(duplicates removed)

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram x. Kendo and Keisha N. Blaine
Broken Horses written and read by Brandi Carlile
Several People are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
When the Light of the World was Subdued edited by Joy Harjo
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera, narrated by Sean Christen
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Nervous Conditions trilogy by Tsitsi Dangarembga
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deeshaw Philyaw, read by Janina Edwards
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
Seasonal Quartet by Ali Smith
How to Be Both by Ali Smith
MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss
Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
Ladivine by Marie Ndiaye
To Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Hidden Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters by Amy Binns
Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
Dune by Frank Herbert
One Long River of Song by Bryan Doyle
Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
Sparrow Envy by J. Drew Lanham
Home is not a Country by Safia Elhillo
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy
The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernandez
Peach Blossom Paradise by Ge Fei
The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Jeffers
Summer Brother by Jaap Robben; translateld by David Doherty
Njal’s Saga by Anonymous
Brood by Jackie Pollen
Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End: A Memoir by Lizi Levine
Nancy by Bruno Lloret; translated by Ellen Jones
Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
The Actual Star by Monica Byrne
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers  
O Beautiful by Jung Yun
While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams, narrated by Adenrele Ojo
Shelter by Jung Yun
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Love and Saffron
 by Kim Fay
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Telephone by Percival Everett
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut; translated by Adrian West; read by Adam Barr
To Calais in Ordinary Time by James Meek
The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire by William Dalrymple
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated by Christina E. Kramer
Mud Sweeter than Honey: Voices of Communist Albania by Margo Rejmer, translated by Antonio Lloyd-Jones
Sovietistan: Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan by Erika Flatland, translated by Kari Dickson

Related episodes: 

Episode 046 - Books for Your Kitty Party (The Best of 2015) with Libby Young and many other guests
Episode 075 - After the Year We've Had (Best of 2016)
Episode 105 - Best Reads of 2017
Episode 139 - Stocking Stuffer (Best Reads of 2018)
Episode 176 - Best of 2019
Episode 209 - Best Reads of 2020
Episode 210 - Reading Goals 2021

Stalk me online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors. I link to Amazon when a book is not listed with Bookshop.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Reading Envy 235: Nature of Humanity with Paula

Paula is back for the last regular episode of the year and we talk about biography, books from the backlist, and books from countries we don't know much about.

Download or listen via this link:
Reading Envy 235: Nature of Humanity

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Or listen via Stitcher
Or listen through Spotify 
Or listen through Google Podcasts

Books discussed:

cover images of five books posted below

Wrestling with the Angel by Michael King
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
Sovietistan by Erika Fatland, translated by Kari Dickson
Chronicle in Stone by Ismaeil Kedare, translated by Arshi Pipa and David Below

Other mentions:

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
An Angel at My Table by Janet Frame
Faces in the Water by Janet Frame
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Small Island by Andrea Levy
The Swing in the Summerhouse by Jane Longton
The Border by Erika Fatland
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Embers by Sandor Marai

Related episodes: 

Episode 045 - Worlds Collide with Ross O'Brien
Episode 119 - Bread and Butter Writing with Paula
Episode 154 - Is If If with Paula
Episode 187 - Sentient Snails and Spaceships with Paula
Episode 210 - Reading Goals 2021
Episode 231 - Psychological Terrorism with Reggie
Episode 234 - Punctuation Marks with Nadine

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Paula is @centique on Litsy

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors. I link to Amazon when a book is not listed with Bookshop.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Review: Rise the Euphrates

Rise the Euphrates Rise the Euphrates by Carol Edgarian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The daughter assumes what is unfinished in her mother's life. The unanswered questions become her work. She spins, turning the questions upon herself. Generation after generation, it is a spiraling."
This is one of the books I've had on my TBR since I started reading around the world and collecting titles to read. I was glad to finally get to it!

The book starts with harrowing scenes from the Armenian Genocide as the grandmother of Seta Loon escapes the country. The story goes on to show how Seta's mother made her way still very much inside the Armenian immigrant community, and how Seta and her siblings/friends move beyond it in some ways but are bound to it by others. The novel grows increasingly focused on Seta and her small world to where it almost feels like two novels for a while, but I thought the author did a good job connecting her journey back to that of her grandmother's life.

There is heavy reliance on the Armenian storytelling phrase that has siblings in Turkish, Greek, and even Cypriot storytelling - "there was and there was not."

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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review: The Women's Coffee Shop

The Women's Coffee Shop The Women's Coffee Shop by Andriana Ierodiaconou
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Angelou is a single woman in Cyprus who runs a "coffee shop" for women. The story starts with the death of her friend, Avraam Salih, a man born to a Christian and a Muslim and thus widely ostracized on the island.

I like that the author is Cypriot but the contents are better suited to a short story. Lines and scenes are repeated frequently for no apparent reason and this made it a bit of a slog to read. I appreciate that she had people along a sex and gender spectrum and navigating religious difference in different ways, and the scene where she confronts a priest is pretty great.

I think I'll end up reading 3 books set in Cyprus for my Europe 2021 challenge, but maybe only one from a native author.

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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Books Read November 2021: 237-256

I sadly left four books partly read by the time November turned into December so this might be my briefest month yet. It's been a busy one, but it also aligned with an attempt to finish as many holiday reads as I could (see previous post) and start in on the Tournament of Books longlist. Add 3/4 weeks feeling under the weather (thank you, all the germs from all the children in public schools) and this is what you get.

A gentle reminder that all reviews can still be seen on my Goodreads profile (the review will be with the book; the format will be specified unless it's in print.) And the books with green outlines are my 5-star reads for the month!

237. Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
238. Sex Cult Nun by Faith Jones  ⭐️⭐️⭐️
239. Mistletoe Christmas by Eloisa James et al  ⭐️⭐️⭐️
240. The Legend of the Christmas Witch by Aubrey Plaza and Dan Harmon; read by Aubrey Plaza ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
241. When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut; translated by Adrian West; read by Adam Barr  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
242. Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
243. The Naughty List by Ellie Mae MacGregor   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
244.  Matrix by Lauren Groff; read by Adjoa Andoh  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
245.  Love, Lists, & Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
246.  Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
247.  Against Silence by Frank Bidart  ⭐️⭐️⭐️
248.  The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo; read by Leiana Bertrand   ⭐️⭐️⭐️
249.  Meet Me in London by George Toffolo  ⭐️⭐️⭐️
250.  Embers by Sandor Marai; translated by Carol Brown Janeway  ⭐️
251.  The FSG Poetry Anthology edited by Jonathan Galassi ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
252.  100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
253.  Always in December by Emily Stone  ⭐️⭐️
254.  The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
255.  Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
256.  Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Total Books Read: 20

audio: 4
eBook: 13
print: 3

Library: 4
TBR: 1
Purchased 2021: 1
Review copy: 14

Around the World: 2
Booker Prize Long or shortlist: 1
Europe 2021: 1
National Book Award finalist (long or short): 2
Read the World 21 (Greater China): 1
Tournament of Books: 5

Memoir: 1
Poetry: 1
Romance: 5
Sci-fi/fantasy: 1
Translated: 3
Women in Translation: 0

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Holiday Reading Recommendations 2021

I read a handful of 2021 holiday releases so you don't have to, and now will share my thoughts. While I realize Hanukkah is not "Jewish Christmas," there is one Hanukkah-themed romance of note that will be included below. There is something for everyone - romance, cozy mystery, cookbooks, and writings from the past!

After the new release list, I'll include a few more recommendations!


Amor, Actually: A Holiday Romance Anthology
by Adriana Herrera, Alexis Daria, Diana Muñoz Stewart, Mia Sosa, Priscilla Oliveras, Sabrina Sol, Zoey Castile

This doesn't come out until December 7th, so I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but there are some authors I like on this list! 

Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season
by Sarah Kieffer

I am so excited for this cookbook! This is my first year having kids in my home and I have a long list of treats I want to make for and with them. The full-color illustrated step-by-step instructions really make this cookbook stellar, and I like the creativity in the recipes. I look at a lot of holiday cookbooks and could still find ideas to try in this one. The Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Challenge group in Instagram has been baking through this cookbook in Instagram for November and December so you can find a lot to look at there.

Christmas Past: An Anthology of Seasonal Stories from Nineteenth-Century America edited by Thomas Ruys Smith

This is for the scholars or those interested in historical readings from the era that Christmas really became popularized in English-speaking places, the Victorian era.

The Legend of the Christmas Witch
by Aubrey Plaza and Dan Murphy, read by Aubrey Plaza

Move over Kris Kringle, his sister has her own story to tell. I loved that this is Aubrey Plaza (aka The Office) and loved to have a witchy narrative for this season!

The Matzah Ball
by Jean Meltzer

A Jewish romance writer has always had Christmas as her secret obsession, and has made a comfortable life based on the sales of her Christmas romance novels. But times are changing and her publisher wants something "more Jewish." It's SO meta in that the actual author is struggling through a lot of cultural assumptions while also making it work, and I thought it was cute, and all well intentioned. Please see aforementioned disclaimer that I now Hanukkah is not the same as Christmas.

Mistletoe Christmas
by Eloisa James, Christi Caldwell, Janna MacGregror, and Erica Ridley

These four interlocking stories all take place during the same holiday revelry, in 1815, at the Duke of Greystone's palatial home. I got a little confused because I Googled him in case he was a character in one of these four romance writers' worlds but it's Tarzan? Bizarre.

One woman has been told she's unattractive her whole life and has accepted it (but maybe her father just wanted to control her?); one woman got tired of waiting for a fiance and ended an engagement, only to reconnect during the revelry; one woman rediscovers her husband of one year; one woman is 23 and destined to be an old maid forever.

Maybe it's the time period and I'm not used to it; maybe these characters have more fleshed out stories in other books, but for me, it's not enough for a man to want to kiss me for me to believe anything! These women jump to love/belief so quickly it's amazing it's not four stories of betrayal and cons. (I suppose we especially want to believe under the mistletoe...) 

Murder Most Festive: A Cozy Christmas Mystery
by Ada Moncrieff 

If you combined my two favorite British shows - Downton Abbey and Grantchester (until James Norton left) - you would have this rompy novel about a murder at a grand house. It is set later than those shows but still had those feelings, so I'd recommend it. And it looks like there may be previous books by this author with similar tone. 

The Naughty List
by Ellie Mae MacGregor

I keep referring to this book as "The Santa Smut" in my head and can never find it when I search for it because of this. If you've ever wanted a sexy Santa, this is the novella for you. Only in Kindle. And technically it isn't a new release but I read it this year and only discovered the author this year.

The Santa Suit
by Mary Kay Andrews

This is a traditional romance with the storyline trope of a woman, freshly single, moving to a small (NC) town to restart her life. And as with most small town romances, there are quirky townspeople, blue-collar love interests, and a bit of holiday magic.

That's my shortlist. I read a few more romance and/or contemporary/women's fiction novels but can't really recommend them so I'll leave it here.

A few recommendations from previous years:

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
I only ever read this because of a mystery postal book swap, but it's very cute and takes place over the 24 hours of Christmas Eve to Christmas.

American Christmas and Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera - full disclosure I haven't read either of these but I've read other novellas by this author and love her characters!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Can't think of a better classic.

Dash and Lily series
The books and the tv series are super feel-good, YA but family-friendly, about two friends in a light romance involving bookishness and a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Home Made Christmas by Yvette van Boven
I made so many great dishes from this cookbook in 2018 and 2019!

If the Fates Allow by various
I found this collection of short stories, all very sweet and happy and featuring LGBTQ+ characters, in Hoopla. My favorites included a woman volunteering at an animal shelter and one featuring a matchmaker librarian!