Girl, Wash Your Face: Book Review

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

This book, Girl, Wash Your Face, brought me to tears so many times.

I have been absent from this blog for a bit. The reason for that is I felt burnt out and discouraged when I didn’t get the feedback I wanted from my past blog posts. I had also taken a step back from writing my novel (draft two) for the same reasons. I recognize that that is not productive or conducive to establishing a career as a writer. If I want to pursue that path I need to push through.

Rachel Hollis was an integral part of that motivation during this period.

Writing From the Heart

Hollis writes her truth and is unashamed of doing so. I love that. Sure, I could not relate to everything she spoke about or the way she approached certain topics but she openly acknowledged that her truth may not resonate with everyone. She offered her stories anyway, knowing she might experience pushback or complaints of alienation. This book is not about prioritizing her beliefs above others but offering her perspective so others experiencing similar things can take what they want and apply it to their own lives.

Hits Close to Home

Hollis delivers several instances of advice that hit so close to home to what I was (and am) struggling with. There are other personal things she hit on that I struggle with but the most impactful impressions were those relating to my professional goals. As a working mother, I felt like the advice she gave meant so much more. Had anyone else delivered these specific messages, I may have ignored it, scoffed even. How could someone who didn’t understand the pressures of my life tell me how to accomplish anything in my limited free time?

Hollis shares so many experiences with me as a working mother. She struggles with guilt for choosing to spend any time away from her children, she’s a small-town girl who grew up in a conservative environment. She’s a wife. I could connect with her and believe that the advice she gave was meant in earnest. Not only that but if she could accomplish all she has maybe I can do it too.

Permission

The biggest takeaway from Hollis’ book was the idea of giving myself permission to pursue my dream. Permission to fail, to rise, to face criticism and keep going anyway. Trying to do anything big, working towards a goal, these are scary and uncomfortable things. Its always going to be easier to not pursue them. But you are giving up the potential for so much happiness and fulfillment. Hollis demonstrated how that bravery paid off in her life. She gives me hope. I feel this atmosphere of support in her narration and in the community she has created online.

Boss Babe

Rachel Hollis runs The Chic Site, a lifestyle type website where she shares recipes, fashion inspiration, travel blogs, and general advice for women. The site combines her experience as a mother, wife, and Boss so make sure to check that out and get to know this fantastic author.

5/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia: Book Review and Hillbilly Elegy Comparison

Hillbilly Elegy

A Court of Wings and Ruin

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia: Book Review and Hillbilly Elegy Comparison

Publisher’s Summary

In 2016, headlines declared Appalachia ground zero for America’s “forgotten tribe” of white working class voters. Journalists flocked to the region to extract sympathetic profiles of families devastated by poverty, abandoned by establishment politics, and eager to consume cheap campaign promises. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a frank assessment of America’s recent fascination with the people and problems of the region. The book analyzes trends in contemporary writing on Appalachia, presents a brief history of Appalachia with an eye toward unpacking Appalachian stereotypes, and provides examples of writing, art, and policy created by Appalachians as opposed to for Appalachians. The book offers a must-needed insider’s perspective on the region.

The Review

Elizabeth Catte is an East Tennessee native, with a Ph.D. in public history, which she received from Middle Tennessee State University, and co-owns a historical consulting company. Not only is she professionally qualified to write about the state of the Appalachian region today in relation to the history that fed our current issues, but she is a native and is intimate with the struggles of the residents in the poor, coal region of the Appalachians.

This book was short, a quick read, and that is really my only criticism and the reason this book is 4 stars instead of 5. I would have loved a longer book so she could go into greater detail on some of the topics she discusses. However, I understand the need to publish her book quickly on the tail of Hillbilly Elegy so that she could capitalize on its success and the conversation it ignited. It is incredibly difficult to get the mainstream media and average American to care about subjects such as this or be receptive to correcting inaccurate and painful stereotypes that Vance invoked in his disturbingly bestselling memoir.

As a historian and history consultant, Catte knows her history of the region and is a credible source for relaying that information to her readers. She takes the responsibility, where Vance negligently fell short, of setting the stage of Appalachia as it was developed through the years, the industries that took from the region, the evolution of local workers’ rights and struggles through this time, and most importantly, the assertion that Appalachia (as an immense region) is not wholly Scots-Irish or white.

She accurately describes the diversity of the region, its alignment with modern issues, and shuts down the notion of Other that so many paint Appalachians, that they genetically differ from the rest of the nation. We don’t. To paint us that way, Catte explains, is to promote eugenics (“the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).”-From Dictionary.com). The idea of preventing the breeding of Appalachians through sterilization was promoted by prominent spokespeople from the area and beyond during the 1960s-70s. Eugenics was a favored idea of Nazis, FYI.

4/5 Stars

Hillbilly Elegy Versus What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

Catte’s book is obviously a direct and scathing rebuttal to J. D. Vance’s Hillybilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (my review of his book is linked). That is critical in understanding her position while writing this book. I felt similarly enraged and misrepresented after reading Vance’s “memoir” and felt somebody local to the region needed to step up and refute his claims. A better person could not have stepped up to the plate. I will thank God every day for women like Elizabeth Catte and her little (enormously important) book.

The historical perspective she frames in this book is so important to the discussion of Appalachia, coal mining, employment in the areas coal mining has left economically destroyed and/or stagnant, and the greater discussion of white insecurity in America at the moment. So often you hear the cliched phrase, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Nowhere is that phrase more chilling and pertinent than this book where Catte exposes the similarities in moments in our local history that do seem to repeat themselves and will continue to do so while these images and beliefs about Appalachians exist.

Catte explores the role of activism in Appalachia, the tactics corporations and politicians used to undermine those activists and their message. She is also honest about race in the region, the history of racism white Appalachians participated in, where Vance tried to absolve us of any blame which is grossly historically inaccurate. She relates several documented instances which inform her position on this. But Catte does absolve the region of its accused blinding whiteness. People of color do occupy Appalachia, share the history of the region, and the struggles of their profession in the coal mines, on the railroad, etc. Diversity exists here where outsiders insist it does not and they subsequently try to erase the ownership of the region of people of color, the lives they’ve built, and the inroads for the progress they’ve made.

Vance excludes people of color from his memoir when discussing Appalachians and his beloved “hillbillies.” He repeatedly refers to the Scots-Irish ancestry of the region and how Appalachians have retained that genetic heritage more than any other community in the nation. Catte astutely accuses him of racist generalizations by erasing people of color from the region and culture, not to mention the settlement of French, German, English, Swedish, Scandinavian, Dutch, etc., and his tendency to favor the eugenics theory, that the shortcomings of Appalchians are a result of shared, flawed genetics. His book, when viewed through this lens, should scare the shit out of us. Because we are not genetically different from the rest of the nation though the notion is so widely shared by outsiders. Because sterilization has been considered to limit our population. Because corporate interest is such a powerful force with our government at all levels.

Catte goes further in her accusations against Vance’s theories on the area by charting his preference for sources favored by white supremacist and nationalist individuals. The eugenics theory and practice, “brain drain,” the proud Scots-Irish genealogy should all be viewed as red flags of his priorities, especially as there is no doubt he will run for a political office in the next five years.

K.O.!

Overall, her authority shines through and makes Vance’s novel and theories pale in comparison. His lack of research, lack of insight into the sociopolitical structure of the Eastern Kentucky area he references repeatedly, and insistence on their (consequently his) genetic purity really expose him for what he is, a politically ambitious, pseudo-intellectual with white supremacist tendencies. Even more stark after reading Catte’s response is the insincerity of Vance’s assertions that writing his memoir did not mean he intended to be a spokesperson for the poor, white working class. Yet he continues to tour and speak on the topic, he published a book on the subject knowing very, very little of the truth behind the struggles in the region. It is glaringly obvious when read in conjunction with Catte’s rebuttal that he intended to capitalize on national insecurities using Appalachians to justify white insecurity and nationalist trends.

In short, read What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, not Hillbilly Elegy.

Hillbilly Elegy: Book Review

Hillbilly Elegy Book Review Book Cover

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

In the introduction to Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, he admits he finds the existence of this book “absurd.” After reading it, I have to agree with him. This review will read a little bit like a rant.

A Little Context

Jackson, Kentucky is the seat of Breathitt County, a small town in a big county nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Built on the banks of the North Fork Kentucky River, Jackson was once a bustling timber and coal town. The decline of the coal industry meant coal jobs vacated Jackson in the 70’s/80’s. Fairly recently, however, the coal temple located off Hwy 30 W outside Jackson city limits has opened back up, igniting a spark of memory and hope in the locals.

The town of Jackson and the communities in the surrounding county don’t have a lot of things to make us hope these days. Our children continue to be our biggest source of inspiration. We transfer our broken dreams onto their small shoulders, put all our resources into their education, their abilities, and hope they will achieve the dreams we never had the opportunities to achieve. It’s why, in the currently raging debate on statewide K-12 education in Kentucky, we so staunchly defend teachers and are willing to take on the burden of higher taxes to provide a well-funded pension system for them. Though our legislators seem to be struggling with the logistics of actually fixing said pension system using any method. Lawyers have a way of muddying these things.

Take Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Yale Law School graduate. California resident. Marine vet. Self-described hillbilly. But not really.

There Are No Hillbillies Here

I cannot find fault in all of Vance’s book or his experiences as he escapes from a difficult domestic situation. That is an understatement. He had a Hell of a childhood and his teen years seemed to have been worse. I sympathize. He had a difficult life growing up with an unstable mother and rotating cast of fathers. As he mentions (repeatedly), he was able to overcome those difficulties and achieve a happy, successful (to date) life.

But this book is not about hillbillies. This book is not about Appalachia. This book is not about Jackson, Kentucky however often he invokes our name, invokes hurtful stereotypes that weren’t true even in the 40’s when his grandparents out-migrated for work in Ohio at the tender ages of 17 and 14.

The Jackson, Kentucky he describes is not the Jackson, Kentucky I was raised in and now raise my daughter in. The majority of the book, as a memoir of an individual growing up in Middletown, Ohio, joining the Marines, then going to Ohio State and Yale Law, has nothing substantial to do with Jackson, Kentucky, Appalachia, or “hillbillies.” He has a habit through the book of imposing the bad habits and poor choices of his family members on their status as transplanted hillbillies.

Hurtful Stereotypes

Let’s be clear, his Mamaw is mentally ill. She did a heroic thing, taking her grandchildren in like that but her actions are clearly unhinged. Her birthplace has nothing to do with her described behavior and mannerisms. I lived with my Jackson, Kentucky grandparents nearly my entire life and they behaved nothing like this. Growing up in Jackson, Kentucky, attending churches, funerals, going through the school system, meeting my friends’ families, marrying another Jackson, Kentucky resident, I have never noticed this behavior as the norm of us “hillbillies.”

I lived down a holler. That’s a road off the main highway. These hollers may be one lane, paved or gravel, and the people who live up them are usually related somewhere down the line. And if they’re not yet, they will be. Hollers are basically the driveway to Appalachian communes. There are wild residents like every other community, but the majority, especially Vance’s grandparents’ generation, behave like any other person in that age group. With a little more cooperation when it comes to feeding each other, tending family farms, and delivering errant cattle.

My grandparents were church-going people, I was pretty much raised in a pew. My Granny sang hymns and my Grandpa taught Sunday school. They dressed to the nines, stockings, slicked back hair, shaved face, and copious clouds of Avon cologne and perfume. They sparred verbally but the swearing and such is not the norm for that generation. I was raised to expect soap in my mouth for uttering a bad word. To be clear, fart was considered one such bad word.

An Epidemic

The drug problem in Southeastern Kentucky ranks among the most concerning in the nation. Admittedly we rank close to Middletown, Ohio. But I don’t think the reasons behind our shared problem resonate similarly. I do think the shared opioid addiction is the reason Vance evokes Jackson, Kentucky at all. And named his book what he did, though the title and the references to Kentucky are incredibly misleading and misrepresent his content.

Misrepresents Himself

I picked up this book expecting something entirely different and relevant to my culture. It had nothing to do with us, a wasted read. I don’t share Vance’s political ideas. I can’t relate to his experiences being raised in a middle-class family, even struggling with a drug-addicted parent. Growing up in a single wide trailer for much of my childhood, then a doublewide trailer into adolescence and young adulthood, I find it hard to think of him bereft living in a non-mobile home. Being able to buy a house (still in Jackson, KY) with my husband was a huge life achievement for me.

The whole book did read as a kind of appeal for “outsiders” to not judge white, working-class men for voting for Donald Trump. And I just don’t think they need any more help or understanding in that area.

There are several conflicting ideas in Vance’s book, for instance at the end when he puts out a call for action to Jackson, Kentucky to rise up and meet the needs of our at-risk children. But he had spent the beginning of the book exalting the culture for our emphasis on family. It just reflects his deep misunderstanding of the culture and the work being done to protect our kids here in Eastern Kentucky.

Its all well and good to draw attention to social problems afflicting our area (and nation) but Vance offers very few (half-assed) pathways to solutions. In fact, he admits there are no solutions and that we can only hope to save a few. But again, Jackson, Kentucky is not Vance’s home and he doesn’t have to help us. He doesn’t have to live with these problems. Vance escaped his Middletown problems. So, why write a book with emphasis on the problems these areas are facing at all?

Final Thoughts

After reading his book, I don’t understand his intentions, except to brag that he is successful. I don’t know if he thinks of himself as a hero to poor kids in Appalachia. I hope not, that would be incredibly sad.

As I said before, I sympathize with the struggles he did endure. But I think he greatly exaggerated his position as poor. Maybe its the “hillbilly” in me but I can’t consider him poor when his grandparents were willing to step up financially in cases where they did struggle with his mother’s mismanagement of her money.

Co-Opted Experience For Gain

I grew up poor, one of three kids to a single mother working part-time at the local Walmart (not a supercenter), living in a used, single wide trailer. My grandparents were also poor, legally blind, and unable to work beyond some small-scale farming that kept us in frozen vegetables through the winter. They owned a small plot of land inherited from my great-grandfather and their house was built by some charitable organization or another.

We had food stamps, Medicaid, CHIP, LIHEAP, and welfare. You name a government social program and it probably kept us fed, warm, housed, or alive. These same programs that Vance derides as a crutch for his drug-addicted, domestically challenged neighbors provided opportunities for me that allowed me to stay with my family, kept me and my siblings together and got us through.

Lack of Awareness

These programs evolved from the New Deal Era programs targeted at defeating poverty. Obviously, that hasn’t happened but I think its a little too nail on the head to blame stagnant/declining employment and wages on social welfare as an enabler for “freeloaders.” From my work with local oral histories, I have listened to countless stories from the time period that praised the New Deal for saving the region from total collapse and starvation.

Our Problems Are Bigger Than This Book

Places like Jackson, Kentucky have other much more complex problems keeping us in the hole. Our isolated location, difficult terrain, corrupt local politicians and their large land holdings they refuse to develop/charge high rent for, and crime rate (the name Bloody Breathitt was given to us for our tendency for violence not our WWI volunteer rate, FYI) are just a few of the issues that keep us from achieving the same economic growth as the rest of the nation.

I’m not even sure Vance addressed the employment problem in Jackson, Kentucky, the fact that 30% of our population has left in the last 20 or so years. I believe he was tenuously trying to connect the loss of factory jobs in Middletown to the loss of coal jobs in Kentucky but that isn’t really a fair comparison because we are not located in an area where other industries can easily supplant lost ones. Our roads are woefully out of date, among other infrastructure concerns, and many of our cities are one bad year away from insolvency.

There is a difference in individual poverty and institutional poverty.

Frustrating

I am just a little riled that Vance tried to use my culture, my home, and my people as a way to justify his political ideologies.

I did not enjoy this book, found it to be confusing and uninteresting. His title and summary were unrelated to the actual content of the book. The author posits himself as something poor kids should emulate but he doesn’t seem to understand that kids in poverty lack the resources he had available to him, regardless of his mother’s addiction.

2/5 Stars

More Book Reviews

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Heartless

The Fiery Cross

A Court of Wings and Ruin: Book Review

A Court of Wings and Ruin Book Cover and Link to Amazon Affiliate PageA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

I don’t know where to begin with this review. Sarah J. Maas is everything I aspire to be as a writer. I fell in love with this series when the first book was released in 2015. A Court of Wings and Ruin is an excellent culmination of all the emotions and switchbacks this series has thrust upon me. Not to say the 3rd book wraps up all the storylines neatly, it does not (hence Book #4 or 3.1 according to Goodreads, A Court of Frost and Starlight which I hope will address the fates of a few more of our beloved characters).

Also, the film rights to this book series have been purchased so look for this already incredibly popular series to explode on the mainstream very soon.

A Court of Wings and Ruin Review (And Much Spoiling)

I read Book #2, A Court of Mist and Fury when it was first released in 2016, so there were a couple of years between the last time I entered the Court of Thorns and Roses world. A Court of Wings and Ruin picks up where A Court of Mist and Fury ended. Feyre is spirited back to the Spring Court. Tamlin believes she has been bewitched by Rhysand, that she still loves him, and that he can heal what he considers to be broken within her.

However, unbeknownst to him, Feyre is tricking him and his Court. She bides her time, hides her power, waiting to unleash her revenge for ripping her away from what we know to be her mate. And for betraying her sisters to Hybern.

Feyre revenge is succinct and timely, but Lucien becomes entangled just as she unleashes it. Forced to take him along, they flee through the courts, their magic dampened by faebane. They sneak through Lucien’s own home, the Autumn Court and by his murderous family. They must travel on foot until they can reach a place where their magic is restored enough to winnow home.

This part is full of harrowing near misses, including their discovery by Lucien’s older brothers including Eris, who we know to be the Morrigan’s former betrothed.

After a battle on the ice in the Winter Court, Cassian and Azriel swoop in to save the day as per their usual. Feyre’s power as High Lady and her status as a Made creation of the High Lords in which she absorbed their gifts is revealed.

Home At Last

Feyre and Rhys’ reunion is as satisfying as we all hoped it would be, full of lovemaking and tenderness. This part reaffirms their mating bond. They belong together, and this scene leaves no doubt. Especially in such stark contrast to the violence Feyre experiences at Tamlin’s court from the disgruntled High Lord of Spring.

Her reunion with her friends is as satisfying. We are reintroduced to Mor and Amren, and the group’s dynamic is as entertaining as always. New to the Court of Dreams brood are newly Made Nesta and Elain, and the journey roughened Lucien who Cassian and Azriel also rescued.

Though Nesta’s spirit remains unwaveringly defiant, Elain suffers as a Fae. Though her bond with Lucien was revealed in ACOMAF, she still loves her human fiance. The book’s treatment of Elain is the only thing that borders on slightly tedious. The author does give us a few thrilling moments with this character that makes the set up worth the wait.

A Sleeping Evil Awakened

The majority of the book focuses on their plans to stop Hybern from destroying the wall that divides Fae from humans. The High Lords make another appearance after the Summer Court is attacked by Hybern’s forces, his intent towards their destruction becoming evident.

Unfortunately, that means convening the High Lords of Autumn and Spring as well. Beron, Lucien’s sociopathic father, and Tamlin are the most reluctant High Lords to join an alliance against Hybern. Beron, out of self-interest and spite. Tamlin, for more obvious reasons. His armies are still unrecovered from Feyre’s sabotage.

The alliance discussions go as well as you’d expect from so many strong personalities. Throughout we glimpse more of Nesta’s power. She is connected to the Cauldron, having taken some of its power when she was Made. During the discussions, the Wall is destroyed by Hybern, and the alliance is tenuously agreed upon by the majority of the High Lords. Tamlin is non-responsive. Unbeknownst to Beron, Eris has made a deal with Rhys, Feyre, and Keir of the Court of Nightmares to ensure Beron’s compliance in exchange for their assistance in overthrowing his father to take his throne.

We are also handed some delightful sexual tension between Cassian and Nesta, who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge his interest for most of the book. Of course, that makes me ship them even harder.

At this point, Lucien has departed for the continent in an attempt to find the human queen, Vassa, who is cursed but commands a large army to try to gain her support in the war. Elain still mourns the loss of her fiance and the life she envisioned with him as humans.

The Wars Waged

A Court of Wings and Ruin continues with Rhys, Feyre, Cassian, Azriel, Mor, and Amren trying to find a way to defeat Hybern. In addition to pledging the support of the other HIgh Lords and their armies, they want to use Nesta’s power to wield the Cauldron against Hybern.

Nesta’s training and lessons from Amren on the Cauldron are tedious and not promising as Hybern continually moves forward, attacking and confusing the High Lords’ forces. The battles are bloody and detailed. Maas, who I am assuming has never been on a battlefield, describes them very well. What she captures even better is the fear in Feyre as she awaits the end, feeling for Rhys to make sure he is alive. As a military spouse, I appreciated that particular recognition of potential loss with each battle.

The final battle begins in the human realm at the coast. Hybern’s forces are enormous, and the High Lords are outnumbered. Even with Feyre and Rhys’ recruitment of the Others, the Weaver, the Bone Carver, and Bryaxis, they lose ground. Hybern pushes into them, and for a very long time, they seem poised to lose it all.

That Ending Though

At the final (nearly) moment, the fabled Drakon and Miryam arrive with their army of Seraphim. Also in tow, Queen Vassa’s human army. Elain’s former fiance, Beron, and Tamlin arrived with their armies earlier to aid the Court of Dreams. Even then they seem outmatched.

As I mentioned before, Elain’s general damsel-in-distress act was wearing a little thin, but she more than makes up for that in the end. Hybern locates Nesta who tries to use the Cauldron’s power as a distraction to draw him away. It works, a little too well.

While Feyre and Amren try to disable Hybern’s hold on the Cauldron’s power, Nesta battles the man himself. But Hybern has their father, the human who led an armada of others, to fight against him. She has little control and quickly loses ground, especially when Hybern breaks their father’s neck, killing him instantly. She finally throws herself atop Cassian in the last resort to either save them both or die together (again, shipping so hard).

At the moment before their death Elain comes alive and strikes the first, debilitating blow against King Hybern, taking him down. Nesta finishes the job, delivering the killing strike that she promised him after being Made.

That still isn’t the end though.

*Deep breath*

RHYS IS DEAD?!

Feyre, our main heroine, is the one who has to end this story. Amren had tricked her into grasping the Cauldron alone. She wants her to release her from the Fae body to which she had been bound. In order to save everyone. Feyre does and Amren makes a neat job of wiping Hybern’s now autonomous forces off the battlefield.

The act of releasing her destroys the Cauldron, splitting it into three pieces and leaving its power uncontained. The Cauldron is poised to consume the world they’d just saved.

Rhys arrives and together, they use their power to remake the Cauldron. But Rhys, already drained from fighting, dies from the effort.

So, at this point, I am sobbing. Feyre is sobbing. I am thinking of how cruel Maas is to make us fall in love with Rhys so much, to reunite Feyre with him only to rip him away. But lucky for us, especially me, this author seems to be a sucker for happy endings.

In the same way Feyre was revived and Made, the High Lords give a piece of their power to bring Rhys back. Tamlin is the final one, in his act of redemption. I can, almost, forgive him for everything to this point. Rhys stutters back to life, dragging Amren back with him. Though she is now pure Fae with no Other, she is still the same salty Amren we know and love.

Final Thoughts

I love this series and the world Maas created. My hope is that she returns to it beyond A Court of Frost and Starlight. I would like to read a prequel about Juriel, Drakon, and Miryam’s origins.

The writing was on point as always, though I’ve seen other reviews that criticized the writing as rushed and in need of further editing. I did not notice that. The book was polished, well-structured, and the characters felt genuine to previous books. I felt like this was an excellent ending to the main storyline, to Hybern’s reign of terror, Feyre’s rift with her siblings and father. The whole love triangle that was actually a love line with a dot outside was wrapped up nicely as well. Tamlin found some redemption and Feyre was able to release any guilt she may have had about leaving him for Rhysand.

5/5 Stars

Check out my other book reviews!

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

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Heartless: Book Review

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I need to preface this book review by admitting that I am an OG Marissa Meyer fan, meaning I have been reading her stuff since she was a writer on www.fanfiction.net, writing Sailor Moon fanfiction. I absolutely adore her and watching her achieve her dreams has been an absolute joy as a fan. She deserves every good thing to happen to her, and I will most likely never dislike anything she writes. I think this stems more from how insanely talented she is as a writer and a storyteller rather than any kind of bias or sense of nostalgia. She has been a standout writer since the beginning, and her success was inevitable in my eyes.

Anyway, back to the review.

This. Book. Broke. Me.

Oh man, I knew that an origin story of the infamous “Off with his head!” Red Queen would not end all roses and…well, there are roses, but I knew it wouldn’t end happily in conventional terms. But Marissa turned this story on its head and took complete ownership of the characters she borrowed from Lewis Carroll. Really, she did him an excellent service by humanizing this character and added so much depth to the universe of Wonderland.

This book is beautifully crafted. It starts out with a light-hearted, dreaming version of the Red Queen named Lady Catherine Pinkerton, daughter of the Marques of Rock Turtle Cove. All she wants to do with her life is bake. When we meet her, she is covered in flour, working tirelessly over a lemon tart around which her entire universe seems to center.

The character development of the Red Queen is just so masterfully done in my opinion. The description above of Catherine when we first meet her is so far removed from the image we came to the story with, the red-faced, buxom, mad Queen. But of course, we have to link that soft, version of the Queen with what she must inevitably become and that is quite a journey for a character to embark on. To transform one version of this character to the other, the author could have dived into some severe melodrama territory, but the change was gradual, logical, and heartbreaking. I never felt like she changed the character in an unbelievable way.

And Jest. Can we all just take a moment to mourn one of the most beautiful men in YA lit?

Okay, I will never get over his death, but I can fully sympathize with Catherine’s transformation after her extraordinarily tumultuous and star-crossed relationship with the Court Joker.

Also, I want to insert here that we NEED a prequel featuring Jest and Hatta and their lives in Chess. Please, Marissa?!

Jest was such a profound character, and I really appreciate the slow reveal of his personality and motives, so I felt like I was falling in love with him right along with Catherine, further aligning my sympathies with her in the end.

Should you read Alice in Wonderland before reading this book?

My advice is that you don’t have to have read the book Marissa based her story and characters on. She did an excellent job of creating this stand-alone novel that readers can appreciate all on its own. But really if you have any or no foreknowledge of the Red Queen from any of the Disney movies (animated or Tim Burton), etc. you can read and enjoy this book.

She succeeded in making me view the Red Queen in a whole new light.

4/5 Stars

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The Fiery Cross: Book Review

I have been listening to the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon on Audible for nearly a year now. I began listening to the audiobooks when I started my new job to fill my long commute time. The audiobooks are long, 30-50+ hours each and the books are enormous. Each one, at least so far, is narrated by Davina Porter, who won an award for her reading of Outlander Book 6: A Breath of Snow and Ashes and has many audiobooks readings under her belt. She is a pro.

I enjoyed the first two books in the Outlander series immensely, and I have held the belief, which gets stronger with each subsequent novel after Book 3, that Diana Gabaldon probably should have ended the story of Jamie and Claire at the end of Book 2. But I am a sucker for a happy ending, and I feel like the longer we go, the higher the chance of a final tragic end for the lovers. However, this is an older series, the first book was published in 1991 which makes it 27 years old and there are eight books in the series to this point with a ninth one in progress, so I am a little behind. But I was born a year before the first book came out so I can be excused for at least the first thirteen or so years of the existence of the series, probably longer as the content is mature.

Regardless of this belief, I have committed myself to this series. Listening to the story of Jamie and Claire and their family nearly every day for a year has fully invested me in their stories, however, they eventually end.

I will say that I felt a personal connection to Claire and Jamie’s story because my husband was deployed when I first listened to this series and when they are separated before the Battle of Culloden, I felt Claire and Jamie’s pain very acutely. I think that connection also keeps me reading the series even though the height of Jamie and Claire’s romantic drama seems to have ended.

That is my segue into the actual review of Outlander Book 5: The Fiery Cross. I adore Jamie and Claire and their dynamic in this book. They are still in love, but they are finally able to be comfortable in their love and settle into a capital “R” Relationship. There are many real-life benefits to settling into this stage as a couple but far less drama which makes for less compelling reading. Ms. Gabaldon introduced Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna’s relationship and all the excitement that comes with young love. Not that I don’t like Brianna or Roger Wakefield (Mackenzie)’s characters, but I started the series for the Jamie/Claire action and inevitably as they age that is winding down. They are sweet, but their love story is no longer front and center plot-wise.

To compensate for the lapse in romance, the author introduces mystery, action, and paranormal activity. And other romantic storylines but frankly since Brianna gave birth to Jemmy, her and Roger’s love story is not super impressive either. We all love the drama and excitement of new love, I guess, even as voyeurs. The mystery/action/paranormal activity has kept me on the edge of my seat, hands gripping my steering wheel many times through this book, notably the hanging and near death of Roger. I swore that if she killed Roger off, I was done with the series I was so into this scene. It was so dramatic, the author pushed me as a reader as far as I could go into hopelessness, Roger was definitely dead, I saw the corpse hanging from the tree, she pushed then pulled me bodily back from the precipice. It was terrifying to see what power she had over me as a reader.

There is no doubt she has a mastery of writing. And her settings and historical details seem to be spot on. I haven’t heard anything that pulled me out of the story and made me think that wasn’t possible for that character in that time. She has spent thousands of pages building her world, so I was already well established in the setting before starting The Fiery Cross which is the benefit of series, you can really dig deep into worldbuilding which is fun as a writer without sacrificing story and character development.

I guess my overall impression is that I love these characters she has created, and I am invested in their destinies, but for the sake of plot quality, I think this story, and its intentions as it began, has peaked. Every book after Book 3 just feels like a completely different type of book, if that makes sense.

I would very much like to read a different story by this author.

3/5 Stars

How Have You Not Seen Black Panther Yet?

No, seriously, this review is super late to the party, like every other thing I do. Hubby and I watched this in theaters the Saturday after it released for a late Valentine’s Day date. We had to catch a “late” viewing (9:20 PM!!!) of it because most of the showings were SOLD OUT. But we were determined, though we hadn’t been out past 9 pm since I was pregnant and like, not super pregnant.
Here lie spoilers…
The movie opens with a neat CGI animated telling of the origin of Wakanda, for the Black Panther/Marvel newbs like me.
It wasn’t exactly the high point of the movie, the effects were okay, but nothing I haven’t seen before but the backstory was definitely necessary for me as I had never read a Black Panther comic. The rest of the movie, though, had me hook, line, and sunk!
I genuinely think every character in this movie, except Ulysses Klaue who is killed off before the movie’s climax and never reveals a backstory, is sympathetic and likable. There is a depth to them that I have not seen in a superhero movie ever. Even in Wonder Woman which I also loved. I think the idea of a utopic society like Wakanda where gender equality appears to have progressed further than the rest of the world allows for a really excellent relationship dynamic, where the characters can build off of each other rather than eclipse the others.
Brief movie synopsis: Of course, the story follows the Prince turned King of the utopian Wakanda, an African country rich in the fictional vibranium hidden away from the rest of the world and as a result incredibly progressive and technologically advanced, named T’Challa, the Black Panther. T’Challa returns home after his father is killed in an attack and assumes the throne after a challenge ritual to determine the next ruler of Wakanda. He learns that an artifact containing vibranium has been stolen and concerned about Wakanda being discovered leads him to investigate the whereabouts of the artifact. During this investigation, he comes face to face with his uncle’s American son, Erik Killmonger, a radicalized military veteran with a chip on his shoulder the size of Wakanda. He battles T’Challa for the throne after revealing his heritage and wins. T’Challa is believed to be dead but washes up on shore downstream from the capital. He regains his strength and powers from a magical flower saved from destruction by Nakia, his love interest, and heroine in her own right. He returns to his home for the final battle with Killmonger who also has Black Panther powers and the Wakandans battle each other simultaneously, divided by duty and loyalty. Killmonger is defeated in the end in an incredibly gut-wrenching and vindicating scene.
Remember, this is a superhero Disney/Marvel movie. It will not win an Oscar for Best Film for anything but it is truly an enjoyable movie especially for watching with kids. But this movie does not shirk from the race debate. Killmonger is driven to insanity by the oppression of black people, not only throughout time but in the present, and wants to create a world where the power balance is flipped.
There is also the rather obvious inclusion of only two white actors in a time where the debate on minority actors in significant movie/TV roles is really starting to have an impact. Black Panther does not belong to white people, his story is thoroughly rooted in being black. And that is okay. In the same way that other races can enjoy movies based on the history of white regions like medieval Ireland or Scandinavia, white people can enjoy Black Panther. And hopefully, walk away feeling a little more sympathetic to the argument of representation in the media. It is definitely strange to go into a movie and not really see yourself in it. Unnerving because it so very rarely, if ever, happens in mainstream entertainment.
And now a LotR joke:
 

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Meme surfaced on Facebook shortly after the premiere. If you know the source drop it in the comments and drive traffic their way!

Now that the armored rhino in the room is out of the way, I can talk about how badass Okoye is! Seriously, I want Wakanda Forever tattooed somewhere on my body. She is confident, she is strong, she is opinionated. She is everything I want my daughter to be. And she is every Alpha Male’s worst nightmare which is just awesome.
There was also this great complexity to her character, her tenderness to her lover and the rhinos he is raising (which in the end contributes a significant role to their triumphing against the King’s men), and her hatred of her duty when she refused to betray the throne that Killmonger had just overthrown. The character’s internal conflict was so expertly done by Danai Gurira I wanted to applaud.
The whole cast was perfect. Shuri, played by Letitia Wright and another favorite, made girls in STEM look super cool and I genuinely hope lots of little girls see themselves in her and embrace their inner nerds. Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger was hands down the strongest actor in the movie and really should win an Oscar for his portrayal but again, superhero movie, probably not going to rake in many awards.
Overall, we laughed, we learned, and we had a really great night at the movies. Isn’t that kind of the whole point?
Let me know if you enjoyed Black Panther as much as I did in the comments below!
Wakanda Forever!
UPDATED:
Check out these Black Panther centered discussions much more substantial than mine.
Dreams of Wakanda
What the Dora Milaje Means to Black Women
Why ‘Black Panther’ is a Defining Moment for Black America

I Bought It In A Drugstore: Beauty Product Review

Living in a rural town, easy access to high-end makeup is just not a thing. The nearest Sephora is over 100 miles away. Online shopping has saved my life more than once when I have run out of Kat Von D’s Tattoo Foundation (in 45, if interested) which is my all-time favorite foundation.
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But what about when I need something immediately because I ran out and didn’t plan ahead? What if, as a working mama, or let’s face it, a mama period, we just don’t have time to go to a beauty store where the prices necessitate making an informed purchase? What if you just want a product you can practice with or want to try a product you have never used before?
For me, all of the above applies. I have never used highlighter though. I have a contour kit, but really that is the most complex I get with my makeup. I have seen highlighter all over Instagram lately though, and the shimmery glow has me hooked. At the same time, I don’t know when I will be able to get to a beauty supply store, and I have never used it so don’t know how to use it or what colors flatter me. So I thought I would pick up a palette from my local drugstore. I browsed the various sections for colors that I’d like and finally settled on this palette from Revlon called Galaxy Dream, a holographic highlighting palette numbered 003 if that means anything to anyone.

These colors make me think of a futuristic, sci-fi fantasy, perfect for my nerdy soul. (Hubby dropped it in the checkout aisle, so the powder got a little loosened before opening…men.)

Tried to demo on the arm like others on Instagram but phone camera is meh.

I applied my makeup regularly and saved highlighter for the last step which is what I think you are supposed to do. I obviously didn’t look up any tutorials before applying.
Face without highlighter.
Face without highlighter.

I applied the bottom right color to the top of my cheekbone. I then applied the top left shade slightly above that and below my brow bones. I did not use all the colors on the first application.
I really like the subtle sheen of the palette, and the colors are neutral enough for a makeup newbie like me to not feel overdone or flamboyant when out in public. The powder felt smooth to the touch and glided on. I also appreciated the mirror built into the palette since my daughter recently shattered my makeup mirror. It is large for a hand mirror and square.
Face with highlighter.
Face with highlighter.

Overall I am pleased with the purchase and will probably use it nearly every day. It doesn’t feel heavy and the colors are light and the shimmer is just flashy enough to give me a nice soft glow.

I Tried A DNA Testing Kit: Here’s What I Learned

I was one of many who took advantage of DNA ancestry kits going on sale over the holidays. I purchased Ancestry DNA through Amazon for about $60 in December. Per Amazon Prime shipping, I received the kit two days later.

Collecting Your Sample

Included inside was instructions for collecting the sample and sending it in with a box with prepaid postage to send the sample in. The sample is deposited in a tube filled with a stabilizing fluid. You fill the top of the container with your spit (you have to wait thirty minutes after eating or drinking anything which was surprisingly challenging) and then seal it and break the barrier to allow the stabilizing fluid to mix with your spit.
The kit had to be activated before sending on the Ancestry website as well.

Waiting

Once the kit was mailed, you could track the progress of your sample through the Ancestry.com website. From arrival to processing to complete, your spit’s journey is projected in a little progress bar.
I mailed in my sample around December 22nd and received an email that my sample had arrived at their labs on January 4th. The website stated that the waiting period from arrival to the beginning of processing could take anywhere from 6-8 weeks due to high demand, but I ended up receiving my results on January 30th. About three and a half weeks from arrival which was a much faster turn around time than I had anticipated.

The Results

The result was delivered in a linked email which leads to the Ancestry website and is found under the DNA tab.

Home

 

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DNA Matches and DNA Circle redacted to protect identities.

From the homepage, you will find access to you ethnicity breakdown with the majority ethnicities showing from the home widget. You will also find added features unique to Ancestry.com which matches you with suggested relatives who have completed their own DNA samples and DNA circles that have already been mapped to shared ancestors.
The DNA Matches for me have been accurate thus far as I was matched with at least two known relatives, for example, Ancestry was able to accurately discern a first cousin as a first cousin. Which is cool. I had minimal contact with my biological father and his family, so I am very interested in connecting with more people from his side.
Consequently, not knowing my father’s family (he was adopted) led me to take the test in the first place. My mother’s side has a pretty detailed genealogy completed by my grandfather and uncle, so I was confident in the information I had on their pedigree.

Ethnicity Region Breakdown

 

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Ancestry provides three cards for easy sharing on social media.

You can share your results on your social media or by email with these predesigned cards which gives you three different options for displaying your ethnic breakdown. I chose to share the middle card.
I am a very white, freckled, coppery haired girl, so the high confidence ethnicity regions did not surprise me. My brother had done some digging on my father’s relatives in the past and had traced our birth surname to a Scandinavian name so seeing that reflected in a high percentage was very interesting and reaffirmed the information he had uncovered. Sidenote: since discovering our Viking heritage my brother has grown a pretty impressive red beard.
The low confidence regions however really interested me. I think it reveals a pretty complicated history of my ancestors’ immigration. I know some history which can explain the more southern regions. There was a time in history when Germanic tribes (Visigoths and Goths) settled all over Europe including southern areas which may explain the percentage of my DNA from those areas (the Iberian Peninsula and Italy/Greece).
I was also surprised by the 1% European Jewish. This may come in through several branches of the family tree. Jewish people have experienced many periods of migration, facing frequent discrimination and expulsion from various regions. Ancestry provides a brief history of each ethnicity region and explains that the Jews who settling in Germany were called the Ashkenazi Jews and spoke Yiddish. This is likely where my percentage descended.
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Ancestry provides an interactive map where you can break down each ethnicity region, including the countries that comprise the region and an overview and link to more history of the region and the people who lived there.

Migrations

Besides showing the ethnicity regions that reflect in your DNA, Ancestry provides insight into significant migrations relative to your DNA results. I had a couple of substantial migratory periods in my ancestry, including the movement of the Scots-Irish to the Appalachia region and then the Appalachians into the Ohio/Indiana/Michigan region post-WWII.
 

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Many Scots-Irish settled in Appalachia during this period and, due to the isolated nature of the region, the community still retains many of the linguistic, religious, and familial tendencies of their ancestors. This is where I still live today.

Pros and Cons of Ancestry DNA

Pros

Ancestry.com is a trusted genealogy website. They are good at what they do and provide the appropriate tools to really get the most out of your results.
Many public libraries have subscriptions to Ancestry.com meaning you can access the advanced features for free! The community college library I work at has a subscription as well, and many other colleges in our area are trialing the site as well.
You can connect with living family members.
Cost is low compared to other DNA Testing Kits.

Cons

Ancestry.com costs money to access advanced features (searching vital records, connecting with completed family trees that you are matched with, etc.) if you don’t have access to a subscription already.
Other DNA testing kits such as 23andMe provide the option to test for genetic health risks and whether you are a carrier, though this is an upcharge. 23andMe also can check to see what percentage of Neanderthal DNA you have retained. Which is…something?

Is Ancestry DNA Worth the Cost?

This is very subjective. I feel like these DNA testing kits appeal to a particular population, those who have been adopted or whose immediate relatives were adopted or who have lost track of their genealogy. And care about their lineage. Coming from Appalachia, many people here are very preoccupied with their family trees. During elections, it is not uncommon for candidates to list their parents and even grandparents in their ads.
I am both interested in my family tree because of the regional preoccupation and because my father was adopted. For me, the test was more than worth the cost just for the ability to connect with living relatives and more efficiently build my family tree on my dad’s side. I also have access to the Ancestry subscription through my institution and can dig deeper than the DNA service allows for nonsubscribers.
If you don’t have any weird deviations in your family trees like adoption and your family has had access to well-kept birth, marriage, and death records this service is probably not for you. It won’t reveal anything you don’t already know. However, the kits which test genetic disorders might be a more cost-effective method for those wishing to conceive who also want to test to see if they are a carrier for any kind of genetic disease.
I am pleased with my results, and with the service, I have received thus far from Ancestry DNA and Ancestry.com.
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