“How You Grow Wings” by Rimma Onoseta – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Sisters Cheta and Zam couldn’t be more different. Cheta, sharp-tongued and stubborn, never shies away from conflict—either at school or at home, where her mother fires abuse at her. Timid Zam escapes most of her mother’s anger, skating under the radar and avoiding her sister whenever possible. In a turn of good fortune, Zam is invited to live with her aunt’s family in the lap of luxury. Jealous, Cheta also leaves home, but finds a harder existence that will drive her to terrible decisions. When the sisters are reunited, Zam alone will recognize just how far Cheta has fallen—and Cheta’s fate will rest in Zam’s hands.

Goodreads


We dive right into this book with Zam walking home from school – and in short order we meet her whole family, learn about the family dynamics, and learn about some of their local customs. Zam and Cheta live with their parents in a small town in modern day Nigeria.

As mentioned in the description at top, Zam gets out of her anger-filled home by moving in with her rich aunt and uncle. She gets this proposal because of how well she’s doing at school, and Cheta immediately resents that she was never offered this deal.

Their uncle is super rich (in the oil business), and life at his house takes some time to adjust to. There are two other teenage girls in the house – Kaira, Zam’s cousin, and Ginika, a family friend who often stays with them while her parents are traveling abroad. Kaira is initially standoffish, but Ginika is sociable. They both harbor anger at their mothers, and the girls all eventually bond over this common problem.

Cheta comes to visit for one week. She has recently graduated from high school, and comes with the idea that she will ingratiate herself to their aunt and get a job with her. It doesn’t work. She was already so set on leaving home, though, that she does it anyway, without a real plan.

After an incident leaves Zam’s aunt and uncle feeling shaken, they decide to move – with all three girls – to London. Kaira is finally able to start breaking down the wall that had grown up between her and her mom, before the girls leave for boarding school. Another family member who is helping them there also sheds some light on Zam and Cheta’s family, and how the two girls actually got along better when they were younger. Zam feels compelled to reach out, but gets no answer.

On a trip home for Christmas, Zam sees her family again, after months of being away. Cheta also rolls back into town from Benin, where she’s been keeping her distance. Their mother treats Cheta like she is basically disowned already, but Zam still wants to try to help her sister. There is one startling revelation near the end of the book, and Zam has to make a drastic decision. Finally, both girls head back out into their separate worlds.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the ending, but I will say that I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time!

This compelling Young Adult novel comes out today, August 9th. I was able to read an advanced copy through Netgalley, and the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers.


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“Wild is the Witch” by Rachel Griffin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When eighteen-year-old witch Iris Gray accidentally enacts a curse that could have dire consequences, she must team up with a boy who hates witches to make sure her magic isn’t unleashed on the world.

Goodreads


Iris and her mom are both witches. Iris’ best friend back home, Amy, was a witch, too. But she got into trouble, and the witch council took her magic away. Iris was present, but the council determined that she was not involved. Not everyone trusted her after that incident, though, and eventually she and her mom moved away to start over. Her dad did not come with them, which causes Iris to not want to get close to new people. She is especially guarded about being a witch. If even her own dad ended up not being able to handle it, why would other people?

Their new home is in the Pacific Northwest, where they run a wildlife refuge. It’s perfect for them, as their magic is one that focuses on animals. An old friend of her mom’s is also in the area, and runs a restaurant. They’ve established a good “home” there.

Pike Adler, a college student studying ornithology, is interning at the refuge. Not only is he cocky, but he mentions more than once that he hates witches. This makes Iris feel threatened. She doesn’t want her or her mom’s lives disrupted again, not when they seem to have found the perfect place. So she writes a curse for Pike. Now, she wasn’t really intending on cursing him – the plan was to write it out and not use it. Like some people write angry letters they don’t ever send. She means to bind the curse to a bundle of herbs, and burn it. No one gets hurt, right?

Except that an owl swoops down while she’s doing this ritual, and now the owl carries the curse. And then he flies away.

Obviously, Iris is panicking and wants to go after the owl. She knows how much trouble she could cause with the curse out there in the wild, and she’s already had to witness her best friend lose her sense of magic. Her mom, not knowing about the curse part, agrees to let Iris track the owl and try to bring him back… if she takes Pike along. He is a bird expert in training, after all.

This is a YA book, so of course some romance blossoms during their adventures. And in fact, the ending is a little too happy to be believable, in my opinion. (It’s fine, it’s what the audience probably wants, but it’s not super realistic. But then again, it’s a book about magic, so…) But I enjoyed the adventures they have trying to get to the owl, nonetheless. The book takes place in the spring, but I felt like summer was still a great time to be reading about nature, hiking, and camping (and s’mores).

This book comes out today, August 2nd. I was able to read ahead thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks, and NetGalley.


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“The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa See – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Set on the Korean island of Jeju, “The Island of Sea Women” follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the era of cellphones and wet suits for the women divers—Mi-ja and Young-sook develop the closest of bonds. Nevertheless, their differences are impossible to ignore: Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marking her, and Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers. After hundreds of dives and years of friendship, forces outside their control will push their relationship to the breaking point.

Goodreads


I knew absolutely nothing about the island of Jeju – or diving, really – going into this book. But, it seemed like solid historical fiction material – a friendship that survives decades, and all the things that happen during those decades.

We meet Young-sook in 2008, when she is already quite old. The “present day” chapters are fewer and shorter than the various flashback ones, though, and that’s where the real story starts to develop.

Young-sook and Mi-ja meet when they are still children, and Mi-ja is new to the village of Hado. Young-sook’s mother is the chief of her diving collective, but they also have some crops to care for on dry land. Mi-ja originally helps with some of this work, in exchange for some food. As they grow older, they also learn to dive together, and even travel to other countries to make more money.

We learn early on that the women in this village are the true heads of their households – at least, where “making a living” is concerned – and the husbands usually stay home and take care of babies. The roles of men and women are debated often, especially while the women are gossiping before or after a day of diving.

Early on, there are two diving accidents that change Young-sook’s life, and the makeup of their collective. Another young diver, only a few years older than her, has an accident that she never fully recovers from. While the girl lives, she is unable to speak again. Not long after, Young-sook loses her mother. This makes her the family’s primary breadwinner.

In their early twenties, Young-sook and Mi-ja enter into arranged marriages, and start having babies. This is where their lives start to diverge, as Mi-ja moves away to live with her husband’s family in the city.

While there is already a lot of personal drama this far into the story, the worst is yet to come.

Things first start to change on Jeju during the World War II years. They were already under the control of the Japanese, who most of them despised, but after the war they now have to contend with Americans. The division of North and South Korea also affects them, as does internal fighting between the government and rebels who want an independent election.

The story takes some brutal turns that I was not prepared for. The adage that came to my mind is “the personal is political,” as these women’s daily lives are definitely affected by the things going on in Korea and in the world at large. One very climactic event was based on real events that happened in 1948-1949. The government then made it basically illegal for people to talk about what happened for decades afterward! Even when the events were publicly acknowledged, and no longer a secret, many older folks – like those in the fictional Young-sook’s age range – still had trouble talking about it, because they had kept their secrets for so long. This aspect of the story was both fascinating and disturbing.

Near the end of the story, I started putting together one “twist,” if you will. The final chapter confirmed my theory, but also still held two more heartbreaking revelations.

Life on Jeju, especially back in the 1930s, was such a different world to me, that it did take me a few chapters to really get into this one. But I loved the strong female characters from early on, and was intrigued by their way of life. That way of life changed drastically over the decades, but the personal and political dramas within their lives became the bigger story.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, or want to learn more about cultures much different from American/modern culture, this one might be a good pick. But be forewarned that there are some brutal scenes.


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“Warda” by Warda Mohamed Abdullahi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Set in the rugged shrublands of rural Ethiopia, the contentious neighborhoods of South Africa, and the icy streets of Michigan, Warda is the story of a fierce young woman on a tireless quest to become the first member of her family to go to college.

-Goodreads


This book is so good! It’s not a long read, anyway, but the amazing tales within it makes it go fast.

Near the beginning, before we really get to know the main character, we learn about her family. Warda doesn’t even remember her mother, who died when she was just a baby. Because of financial woes and ethnic prejudices, her father was living away from Warda and her mom. But when baby Warda got sick, her mom was determined to take her back to where she was born to get medical help. While crossing the Red Sea, the boat they were in capsized. Her uncle was also aboard, and found Warda floating on a blanket. He also found her mom, but she was already deceased. Her father didn’t even know they were traveling.

And that’s only the beginning.

Her dad takes Warda to his father’s farm, where she is raised with many aunts, uncles, and cousins of all ages. She thinks of her grandpa as her father, and does not understand that he is not. She faces several dangers – often in the form of wild animals trying to attack their herd of sheep – but gets no formal schooling. When she is ten years old, her dad wants her to move to South Africa so she can start receiving an education. The trip there takes her a little over a year.

Of course, even after arriving there, Warda has a big challenge to her education: she speaks none of the languages that classes are held in in most of the schools around her.

After only a few years, her family has to move again. This time, they’re taking a big leap to come to the United States. When they land in Michigan, there is already snow on the ground – something Warda has zero experience with.

She also has another new language to learn. She wants to learn to drive. She needs to learn to navigate not only her American high school… but college applications, scholarship essays, SAT and ACT prep, and being away from others who share her culture and religion.

Thankfully, Warda is assigned a mentor who helps her immensely. With her mentor’s gift of keeping Warda organized, and her own passion for wanting to get to college, they come up with a plan to get Warda through high school in only a few years. To make up for lost time, she often has to take extra classes online and in the summer. She has to really push hard to get to her dream… which is to ultimately become a doctor.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I’d pick: triumphant. You’ll be hooked from the early scenes of Warda’s life, and you’ll want to cheer her on through so many more adventures and obstacles.

This book was independently published over a year ago, but the team at Books Forward is promoting it now to coincide with World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day is celebrated on June 20th, and you can learn more about it here.


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“Secrets of the Sprakkar” by Eliza Reid – Review

By: Angie Haddock


For the past twelve years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has ranked Iceland number one on its list of countries closing the gap in equality between men and women. What is it about Iceland that enables its society to make such meaningful progress in this ongoing battle, from electing the world’s first female president to passing legislation specifically designed to help even the playing field at work and at home?

Goodreads


This non-fiction does have a lot of stats in it, but it still manages to be quite fun. It was written by the current First Lady, who is originally from Canada. So, her personal perspectives include those of a mother, public figure, and immigrant… aside from being a woman herself, obviously.

But Reid doesn’t rely solely on her own experiences and some easy-to-dig-up statistics – she interviews dozens of women from around the island, famous and not, on a variety of topics. She also intersperses these larger chapters with smaller stories from Icleland’s history.

The bigger topics include: parenting, networking, Iceland’s views on sex, women in corporate roles, the media, working outdoors, the arts (and sports), immigrant and minority women, and politics.

As Reid points out in the final pages, everyone she interviews can easily fit into multiple categories.

Obviously, the gender equality concept here intrigued me. But I have to admit, what made this book actually fun to read was learning about Iceland! The terrain, customs, and culture seem very different than those of the US.

For example, would we even need a whole chapter on working outdoors? But, much of their economy comes from agriculture and fishing, so it’s an important distinction for them that women can do these jobs, too. (Especially on fishing boats that don’t have bathrooms, where one is expected to “go over the edge.”)

I loved that, in the chapter on politics, one of Reid’s interviewees was heading up a student council at a large university. I think we tend to think of those sorts of things as opportunities to learn, or stepping stones to a future job (perhaps in politics, or not)… but we don’t treat our young people like they’re equals, already doing important work. So, even who was chosen to be interviewed shows how different their outlook on these topics are from our own.

If you’re up for a book with quite a few stats, and really long names, this is an interesting read. I realize, though, that those things aren’t going to appeal to everyone.

I was able to read this book for free through the Sourcebooks Early Reads program.


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“Coyote Gratitude” by Julie Haberstick – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Nearly thirty and disconnected, Julie Haberstick was staring at an endless loop of traffic and toxic relationships. Heeding a quiet intuition, she left her fiancé, packed her life into her car, and — on October 1st, 2019 — just started driving.

Goodreads


Happy June! Now that the summer months are here (in the US, anyway), how about a quick road trip book?

Julie Haberstick’s journey started in California, with the rebellious act of getting all her hair cut off. She then travels east, through the Southern United States. She’s a poet at heart, and finds a few open mics, where she shares her poems out loud and meets other like-minded people. Along the way, she also picks up a ukulele.

This book is a travel journal – edited, of course. While some entries tell of her adventures, others are merely a picture or a poem.

Haberstick finds herself entranced be New Orleans, and the artsy people she meets there. She continues her journey by making her way up and down the East Coast. She has friends and family in various states here, and also some events to attend for said friends and family, so she goes back and forth some. We get to meet some members of her family, and even get a poem by her mom!

All the while, she keeps thinking back on New Orleans, though. Her original travels are supposed to take her to the end of 2019, but she tacks on another month in NOLA in January, 2020.

She decides to stay, and then the pandemic hits. This makes it hard to meet new people in her new city, but she’s already made a few good contacts. By the time October rolls around again, she’s contemplating whether or not she’s ready for commitment. But her original road trip started the previous October, and she wants to celebrate that. So she decides that her next big adventure will be a commitment, after all – and she adopts a puppy.

(For those wondering, like I was… Julie and her pup are still together, and still in New Orleans.)

I think we’ve all has those moments when we fantasize about dropping everything and starting over… right? Whether you’ve done it, or just thought about it, this short read may be your cup of tea.

I was given a copy of this book by the author, and the kind folks at the Books Forward program.


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“The Mad Girls of New York” by Maya Rodale – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.

Goodreads


While I was reading this one, several friends added it to their “to read” list on Goodreads – so, I think the world is hungry for more great historical fiction based on real life badass women. (I’ll call that the “Marie Benedict effect.”) How exciting!

Nellie Bly had worked as a reporter for a few years already, in Pittsburgh, but she eventually moved to New York City with hopes to work for one of the bigger papers. But just getting in the doors to get an interview proves hard for a woman, because women weren’t considered good choices for reporter jobs.

She’s been in the city for four months, and she’s struggling to pay her rent. She is also very aware that women who are considered “inconvenient” often end up in insane asylums, with no way to prove their sanity. So she needs to land on her feet, soon.

Which is how she comes up with the crazy plan – to act crazy. To see how easy it is to get herself locked up, and to report on the actual conditions and practices inside the asylum, which does not open its doors to reporters. Specifically, she aims to get inside the asylum on Blackwell’s Island, which is rumored to be the most inhumane. She does this “stunt” with the cooperation of the deputy editor of the New York World, who promises to get her out in a week or so.

She does get in, and is there for about 10 days. She meets other women, and of course, most are not really crazy at all – some are heartbroken and/or depressed, sick and in need of medical care their families couldn’t provide, foreign and unable to understand English, or maybe just poor (and therefore a nuisance).

The conditions are deplorable, and they are given no reasons to hope for more. They have to sit on hard benches all day and not talk or move. Nelly reasons that some of them may become insane while there, because they are given no mental or physical stimulation. It’s also freezing cold (she is there in October), and they don’t get enough to eat.

The title – “The Mad Girls of New York” – refers to the women of the asylum. But the story also follows some of Nellie’s acquaintances in the city, as well as her time before and after this assignment. Women trying to support themselves financially, and not just depending on a man to take care of them. And these girls could also be considered “mad” for their time (the 1880’s).

This whole scenario is based on actual events, which Bly wrote her own book about at the time (“Ten Days in a Mad-House“). The author used info from that book, but also based characters on other people and stories from that era.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I’d definitely recommend this one. Even though we know Nellie will get out eventually, the stakes still seem high for her comrades in the asylum. And there’s one more fun twist after she gets out, too.

This book comes out today, April 26th. I was able to read an advanced copy through the publisher and Netgalley.


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Interview with Rebecca Rosenberg, Author of “Champagne Widows”

By: Angie Haddock


We reviewed the book “Champagne Widows” earlier this month. You can check out the review here. Now, we bring you some thoughts from the author, Rebecca Rosenberg.

Q: You obviously knew a lot about wine before writing this one, but I’m sure you still had to research the winemaking of the era. Did you find that a lot of it was different, or were you surprised at how much of the process had stayed the same?

A: The process of making champagne has changed tremendously from 1800 to now. Some of the biggest differences are:

From the novel, readers discover that bottles were hand blown and not consistent, so they actually held different amounts and took different sizes of corks! Also, being mouth-blown, they were weak or strong. The fermenting champagne would burst weak bottles.

Veuve Clicquot made major strides in changing murky, yeasty champagne of 1800s to the clear, sparkling champagne we drink today, by figuring out ways to clarify the wine. One method is riddling, which turns the bottle upside down to collect the dead yeast and expels it before bottling.

Veuve Clicquot and others liked their champagne extremely sweet to counter the inconsistency of ripe grapes. They would add lots of sugar to help fermentation. This did not change until 1874 when my next champagne widow, Madame Pommery, perfected Brut (dry) champagne, more like we drink today.

Rebecca Rosenberg

Q: Are there a lot of differences between making still wine and champagne?

A: Champagne takes more than twice as much effort to make as still wine, due to the fact that it has a double fermentation and can take four to even ten years!

Q: Were you already interested in France, or French history before this? Did you travel any for researching the region?

A: I have traveled to the Champagne region of France five times, and discovered the “Champagne Widows” on the first trip, maybe ten years ago. It is so exciting to follow the footsteps of each of the “Champagne Widows” lives and discover who they were and what motivated them. I have visited their wineries and homes and vineyards and hired their winery historians to fill in details I cannot find in research.

Also of note: they were all widows because in the 1800s a woman was not allowed to own property or a business. It was owned by her husband. Only if the husband died, she could own it. If she remarried, the new husband would own it. These shrewd women kept their businesses and romantic relationships separate!

Q: I know this book is planned to be the first in a series – can you tell us what topics we can look forward to in the next installments?

A: “Madame Pommery” will come out next year. Alexandrine Pommery’s story is bone chilling since her house is occupied by the Prussian general of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71.

“Lily Bollinger” comes next in the 1940’s during the rise of the Nazis. She will always be known for the most famous champagne quote, which I adore:

“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”


We’d like to thank Rebecca for answering our questions! If you want to keep up on the upcoming “Champagne Widows” releases, check out her website.


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“Campfire Confessions” by Kristine Ochu – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Annie, Sondra, and Jo were the best of childhood friends—but they haven’t seen each other in far too long. To the outside world, their lives are perfect. But appearances can be deceiving…

Goodreads


The story idea here is that three women reconnect on a canoeing trip. They were childhood friends, but two of them have moved away from the small Midwestern town where they grew up. All three are facing big life problems – depression, divorce, overwhelm, recovery from addiction, a sexless marriage, etc.

The first third of the book introduces us to the characters – Annie, Jo, and Sondra – and all the aforementioned issues (and then some). In 100 pages or so, we see multiple sex scenes (plus one with a vibrator), an overdose, and an attempt at blackmail. This all seemed a little too “soap opera-y” for my personal tastes, but I realized that it was just set-up.

The next section of the book has Jo and Sondra returning to their hometown to see Annie. They reconnect with family and old friends, and hatch a plot with Annie’s four sons.

Eventually, they get out onto the river, with two canoes, a tent, and some basic provisions. This part is where the action really picked up. But it also got to be a little too much at times. All three women end up hurt and/or sick before this excursion is out, and many of their encounters were dramatic.

There’s an interesting dichotomy here, in that the book kind of honors multiple spiritualities. For example, Annie is a preacher’s wife, and so the Christian perspective is represented. But Jo’s husband’s family – who live in the area, and interact with our characters a few times – are Indigenous. Especially out in nature, the women talk a lot of spirit animals and the like, so this perspective is also prevalent.

While I enjoyed that the book included multiple perspectives like this, all of them seemed a little too “in your face” at times. For example, when Annie falls and breaks her arm, she passes out and sees Jesus. They have a conversation, and she writes a song about it – while unconscious – that she remembers and sings after she wakes up. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, but it was a little over the top for my personal tastes.

This was a decent book – I didn’t love it, but didn’t dislike it, either. And it moved at a good pace, especially in the final two-thirds.

This book comes out today, March 8th, 2022. I was given an advanced copy from the author through the Books Forward program.


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“Champagne Widows” by Rebecca Rosenberg – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Champagne, France, 1800. Twenty-year-old Barbe-Nicole inherited Le Nez (an uncanny sense of smell) from her great-grandfather, a renowned champagne maker. She is determined to use Le Nez to make great champagne, but the Napoleon Code prohibits women from owning a business.

Goodreads


This is a fun bit of historical fiction, based on real people and events. I hadn’t read much about this era in a while, so it was also a good change of pace!

Our heroine, Barbe-Nicole, has a knack for blending wine, which was a business her grandfather was in. She can’t directly inherit the business, of course, because she’s a woman. But, she does talk her childhood sweetheart into going into business with her, as a married couple.

As the title implies, her wedded bliss only lasts a few years. With Napoleon trying to take over all of Europe, she now faces multiple challenges: how to keep her business in her own name as a widow, and how to sell her products. The French people are broke, but other countries have mostly outlawed French imports. There are blockades, even. And some of her seller’s journeys are so long and treacherous that the product is ruined by the time it gets to its destination!

Barbe-Nicole has to reinvent her business several times over during the long years of the Napoleonic wars. She takes on various partners and investors, but still wants to have the last word on her wines. This makes some of her (male) partners very frustrated, as they all think they know better than she does.

There are some lean years, often due to weather harming the crops. She also employs mostly women, many of them war widows. This is one of the reasons she keeps trying again every year – she doesn’t want to leave these women without jobs. She is stubborn, but it’s for a good cause!

She also faces a lot of personal heartbreak during these years, often from the loss of family members. She also feels the losses of her freedom to practice her religion, her family’s old way of life before the wars, and the loss of cultural norms she grew up with.

There is also a lot about winemaking in here! If you have any interest in wine, vineyards, etc. – that’s a fun aspect.

The year of the Great Comet brings the best harvest in years. Napoleon is finally facing defeat. But will the laws change in time for Barbe-Nicole to sell the fruits of that year’s labors?

This book comes out in paperback today, March 1st. I was given a copy by the author, Rebecca Rosenberg, who intends it to be the first in a series of novels about real-life women in the wine business.


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