Book Review: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

Masha is drowning. Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town’s lido, where she seeks refuge underwater – safe from the noise and the pain.

But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women – the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician’s wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice – opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again.

Until the fateful day when the past comes roaring back…

Review:
I loved this book. It had me hooked with the cover and the synopsis, and the story did not disappoint. Hogan’s writing is wonderful and I found myself liking the book better as the story went on.
This book is about grief. Masha’s son died at a young age and she never got over it. Two wonderful women come into her life, the eccentric Kitty and the elusive Sally Red Shoes and they help to teach her lessons that she needs to move on.
This really is a touching story and my heart grieved for Masha and her loss. I loved her big dog and the walks they took in the graveyard, the dinners she would get dressed up for with her interesting friends, and even how her trauma informed how she looked at the world. She definitely grew as a character and it was wonderful to experience.
Grief is a difficult subject to write on and Hogan did a beautiful job with a book that really touched me and made me think, laugh, and cry.
Thank you to Netgalley and Two Roads for the review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Mostly Dead Things

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.

Kristen Arnett’s debut novel is a darkly funny, heart-wrenching, and eccentric look at loss and love.

Review:
This is a book that, after reading the blurb, I really wanted to love; however, I didn’t. It was fine. It was funny at times. It was strange. I’m good with strange, but there was something about this book that just didn’t resonate with me.
Partly, I think, I just didn’t love the main character, Jessa, until nearly the end of the book. I found her character tedious at times and I just wanted to shake her. I couldn’t get into the strange relationship that both her and her brother had with Brynn. I also didn’t like how Milo, her brother, was basically a non-existent parent. That didn’t sit well at all. It had been something like 14 years since Brynn left and still Jessa and Milo couldn’t get themselves together.
The book also dragged, especially in the middle, but it did pick up at the end. Maybe this book is more of an exploration of an idea than a strong story.
I did love Jessa’s mother, though. She was fantastic. I loved how she rearranged the taxidermied animals in “artistic” ways and how she used her art to come to terms with her life and marriage. She was the only one with any life in her, and maybe that was the point.
Other people seem to love this book, however, so maybe it is more of a case of this book just not being for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and Tin House Books for a review copy.
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Book Review: A People’s History of Heaven

A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian

A politically driven graffiti artist. A transgender Christian convert. A blind girl who loves to dance. A queer daughter of a hijabi union leader. These are some of the young women who live in a Bangalore slum known as Heaven, young women whom readers will come to love in the moving, atmospheric, and deeply inspiring debut, A People’s History of Heaven.

Welcome to Heaven, a thirty-year-old slum hidden between brand-new high-rise apartment buildings and technology incubators in contemporary Bangalore, one of India’s fastest-growing cities. In Heaven, you will come to know a community made up almost entirely of women, mothers and daughters who have been abandoned by their men when no male heir was produced. Living hand-to-mouth and constantly struggling against the city government who wants to bulldoze their homes and build yet more glass high-rises, these women, young and old, gladly support one another, sharing whatever they can.

A People’s History of Heaven centers on five best friends, girls who go to school together, a diverse group who love and accept one another unconditionally, pulling one another through crises and providing emotional, physical, and financial support. Together they wage war on the bulldozers that would bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that does not care what happens to them.

This is a story about geography, history, and strength, about love and friendship, about fighting for the people and places we love–even if no one else knows they exist. Elegant, poetic, bursting with color, Mathangi Subramanian’s novel is a moving and celebratory story of girls on the cusp of adulthood who find joy just in the basic act of living.

Review:
This book took me by storm and I was immediately pulled into the world of these 5 young women living in a slum in Bangalore called Heaven. This is the story of these 5 girls: what their lives are like, what their home life is like, their expectations and how it’s different for men and boys, what it means to them to get an education, how they take care of each other and their community, what it is not to fit in, friendship, and acceptance.
The book goes back in time to describe how each girl got to where is is, what her challenges are — from being blind, transgender, gay, having fathers who leave — and what she dreams for herself as the bulldozers in the current day hover over their homes threatening to plow them over. It is also the story of their mothers and even grandmothers because all of these stories are intertwined. There are a lot of characters in this book, but I found it wasn’t overly difficult to keep track of them because they each had their own personality fleshed out so well.
This is a richly and wonderfully told story. The words and images that Subramanian conjures up are vivid, startling, and wonderful. There were some sentences that stopped me in my tracks and I had to read them over.
However, the flip side is that the writing was hard for me sometimes because it was so full of sentence fragments. They were not used sparingly for effect, but were used all the time. I imagine that it is simply the author’s style, but I found it halted the flow of the book. If this doesn’t bother you or you can get past it, then I would definitely recommend this book. It is an honest and important portrayal of the women and girls in Heaven.
Thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for a review copy of this book.
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