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: Rabbits for Food

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

A heartbreaking, irreverent, laugh-out-loud funny meditation on what it’s like to lose your mind from acclaimed novelist Binnie Kirshenbaum.

It’s New Year’s Eve, the holiday of forced gaiety, mandatory fun, and paper hats. While dining out with her husband and their friends, Kirshenbaum’s protagonist—an acerbic, mordantly witty, and clinically depressed writer—fully unravels. Her breakdown lands her in the psych ward of a prestigious New York hospital where she refuses all modes of recommended treatment. Instead, she passes the time chronicling the lives of her fellow “lunatics” and writing a novel about how she got to this place. Her story is a hilarious and harrowing deep dive into the disordered mind of a woman who sees the world all too clearly.

Propelled by stand-up comic timing and rife with pinpoint insights, her examination of what it means to be unloved, and loved; to succeed, and fail; to be, at once, both impervious and raw ultimately reveals how art can lead us out of—or into—the depths of disconsolate loneliness and piercing grief. Rabbits for Food, Kirshenbaum’s first novel in a decade, is a brauvra literary performance.

Review:
I’ve just finished reading Rabbits for Food and I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. It is definitely a vivid and compelling story of a woman, Bunny, and her life experiencing mental illness. The story is told unapologetically and with humour, shining light on some of the darkest days that people with severe depression often have. There are brilliant glimmers of thought and realization, along with explorations of despair.
Bunny, herself, is not all that likable, but she’s been severely depressed for years. She’s not often even been liked by the other people in her life, not even her family. Her spiraling mental illness is hard to witness and is incredibly sad. There are clear moments of writing where the author vividly captures what it is like to be clinically depressed and these are necessarily disturbing.
Finally, Bunny ends up in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where she refuses all drug treatment and therapy. There she writes and evaluates the other “psychos”, which broadens the scope of mental illness in the book. Again, there is an honesty presented, like the author was explaining a personal experience or that of someone close to her (or she did a lot of great research — I don’t know enough about the author to claim to know her personal story!).
Perhaps I found the book difficult because mental illness is difficult and everyone has different reactions and symptoms. There is no one size fits all cure and doctors are often guessing at which treatments will be effective. I do like the humour the author used when discussing this subject because I think humour helps in hard situations.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for the review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Polaris Rising

Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1) by Jessie Mihalik

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.
Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancé captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Review:
I’ve never read a space opera before so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Polaris Rising was full of adventure, interesting characters, romance, and great world building.
Ada is strong, both mentally and physically, and can certainly fend for herself. She was raised in a cutthroat political family, but is now on the run, avoiding an arranged marriage. She meets Loch, a famous fugitive, and the sparks fly.
I found this a fun read, though there were times it felt slightly repetitive. There was a lot of detail given to the world building, which was occasionally distracting. This is certainly an adventure novel, full of gun fights, kidnappings, daring escapes, and space travel. It’s easy to get into and get lost in.
The characters were good, even if they felt a little stereotypical — this book was more about the relationships and the adventure than the character development.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read and a good escape from reality.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Harper Voyager for the review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The beloved, bestselling author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure is back with her most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women navigating the glitz and grotesqueries of Gilded-Age New York by any means possible, including witchcraft…

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind?

Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.

As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?

Review:
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the three great main characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice. They each brought interesting aspects to the book and shone a light on how women, especially women outside of the norm, were treated in the 1880s, something which appeals to me.
McKay has created a wonderful and rich world in this book and has brought historical New York to life with interesting detail, but not so much as to get in the way of the compelling story. There were a times where the story dragged briefly, but not enough that I wanted to put the book down — I was invested in finding out what would happen with our heroines, and Eleanor’s pet raven whose mystique I loved.
I love books that portray friendships between women and this one did not disappoint. I am anxious to pick up the novella that comes after this book so I can immerse myself in this world and its characters again.
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