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review 2020-06-04 16:58
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson
Real Men Knit - Kwana Jackson

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

Four boys from different makeups and ethnic backgrounds, brought together by their shared need of, first and foremost, a home, but probably more so the love that that the seemingly irreverent single Black woman had given them.

 

Instead of romance or women's fiction, I think this story falls under what I'm going to call community fiction; what a perfect time to read this. Jesse, along with his adoptive brothers, Lucas, Noah, and Damien came from different experiences and walks of life but found family in each other when their foster mother, Mama Joy, adopts them. As families are want to do, they love hard but also stretch, tear, and need mending. When Mama Joy suddenly passes away, the four brothers have to decide what to do with her shop, Strong Knits. Jesse is considered the wastrel of the group but he's the only one who doesn't want to sell, he wants to run the shop.

 

The tan knight and the used-to-be-man of her dreams, and there he was walking out his last night’s stand while she was cleaning his kitchen like a broke-down Cinderella.

 

Kerry grew-up around the Strong family as she found peace and comfort with Mama Joy at her knit shop. Jesse was always the brother that caught her eye the most but his womanizing and frittering ways kept her away. Kerry's recently obtained her degree in children's counseling and art therapy but not having a full time job yet, she still worked and helped out at Strong Knits. When Jesse announces he wants to try and keep Strong Knits going, she volunteers to help him out. Their relationship starts out rocky as both have strong protective instincts but their shared love of Mama Joy and Strong Knits connects them on a deep emotional level and heated glances have them wanting to connect in other ways.

 

She knew his strengths, but worse, she knew his weaknesses.

 

The natural flow of the writing welcomed me into this story and if you told me Strong Knits and all these characters where actually real places and people I'd believe you, there was a realness to this that will pull you in emotionally. There is a part of me that wishes we could have gotten a flashback or opening scene with Mama Joy and the boys. I missed “seeing” her with them but the author does a really good job of having the reader “feel” her through the brothers, which in turn I suppose also helps the reader feel Mama Joy's stark absence. I also would have liked more background on Jesse to help me get a feel for him too. I think it was around the mid-point when we learn some about what led to him entering the foster care system. Jesse just didn't feel as tangible to me as Kerry's character, she was more filled or flushed out. Kerry takes the lead in the story more than Jesse, even though I would still say the community is the overreaching star. Kerry struggling with what she wants to do, work with children and keep Strong Knits open but also make money, was a conflict I think a lot could relate to. There was also the clash of Kerry's feelings for the “bad boy” Jesse and not wanting to end up feeling stupid and hurt, which I know a lot can relate to.

 

Decisions must be made, and it was time for him to finally step up and take his place once and for all to be the type of Strong brother that Mama Joy always wanted him to be.

 

There was conflict, emotion, and turmoil swirling around and in Kerry and Jesse's relationship but, for the most part, it's in the underling of the story fabric; this story is subtle depth. Their falling in love, especially from Kerry's side, seemed to mostly be already in place from their childhood and I missed going through some of that emotional heft with them. I also felt like it wasn't until around the 70% mark that there was significant movement towards each other and the romance part of the story. However, because of the background these two had with each other and their chemistry and friendship, I really did believe in their relationship and that they would have a happily ever after.

 

Jesse felt his heart slam against the wall of his chest as everything in him and every part of him seemed to move forward at once to meet her.

 

What made this story special to me was the way the author integrated not just secondary characters but a whole community. The author didn't “tell” me how Jesse and Kerry felt about Strong Knits, she made me feel it through the after school program importance to a boy in the neighborhood, the Old Knitting Gang, and various other seemingly innocuous moments and characters that were woven throughout. I wouldn't call this a heavy or light story, just one made up of all those moments. There's talk of gentrification but also amazing lines like this when Kerry contemplates the man her friend Val seems to be thinking about taking home for the night: The way he’d gone in on those wings had her skeptical about his technique. It could be either very good for Val or an altogether disaster.

I'm still laughing about this line. The ending was very abrupt but as this is obviously going to be a series, I guess a down the line or epilogue could infringe on the series timeline. This writer's style, tone, and depth will have me looking up other books by her and I can't wait to snatch up Jesse's brother's books when they come out (there's a firefighter brother!). If current events have you down, this is the book you need to pick up to restore the love.

 

Noah stepped in, his smile bright as he admonished the crowd for their tears. Sounding every bit like a little Mama Joy, he told them, “Drink up, stitch well,” and then he looked at his brothers when he said, “Love hard and live in the moment, not in the past.”

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quote 2020-06-04 07:15
But Claire lived by the firm moral philosophy that one could never have to many pockets , too many books, or too much tea
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review 2020-06-03 12:50
'The Gaslight Dogs' by Karin Lowachee
The Gaslight Dogs - Karin Lowachee

In 'The Gaslight Dogs', Karin Lowachee has built a powerful, convincing vision of a world in the throes of a familiar colonial conflict, has populated it with real people who have very little in common except their enforced servitude and then added an original, credible supernatural twist that gives the story its edge.

 

 

The first thing that hit me about 'The Gaslight Dogs' was the quality of the writing. Language here isn't a thin skin stretched over the bones of a clever plot, it's an invitation really to see the world that Karin Lowachee has created, to take in its sights and scents, its beauty and its ugliness with the fresh eyes and nose of a stranger. It's not language designed to get you to the next piece of dialogue or the next action scene as competently as possible. Nor is it purple prose of the over-long self-indulgent guitar solo kind. Its language that says: take the time to take in the place or you will not understand the journey.

 

This story is really two linked journeys, neither of which is voluntary and both of which are shaped by the obsession of a ruthless powerful old man with an insatiable hunger for conquest. We start with Sjennonirk, a young Aniwi spirit walker who is taken in chains from her home in the Arctic and brought south to a city built of brick and lit by gas, where high walls block off the view of the horizon in every direction. Then we meet a Captain Jarrett Fawle, a young man who, uncomfortable and unloved at home, only feels free when leading his men to hunt and kill the aboriginal tribes as part of the push to expand his country's territory. He is sent home on leave and kept there until he complies with his father's will. His father, General Fawle, is the man whose plan for power effectively enslaves both Sjennonirk and Captain Fawle. He sees them both as commodities to be exploited and makes their freedom conditional on meeting his goals.

 

It's easy to see 'The Gaslight Dogs' as a story about the ruthless use of technology by colonial powers to gain territory, to paint a picture of genocide and environmental destruction but I see it as more than that. This isn't a 'good guys stand up to bad guys' kind of story. Nor is it the Star Wars fantasy of brave rebels opposing an evil empire. The power of this story comes from its refusal to move to that Big Picture, Sweep Of History perspective. It stays focused on Sjennonirk and Captain Fawle and the choices that they make. Neither is a hero. Neither wants to be on the journey that General Fawle has sent them on. In their different ways, each just wants to go home. Each of them both representative of and outsiders to their own cultures. Their struggle is not primarily a clash of cultures but of two individuals pushing against their fate.

 

It seemed to me that a lot of this story was about the power of belief. Sjennonirk believes in the power of her ancestral spirits. She feels the little wolf inside her and knows its hunger. Her world view is one of respecting the spirits who, through her and spirit walker like her, protect her people. She is hungry for nothing more than to live at home in peace. She is passive, stoic and pragmatic, except when her wolf wakes.

Captain Fawle is not a believer. He does not believe in the Seven Deities of his people, nor in the destiny of his country, nor in the possibility of being loved by his father. He fills the hole where his belief should be by winning the respect of his men when on the frontier and with alcohol when at home in the city.

 

When 'The Gaslight Dogs' was published in 2010, it was billed as the beginning of the 'Middle Light' series. It works well as a standalone book but I still holding out hope that Karin Lowachee will find the time to come back to this world.

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text 2020-06-03 11:32
Reading progress update: I've listened 252 out of 615 minutes.
Girls With Sharp Sticks - Suzanne Young,Caitlin Davies

I love the idea of poetry as a wake-up call, unlocking ideas and emotions that let you see who you are and what you want.

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review 2020-06-03 07:08
Challenge
Conventionally Yours - Annabeth Albert

Conrad is in it to win it.  He and a few other gamers are given the chance to get to a convention full of players who enjoy the same game.  His reasons for wanting to win are his own.  The attraction he suddenty feels for another gamer shocks him.  Will he be brave and share some of himself?

 

Alden has always been the one not good enough.  Finally he has a chance to prove he is good at something.  Something for himself.  He puts it all out there for someone who only gives him glimpses of himself.  He too, has his reasons to want to win.  Can they compromise somehow?

 

These characters were brilliant in their own right.  Both bringing so much to the story it almost blinded me.  I loved the friendships gained, and the journey itself.  Each of the students seemed to have so much to them.  I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series.  I give this a 3/5 Kitty's Paws UP!

 

 

***This early copy was given by Netgalley and its publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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