BOOK REVIEW: STRANGE FLOWERS by DONAL RYAN

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Strange Flowers

After reading From a Low and Quiet Sea last year and giving it 2 stars, I decided to give Donal Ryan another chance with Strange Flowers. I was wrong.

Let me cut straight to the chase here: the writing in Strange Flowers was unbearable, especially in the first half. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with such a glaring, painfully distracting problem with its writing. I’ll let the words speak for themselves. The following is ONE SINGULAR SENTENCE from Strange Flowers:

And Alexander Elmwood stooped beneath the low lintel and shuffled long-legged and rumpled down the short hallway, and they listened to him retching and vomiting, and Kit told Moll to take him down a fresh towel, and she did, and she was gone a long while, and Kit and Paddy strained to listen to the low mutters of their conversation but they could pick up none of it, and Moll came back up the hall on her own, and she said she’d put him into her bed and she would sleep in with her mother that night and Daddy would have to sleep with Alexander, and never in his wildest imaginings did Paddy Gladney ever think that his first night sleeping without his wife alongside him since the day his daughter was born would be spent inside in a bed with a gigantic drunken black man.”

I want you to imagine reading that, but for 100+ pages. Reader, I almost lost my mind. I have never in my life been so alert to the word “and” than when I was reading the first half of this book. I have no idea if this was intentional or not—if it was intentional, why? and if it wasn’t, how did no one notice it????—but either way it drove me up the wall. I could not absorb anything I was reading because it felt like a little ping went off in my brain every time I came across yet another “and.”

Aside from the writing—which is frankly a huge issue to be putting aside, considering it’s 99% of the reason why this novel irritated me so much—I found myself not at all engaged by this story. It started out intriguing enough: I liked the focus on a small family in a quiet, rural setting, the exploration of how a family comes together over multiple generations. But the same issue that I had with From a Low and Quiet Sea cropped up soon enough. I much prefer to see characters’ emotions and thoughts play out in real time, as opposed to being told them in retrospect. Donal Ryan’s writing does the latter almost to the exclusion of the former—that is, it’s the kind of writing that tells you what happened instead of letting you watch it happen on the page.

I wish I had something more substantial or cohesive to say about Strange Flowers, but I will honestly never get over the insane amount of “and”s that I had to read in this novel. 🤷

(Thanks to Random House UK/Transworld Publishers for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!)

1.5-


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BOOK REVIEW: A WOMAN IS NO MAN by ETAF RUM

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A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

wow this just completely missed the mark huh

◘ I’m so starved for any kind of Arab representation in fiction, let alone ownvoices Muslim Arab representation, so I jumped at the chance to read this when the audiobook popped up on Scribd. And oh boy was I disappointed.

◘ This book’s biggest weakness is without a doubt its lack of nuance. I don’t want to be the person that’s like oh the oppression you represented in your book isn’t complicated enough. I’m sure women did and still do experience the kind of marginalization Rum depicts in this book: domestic abuse, a lack of choices, physical confinement, etc. And I also know the amount of pressure that gets put on works by authors of colour to be representative of their entire ethnic/racial groups. I don’t want to hold Rum responsible for somehow failing to encapsulate the entirety of the Arab experience; no one book can do that. But all that being said, I still think her book severely lacked nuance—in its representation of allits characters, in its messages, in everything, really.

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pictured above: me while reading this book

◘ More than nuance, I think this novel suffers from being EXTREMELY repetitive. By the time you get to the halfway point of the narrative, it feels like you’re just reading the same scenes over and over again: Isra makes tea for her mother-in-law, her mother-in-law is disappointed that she’s given birth to a girl, Deya’s grandmother tells her she should consider her marriage options, Deya says she doesn’t want to, Isra loves to read, ad infinitum. When you’re reading the same scenes represented in the same simplistic, on-the-nose ways again and again and again, the reading experience starts to drag, quickly.

◘ All of this is not to say that I’m not happy that this book was written; I’m all for more stories about Arab experiences, especially ownvoices ones. I definitely wish there were more, but I’m glad that Arab authors are getting the chance to get books published. I didn’t much like this novel in particular, but here’s hoping that other good ones are written.

1.5-


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BOOK REVIEW: THE CHILD FINDER BY RENE DENFELD

idk this felt like it was trying so hard to be deep and poignant but really it just ended up being sappy and a little cringey

my biggest issue with this is that every single moment in the book felt like the author wanted it to be A Moment. characters who’d known each other for all of 5 minutes were already like woah I see all the emotional walls you’ve put up behind your smile !! you gotta let the past go !! you can’t keep holding on to those vulnerabilities forever !! and the whole time I was like ????? first of all, no one would ever say that to anyone they’d known for that short a time, and second of all, no one talks like that. pretty much all the scenes ended up feeling ridiculously forced because they were written with the subtlety of a brick to the face. also, the main character Naomi is supposed to be 30 but felt like she was 10 (and spoke like she was 10). and her overall characterization was so poor. all I know about her is that she trusts 3 people, and I only know that bc the author explicitly told us about it like 32830123 times 🙂 🙂 🙂

the writing style was redundant, the plot was boring with a bunch of unnecessary side-plots (not to mention convenient as hell), the shifting POVs annoyed me—frankly this book is just one big blob in my head right now. nothing about it left any kind of lasting impression one me. it was just BLEH. that’s about as close as I can get to representing my experience reading The Child Finder for you…

1.5-


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