Review: Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai

I was keen on finding a read with hints of magical realism in it, when I came across this wonder of a book centered on just that, with the added bonus of featuring the Jewish ghetto of Tehran.

Similar to one of my favorite multigenerational books, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, this reads starts off on a prominent related cast of female characters with a hint of otherworldliness in their everyday life. Spinning tales of signs and superstitions, falling victim to the inevitability of Destiny, featuring dreams and memories of ghosts, and stories of wayward ancestors, it seemed like I’d hit jackpot with picking up Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith.

All they wanted was to stay in one place long enough to belong. 

And for the first part of the book, I had nothing but praise in my words. I especially appreciated the grand, layered storytelling that reveals itself with time. You’re never sure of a single thing until you’ve followed the tale and its characters to the end. Which is where my appreciation for the peculiar side characters comes in. Their world, full of superstition, had me in its spinning webs. Most notably, Alexandra the Cat, whose every move was clouded with an air of mystery, was the first to catch my attention. Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith 1-- bookspoils

This above passage was a prime example of having a storyline that doesn’t disappear with the next chapter. And having it all click together was beyond satisfying to experience.

Which is what saddened me most about the novel, knowing that the minute our main character, Roxanna, would move away from her family’s home, and later her place at Alexandra’s, the book would deteriorate in time.

Because unlike the novel I mention at the start of my review, the Jewish theme, which I thought would be a prevalent one and what had me so keen on reading this book, was practically non-existent the more I read on; it disappeared with the generations. And I don’t feel like I learned anything solid about the cultural value within the Jewish ghetto of Tehran. I feel like we barely received any scenes of camaraderie, or even simple dialogue exchanged between the Iranian-Jewish characters to receive some semblance of home and community.

It also didn’t help that at the same time that I put all these points together, Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith was starting to lose its steam for me. Knowing this book wasn’t going to have a saving grace in the upcoming pages for me, I decided it best to quit ahead, as I could feel myself growing agitated and furious with the upcoming storyline.

It’s such a shame as well because this started out as an interesting tale of intersecting family lines and dealing with the burden of Destiny, yet ended on such a miserable case of virtually abandoning all the character building we had for Roxanna’s family, and instead putting the focus on her new marital home where she feels like an outsider, and as a result, so did I as the reader. All this leads in the end to her daughter, Lili, being stuck in the hands of strangers, which is where the utter disregard for their religion is shown most notably in the form of sending her off to a Catholic school… While her mother is off doing who knows what to reach her supposed ‘freedom’ that she didn’t even get to receive.Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith 2-- bookspoilsAt a certain point, the book just hit a point where the story wasn’t really moving forward or contributing any valid information that propelled the characters along. Like, there’s literally a whole page dedicated to expanding on a random bus driver who has no point in the overarching theme… And I had to put a stop to it by declaring enough is enough.

Bottom line: I’d only recommend reading this book for its introducing fifty-something pages that encompass and expand on so much.

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils star

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma

In A Life of Adventure and Delight, Sharma delivers eight masterful stories that focus on Indian protagonists at home and abroad and that plunge the reader into the unpredictable workings of the human heart.

I started this short story collection a bit skeptical, since it took me nearly the whole day to finish reading just the first tale because I wasn’t vibing with the characters, premise, or writing. A retired divorcé taking advice from Cosmopolitan to get into his neighbor’s pants, while chronicling their confusing yet utterly ordinary relationship didn’t grip me at all.

“He wondered if he was sadder than he knew.”

I went on with lowered expectations, thinking this would be a similar let down as Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, but the minuted I opened up the second story titled “Surrounded by Sleep,” I was blown away from start to finish. What pulled me in particular was Ajay, the eleven-year-old protagonist at the heart of this tale. With his love for books, superhero comics, extreme superstitions and mind-expanding talks with God, it was as if the author knew exactly what to include to win me over. Also, the mother in the story was a sight to behold, especially when she used her devotion to “shame God into fixing” her oldest son.

“Are you going to tell me the story about Uncle Naveen again?” he asked.
“Why shouldn’t I? When I was sick, as a girl, your uncle walked seven times around the temple and asked God to let him fail his exams just as long as I got better.”
“If I failed the math test and told you that story, you’d slap me and ask what one has to do with the other.”
His mother turned to the altar.
“What sort of sons did you give me, God?” she asked. “One you drown, the other is this selfish fool.”
“I will fast today so that God puts some sense in me,” Ajay said, glancing away from the altar and up at his mother. He liked the drama of fasting.
“No, you are a growing boy.” His mother knelt down beside him and said to the altar, “He is stupid, but he has a good heart.”

Another point I unexpectedly came to cherish was Ajay’s character growth and how immense it seemed over the course of this swift tale, so much so that I nearly forgot that he was still eleven by the end of it all. Truly wise beyond his years.

“He was having difficulty talking. He didn’t know why. The only time he could talk easily was when he was with God. The explanation he gave himself for this was that, just as he couldn’t chew when there was too much in his mouth, he couldn’t talk when there were too many thoughts in his head.”

Needless to say, I was spellbound by how captivating “Surrounded by Sleep” was compared to the impression left by the first one. Consequently, my expectations were raised a tenfold for the remaining collection.

So I was then sad to see that the remaining pieces didn’t live up to what I’d so loved in the second story. Reading A Life of Adventure and Delight is probably the longest it has taken for me to complete a collection of short stories. I got stuck for days on end with a tale here and there, and in the end I just had to skip some pieces altogether to get the momentum back. I think my main problem was the fact that there wasn’t one theme or arc being explored, unlike in my favorite “Surrounded by Sleep”. Usually the tales started of in one way, only to end on a completely unrelated note, which of course led to numerous loose threads that left my mind spinning.

But I will say this: All the mothers in Akhil Sharma’s short story collection were a force to be reckoned with. The author can write dynamic mother figures like no one’s business, and I’m frankly jealous. So I was quite dismayed to see that A Life of Adventure and Delight didn’t live up to my overall expectations in the end. But I am eager to see what Sharma’s future works will entail.

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying A Life of Adventure and Delight, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

From celebrity gossip expert and BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen comes an accessible, analytical look at how female celebrities are pushing boundaries of what it means to be an acceptable woman.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is divided into ten chapters, each examining unruly female celebrities “who occupy all different corners of the mainstream, from the literary world to Hollywood, from HBO to the tennis court. It includes several women of color, but the prevalence of straight white women serves to highlight an ugly truth: that the difference between cute, acceptable unruliness and unruliness that results in ire is often as simple as the color of a woman’s skin, whom she prefers to sleep with, and her proximity to traditional femininity.”

As you can read in the above quote, The author’s self-awareness was the first thing I noticed and immediately cherished in her writing. There’s no topic Petersen shied away from and this passion of radical honesty and transparency settled into my core. I took a lot away from it.

Though it took me a minute to settle into the frame of Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, the essay that secured my interest most was on Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. It won me over in a beat with this single line: “In their world, men are as secondary as female friends are in the traditional rom-com. ”

This is what happy feels like. Oh, and this:

“Both Abbi and Ilana are deeply weird, but within the vividly rendered world of Broad City, their actions make some sort of sense, always in relation to each other. Of course Abbi would pose as Ilana for a six-hour shift at the co-op, or Ilana would devote an entire day to caring for Abbi after oral surgery—they’re each other’s first and foremost. Which is why there are no “bottle episodes” that focus uniquely on one character or the other: not because they’re not individuals, but because they’re always in each other’s orbit.”

Unlike my first impression regarding this book, it came to provide varying perspectives and radically de-center the story from the celebrity; rather focus on the messages and ideas they represent: Serena Williams (too strong), Kim Kardashian West (too pregnant), Hillary Clinton (too shrill), Jennifer Weiner (Too loud), Melissa McCarthy (too fat), and more.

“My hope is that this book unites the enthralling, infuriating, and exhilarating conversations that swirl around these women, but also incites new and more expansive ones. ”

I most certainly enjoyed reading and learning more about these unruly women and the notions they stood for. Feminist works like Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud are something I’ll never tire of seeing either on screen or on paper.

Plus, I’d definitely recommend giving this book a go if you enjoy looking up reviews of celebrities, TV shows, and books… Because this is a comprehensive, yet in-depth pool of knowledge of history, celebrity culture, double standards, LGBTQIA+ representation, feminism and challenging the norms of femininity. And there are of course a myriad other small things scattered throughout to keep you entertained from start to finish. I would say that the only thing I wasn’t too happy about was the fact that Lena Dunham was included in this mix. Thankfully, she was the last essay in here, so I just went ahead and skipped that altogether because I simply cannot support her character.

3.5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!