Thursday, March 18, 2021


Title: I am not Thirteen
Author: AO Monk
Pages: 324
Publisher: Calhoun Press
My GoodReads Rating: 

In 2016, we meet Amy Snowberger, on the day before her birthday, as she is being held at knifepoint by her older sister, Leah, who is an addict. Escaping from her sister, she meets her best friend, Casssie, and they head to the home of her mother, who is living alone after the death of Amy’s father many years ago.

She wakes up on the morning of her birthday to find that while she has her mind and memories of her adult self in 2016, she is in the body of herself at age 13. What’s more, her father is very much alive. At first, she thinks it might be a dream, but when the dream shows no signs of ending, she panics and tries to run away from home, hoping the shock will end the dream and bring her back to 2016. Instead she finds herself in a questionable part of town where she encounters Claude Belissan, a man who might know more about her strange predicament than he is willing to admit.

Meanwhile, there are other challenges. Upset with her for running away, Mum threatens to send her to rehab camp.

Amy has the benefit of future knowledge regarding some of her classmates, but that doesn’t make middle school any less of a challenge. Eager to learn more and to find a way back to her real time, Amy’s investigation leads her to a man named Sebastian Spars whose grandiose dreams of being able to forge alternate realities were nurtured by his daughter Beatrice, who went on to run her own cult. And one of Amy’s close family members was a prominent member of that cult.

Eventually the cult loses steam, as Beatrice warns, We must not turn our eyes away from the stars to gaze adoringly at streetlights.


The story is presented in the first person present tense PoV of Amy, in 2003 and 2016.

There is a lot of psychaedelia, hippie culture, cultism and time travel, which is confusing for a while. The story is so complicated that I can’t say anything without giving away spoilers. All I can say is that like Amy, we struggle, sharing her confusion, as we try to figure out what glitch has caused her to return to 2003 and why the year itself is markedly different from the 2003 of her past, in which her father died as a result of unhealthy eating.

The chapters are named oddly, so there is no correlation between them, or so it seems. Ultimately, there was a resolution, just not the kind I had been hoping for. But the disappointment was offset by these words:

Tempus edax rerum -  time, devourer of all things. Every blade of grass will die, replaced or not replaced by another... And then what? Soon this planet will be void of life, spinning through empty space, without a soul to disturb its mountains, winds, and empty waters.

Only that isn't it -- not really. There is another force, above or outside of time, creating and recreating all things seen and unseen. An eternal negation of temporal decay... It's in the roses planted on a grave, the bees that feed from those roses, the honey and the honeycomb. It's in every creature's will to live and to make life.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Tuesday, March 09, 2021


Title: The Girl Before You
Author: Nicola Rayner
Pages: 339
Publisher: Avon
My GoodReads Rating: 

A successful lawyer, Alice Reynolds is happily married to George, her college boyfriend, who was formerly in politics and is now a TV presenter.

Naomi Walker’s life was affected by the tragedy of losing her sister, Ruth Walker, in a case of accidental drowning. Her body was never recovered, and the family has yet to receive closure. Now Naomi is expecting a baby with her partner, Carla.

On a train journey, Alice sees a girl who reminds her of Ruth, a girl who died while she was in college. A girl who had been George's  girlfriend before her. And then she remembers that things had been uneasy between Ruth and George, but she had no idea why. When Alice, who defends victims of domestic violence in divorce suits, becomes pregnant, she feels compelled to learn more about what happened to Ruth.

Meanwhile, there is someone who is pushing for the truth to come out. Someone who sends Naomi Ruth’s stuffed doll. George is receiving postcards marked St Anthony with the words, St Anthony, St Anthony, give what I’ve lost back to me.

Alice wonders if her husband is as innocent of the crime as he claims or if he had something to do with it.


I liked the style of writing. It is very reminiscential, and it is through this that we become aware that Ruth began a sexual relationship with George, despite being warned about his bad reputation.


The book is written from the perspectives of three women who had a connection with Ruth. These women include Ruth’s younger sister, Naomi (1st person present tense POV), Alice, who had an affair with George, Ruth’s former boyfriend, and married him, and Kat, Ruth’s closest friend in college. Alice’s and Kat’s accounts are in the 3rd person; Alice’s account is a mix between then and now, while Kat’s account goes on from Oct 1999 to June 2001. The three viewpoints coalesce to tell us the truth about what happened to Ruth.

George is a very distasteful person, judging from the information we piece together about him.

Bit by bit, the truth was revealed, and we come to know the characters better. But there are just too many characters and too much random stuff that keeps happening, influencing and affecting the characters. It would have been better if a major chunk of the irrelevant stuff were cut down.

The pace was very slow, but luckily I was patient. The writing was lovely, very nuanced in places and that made me want to read on.

Life works like water, in currents, with things tugged away from us and other things returned.

A fear that felt like a trapdoor giving way beneath my feet.

There is a moment… when something stops being a source of pleasure and becomes a source of pain. It is so precise, so exact, it could be plotted on a graph.

Living. It all comes down to a series of choices and at the time you don’t even know ou are making them, or that they will stay with you forever, that you can never go back to the time before you made them.

The thing about hope… you have to manage it. Otherwise it takes over, like water. It might keep you afloat for a while, but eventually it’ll rush away like the tide, leaving you stranded.


The theme plays out through love and obsession and unhappy and broken hearts. Sex plays a big part. All the women, Ruth, Alice and Kat are sexually active, even willing. And yet all three of them are taken advantage of, and have their hearts broken. They suffer rejection, hurt and pain.

The subject is distressing. It all seems unconnected at first, but then the links become evident. I felt a sense of relief as things began to fall into place.

The overwhelming impression is of students wasting the most precious years of their lives in rampant drinking, substance abuse and sexual activity. How men have no trouble sleeping around, while their reputations glow brighter, but a woman is immediately painted a slut.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Thursday, March 04, 2021


Title: The Gravity of Joy
Author: Angela Williams Gorrell
Pages: 245
Publisher: Eerdmans
My GoodReads Rating: 

The Gravity of Joy tries to understand and measure the concept and feeling of joy against research done from multiple disciplines. The author, who describes herself as a practical theologian, has proposed that joy be a counteragent to America’s crisis of despair.

In early 2016, Angela was hired by the Yale Center of Faith and Culture to work on the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project. At this point, she was full of hope and the future filled with possibilities. Within a year, she lost three family members within four weeks. Her cousin’s husband died by suicide, her nephew died of a heart attack, and her father died as a result of illness stemming from his opioid addiction.

Through the throes of her sorrow, Angela felt that life was not joyful. It was a long walk towards death. She felt suddenly ill equipped to discuss joy, let alone teach others to strive to achieve it.

Struggling with grief, Angela became part of a team leading a Bible study at a women’s prison. It was there that she became aware of the helplessness of the lives of the female convicts, how badly the odds were stacked against them, and how they cling to hope. These women acted as the friends who took the lame man on a mat to Jesus. Lost herself, Angela helped the prison women and was helped by them in turn.

The author’s experience in the prison ministry touches our hearts, making women like Amy, Gloria and Jayla and many others real to us. Her experience there proves that Joy has grit… Joy has a mysterious capacity to be felt alongside sorrow and even -- sometimes most especially -- in the midst of suffering.

It is these experiences, combined with stories from her life and other observations that make up the book.


Each chapter begins with a verse from a famous writer, such as Rainer Marie Rilke, the Psalms, Acts of the Apostles etc. This quote sets the tone for the chapter.

Angela relates her commentary to relatable events, such as Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide, even as he projected joy and passion for his work. Along the way, we get introduced to poems like Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” along with bits of her course work that she teaches at Life Worth Living.

The writing style is engaging, friendly and meaningful. The author writes candidly on subjects that must have been painful to write about, in particular, her father’s addiction to opioid pills and how they altered his personality.

With time, Angela learns that It is incredibly difficult to lovingly bear witness to grief rather than walking away or trying to fix it. It is much harder to share space with grief, to breathe its pungent air.

Talking to the family members of young people who have given in to their addictions, she creates a counter to the culture of despair. She encourages us to name and acknowledge our emotions, particularly our grief and fears.

The author gives us real examples of young people driven to death on account of addictions. She accurately spells out what is wrong with the world today. The fact that social media has influenced us to believe that life matters only if there are high impact achievements. And that people obsess over ways to market their life better as if they were products instead of human beings.

Part of facing emotions is attending to grief through deep listening. To lament openly the things that bring us pain and to search hard for beauty.

Angela draws parallels between her own situation and Holy Saturday’s unique place in Christ’s Passion. She likens Holy Saturday to the in-between space when we no longer feel overwhelming grief but comfort and meaning are beyond our reach too. In this space, she realises that The God who sometimes is shrouded in sheer silence is apparently also the God of marching bands.

She urges us to seek joy and meaning in the midst of grief and reminds us to forge connections and listen to one another’s stories with empathy. So we realise we matter.

Through her experiences with grieving, Angela clarifies how joy and meaning can help us beat sorrow. Despair struggles to breathe where meaning resides.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)


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