Review: If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Title: If I’m Being Honest
Authors: Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up by one word: bitch. When she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, she fears she’s lost the one person who actually liked her for good. In an attempt to win him back, Cameron resolves to prove her worth by making amends with those she’s wronged. First on the list? Brendan, the guy to whom she gave an unfortunate nickname in middle school and who’s now the school loser. But the longer Cameron spends repairing Brendan’s reputation, the closer she gets to him—and the more she realizes that he appreciates her personality, brutal honesty and all. It makes her wonder: what if she’s compromising herself for a guy she doesn’t even want?


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via Edelweiss+.

If you’re lucky, sometimes you stumble onto a good book at exactly the right time; even if its not perfect, it’s perfect for you, and you’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. If I’m Being Honest was that book for me.

Taking cues from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, If I’m Being Honest follows Cameron through the first few months of her senior year at an uber posh Los Angeles prep school. With no patience for anything less than transparent honesty, authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka write Cameron as an over-achieving mean girl—she’s selfish, self-absorbed, and mean. Even though we understand that she doesn’t have the best relationship with either one of her parents, we don’t feel bad for her, either. Cameron is completely oblivious to how her words hurt, and the first few chapters set up a very compelling story arc for redemption.

I stayed up until 12:30am on a work night to finish the second half of this book because I couldn’t put it down. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka made me need to know what happened to Cameron. Would her (delicious) slow-burn romance with Brendan go anywhere? What would happen to her new friendship with Brendan’s sister, Paige? Parts of the book made me literally curl my toes and squee they were so freaking cute while others made my heart sigh happily. Having an accurate portrayal of anxiety? Validating. Seeing an authentic portrayal of female friendship? Down-right refreshing.

The summary makes If I’m Being Honest seem like your run-of-the-mill young adult novel, but it’s so much more than that. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka imbued all of their characters with messy personalities and true-to-life emotions so that nothing feels cheap or out-of-place. You knew that you could be happy when something good happened to a character because you’d already spent the last few chapters being angry with them for doing something stupid. There was fandom and creative passion projects and mental health rep and I may have cried just a bit toward the end.

Please read this book, y’all. It is so, so good.

Top Fifteen: Rainy-Day Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was rainy-day reads.

The term “rainy-day read” always makes me think of a gloomy, dull Sunday where I don’t have any plans and can spend all day on the couch engrossed in a good book. Whatever the genre, a good rainy-day read sucks me into the plot and makes me loathe to leave its world—sometimes not even for food or bathroom breaks.

What makes a good rainy-day read for you? Did any of these make your list?

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Blackout by Connie Willis
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
The Passage by Justin Cronin

Renegades by Marissa Meyer
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Review: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Title: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
Author: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich began working at a law firm, they thought they were staunchly anti-death penalty. But once they heard convicted murderer Ricky Langley speak on his crimes, they realized they wanted him to die. Shocked by the reaction, they dug into the case, finding Langley’s story unsettlingly and uncannily familiar. An intellectual and emotional thriller as well as a murder mystery, The Fact of a Body explores the intersection of violent crime with personal history. It tackles the nature of forgiveness and if a single narrative can ever really contain the truth. It shows how the law is more personal than we like to believe—and the truth more complicated and powerful than we can imagine.


Note: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich identifies as genderqueer and goes by they-them pronouns but didn’t when the book was published.

I thought I knew the plot of this book before I read it. From the summary, I guessed that the murder in question was of Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s relative—an aunt, perhaps—referenced in passing enough that they knew she had died but not really how. And so when they hear the “unsettingly, uncannily familiar” confession of Ricky Langley, it sparks a memory which they follow, learning more about the crime from both the murderer’s perspective as well as their family’s.

But that’s not what happens. Uncovered slowly through dual perspective, The Fact of a Body unfurls both Marzano-Lesnevich’s childhood as a sexual abuse survivor with that of Langley, a sexual abuser. For obvious reasons, it’s a hard story to read, but Marzano-Lesnevich is a brilliant writer, and the story flows easily from the murder and its aftermath to their adolescence, from before Langley was born through his childhood to the internship they accept which ultimately introduces them to Langley’s case.

The Fact of a Body flew under the radar when it was published, most likely because neither Ricky Langley nor his crime is well-known, but I hope more people read it. It reminded me very much of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark in that each book focuses on both a crime and the person pursuing that crime and, for both, I wanted to know just as much about the criminal act as I did the person trying to understand the criminal. Marzano-Lesnevich so plainly lays bare their pain and anger that you feel it, too. But they also make room for Langley, for the messy “un-neatness of everything that happened” to him and because of him.

Marzano-Lesnevich opens the book with “a note on source material,” in which they state that The Fact of a Body is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened.” In an attempt to ask what, the book gives space to both why and how, and we come away better for it.

Month in Review: March 2019

Favorite Media

I was never the biggest Hozier fan, but loving “Take Me to Church” was enough to get me to check out Wasteland Baby from the library. But this album, y’all! I basically like every song (which is so rare) and already really love a few (especially “Movement“). If you’re even a passing Hozier fan, you really need to check out this album.

I don’t think I realized how much I missed the JoBros until “Sucker” dropped in early March. This is a bop, y’all, and my 20-year-old self is screaming.

Stuff I Added to My Queue

I’m pretty sure that I’d add The Friend Zone to my TBR without the infertility plotline, but I have yet to see another contemporary romance address this, and so now I’m super intrigued!

Do I desperately wait for a new Millennium novel? No. Did I automatically add The Girl Who Lived Twice to my TBR the first moment I knew it was being published? Yes. 🤷‍♀️

Destiny featured both Let’s Get Textual and Level Up in one of her ‘TBR Lows & Highs’ posts, and it’s a good example of how a good rec can overcome both a cheesy plot or a bad cover.

New Orleans Rush was another Destiny find! The meet-cute and forced-into-one-another’s-company plot sounds like an ideal pick-me-up the next time I finish something heavy.

ICYMI

What were YOU up to in March? Let me know!

Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance within, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the camp’s Director and his guards. Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.


When fascism comes to America, it will come draped in the flag. You don’t need to be a student of history to see how nationalism, disguised as patriotism, can take hold of a country, justifying terrible and cruel acts. You only need to turn on the news.

I don’t know that I really enjoyed Internment—more that I experienced it. On one hand, the plot feels like true dystopic fiction, a horrendous what if? spiraling out of a real-world event. But on the other, it reads like an inevitability, the disastrous result of one too many bad choices, the culmination of a timeline from which we can no longer turn back.

We’re introduced to main character Layla after a Muslim registry and Exclusion Laws have already taken effect, but the action quickly accelerates as her family is forcibly removed from their home, tattooed with an ID number, and transported to a “rehabilitation” camp across the desert. The allusions to Japanese internment are frank and unsettling, Samira Ahmed forcing her readers to truly look at all the horrible shit America has done to its citizens in the name of nationalism. It should come as no surprise, then, that Internment was very hard to read, but it is important that I did, and that you do, too. “What’s that thing people always say about history?” Layla asks. “Unless we know our history, we’re doomed to repeat it? Never forget? Isn’t that the lesson? But we always forget,” she reminds us. “Forgetting is in the American grain.”

One of the first things that Layla mentions is how her life is broken up into “Then and Now,” but most of the Thens—the election, the Nazi march on DC, and the Muslim ban—mirror real-world events, so what’s to say that my reaction to those wouldn’t also mirror my reactions to the other Thens—the registry, book burnings, and Exclusion Laws— that ultimately led to Layla’s internment? One of the reasons why this book was so difficult to read was because Ahmed held up a mirror and made me look at myself, forced me to question how I would react to similar circumstances. I kept asking, would I be able to endure like Layla? Protest like her? Resist?

The short answer? No, I don’t think so.

Layla shows extreme fortitude in Internment, and I don’t know that I could do it as well as her, or even at all. About halfway through the book, Layla’s dad tells her, “don’t attract attention. Fade into the crowd. Stay as anonymous as possible. That’s how we’ll survive.” But Layla doesn’t want survival—she wants life. In acknowledging that “there’s no limit to the horrible things we do to one another,” she still understands that “human beings are capable of so many wondrous things.” It’s that hope, that ability to see beauty in the most brutal circumstances, that I admire most of all.

In her author’s note, Ahmed mentions, “I feel a lot of anger. But I believe in hope. I believe that the things that are wrong with America can be fixed by Americans. I believe that being good is what can make us great.” Reading Internment made me feel a lot of anger, but it also gave me hope. What more could I ask of a novel?

Top Ten: Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was things that make me pick up a book.

Let me just say that I am in LOVE with this topic! I chose to list reasons why I might physically pick up a book or why I might then add a book to my TBR, with real-world examples because why the heck not.

It comes personally recommended: an acquaintance texted me out of the blue with “Umm have you read Big Little Lies? I’m watching the HBO miniseries and holy shit I’m hooked” and her thinking of me made me wonder if the book might be my kind of thing after all.
It has cute illustrations: A story may sound interesting, but if I can’t stand the illustration style, there is no way it’s going on my TBR. I am so in enamored with Cannonball‘s illustrations, though, as well as its coloring.
It comes highly recommended across my corner of the bookternet: I have literally seen nothing but good reviews for The Kiss Quotient and having it consistently get four- and five-star reviews made me want to read it.
It includes time travel: I will almost always pick up a book that includes a reference to time travel, but not all of them get added to my TBR. An Ocean on Minutes made the cut.
It’s a retelling of an old favorite: I went through a good half-year when I basically only read books that were either Pride and Prejudice re-tellings or included the book as a plot point. I fell out of the habit, but then Pride came out and it just sounded so freaking good.

I love the cover: whenever people say “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” I think well why the hell not? I do this constantly, and Queenie catches my eye literally every time I come across it.
It flips a trope: I love a good Chosen One Story, but I also love when our Chosen One is off… over there… doing their own thing, and I get to read about everyone else, like in The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
It covers one of my interests: I’m a big fan of 1960s-era NASA, and so I will at least peak at anything that covers it. After watching First Man recently, the topic was on the brain when I saw Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11 come into my library.
I loved the movie: Arrival hit me real hard when I saw it, so much so that I want to read its source material, a short story in Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others.
It tackles a trope I love: I have a serious ~thing for fake dating and the fact that The Unhoneymooners includes fake fating on a fake honeymoon (stranded in a hotel! sharing one bed! pretending to be newlyweds!) made my alarm bells BLARE.

Review: Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal

Title: Woman World
Author: Aminder Dhaliwal
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: When a birth defect wipes out the planet’s entire population of men, Woman World rises out of society’s ashes. This infectiously funny comic follows the rebuilding process, tracking a group of women who have rallied together under the flag of “Beyonce’s Thighs.” Only Grandma remembers the distant past, a civilization of segway-riding mall cops, Blockbuster movie rental shops, and “That’s What She Said” jokes. Incorporating feminist philosophical concerns into a series of perfectly-paced strips, Woman World skewers perceived notions of femininity and contemporary cultural icons into a meditation on unrequited love, anxiety, and that whole “survival of humanity” thing.


Woman World is a highly original tale of what happens after global catastrophe, wherein biological men don’t survive (for…reasons) and women band together and create the most utopic, inclusive post-apocalyptic vision I have ever read. (Aminder Dhaliwal makes it very clear that all genders, sizes, races, and abilities are welcome, both in Woman World the society and Woman World the book. One of the main characters has a leg prosthetic! Another has double-mastectomy scarring! There are trans individuals! A monochromatic rainbow of skin colors! Fat ladies! Thin ladies! Pubic hair!)

Although I sped through the book—and laughed out loud at jokes that only a critique on gender norms can bring to the surface—I still wanted more. I went into Woman World thinking it was going to be a narrative graphic novel, but it’s more of a vaguely linear collection of panels that very slowly move the story forward. (If I had known Dhaliwal originally posted this on Instagram, would that notion have changed?) Some of the panels more fully flesh out the broader world while others are individual character studies, but most of the book consists of humorous asides that serve to poke fun at the patriarchy with which readers (and Grandma) will most identify. (Like how bad-ass women are with respect to their own pain or a book-spanning joke on Paul Blart Mall Cop.)

Woman World is a very short read and, although almost every installment can stand on its own, the collection as a whole is just so darn cute and wonderfully refreshing that you’d be remiss to pass it over.