Tovar Virgie - You Have the Right to Remain FatYou Have the Right to Remain Fat
Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar’s manifesto, You Have the Right to Remain Fat, preaches that there’s nothing wrong with fat people. There is something wrong with the culture that enables the discrimination against, scapegoating of, and prejudice towards fat people. Her message that everyone no matter their size should be treated with dignity is empowering. I found her arguments about dieting as a method of control convincing and her stories about her personal history with body image moving.

I had been taught to believe that weight loss was the key to all my heart’s greatest desires, but the truth is that it wasn’t. Because you can’t find self-love by walking a path paved by self-hatred.

To me, this book was like an opening salvo or a flag to start a race. It is, I believe, designed to raise consciousness and get women fired up, showing them the fallacies in diet culture and the pervasiveness of fatphobia. In this purpose, the book is successful. I also was very interested in the chapter that compared fat activism and the body positivity movement; I didn’t know the roots were so different, and it made me conscious of the limits of body positivity.

You Have the Right to Remain Fat is not a deep dive into history of fatphobia and diet culture, and while it is a call to arms, it does not provide strategies for moving forward. For those topics, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker is a great resource.

Tovar is eloquent and convincing, but I would have liked to see more evidence or sources for some of her arguments or concepts she introduces. For example, she mentions “radical passivity” but doesn’t describe it, and I actually can’t find a good explanation on the interweb. She has a thoughtful analysis of ads from the Strong4Life anti-childhood obesity campaign run by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, but the advertisements aren’t reprinted.

If you are only going to read one book on the subject, I don’t think I’d pick You Have the Right to Remain Fat. But, if you want to see how diet culture affected one woman and turned her into an activist, and if you want to feel good and get fired up about the issue, this is a great book to choose.

Book Review: CLOCK DANCE, a woman’s chance to break out of her history of passivity

Tyler, Anne - Clock Dance 2Clock Dance
Anne Tyler

In Clock Dance, Willa was introduced as an eleven-year-old with an abusive and unpredictable mother and passive, accepting father. Ten years later, Willa was a student at Kinney University and brought her boyfriend, Derek, home for Easter vacation to meet her family. He proposed to her–but wanted to get married that summer instead of waiting until she finishes her degree. Twenty years passed, and Willa and Derek lived in California with their two teenage sons. On the way to a party, enraged by another driver on the freeway, Derek drove aggressively causing an accident in which he died.

By 2017, Willa remarried to Peter, a now-retired lawyer, and moved with him to Tucson where he can indulge in his golf hobby. The move required her to resign from her job teaching ESL, and she was feeling slightly adrift. Then she received a phone call from a stranger in Baltimore who told Willa she was caring for her granddaughter, Cheryl, because her ex-daughter-in-law, Denise, had been shot in the leg. The stranger, Callie, a neighbor to Denise and Cheryl, was unable to care for the girl and her dog, Airplane, and needed Willa to come to Baltimore immediately. The problem? Willa didn’t have an ex-daughter-in-law or granddaughter. Her son, Sean, though, had lived with Denise and Cheryl for a time. Instead of correcting Callie, Willa decided to make the trip to Baltimore, and Peter, another controlling man in Willa’s life (who calls her, a sixty-something woman “little one”), joined her.

As Willa stayed in Baltimore through Denise’s recovery, she became close to the woman and her daughter and got to know the characters in the neighborhood, “Sir Joe” (Sergio) and his stepbrother, the awkward teenager, Erland, “Mrs. Mittens,” (Mrs. Minton), Ben, a doctor who runs a clinic from his house, and Hal, who was cuckolded by Sean. Willa’s engagement in the Baltimore neighborhood threatens her marriage with Peter, and her awareness of a neighborhood secret jeopardizes her relationship with Denise and Cheryl. She must decide if she will be the passive, accepting person modeled after her father or if she will advocate for her own desires.

Although the book did discuss serious themes–abuse, poverty, gun violence, and income inequality–in general, it was light-hearted and unexpectedly funny. Willa is compassionate and good-natured, but her passivity made me want to reach in the pages and shake her. Given the narrative arc, the book could really end only one way, but to Tyler’s credit, I was still on pins and needles until the last page wondering what Willa would do.

Overall, this was a well-written and feel-good book, and kudos for having a dog who is simply a part of the family and not imperiled. I was bothered by a few things in the book. The characters often reverted to comments like “men do” or “men are so” in such a way that their observations normalized gender roles rather than challenged them. Also, the book contained a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle fat shaming which seemed so unnecessary. Both Willa and Denise used “soft” cuss words like “durn” and “jeepers”; perhaps this was a method of characterizing them, but it gave the prose an archaic feel at those moments. Finally, the book is about Willa’s transformation. While she does have a pivot point, it is rather abrupt, and I wondered if it was represented too easy.

Book Review: MAX AT NIGHT, a cat on a quest to tell the moon goodnight

Max at Night CoverMax at Night
Ed Vere

A very tired Max begins his nightly ritual. He drinks his milk, brushes his teeth, says goodnight to the fish and spider, but when he goes to the window to tell the moon goodnight, it’s nowhere to be seen. Max journeys through the yard, climbs trees, summits the highest buildings in town, and finally, frustrated, at the top of a hill yells at the moon. The clouds part, and the moon appears. The moon tells Max that even when Max is in his room and can’t see him, the moon can hear him saying goodnight. Max returns home and quickly falls asleep, so soundly that he doesn’t hear the moon tell him goodnight.

I love the simplistic illustrations in Max at Night. Max is really cute and his eyes are so expressive! The background sometimes are simple blocks of bright colors, sometimes muted representations of Max’s surroundings. However, I was less excited about the story, although I might be more taken with it if I had to read a bedtime story to toddlers.

Max at Night Collage

Activity Kit

Max at Night Cover 2

Book Review: DARK SACRED NIGHT, pairing Ballard and Bosch gives renewed energy to the Harry Bosch Universe

Connelly, Michael - Dark Sacred Night (2)Dark Sacred Night
Michael Connelly

Detective Renée Ballard, consigned to the graveyard shift three years ago after accusing her supervisor of sexual assault, returned to her Hollywood division base from a call only to find a stranger rooting through the detectives’ filing cabinets. She was ready to confiscate his gun and perhaps arrest him when the Lieutenant came in and addressed him as “Bosch.” She learned the former detective was searching for information about a cold case from 2009. Curious, Ballard herself researched the case, Daisy Clayton’s murder, and it resonated with her. She asked Bosch if she could join him in his search for Daisy’s killer, and together, they worked the case while Ballard fulfilled her regular responsibilities on “the late show” and Bosch investigated a gang-related cold case in San Fernando.

Individually and as partners, their investigations propel Bosch and Ballard into dark places where they face threats both external and internal, pushing them against the rule and the spirit of the law. How far they will go for justice made the book interesting and suspenseful but I also wondered how realistic it was for these characters to push the limits so far. I found myself thinking at times, Would Bosch really do this? Still, because he seems to have hit a wall with what he can accomplish as a public servant, his unconventional partnership with Ballard, which they unofficially formalize at the end of the book, not only makes narrative sense but opens an exciting direction for the Harry Bosch Universe books.

I have faithfully read every Michael Connelly novel, and I have to admit that in recent incarnations, I’ve been less enamored with Bosch. In The Wrong Side of Goodbye and Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch was too bossy, too self-satisfied, and too pedantic. Dark Sacred Night, which is told through the alternative perspectives of Bosch and Ballard, restored my love for the series. Here, Bosch experienced self-reflection and self-doubt, questioning the impact of his behaviors no matter how well-intentioned they might have been. Seeing him from Ballard’s eyes, too, presented him in a softer, more compelling light, and I found him more likable than I have in ages. I’ve never liked the subplots with his daughter, Maddie, and I was delighted she played such a small role in this book. Ballard, too, is an interesting character who continues to develop and offers a useful perspective on being a female officer in the LAPD, though it’s still hard to envision her itinerant lifestyle being practical or even possible for a professional.

Connelly doesn’t sacrifice his law enforcement expertise with this seemingly new approach to Bosch. The novel has as many if not more procedural details than other books in the series, and while they are presented as authoritatively, they also seem less didactic. More than any other mystery series, I feel like the Harry Bosch Universe describes how the LAPD, and more generally other police departments, are run. Presenting some internal issues such as the use of force by the LAPD SWAT team through both Bosch’s and Ballard’s differing perspectives cues the reader to consider the morality and legitimacy of the team without offering a clear point of view. I was also touched by the inclusion of Officer Farmer who wrote poetic descriptions of individuals on field interview cards and later killed himself. These themes of sexual harassment, use of force, the appropriateness of “bending” the rules, and officer mental health elevate the book beyond a simple procedural.

Though I am worried about Bosch and Ballard and their relatively dark turns, I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Sacred Night, and I’m confident that both Michael Connelly fans and mystery-lovers in general will find it a compelling read. I am very excited about the Ballard and Bosch partnership and am looking for more books featuring them!

BOOK REVIEW: The Liar’s Wife, two kidnappings and a murder

Hayes, Samantha - The Liar's Wife (2)The Liar’s Wife
Samantha Hayes

For the past ten years, since a tragic fire, Ella Sinclair has isolated herself. Fearful of questions that might reveal her role in the tragedy, Ella refuses to become close to anyone, finding solace in her work, home, sleep routine.

One night, she is biking home and a van hits her when it unsafely enters a roundabout. Days later, she wakes from a coma with a broken arm and leg. Her nurse assures her that her loving husband has been by her side. But Ella has never been married. Who could this stranger be? When she sees his face, she recoils in horror and wants to escape but “Jacob” was there the night of the fire and has a video tape implicating Ella in the events leading up to it.

She feels she has no choice but to let him take her home with him and pose as his wife. As he did a decade ago, Jacob beats Ella, forbids her from leaving the house, and watches her with video tapes installed throughout the dwelling. Having one leg in a cast and one arm broken makes escape even more elusive. Still, she has just moved from one prison, the one of isolation, to another, physical cell. Inquisitive and trying-to-be-helpful neighbors create a minefield Ella must navigate.

As the narrative barrels to the inevitable confrontation between Ella and Jacob, Samantha Hayes inserts a number of characters from Ella’s past that could be Jacob. Usually, I don’t figure out mysteries very quickly, but I guessed Jacob’s identity early on. Because Hayes has to keep all the options for these characters open, occasionally she has to do narrative acrobatics. Additionally, Liam, a co-worker of Ella’s, has a handful of point of view chapters, and he’s presented as a counterpoint to Jacob. Unfortunately, I found his character rather problematic as he constantly transgressed borders, even if it was out of concern for Ella.

Despite being held prisoner, having a difficult time with mobility, and being given an unexpected responsibility, Ella is determined to escape. Her perseverance in the face of pain reminded me of Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill character. Ella’s achievements are in private; she fears revealing her goals to Jacob in case he retaliates or limits her further. Perhaps the driving force around the narrative relates not to what will happen but how and if Ella can ever start developing relationships with others.

The Liar’s Wife was an enjoyable if not lasting thriller, and Ella’s broken leg and consequent immobility added a unusual dimension. The pace of the book, though, was a little off for me; it didn’t ever really grab me. Some of the peripheral characters, such as Ella’s college roommate, were to my mind stereotypical. And there was a plot strand that was unexpectedly resolved when in this case, it would have been better to leave as an open mystery.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for providing an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.