Review: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl Gonzalez

Title: Olga Dies Dreaming

Author: Xóchitl Gonzalez

Pub. Date: January 4th 2022

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/LGBTQIA+

Format: Audiobook – Libro.FM & Book Of The Month

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Pages: 384 pages/11 hrs 22 min

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Characters: 10/10   Atmosphere: 10/10  Writing Style: 10/10  Plot: 6/10  Intrigue: 0/10  Logic/Relationships: 8/10  Enjoyment: 8/10

Rating: 52/7.4 =  ☆☆ Stars☆☆╮

Rating system created by The Book Roast 

☆☆ “𝐋𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐬𝐡𝐞’𝐝 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐞𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐚 𝐒𝐜𝐨𝐨𝐛𝐲-𝐃𝐨𝐨 𝐞𝐩𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐝𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐩𝐮𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐝 𝐨𝐟𝐟 𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐰𝐧 𝐦𝐚𝐬𝐤, 𝐫𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞 𝐬𝐡𝐞’𝐝 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐇𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐲-𝐆𝐨-𝐋𝐮𝐜𝐤𝐲 𝐏𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐲 𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐢𝐧 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐬𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐫𝐢𝐟𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐄𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐖𝐨𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐂𝐨𝐥𝐨𝐫” ☆☆╮

Olga Dies Dreaming is a dual point of view story that toggles between present day and timelines that date back to the early 2000’s. We follow Olga and Pedro aka “Prieto” Acevedo as they navigate their lives and careers while also dealing with an absent mother who makes her presence known through letters and visits from fellow associates. Blanca abandoned her children when they were very young to fight for a liberated Puerto-Rico, never making her whereabouts known since she’s the leader of a small group of liberation radicals known as the “Pañuelos Negros” who are akin to the Black Panthers. Olga has made a career out of wedding planning for the elite in NYC Manhattan while also keeping love and romance at arms length. She’s out to break stereo-types as a Latinx business owner and has turned her back on ALL things related to her mom & issues plaguing Puerto-Rico. Olga’s brother Prieto is a popular Congressman in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood who is torn between being present as a good father for his daughter vs. wanting to protect Puerto-Rico from exploitation. Prieto is flawed there’s no denying that, his intentions started off good as he struggled with finding his role and how to do his part in helping the island. Ultimately I found his actions in politics to be very spineless and damaging to the island.

Whenever I pick up a book by a debut author, I’m looking to see if they’re characters are compelling enough for me to get invested in their back stories. Gonzalez delivered top tier character development and gave each one a distinctive voice, down to the absentee mother whose presence was felt through a series of evocative letters.  Both siblings have serious abandonment issues that are in need of healing as it continues to play a role in the decisions they make with their loved ones and in their respective careers. They both seek validation from a mother who abandoned her role in their lives and lives/breathes her cause, something they still can’t accept.

This book won’t be for every reader especially since woven in the text is a lot of history centered around the Puerto-Rican diaspora. There is a heavy emphasis on politics both in gentrifying NYC neighborhoods as well as the relationship between the mainland United States and Puerto-Rico. I can appreciate this since so much went down when Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017 leaving the island in the dark and many of us outsiders with family on the island, feeling helpless and frantic. PREPA and the shady political behaviors by the Governor which we watched in real life get exposed, are mentioned in this book which may shed some light to those who didn’t know much about it. The conclusion wrapped up a bit too quick for my liking for a book that mostly was medium paced with many complex layers to unravel. I listened to the audiobook and gave the performance 5 stars, the narrator knocked it out the park. I felt the audiobook specifically, really brought Blanca’s letters to life and made her passionate pleas to rally up more powerful. There were scenes I found hard and heavy to get through, especially when Prieto visits the towns in Puerto-Rico and speaks to citizens who are exhausted and feeling forgotten without water or light. Overall, it was an impactful memorable read that has placed Xóchitl on my radar for any future releases.

CW: Death of a parent, rape, suicide, cheating, divorce, cancer, serophobia, gentrification, abandonment, drug addiction, homophobic slurs, racism


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Spoiler Free Review: Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Roa

Title: Girls Burn Brighter

Author: Shobha Roa

Pub. Date: March 6th 2018

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Format: Audiobook

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Pages: 309 pages/11 hours & 38 minutes

 

 

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Girls Burn Brighter is a story about friendship and the resilience many girls/women have to find within when faced with trauma and tragedy. We follow two girls Poornima and Savitha who are living in India, they start off walking very different paths but soon end up down the same road. After the loss of Poornima’s mother, her father hires Savitha to work in his Sari looms. They instantly strike up a friendship with Savitha bringing much joy to Poornima who is dreading the day her marriage is arranged. Savita is a positive soul who always sees the brighter side of every situation, her smile alone is contagious and often is exactly what Poornima needs. One night, tragedy comes for Savitha and it robs her of the light she carries within. Traumatized by what has happened to her, she flees their village in the middle of the night. Poornima is devastated by the disappearance of her friend and knows something terrible had to have happened. Poornima decides she’s going to go after her friend and the story switches to multi-pov as we follow each of the girls journey in America. This story tackles human trafficking and violence many young girls and women face, it is not an easy read. It is raw and violent, all the while communicating to the reader the sense of hope and fight these girls have to find their way back to one another again. 

CW: Human trafficking, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, violence, mutilation, disfigurement, abuse

I was not prepared for this story and yet I could not stop listening and hoping that it would all end on a good note for Savitha and Poornima. The truth however is more painful and tragic, not many escape human trafficking and if they do there are scars to carry. The violence they experience in India and then later in America all the while pushing on was heartbreaking. Watching the girls tuck away their traumas in order to find answers from the men who held them captive was sobering. They couldn’t stop and process the constant violations against their bodies because that meant never getting out. They used every tool at their disposal to outsmart and maneuver their way forward in hopes of seeing each-other again. This isn’t the type of story that can ever truly have a happy ending and does feel very heavy while reading, the author handled these tough themes in a thought provoking way. A lot of the scenes depicted are violent and sobering because it’s the stark reality many face in our real world. The character development is strong with each of their voices and personalities coming through in a very distinct way. My eyes are peeled for anything Shobha Roa writes next. 


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Spoiler Free Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Title: Such a Fun Age

Author: Kiley Reid

Pub. Date: December 31st 2019

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Format: Audiobook

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 310 pages

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In the middle of the night, white blogger Alix Chamberlain and her husband are experiencing a crisis in their home. They call their African American babysitter Emira asking her to come over and take their baby girl Briar Chamberlain for a walk to distract her while they handle the events that have transpired in their home. Emira who is off the clock and at a friends birthday party decides to do this favor for her employer. While walking through the local supermarket in the Chamberlain’s neighborhood with 2 year old Briar, things quickly take a left turn. We have what we now have come to call a “Neighborhood Karen” raise what she thinks are concerns for the safety of Briar to the security guard at the market. It’s quickly implied that a white child wouldn’t be out late at night with a black girl who claims to be said child’s babysitter. One thing leads to another and Emira sees herself accused of kidnapping Briar and isn’t allowed to leave until contact is made with her employer. THIS BOOK!!!! WOW! I was NOT prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions I sat and listened through. This most certainly was a read-in-one-sitting type of book. I felt all things from anger to empathy to disgust watching Emira navigate through the racism and microagressions in her life.

“I don’t need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like… happens.” – Such a Fun Age

Emira is 25, the age where many find themselves wondering what to do with their life. She isn’t sure what path to take career wise or even what her skillset is really valued at. We see her sort of just go with the flow of things while Alix Chamberlain adopts this really weird obsession with all things Emira. Alix is a white woman who at one point in her life decided to change her name to make herself sound more sophisticated. She’s made a career of writing eloquent persuasive letters that in turn get her free products to review. Alix belongs to this circle of women who are very judgmental and toxic towards one another. This character literally got under my skin, she had this really awkward way of going about making sure Emira sees her as different than most white women. She becomes obsessed with trying to befriend Emira al the while Emira is very aware that they could never be friends. Alix would never treat Emira like she treats her own wealthy friends from New York. There are moments where Alix finds herself both surprised and embarrassed at being taken aback at hearing Emira using words in her vocabulary that don’t align with her listening to rap music. She acknowledges to herself that it shouldn’t come as a surprise since Emira is a college graduate but still she harbors these thoughts. Bookworms! this book will have you shaking your head but the truth is we all know an Alix in real life.

There’s so much to unpack in this book but at its core it’s a book about racism, microagressions, social class, parenting and racial fetishization. These characters seriously had me back and forth with my feelings when it came down trying to figure out if their actions/thoughts were ill intended or not. The idea of the white savior comes into play from the very start when Emira’s white employers are called before releasing her and then continues all throughout.  There were a few twists that I didn’t see coming and seriously had me eyes wide open with anticipation at what could come next. While there are very serious hard hitting themes that play center stage, this book never once felt preachy yet (actually some parts were fun as odd as that may sound) it managed to give a huge SMH at the ignorance Emira had to deal with. The writing invoked emotions that go hand in hand with what 2020 brought to the surface.  A more satisfying ending I did not read in all of 2020, a read I’ll never forget. Kiley Reid’s debut is simply phenomenal! One of my Top 10 of 2020 that I will continue to recommend to all my friends!


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Spoiler Free Review: One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Title: One to Watch

Author: Kate Stayman-London

Pub. Date: July 7th 2020

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Romance

Format: Audiobook

Publisher: Dial Press

Pages: 432 pages

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Stylish plus-size fashion blogger Bea Schumacher has just experienced some heart break. Alongside one of her closest friends, she sets out to watch  the very popular dating show The Main Squeeze. While watching she starts to actively tweet about the lack of diversity each season. Her tweet garners a ton of traction from others who’d also like to see the show diversify their cast & main squeeze. Be a doesn’t know the show has just experienced some major changes behind closed doors as far as show runners. Saving the show has now been left in the hands of a new director who sees Bea’s tweet & thinks it to be the PERFECT opportunity to raise ratings. Never before has the show cast a plus- size main squeeze & Bea seems vocal enough to possibly accept the role. Bea sees this as a moment for her to represent many who have been unlucky in love, to inspire confidence in others. She doesn’t anticipate how hard this gig really is or all of the back lash she’d be exposed to for being a plus-size female. Something she has had to deal with in the past but never on this big a scale on national television.

This is not the story of a woman who is 100% confident in her skin all of the time. This is the very accurate portrayal of what some women have dealt with when judged by a society not yet ready to accept beauty in all shapes & sizes. It is harsh & brutal to read all of the cruel things viewers said about Bea while watching the show…yet these people do exist. It was triggering to read as someone who has always struggled with weight & have only within these last 2 years felt comfortable in my own skin. Nonetheless, I experienced my fair share of cruel moments & found this story inspiring. This is a story about a woman who found strength & beauty within. She wasn’t willing to settle for anyone who didn’t see her as the truly phenomenal woman that she is!

Bea Baby! I adore you! I shed tears reading some of the disgusting vitriol spewed her way & wondered in amazement at her strength. Yes, she did have moments of weakness but she legit stood up & dusted her shoulders off each & every time. Bea wasn’t confident all her life, she had to find that within! as a matter of fact she spent most of her youth covering her body. She didn’t love herself at the start of this story & allowed herself to get caught up in a triangle she had no business in. Did I enjoy reading that? no I did not. I also know how dark a place it is when you lack self love & self worth. She could’ve bowed out many times throughout but knew that just as there were those humans who couldn’t accept her for her outward appearance, there were many counting on her. Bea at the end of the book is who I’ve worked very hard to become, someone who knows they’re worthy of a greater love.

I’ve had some time away from this book to think on my rating & still rate it 5 stars. Not only for enjoyment (although it was fun once we started seeing Bea enjoy dating some of these men) but for the feelings it invoked in my reading experience. Were there things that could’ve been better? Yes absolutely! the contestants could’ve been fleshed out but instead their ethnicity/race were briefly mentioned once. Considering the whole point was to advocate for diversity, it would’ve been much more appreciated & well received had we gotten more from the men. In no way do I believe that it would’ve taken away from Bea’s story. In fact, my curiosity heightened at the end to read a book from the POV of Bea’s black love interest. 

I saw a lot of my personal journey in Bea’s story & a lot of it is ugly and painful. I wouldn’t pick this book up if I’m looking for a confident woman who is all about body positivity because that is not Bea. She’s had a rough go at loving herself & wanting more than second best when it comes to love. Personally, this story resonated on so many levels. That feeling you experience when you finally go out with someone who sees your beauty…yea you definitely question if it’s real. You’ve grown used to the feeling of not quite measuring up but in reality you were just investing your time in the wrong people. Bea had to learn this & I cheered her on all the way to that realization.


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