‘There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job’ Explores How Work Defines Our Lives

I never imagined reading about odd jobs would be so fascinating

Every year, with varying degrees of success, I try to take on a reading challenge with the intention of diversifying my reading life.

This year, I’ve once again decided to attempt the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, a list of tasks intended to get you off your beaten path, picking up titles you normally wouldn’t.

One such task, “read a non-European book in translation,” brought me to Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job.

When the book arrived on my doorstep and I unboxed it to find a 400-page paperback staring at me, I wondered if I could even finish such a book.

In my mind, for some reason, the phrase “book in translation” had been tangled up with early semesters at college pursuing my literature degree. Memories of Gilgamesh and middle English stanzas of The Canterbury Tales caused me to brace for a slog of a book.

What I encountered, however, was anything but boring.

(Disclaimer: book links below are affiliate links, and I will receive a small commission should you choose to purchase).


I can’t say for sure that I’ve read many books that center entirely upon a person’s working life, their time spent on the clock. In fact, work often becomes background to plot elements that center around other aspects of a protagonist’s life. Given that many of us work 40 hours a week, at minimum, this strikes me as odd now that I reflect on it.

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Jobas its title suggests, centers almost entirely on the unnamed protagonist’s working life. Told in the first person, the book brings us into the narrator’s innermost thoughts as she pursues a series of odd jobs in an effort to avoid the burnout that caused her to leave her previous field.

It’s the narrative voice that makes this book so imminently readable. Though she asks for an easy job close to her house, without reading or writing required, we see time and again that the narrator can’t help but become overinvested in her work.

She observes her colleagues, trying to make out whether they are good people, and how she might be the best at whatever strange tasks she’s set out to do. From job to job, she strives to uncover a deeper purpose.


If the entertaining and singular narrative voice wasn’t recommendation enough, each job is stranger and more niche than the one before. These peculiar situations provide the momentum in the story, as you work out the true intention behind each peculiar job posting along with the narrator.

She writes factoids on rice cracker wrappers, scripts bus advertisements, and sits in a hut in the woods perforating tickets, all while considering whether there is a deeper meaning to the simple work she’s tasked to complete.

We almost exclusively follow her time at work, with life outside the workplace barely mentioned — a whole day off is dismissed as inconsequential, giving us a sense of the obsession with working life that led her and many of her predecessors to burnout.

In this way, the novel provides a commentary on the culture from which it comes, one that prioritizes work above personal care until such a time that work must be abandoned entirely to nurse wounds.

As someone who has worked full time for a number of years, I found myself nodding along in sympathy as our narrator keeps finding reasons why each particular job may not be ideal after all. And yet, work on she must.

“I knew that however much of a bind I might have felt my current situation to be, it didn’t alter the fact that I had to keep on working, which meant I had to keep on moving forward.” (There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job, p. 149).

For all the sense of obligation that comes with pressing forward in work, we begin to understand that the narrator hopes to find meaning through even these strangest of jobs. As strange occurrences arise, she tries her best to press on and get to the bottom of them, until the time comes to once again ask for another so-called easy job.

At times, this pattern got a bit frustrating, as I felt just like the narrator becoming invested in the peculiarities of a particular position, only to be disappointed when she left it behind in pursuit of something entirely different. After the first couple of jobs, the transition became easier, but I still felt a bit sad at each shift.

If anything, this speaks to how fascinating the author manages to render each new setting and its characters. For all my trepidation at the start, 400 pages ended up feeling like nothing at all as I eagerly turned the page to see what strangeness would next ensue.


For such a lengthy book, the ending itself felt perhaps a bit abrupt. I’m still pondering the ultimate journey of our narrator and whether I believe her experiences logically led her there.

Then again, perhaps I wasn’t ready for this bizarre and fascinating book to end, wanting to journey through stranger and more niche job postings still. At times I felt a bit overwhelmed while reading, steeped as this book is in burnout culture and the way that we ask our jobs to bring us meaning, often at the expense of other aspects of our lives.

As many of us transition away from working at home and the elusive phrase “work-life balance” looms in the rear-view mirror, it felt all too real to read about a person we get to know almost entirely through her working life.

For all that, I immensely enjoyed this book and suspect I will be thinking about it for quite some time. I highly recommend giving this one a go, whether or not you’ve got a reading challenge checkbox to tick off.


Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

5 Books by European Authors to Celebrate Europe Day and Spice Up Your TBR Pile

Happy Europe Day, wonderful readers! When was the last time you’ve checked your TBR pile and purposefully decided to diversify it? If you have a look at it right now, what’s the proportion of British or American authors to foreign authors?

I’ll be honest. I’m a proud European and there isn’t one drop of English blood running through my veins. Yet, while researching for this piece, I went straight to my Goodreads and was horrified to realise I’ve not read a foreign author in over a year. I know. I honestly had to pause and analyse how it happened. I have the privilege, knowledge, and possibility to read in three languages, and even if not, there are plenty of great translations. Yet, my reads are mostly by British or American authors.

So I decided to ask you too if that’s the case for you. In my case, a mix of factors led to the lack of diversity in my TBR and finished piles. Firstly, I live and work as a journalist in the UK, which means I’m surrounded by British media more than anything else. An echo chamber, if you will. Secondly, there’s much more exposure in the media for English authors, which is a shame. My favourite booktubers on YouTube also constantly recommend mostly English authors.

Don’t get me wrong, American and British literature are both just as valuable and worth reading as any other. But sometimes they can take over, as they did for me and I’m sure they might have done for you too. So, in celebration of Europe Day, a day of unity, prosperity, and mutual support between nations, within the European Union and beyond, I made a list of five books by authors within the EU you might want to add to your reading list.

I intentionally chose names that haven’t been as promoted, if at all, in English media, with the exception of Carlos Ruiz Zafon, whom I couldn’t help but include. That being said, here are five books by five European authors worth considering for your next read.


1. ‘The Book of Mirrors’ by E.O. Chirovici

Author nationality: Romanian

Plot

A complex and well-developed psychological thriller, Chirovici’s The Book of Mirrors tells the story of a cold murder case and explores the twisted paths of memory, particularly when it deals with shock and trauma. The protagonist, Peter Katz, a high-profile literary agent, receives an unfinished manuscript. He is intrigued to find out the author, Richard Flynn, had been a close friend of a famous professor who was brutally killed back in the 1980s. The agent sets out on a quest to find the full manuscript and piece together the true story of Professor Wieder’s murder.

Although written by a Romanian author, The Book of Mirrors was actually written in English first, and then Chirovici translated it himself into his first language, which is why I thought this would be a great one to add on the list, as it’s not a translation.


2. ‘Don’t Move’ by Margaret Mazzantini

Author nationality: Italian

Plot

A family drama of tragic proportions, Don’t Move tells the story of an apparently successful surgeon, Timoteo, whose daughter suffers an accident that throws her in a coma. Taken over by fear and agony at the possibility he might lose his little girl, Timoteo starts reflecting upon his most devastating mistakes in life and ends up confessing his greatest secret to his unconscious daughter.

The plot sounds a lot like a Celeste Ng-style novel: full of tensions, atmosphere, and suspense, while exploring the fragility of human life, and how bad a person can sometimes mess up their life.


3. ‘Angel Station’ by Jáchym Topol

Author nationality: Czech

Plot

Known for his poetical depictions of post-Communist Prague, Topol explores three wrong paths to happiness: drugs, money, and religion, in this novel named after a train station in a poor district of the Czech capital. Angel Station follows an addict, a shop owner, and a religious preacher, in their quest to find peace through mundane ways. Topol’s writing is what sets him apart, weaving poetry, dark humour, and masterful prose in a challenging to translate but well-received work of Eastern European literature.

As an Eastern European myself, I wanted to include a book that depicted a post-Communist country, as readers based in the West are not always familiar with the repercussions of the regime on the part of Europe it dominated until only three decades ago. This one is definitely worth considering if you’re looking to experiment with genres.


4. ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Author nationality: Spanish

Plot

A book about books and a classic of atmospherical post-Bellic settings, The Shadow of the Wind tells the story of a passionate reader who found solace in one author’s work. But when he soon discovers someone has been destroying the books he loves so much, determined to save the author’s work or at least uncover the reason behind the violation, Daniel, the protagonist, embarks on a bookish quest that’s not just about the smell of fresh ink and the turning of yellowing pages.

Playing at the border between realism and fantasy, Zafon does a great job of setting the gothic, mysterious atmosphere and making this book about books an unconventional adventure story you’ll follow with your heart in your throat.


5. ‘Welcome to America’ by Lina Boström Knausgård

Author nationality: Swedish

Plot

Welcome to America tells the story of a family shattered by grief, with the daughter’s sudden silence after her father dies bearing a heavier reason than anyone might expect. The book sets itself apart through its mute narrator, who although may never speak again, takes the reader along on her emotional journey to coming to terms with her father’s death, the guilt associated with it, her family’s ways of dealing with it, and her newfound silence.

Knausgård was nominated for Sweden’s August Prize for Best Fiction Book of the Year in 2016 for Welcome to America.


Final Thoughts

You don’t have to be European to celebrate the meaning of Europe Day. Today, we at Coffee Time Reviews encourage you to pause and analyse the books you read, the music you listen to, the shows you watch, and the YouTubers you’re subscribed to, and if they’re predominantly one category (one race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality), we urge you to consider diversifying. This list of book recommendations isn’t here only to mark Europe Day and promote the European Union, but to urge you to support other authors, creators, and artists, who may not have had the same media exposure. It’s about their talent, not where they come from. Happy day of unity!


Stuck on what to read next? You might enjoy browsing through our Reading Recs page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

The Patriarchy in the Poetry Scene Stole My Biggest Passion

I was a poetry prodigy. And the old veterans just couldn’t let me into the industry

It’s been four years since I last called myself a poet. Although I believe with all my heart that I will always be a poet, my 15-year-long career in the Romanian poetry scene came to a halt when I realised I was fighting windmills. And I just didn’t want to carry on anymore.

I wrote my first poem at age 5. For the following 15 years, it became my most important talent and craft. At age 7, I started publishing my poems in local magazines. Many years of contests and awards followed. At 14, I joined a writing society, where I was an active member for 5 years. The society made it possible for me to fully flourish and for my poetry to gain national exposure over the course of my teenage years.

Although I’d been an award-winning writer multiple times from a young age, my proudest years as a poet came between the age of 16 to 19. I could feel my poetry blooming under my increasing dedication to the craft and although I knew it would be a very slippery, very competitive, and not exactly popular career path, I wanted to pursue poetry at least as a side-hustle.

Giving a speech at my poetry collection’s launch. Picture provided by the author.

My poetry reached its peak in 2016 when I was offered my first book deal. I was 17 at the time and 18 when my collection, Leoaica, după vânătoare (The lioness after the hunt) was published at the literary festival Bookfest in Bucharest. Soon after, I was offered a second book deal, this time by one of the top publishers in the country. Since my first book had just been published, I had some work to do to gather enough poems for a second collection.

I spent my entire first year of university working on my second book, Arma din care țâșnesc spre mine însămi (The gun that fires me toward myself) together with an editor who was very supportive of my writing and cheered me on throughout. I was told my second book would be published during an even bigger literary festival, Gaudeamus, in Bucharest in November 2018. But that, sadly, never happened. This coming November, my second poetry collection would have been 3 years old. If only.

Why My Second Book Deal Fell Through

This was the moment where everything shattered for me. It was the point where, after years of fighting the misogyny, ageism, and elitism of the Romanian poetry scene, I finally came to terms with the possibility I might never have a place in the game.

The summer before the launch of The gun that fires me toward myself, I received an email from the editor I’d worked with saying the publishing house’s director decided to archive my manuscript due to “more pressing priorities”. Three years later, it’s probably still buried. This, I’m almost certain, was just an excuse to simply not wanting to publish me, despite having offered me the deal.

Giving an interview for local TV station MDI TV ahead of my book launch. Picture provided by the author.

The same middle-aged men who run the industry had previously involved me in a social media scandal, after I’d submitted my first manuscript for consideration a second year in a row, despite it winning a deal the first time. I did this seeing as the publisher who’d initially offered me the deal had gone cold turkey on me and refused to tell me what would happen to my book despite my repeated attempts to get in contact with him.

My book was published in the end but at one week’s notice. What followed was a nightmare. Several dozens of middle-aged people, mostly men, talked about me on Facebook, dug out bits of my profile, picked me apart when I was 18 and studying for my Baccalaureate because I’d submitted my manuscript to the same contest twice. This happened on a Facebook group where most of the Romanian poetry elite was.

This is why I think my second book deal fell through, although of course, it never was confirmed. Before this whole conundrum, however, there had been many more instances where I felt like a misfit in the poetry scene. It wasn’t just me. Many of my female friends from the society had felt the same hostility, one of them even being told at one poetry reading event to “remain a muse” rather than keep writing — a very upsetting and belittling comment from, you guessed it, an old man.

On many occasions, I’d been the only female in a room full of old men, who was offered awards for her poetry. I was also one of the youngest poets to ever enter the scene and make a name for themselves. I was given strange looks, patronised, and mocked by the very people who’d recognised the value in my poetry. Only because I wasn’t who they had associated with the poems. A schoolgirl was not exactly who they’d pictured would shake their hands as they reluctantly handed their awards.

With poetry being such a niche art, not many young people understand it, much less practice it. And, as the situation probably still goes in Romania, even if young people do show interest, doors are being shut in their faces by a group of people too scared they might be replaced one day.

Final Thoughts

I’m not giving up poetry forever, though. On the contrary, I’m pursuing it in English, which can grant a wider reach and a lot more diversity of voices. And one day, I hope to return to my home country’s poetry scene and make sure no other young woman or person of an underrepresented background feels the need to escape the craft they love the most and are undeniably good at.


I’ll leave you with a snippet of The gun that fires me toward myself.

how I made myself fit in the real world

the moment you left me

was carved on my left palm

it awoke me

and I’ve been completely exposed to reality, walking through this beech forest

towards a very precise aim

ever since

if all your warnings were against a clear, calculated path

which leads exactly where it should, without any sudden fall down the stairs

then I’ve lost my last chance to an above-average fate

I’m growing old so calm and at peace

even with your absence

writing because that’s what I’ve been doing before even knowing I exist

but no noise comes through anymore

none of the words is insomniac, trying to re-shape itself to fit

no one speaks at night, I’m on my own and no matter how much I want to call for them it feels stupid

a glass of coke its bubbles shattering against the glass walls

the sound of fragmentation won’t reach me any longer

I grew a proper spine, no more effervescence

you belonged to my mind

a velvet thunder, a branch of me

smoke floating out of you after we spoke

like a shotgun that fired me toward myself


This post is a part of our brand new Behind the Scenes series, a collection of articles where we get to know the good, the bad, and the ugly behind an author’s journey to get published. If you’re an author and would like to either write a piece for Behind the Scenes or be interviewed and featured, please get in touch at ctreviewspub@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

‘We Could Be Heroes’ Is A Refreshing Superhero Reboot

This book didn’t do anything I expected it to (well, except that one thing)

One of my day jobs is teaching a first-year writing course to college students. A perk of this gig is that I’m able to choose the theme for my section, and for the past three years, I’ve taught some version of “Great Power, Great Responsibility: Identity and Representation in the MCU”.

You read that correctly. We talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in my first-year writing class. Yeah, you could say I’m not a regular professor, I’m a cool professor.

All joking aside, I picked this lens for our discussions and writing assignments because I’m a massive Marvel geek. That, and I think such a prolific and popular genre necessarily becomes a mirror that reflects our own values and shortcomings as a society back to us.

Great fodder for class discussions and essay prompts if I do say so myself.

Even geeks get tired of their favorite subjects sometimes, though. Or at least, this one did. Several semesters in a row of having similar conversations about the same basic rotation of Marvel movies left superhero stories feeling a little stale for me.

While the brilliance that was WandaVision helped reawaken my love for Marvel, I knew that what I really wanted was the opportunity to view superhumanity from a different angle.

That’s when I stumbled across a description of Mike Chen’s novel, We Could Be Heroes.

(Full disclosure: Book links below are affiliate links, and I will earn a small commission should you choose to purchase via these links.)

The basic premise of We Could Be Heroes is this: we have two protagonists, Zoe and Jamie, alter-egos The Throwing Star and The Mind Robber. One is a vigilante. The other a villain.

Both have extraordinary powers and no memory of who they were before waking up one day with a vague message hinting towards their powers and a lease to a rent-free apartment. They cross paths first as their super-selves, and then in a memory loss support group in a church basement.

Amnesia plus an unlikely matchup between a villain and a hero? Count me in times 3000, am I right?

I expected this book to be different from a lot of the superhero media I’ve consumed in the past, seeing as I’ve primarily stuck to film and television, but it managed to defy my expectations at nearly every turn.

The characters break all the stereotypes. For starters, the more physical, strength-based powers are the woman’s, not the man’s, which was definitely a refreshing twist.

Plus, our supervillain is actually just an awkward chill cat guy with a conscience trying to save up enough money to escape to a private island, by way of carefully crafted robberies only up to the amount a bank’s insurance will cover.

And our vigilante? She stops crimes in between food deliveries, watches a ton of horror movies, and has a bit of an issue with drinking.

I make a game of predicting plots as I read, and this one largely had me stumped. I couldn’t predict Zoe and Jamie’s actions and found myself surprised by a number of their choices and what they uncover about their pasts along the way.

I will say, there was one big reveal that I think was supposed to be a surprise, but which I predicted pretty early on. This didn’t really ruin my reading experience, since it’s always fun to discover that you’ve been right all along, and I suppose I couldn’t expect Chen to surprise me at every turn.

The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Zoe and Jamie, one of those things that frequently irritates me in fiction. Is it just me, or is this style sort of making a comeback lately?

Anyway, I felt that Chen balanced the voices of the characters well, and the snaps away from one perspective to the other didn’t feel like cheap plot devices too often (my main complaint with this style).

What I liked about the characters is that they feel like real, authentic people far more than they feel like unrealistic superhero icons. Here, the title rings true: they could be heroes due to their supernatural abilities, but… they’re kind of just two people trying to do the best they can under their circumstances.

In my class, I often lecture about how Marvel heroes are compelling because they are allowed to be flawed, but I have to say, these characters took that to another level with their vices, their desires, and their tendency to get it wrong. They are refreshingly close to what would probably happen if real people got superpowers, and it was a nice change of pace.

I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is, will this book be on the syllabus in Fall 2021? That I can’t say because I haven’t quite yet begun to look at this semester’s revamp on my theme.

What I do know is that I’m pleased to have picked up this book, which exceeded and twisted my expectations in just about every way imaginable. It was a thoroughly gripping read that had me pushing forward to discover just what craziness Zoe and Jamie would uncover next.

If you’re a fan of superheroes or if you just like a good, interesting story with authentic characters at its heart, I think this book is worth adding to your list.


Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. If you’d like to join us in raving about our favourite reads, check out our Write for Us page, where you’ll find more details on how to become a contributor. Thank you for reading!

10 Exciting Book Releases Coming this May

These are some of the most anticipated books for the last month of spring

All bookworms know that familiar feeling of enthusiasm and anticipation when your favourite bookish publication, or bookstore, or frankly, just Goodreads, drops the following month’s new releases. We want to do our own monthly list of recommendations here at Coffee Time Reviews, kicking off with May 2021’s new releases, broken down into 5 popular genres.

It’s the last weeks before summer, the sun is shining (even here, in the windy and indecisive North of England) and people have started roaming the streets. Now the cliche image where you sit outside in a chic coffee shop with an enormous latte, reading a gelato-pink book can finally be put into practice.

After numerous caffeine-driven scrolls through publishers’ websites, Goodreads, and other platforms, to test, sniff, if you will, what the printing presses are working to drop out warm and smelling of fresh ink in a few days in our mailing lists, I noticed a lot of colour, a lot of romance, and a lot of delicious titles. Here they are, broken down by genre.

Romance

I could probably make a list of romance-only releases in the month of May alone, as this genre was the hardest to choose from. I might be biased but the first of these recs chose itself, and I am here for it, as I’m sure, many other readers are.

Heartstopper, volume 4, by Alice Oseman

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love.

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

The beautiful, heart-warming, and oh-so-important coming-of-age queer romance between Nick and Charlie is finally coming in print, with its fourth volume, to be released on May 6th by Hodder Children’s Books. Alice Oseman’s webcomic Heartstopper got me into queer romance in the first place, and I am now a dedicated fan (at the minute waiting excitedly to receive a signed poster and the book, and take part in the online release with Waterstones — need I say more?).

This volume covers some of Charlie’s darkest mental health moments, Nick’s struggle to come out to his father, and how the boys find the strength to say I love you. A story all about the beauty and challenges of teenage queer love, with a wonderfully diverse, brave, and supportive set of characters, Heartstopper is a story for everyone, regardless of age, sexuality, or reading taste.

The Soulmate Equation, by Christina Lauren

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely. But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands.

I picked this book because the synopsis gave me major The Hating Game flashbacks, and that was a 5/5 romance for me. A single mother specialising in data and statistics finds a matchmaking company that does just that: data and statistics, a science she can finally trust. This plot trope sounds original and intriguing, going beyond the whimsical idea that love cannot be quantified, or determined scientifically. The Soulmate Equation is set to release on May 18th by Gallery Books and I am beyond curious to pick it up.

Contemporary Fiction

My favourite genre had to be featured, not least that it’s looking very promising with some exciting new additions to drop next month. It was, again, to no one’s surprise, very challenging to pick just two books to recommend, but I’m sure they’ll intrigue you. And, if you’re not a contemporary fan, maybe they can convert you.

Rainy Day Ramen and the Cosmic Pachinko, by Gordon Vanstone

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

After three years in Japan, Fred Buchanan is broke, unemployed, and engaged in a telepathic turf war with a feral cat behind an Okinawa convenience store.

If the title or the blurb haven’t caught your attention, I don’t know what else will. This book basically promises a weird exploration of Japanese culture of a man with a below-average life who decides he wants more. The synopsis promises magical realism, as Fred tries to find meaning in his ordinary life, and ends up encountering a kite-flyer, a hostess with strange powers, and a jazz musician with missing fingers. Rainy Day Ramen and the Cosmic Pachinko will be released on May 7th by Dollarbird. And I’m already fascinated by the narrative of a lost man foggy-mindedly traveling through Tokyo in search of meaning.

A Special Place for Women, by Laura Hankin

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

It’s a club like no other. Only the most important women receive an invitation. But one daring young reporter is about to infiltrate this female-run secret society, whose beguiling members are caught up in a dark and treacherous business.

The plot sounds very good for this one. Journalist Jillian Beckley’s career is going downhill so she has decided to investigate a secret women-only club, whose members seem to pull the strings on some of the most serious events in New York City. But once her investigation starts, Jillian realises these elite women are not entirely harmless, nor to be underestimated. Not only am I always on the lookout for a good journalism story, but this sounds much more fascinating than that, and I’m very excited to see what Laura Hankin has done with this narrative. A Special Place for Women will be released on May 11th by Berkley Books.

Fantasy

Whether you like to dive into a good dystopian, sci-fi, or straight-up imaginary world with different political systems, creatures, and social rules, these two upcoming releases both open new fantasy series ready for our alternate reality cravings.

The First Sister, by Linden A. Lewis

Image courtesy of bookreleasedates.com

First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars — the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul.

A fantastical story of love, trust, and loyalty, The First Sister is set on a spaceship, where the nameless female protagonist is trapped and made to spy on the ship’s captain, First Sister learns about the efforts of being involved in a war, and falls in love with a soldier determined to get revenge. The First Sister will be released on May 13th, by Hodder & Stoughton.

Realm Breaker, by Victoria Aveyard

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

A strange darkness grows in Allward. Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

The first book in the Realm Breaker series, this book tells the story of a mixed set of characters with different backgrounds, purposes, and motivations, all fighting against an unknown enemy set to burn their kingdom. In what sounds like a Lord of the Rings-style plot, Realm Breaker will follow a girl of ancient lineage and her allies in a quest to save the world from destruction. It will be released on May 4th, by Orion Publishing.

Mystery

What’s a sunny day without a good, fast-paced mystery? Although darker and less reminiscent of gelato and the sea, mysteries are some of the most entertaining, easy-to-follow, engaging books. These two upcoming releases are a little different from the who-did-it narrative, while still keeping the mystery element alive.

Six Weeks to Live, by Katherine McKenzie

Image courtesy of Amazon.

A gripping psychological suspense novel about a woman diagnosed with cancer who sets out to discover if someone poisoned her before her time is up

Jennifer has just found out her terminal brain cancer has left her with mere weeks to live. But when she suddenly remembers an attempt was made on her life a year earlier, she sets out to uncover who might have wanted her dead, all while juggling her divorce, and the time she wants to spend with her family, while she still can. This mystery sounds heart-pounding, particularly because the protagonist, and main investigator of the near-murder, has a few weeks to uncover the truth. Six Weeks to Live will be released on May 4th, by Atria Books.

The Watcher Girl, by Minka Kent

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

A woman’s suspicions about her ex-boyfriend become a dangerous obsession in a twisting novel of psychological suspense

Eight years on from breaking up with her boyfriend, Grace decides to make sure he got over it. But a social media search has found he married someone looking exactly like her, named his daughter Grace, and moved to her hometown. In an attempt to understand his decision, Grace moves to the same town and decides to start watching him. The plot sounds very similar to The Girl on the Train, although the premise is different, but when Grace finds out her ex is not how he used to be, she tries to save his wife and daughter. So, for any fans of the mystery classic by Paula Hawkins, this sounds like a similar narrative, and maybe just as gripping. The Watcher Girl will be released on May 1st, by Thomas & Mercer.

Non-Fiction

And in case you’re up for gathering some knowledge and expanding your areas of expertise, or maybe if you’re the curious, down-to-earth reader who won’t buy fiction easily, these two exciting non-fiction releases might be for you.

The Last Days of New York: A Reporter’s True Tale, by Seth Barron

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

The story of how a corrupted political system hollowed out New York City, leaving it especially vulnerable, all in the name of equity and “fairness.”

Journalist Seth Barron sets out to investigate the corruption and hidden causes behind New York’s most recent crises, from the Black Lives Matter protests and culminating with its poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic, placing mayor Bill de Blasio as the main factor in the city’s decline. The Last Days of New York will be released on May 4th.

All the Colors Came Out: A Father, a Daughter, and a Lifetime of Lessons, by Kate Fagan

Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Studded with unforgettable scenes of humor, pain and hope, Kate Fagan has written a book that plumbs the mysteries of the unique gifts fathers gives daughters, ones that resonate across time and circumstance.

In this heart-warming memoir, Kate Fagan shares the love between a father and daughter who share the same passion for basketball, and how their relationship is forged through the game. The book uncovers the challenges of their relationship as Kate got older and the shattering diagnosis of her father that drew her to quit her high-profile job and spend her father’s last year with him, strengthening their bond once again. All the Colors Came Out will be released on May 18th, by Little, Brown, and Company.

‘A Touch of Death’ Reminded Me Why I Love Dystopias

(Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Book links below are affiliate links.)

During college, I devoured the Hunger Games books in a few short days. This sparked what I now remember fondly as my “dystopia phase,” wherein I became absolutely enamored with the genre.

My first experience with dystopian fiction had actually been years prior when my AP English class read Brave New Worldbut I don’t think I knew there was a name for this kind of story until Hunger Games made it popular years later.

I only remember a handful of the books I read during this phase in my life since I tend to read quickly and forget easily. But maybe that’s a topic for another time.

Regardless, after a few years of reading my way through dystopias (not to mention writing my own as part of my senior thesis), I became tired of the genre and left it behind without really meaning to. Suddenly, I just… wasn’t really reading them anymore.

And then came A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden, the first book in The Outlands pentalogy.

The synopsis of A Touch of Death caught my eye, an interesting premise that also hinted at one of the best parts of any good YA dystopia — a love triangle.

Interest piqued, I decided it was about time I revisit the genre to see if it still held the same allure in a time when real-life frankly feels dystopian enough.

A Touch of Death takes place 1000 years in the future, under a totalitarian kingdom that uses fear and walls to keep its people in, safe from the horrors that lurk in the Outlands.

Our protagonists Nate and Catherine couldn’t be more different. He’s been in prison for dissenting, spared only through his connections to the Crown, while she is content in her life with his younger brother and her Complement (fiancé, more or less) Thom.

But, of course, she doesn’t stay comfortable and content, or else this book wouldn’t be half as gripping. One small incident turns their lives into chaos, and they have to flee the kingdom in search of safety and answers for the strange new symptoms Nate and Kitty have developed.

After some world-building documents and a brief prologue to set the scene, the story begins right at the inciting incident, which is part of what makes it such a compelling read. The majority of the world-building unfolds as events do, details sprinkled in throughout the building action that gives us a sense of where we are.

As a result of this quick start, I did find that I was a bit confused about how the characters ended up in the life-changing situation for the rest of the book’s events. However, that may well be a product of my poor memory when reading eBooks rather than the book itself.

The world of Cutta feels similar to Hunger Games in that the country is divided into rich and poorer nations, all under the firm control of the ruling power, which uses rules to “keep people safe” from the horrors that await them outside the civilized cities. There are also hints at the sort of lavish convenience when it comes to hair, skin, and beauty that often come in high society in a dystopian world.

The hinted presence of “mutants” and “rabids” hints at the reasons for retreating behind walls and rules, though these beings remain stories and ideas through much of the book. So, it remains to be seen what earns them their distinctions.

In addition to being pulled right into the events of the story and the suspense of the relationship between the characters, I enjoyed the fact that our two main protagonists had such contrasting views of their society in spite of fairly similar upbringings. This feels familiar in our own times, where, in the U.S. at least, it often feels like we are somehow living in separate realities in spite of being in the same world.

A Touch of Death is the type of book that keeps you turning the pages because you just have to learn what will happen to Nate and Catherine next. Like any good first book in a series, it ends with plenty of questions still unanswered, and I can’t wait to dig into the next book in the series!

While we receive plenty of hints and clues in this first installment, I can imagine that further into the series, there will be more of that slow uncovering of the insidiousness of dystopian rule that makes this genre so compelling.

Certainly, we begin to see Catherine piece some of this together towards the end of the book, as her entire life has shifted and brought into question everything she thought she knew.

In all, I’m glad I decided on this book as my reunion with dystopias. In spite of a few minor things that annoyed me (mainly, the fact that Nate says “darling” with alarming and unexplained frequency), it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

A Touch of Death has all the things I like best about the genre — suspense, young people learning to question what they’re told to believe, action, and, of course, a little bit of a love triangle.

After finishing this book in a rush to see what happens next, I’m glad to know it’s a series and I get to keep learning about the compelling characters — and the world — Crunden has created.


Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. ‘A Touch of Death’ was kindly sent to Coffee Time Reviews by Rebecca Crunden. If you’re an author and would like us to review your work, please visit our Submit a Book for Review page to find out how. Thank you for reading!

How the Sequel Outshined Its Predecessor

A comparison of the first two books in Elly Griffiths’s ‘Magic Men’ series

I love a good mystery.

My taste is pretty narrowly tuned to mysteries that keep me intrigued, while not crossing the line into the thriller or horror categories. I want to be scared, but not sleeplessly terrified. My go-to for such stories are those by Agatha Christie, whom I consider to be the queen of mystery. I’ve read at least a dozen of her novels, and I’ve always been wrong about the who, why, and when of the murder.

I’ve previously written about her work here.The Author Who Keeps My Imagination AliveAgatha Christie’s prolific writing career and its impact on my lifebaos.pub

With Christie’s work as my personal bar for what makes a good mystery, I picked up Elly Griffiths’s The Zig Zag Girl and Smoke and Mirrors from the library. I was searching for a fun book after having finished a dense biography about Sandra Day O’Connor and noticed them on a shelf in the mystery section.Why Evan Thomas’s ‘First’ Belongs on Your BookshelfA testament to powerful women written in a way that humanizes themmedium.com

Now that I’ve read these two, and just discovered that there are three more published in the series, they are worth comparing against each other before I move on to reading the next.

‘The Zig Zag Girl’

Photo from Goodreads.

The Zig Zag Girl is the first in Griffiths’s series based on a fictitious military group called The Magic Men, who during World War II used various magic tricks and stage skills to trick the enemy into believing a portion of the UK was fiercely guarded in order to discourage attempted occupation. The small group was made up of British stage magicians and a straight-shooting army man named Edgar Stephens.

Stephens’s ties to The Magic Men are the center plot point of this first book, and his old friend Max Mephisto the great magician arrives at his side to help connect the dots in a murder case. Max was also a member of The Magic Men, and so helps Edgar trace the crime back to the group and its past.

Griffiths is a great storyteller, and this is partially due to a steady reveal of details. It isn’t until the mid-point of the book that the wartime memories shared by Edgar, Max, and the gang are visited in full detail. Until then, there are hints and snapshots of memories that guide the reader into a greater understanding of the main characters.

However, there were points when I felt that the tedious nature of the storytelling was not serving a purpose. It felt too drawn out at times without enough juicy material to justify the long journey to get there.

But, my main issue with this first installment was that I correctly guessed the murderer’s identity halfway through the book. After this point, there were no other significant possibilities to lead me away from my guess, and being right at the end wasn’t very satisfying.

The problem was that there were too many superfluous details meant to be distracting, but they were easy to identify as unimportant false trails.

In any good mystery, many erroneous leads are necessary to keep the reader guessing. Each new detail should cause our attention to swivel away from our last theory because the meatiness of this new discovery is too good to pass over.

There were certainly attempts at misdirection, but the focus was too heavy on attempting to convince the reader that the actual solution couldn’t possibly be the answer. The focus on getting the reader to see how impossible the answer was was too heavy-handed, and in turn, convinced me to keep my mind centered on the main point.

Overall, the construction of the story (and the lives of the characters) was well done. I felt that I had gotten to know the characters well, and the story is told from two perspectives- Max’s and Edgar’s. I liked this switching of storytellers because it allowed me to see details that Max saw and Edgar didn’t, giving me the opportunity to put the pieces together with them.

Although disappointed at guessing the murderer, there was still a surprise at the end that was unexpected and satisfying.

This first book in the series struck me as underwhelming and playing at being a good mystery, but couldn’t quite get there.

‘Smoke and Mirrors’

Photo from Goodreads.

Despite the less imaginative title, Smoke and Mirrors proved to be a much more accomplished work of mystery. It was as if Griffiths understood what she had executed poorly in its predecessor and learned new skills to make this second novel stand taller.

The main characters, Max and Edgar, remain the same. There are certain plot points that carry over into this sequel from The Zig Zag Girl, but not so many that a new reader couldn’t pick this up on its own and enjoy it.

First off, there was a shift in the storytelling. Griffiths moved from telling the story from just two characters’ perspectives to including four altogether- Max, Edgar, and two of Edgar’s police sergeants, Emma and Bob. Bob was a background character in the first book but is now more involved as both an active character and storyteller. Emma is new to this book but fits in smoothly with the cast.

I enjoyed this expanded list of character perspectives and felt that it brought a freshness to Griffiths’s style. On the downside, Max was less involved than he was in the first book and this was a disappointment for me.

With the addition of two other police perspectives (Edgar is a detective policeman), we gain a fuller picture of the investigation. This is especially helpful because, in this book, Griffiths stepped up her mystery game exponentially.

This time, I was properly stumped.

And what impressed me the most was that in the final pages, as the police characters are hurrying to interview a suspect, she still pulls off a surprise. I couldn’t believe that she had successfully convinced me of one conclusion and ripped it out from under me with just 20 pages to go. That takes some skill.

The story itself was much more complex than in The Zig Zag Girl, thus making it more plausible to see every possible suspect as a murderer. This case had many layers and characters who played active parts, different from the prequel where many characters were too passive and easily dismissed. Similarly, Griffiths made her details better connected and more serious than in The Zig Zag Girl. These, too could not be so easily dismissed.

The relationships between the characters continued to grow in this installment, and there is a deeper understanding and appreciation gained for Edgar Stephens as he struggles to catch the killer.

Additionally, the reveal at the end was much more satisfying than in the first book. There seems to be much more thought put into this storyline and it makes me excited to read the third!

It is clear that Elly Griffiths has a knack for storytelling and character development. Her opening novel of The Magic Men series was underwhelming, but her skills developed to bring a sequel that packed a punch.


Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. If you’d like to join us in raving about our favourite reads, check out our Write for Us page, where you’ll find more details on how to become a contributor. Thank you for reading!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Heart-Breaking Story About Finding the Right Path in Life

The Seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best book I have ever read. Taylor Jenkins Reid is known for her amazing characters and real stories. I didn’t plan on reading this book, even though I have read other books of hers like Maybe in Another Life or One True Love, which I adored. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo wasn’t translated in my first language, which put me off from the beginning. But now I regret waiting for so long because this book had a big impact on my life. 

Evelyn Hugo, a glamorous Hollywood icon and actress, is in her late 70s. She has lost everyone she once loved, so she is finally ready to tell the truth of her controversial life and the story behind her seven husbands, that everyone is dying to know about. She chooses Monique Grant, a low-profile journalist from Brooklyn, to write her biography. Monique herself is surprised about this decision. She is in the middle of a divorce and struggles with her career. So why would one of the most famous women alive choose her to tell this story? Monique takes on the opportunity and meets Hugo to learn all about her extraordinary life, from being an unknown girl in a broken family in the 1950s, who had to marry at a young age, to transforming into a movie star. But as her story unfolds, we find out about the tragic truth behind her decision of picking Monique. 

Evelyn Hugo is the most authentic and realistic character I have ever found in a book. Reid created such a tangible character that I actually googled Evelyn Hugo multiple times, to see if she was a real person. She knows what she wants and tries everything to achieve her goals. Therefore, she is ambitious and calculated, but also attractive, clever, passionate, mysterious, and sometimes naïve. She has many different sides and despite her thrilling career, she is always down to earth. Evelyn makes mistakes and is sometimes helpless, but that is what makes her affable and an amazing character. She is the self-determined woman we all want to be and look up to.

Monique, on the other hand, has a completely different personality. Her husband has left her and moved to another city. She is still not over him and struggles with that new situation of being on her own. As a mixed-race woman with an uncertain career, many people wrongfully underestimate her, which sometimes contributes her already low self-esteem. She isn’t happy with herself and does not know her worth as a writer. 

The book is divided into seven chapters, each dedicated to one of Evelyn’s husbands and the different stages of her life. She lost her mum to pneumonia when she was eleven. So when Evelyn married her first husband at the young age of 15 all she wanted was to leave her abusive father and her small home behind, to become a great actress. She lived in an era when misogyny, homophobia, and racism were normal. But Evelyn always knew how to get what she wanted, so she downplayed her Cuban identity, gave herself a new name, and did everything to climb up the career ladder.  It was heartbreaking to see how Evelyn struggled to find what she was seeking: love, family, and security.

It didn’t feel like I was reading a book, it felt like I was listening to Monique and Evelyn talking about how they both tried to survive. I’m not bisexual, nor a woman of colour, but because of Reid’s way of writing I was invested in their story and I could relate to them. Every time Monique entered Evelyn’s apartment to interview her, I sat there with them and listened to what Evelyn had to say to me, almost like we were friends. From beginning to end the book was so emotional it made me cry several times whilst reading. It was an unputdownable emotional rollercoaster.

I’m still thinking about Evelyn and her memorable life. The book made me realise life is too short to do what other people expect from you. You should always go after what you want and choose what makes you happy. You should always tell your loved ones how much you love them because you never know when it will be too late. This book was like a life lesson from a famous and well-known fictional actress, who seemingly has everything, but in the end, has nothing, and she knows it. 


Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. If you’d like to join us in raving about our favourite reads, check out our Write for Us page, where you’ll find more details on how to become a contributor. Thank you for reading!

Author Spotlight: ‘Your Life Is a Story’ Says Jordan Gross

The “What Happens in Tomorrow World?” author and Mind Cafe editor shares his top writing tips

I was so intrigued and inspired by Jordan Gross’s new book, What Happens in Tomorrow World? that I couldn’t help but ask him if he would mind sharing some of his writing wisdom with me and the Coffee Time Reviews readers. This is how the idea for the Author Spotlight series came about.

Many writers get into the craft either by accident or just because they couldn’t avoid or stop writing altogether. Essentially, wanting to be a writer and intentionally focusing all your efforts in that direction is seldom the case, even for established authors.

After listening to a bunch of podcasts that said writing a book changed the person’s life, I decided to get into it as well — Jordan Gross

Haruki Murakami wrote his first novel at the age of 29. At the time, he was managing a jazz club and fell into writing in a random moment of inspiration. Bernardine Evaristo first graduated from the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, before pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing and Goldsmiths, University of London.

This is because the stereotype of the starving artist looms over writing as much as over any other art, and many people who want to become writers always have other backup plans in case they never make it.

Jordan Gross’s writing career reflects the usual path any full-time writer normally takes. His author page describes him as a “solopreneur, podcast host, 2x TEDx speaker, editor, and coach”, and a “Northwestern and Kellogg School of Management graduate, where he studied absolutely nothing to do with writing”. After quitting his job, he wrote and self-published his first book, despite not having written anything since college at the time.

Jordan recalls: “I became a writer for fun. I had quit my job and was casually searching for the next thing. In the interim, I had been working on this series of reflections about overcoming stress and anxiety with a positive morning routine, and after listening to a bunch of podcasts that said writing a book changed the person’s life, I decided to get into it as well.”

His latest book, What Happens in Tomorrow World? was published earlier this month by BenBella Books and is a modern fable that teaches how to deal with uncertainty and the fear of losing control. I was puzzled to learn Jordan wrote this book in four days. More specifically, he wrote it during the first four days of quarantine, once the pandemic hit.

“I dropped all other work when the pandemic hit, and I just wanted to find a way to help people face the uncertainty ahead. So I decided to write,” said Jordan, sharing the reasoning behind his latest book.

Jordan Gross’s Top Tips for Aspiring Writers

When asked about his advice to new writers, I wasn’t surprised Jordan didn’t mention the standard: “know your grammar” or “do your research”, because being a writer is much more about what’s going on behind the scenes and the thought processes that lead to that story in the first place. Sometimes, they take years to flourish and become ready to be shared. It seems Jordan Gross is on the same page on this.

  1. Consume, consume, consume — read just as much if not more than you write
  2. Reading and writing are not the only things that help — use other art forms to help develop your style. Watch movies and shows. Go to dancing and singing performances. Everything can be viewed from the lens of becoming a better writer/storyteller
  3. Your life is a story — if you want to be a writer, you must lean into becoming more and more observational. View your life as one big story, and make sure to share these stories in your writing with us.

His success on Medium has been complementary to his writing career, as the platform allowed him to “try new writing techniques and build and foster a community”. Jordan Gross has a Medium following of 10.8k at the moment and is an editor for Mind Cafe, one of the most popular Medium publications with over 135k followers.

What Do You Love Most About Writing?

“Creating something that’s your own. You have to have something that is yours because when you don’t own something, it can be stripped away from you without warning, and you are left with nothing which leads to anxiety stress, anxiety, depression. But if you have something that nobody can ever take away, then you’ve discovered a real secret,” answered Jordan, when asked what the best part about being a writer was for him.

And reflecting on the one piece of advice he would give his younger self, Jordan Gross gave yet another important writing tip: “Keep a storybook — some sort of collection of experiences of my life that can teach lessons to others. People who can appear in stories, events, places, defining characteristics. I have a note sheet now I use for ideas that pop up, and I just wish I had it sooner.”

Jordan Gross is the acclaimed author of “Getting COMFY: Your Morning Guide to Daily Happiness”, “The Journey to Cloud Nine”, and “What Happens in Tomorrow World?”.


Thank you for reading Author Spotlight, a series of interviews with authors who are happy to share the tools of the trade with our CTR readers. If you’re an author and would like to be featured, get in touch at ctreviewspub@gmail.com. For any author suggestions, leave us a comment and we’ll try to chase them up.

Why Evan Thomas’s ‘First’ Belongs on Your Bookshelf

I picked up First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas back in March as a way to reinvigorate my stale reading life. I was struggling to read the books on my shelves at home, so I decided to look for books I knew I would enjoy: biographies and memoirs.

I checked out First from the library along with Ilhan Omar’s memoir This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman. I was interested in understanding politics, especially from the perspective of women who had lived experience in this realm. I quickly finished Omar’s book, while First took me much longer.

After about a month of reading, I’ve finished First. Here are my thoughts and takeaways.

Detailed, Detailed, Detailed

The aspect that I most appreciated about this biography was its commitment to delivering an extremely detailed and thoughtful portrait of O’Connor. Being that she was the first female Supreme Court justice, she has been written about more times than I could count.

Thomas’s biography has zero fluff. No detail is superfluous, and he and his wife Oscie conducted over 350 interviews around the country in order to create the manuscript.

He also read through O’Connor’s old opinions, briefs, memos, letters, and books. He contacted O’Connor’s connections from the places she called home (notably, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.) and they in turn rounded up other members of her social circles (which was no small task). No stone was left unturned, which is why this book has been labelled “unlike every other volume written about O’Connor.”

In this work, Thomas lets the interviews and research speak for themselves, as he merely binds the history together. It is an incredibly in-depth and dense book, but that is part of what makes it stand out from other works about O’Connor. He received access to her works and those of her husband John that most others did not.

It is truly a unique look into a life that had long been private and hidden.

Thomas’s Tone Is Human

While I firmly believe that there is no such thing as objective research as all humans are inherently biased, Thomas did a great job of skirting the line of telling the facts and sharing his opinions.

He looks at O’Connor’s life as objectively as possible, while letting small glimmers of his positive appraisal of her come through. Ultimately, he tells her story in a way that is both informative and humanizing; in my mind, she became less austere and unknowable in the context of this biography.

From Thomas’s extensive interviews with O’Connor’s friends, former law clerks and coworkers, family members, and collegiate pals, there are little insights throughout the book that point to what O’Connor was like in her younger years. He shares quotes remembered by friends and quirks about her lifestyle like being an avid tennis player and forcing her law clerks to take nature walks with her.

The book’s subhead reads “An Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice,” and that is exactly what is delivered.

Moderation Is Key

This takeaway is both in regards to Thomas’s construction of the book and in terms of O’Connor’s jurisprudence.

Thomas’s written view of O’Connor could be described as moderate. He never makes overarching, sweeping statements about the Justice based on just one interview or record. His opinions of her are shaped by each individual piece of evidence he uncovers, and this is the same manner in which he tells her life story.

It is fitting that he should present a moderate take on O’Connor, as that was the style of her jurisprudence both before and during her time in the Supreme Court.

Learning about her style in deciding cases was enlightening to me. Before reading Thomas’s account, I knew nothing about Sandra Day O’Connor other than her status as the first woman in the Supreme Court. She championed moderation on the court, even when it meant voting outside of her party affiliation (at times worrying sitting Republican presidents).

O’Connor was often known as the swing vote during her era on the court. She always looked at every case individually and ultimately questioned what the practical consequences of a decision would be. She always fought to cut through the legalese and get to the heart of the matter:

How would this decision impact the people involved in the case, and how would those consequences cause a ripple effect into future cases on similar issues?

She was interested in practicality and pragmatism, and there is a lesson for all of us in that.

In the era we find ourselves in presently, the easy road to take when we consider social and political issues is that of polarity or voting exclusively along party lines. However, O’Connor shows us that moderation and compromise can go a long way towards a more just future.

She was no activist, but she wasn’t a lame duck either. She was an intellectual force and used her vote to create important changes for women throughout her time in the court.

A Sense of Duty

Sandra O’Connor was a woman of her time; she wanted to do it all, and would not accept excuses from others who wanted something different.

She had a vibrant social life involving powerful figures in Phoenix and D.C., plus having three sons, going through breast cancer and treatment, and her husband eventually developing severe Alzheimer’s disease. Her belief system about duty informed her work ethic- she was everywhere at once.

However, because she was facing the pressure of the press at all times due to being the first woman in the Supreme Court, she felt that she could not take a break. Thomas tells of her many excursions into various natural spots in the U.S. to fish, ski, or golf. But, the plates she spun came first.

She was unrelenting in carrying her professional weight, plus the full weight of motherhood and wifely responsibilities (she cooked dinner every night and hosted parties for friends and power figures constantly).

I understand why she felt the need to bear such a massive weight on her shoulders while needing to appear graceful and composed. Part of it was the era in which she lived, and part of it was the pressures that come with being a woman climbing the governmental ladder.

While her sense of duty and pride in her work inspired me, I felt grieved that she shouldered such massive burdens for so long. She was too stubborn to ask for help and carrying it all herself eventually became too much.

We are thankfully in a different era now, where women have greater freedom to achieve a variety of goals and can take time to practice self-care. O’Connor didn’t have the benefit of understanding the importance of self-care, but she accomplished her duties with a no-nonsense, no-time-for-crying attitude.

At the End of the Day, Be a Bridge Builder

O’Connor was passionate about her belief in the rule of law and that a democracy can only function as long as those in power exercise restraint, respect, and caution.

She constantly gave speeches around the world on the rule of law and the importance of the people’s buy-in for it to work. She was adamant about being a bridge builder, not only creating relationships across the globe but consistently hiring a diverse cast of law clerks in the hopes of helping other marginalized people rise to positions of power.

She cared about bringing others along with her and creating space for more women to join the court after her.

This was also a function of her pragmatism; she knew that the court could only grow and function as a beacon of justice if she built a bridge for others to come after her. She never viewed herself as the be-all, end-all of women in the court (although she did worry considerably about when to retire, as she did not want a liberal judge taking her place as a result of a Democratic president’s nomination).

Final Thoughts

This book was incredibly dense and detailed, which made it a longer read for me. But, if you’re interested in women making their mark in government, it is an essential addition to your reading list.

Sandra Day O’Connor was not perfect, though she tried to act like she was. What I’m taking away from her story is that anyone can make a difference doing “work worth doing” as she liked to say. But, I can do it my way. I don’t have to wear lipstick or dye my hair like she used to (and probably still does, despite being in her eighties now).

Everyone’s glass ceiling is different, and we can shatter them differently.

The important thing is that we bring others along to help us do the work.


Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Latest Posts page. If you’d like to join us in raving about our favourite reads, check out our Write for Us page, where you’ll find more details on how to become a contributor. Thank you for reading!