Why Every Feminist Should Read Isabel Allende’s ‘The Soul of a Woman’

Who’s Afraid of Isabel Allende?

Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author whose life is nothing short of a rollercoaster. Most well-known for her fictional novels The House of Spirits and Eva Luna, she rightfully established herself as a literary pioneer in Latin American literature as one of the first female novelists with the same level of success (in many cases, more success than) as her male counterparts.

Allende fits comfortably in the same breath with Gabriel García Márquez and Eduardo Galeano when speaking about the profound effect that Latin America has had on global literature. Isabel Allende has not only contributed to magical realism but has also let her audience into very intimate parts of her life. The House of Spirits and Paula are two of her most popular works, both being inspired by the author’s loss of close family members. 

Allende also reveals that her literary career was undermined and mocked by male authors who assumed that she would be more of a “typist” than an author. Her career has been no exception to the whirlwind that has been her life.

For this reason, it was immensely refreshing to see Allende open us up to a journey that has ultimately led to happiness and relief in old age. In The Soul of a Woman, Allende shares her grapple with feminism throughout her lifetime, a lifetime that has seen an overwhelming change to global politics and the feminist movement. 


Old-School Feminism

‘The Soul of a Woman’ book cover. Screenshot by editor, courtesy of Amazon and Bloomsbury.

Allende’s childhood resonated with me in a sense that I imagine many girls have also felt. She outlines the feeling that something wasn’t right with the way women were treated, or how girls were treated differently from their brothers but had no way to articulate that indignance. In her most formative years, arguing with older relatives and friends was the only outlet for young girls who knew that they were getting an unfair deal. 

From witnessing the harrowing experiences of women and girls less fortunate than herself to extensive research on feminist issues like violence against women and machismo culture, Allende gives us an entirely honest account of her life through the lens of feminism. 

What I immensely appreciated was her tenacity in the face of old age. Allende does not pretend to spring out of bed every morning and live like a 20-year-old in her 70s. However, she gives her readers the comforting notion that old age is not the end of your life, and the elderly are as deserving of dignity and respect as everyone else. In a capitalist world where we tend to cast aside those who are not immediately profitable to us, we need to incorporate this idea into our feminist movements more vigilantly. 

There is a beauty in aging that Allende flawlessly captures: the beauty of letting go. The self-doubt, the hypercriticism towards yourself slowly fades away as you learn who you are and what you’re worth. Allende is grateful to still have the same mind and her heart, but it is refreshing to see an older woman become comfortable in aging. She expresses peace and acceptance towards not having as much energy as she used to and relying on her husband for certain tasks.


Humility in the Face of Complexity

Allende is refreshingly open about understandings of gender that her grandchildren take for granted. All too often, the idea of being ‘the product of another time’ is used as an excuse for reactionary politics and an unwillingness to understand discourses that may have passed them by. She notices her grandchildren comfortably using pronouns she has never heard of, based on theories of gender with which she is completely unfamiliar. But she expresses a desire to understand what younger generations have more openly embraced, which is an admirable quality that I wish we saw more often. 

Allende clearly demonstrates a cultural versatility and remains aware of feminist issues in other countries such as India, Nepal, and the Samburu tribe of Kenya. She celebrates the fortitude of women from other cultures and the actions that have been taken to invest in women and girls outside of Anglophone and Hispanic spaces. Most importantly, Allende does not pit these struggles against those in America and Europe. 

A terrible mistake that is often made by well-intentioned feminists is the detraction from supposed ‘first-world problems’ by highlighting the undeniable hardship experienced by women and girls in the wider world. Allende avoids this mistake by unapologetically putting catcalling and women’s education in the same book. 

One does not diminish the other; harassment, violence, and unwanted sexualisation of women and girls need to be addressed, whether it happens to a middle-class American or to a girl bound under the Kamlari system in Nepal. Allende makes it crystal clear from the beginning that many of the problems women face are found throughout the entire globe, but manifest in different ways. From Rwanda to Guatemala, to Bosnia, sexual violence is used against women in wartime. One of the most reliable ways to deduce the overall rate of violence in any country is to track the rate of violence against women in particular. These problems cannot be solved by attempting to rank which type of devaluing of women is the worst, and which should be put up with. 

Allende did a brilliant job of bringing each and every burning issue to light, and her humility and sincerity made it as much an important feminist text as a delightful one. 


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‘The Lost Apothecary’ Re-lit The Spark In My Reading Life

In January, I raced through six books. My Goodreads reading challenge applauded my progress, and my reading stats spreadsheet began to take shape.

Initially, this thrill of watching the genre pie chart evolve with each new book kept me reading, but then I burnt out.

In February, I only finished two books. One of them was an audiobook and the other one a graphic novel, quick, easy reads that I could take in almost passively.

I had hit the dreaded reading slump, where I just couldn’t seem to find a book that gripped me.

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Screengrab by author, from Book Riot reading spreadsheet

I can always tell I need a break from my usual reading habits when I read a book I would normally love and feel myself instead of getting annoyed at minor character details and rolling my eyes at my favorite tropes.

Towards the end of January, I fell into this mode. I tired myself out on romantic comedy and memoirs and felt at a loss for what else to pick up.

Then, while browsing for my monthly book subscription pick, my eyes landed on the gorgeous purple cover of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. Intrigued, I read the synopsis, only to be disappointed.

A story about a woman who runs an apothecary specializing in poisons? That is not a book for me, I thought. I don’t do mystery, or death, or poison, or books about murder.

Yet I had to use that Book of the Month credit somehow, and after all, wasn’t I looking for something outside the norm?

A small voice reminded me that the last few books I’d acquired for similar reasons stayed on my shelves well over a year before I even cracked them open.

But didn’t I end up loving A Woman is No Man when I finally got around to it?

The “buy the book with the pretty cover” side of the argument won, and soon enough that beautiful hardback arrived on my doorstep. I stared down at it, wondering if I’d ever read it.

It took a few days, but finally, I picked it up. And I am so glad I did.

The Lost Apothecary takes on the difficult narrative task of alternating between multiple protagonists across timelines.

A woman on an unexpectedly solo honeymoon to London discovers an apothecary bottle and unearths her old historian tendencies to find out its past. In the other timeline, that past unfolds on the page before us in the stories of the apothecary and a young girl who becomes her friend.

I will readily admit that this kind of flipping back and forth between stories in different timelines is one of my pet peeves. If done poorly, it often feels like a cheap trick to invent suspense by snapping the reader away at just the right — wrong — moment to make a story more interesting.

When done well, however, it can create a page-turning, enthralling read. Penner pulls it off with aplomb. These women’s stories manage to speak to one another in a powerful way without feeling cheap or coincidental.

Caroline’s reasons for trying to uncover the past feel authentic as part of her character and story. The deeper connections between her and the apothecary shine through to the reader without becoming implausibly obvious to Caroline herself. She learns what we might expect her to, and many of the apothecary’s lost secrets remain her own.

Rather, readers learn about the past in a way that isn’t gimmicky or reliant upon what Caroline knows. She learns what we might realistically expect her to, and many of the apothecary’s lost secrets remain her own.

Through the alternating points of view, Nella and Eliza are allowed their own stories which exist outside the frame of Caroline’s search. They come to life fully as characters in their own right, their stories feeling present and compelling even though they take place years before the present-day timeline.

The plot is a steady, suspenseful build, with a little mystery and intrigue along the way. A nice, plot-heavy book with well-developed characters turned out to be exactly what I needed to re-light the spark in my reading slump.

I finished The Lost Apothecary quickly, finding myself drawn away from video games and podcasts in favor of this compelling read. After finishing it, I went on to read several more books in March, my love for reading newly regained through the spark of a phenomenal read.

I feel The Lost Apothecary is one of those books that’s fully worth the hype.

In it, Penner tells a story that takes us both on an eventful and emotional journey. There are mystery and action, but also real character growth and complexity. I won’t spoil it, but the ending resists simplicity and allows for the messy questions of real life, which I tend to prefer over a neatly tied bow.

I highly recommend this book even if it doesn’t sound like your usual cup of tea. It shouldn’t have been mine, yet it’s easily one of my favorite reads of 2021 so far.


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If Mansplaining Women’s Issues in the Workplace Was a Book

Review of ‘Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women’

CW: Mentions of discrimination and sexual violence

It’s been 102 years since the first wave of the Women’s Rights Movement allowed women the right to vote. Yet it took another 50 years until the second wave that allowed women the legal autonomy to have a life outside of being a wife and mother. In celebration of Women’s History Month, I ask the question: How can men be better mentors and allies to women in a professional environment? It is in that vein that I provide my critique of this book. I don’t know what’s more insulting: dealing with gender bias in the workplace or two men claiming to be subject matter experts on gender bias in the workplace while telling other men how to mentor women.

Mentoring women in the workplace has been a challenge. In recurring and recent discussions, male friends have reached out to me regarding how to be a better mentor to women. Another good friend of mine posed the question after he was selected to command an Army unit consisting of 500–700 Soldiers (i.e. a battalion for my fellow veterans). I shared my experiences in how I was mentored and offered insight into the shortcomings of the men I worked with regarding their performance as mentors when I wore the uniform.

My book club buddy recommended Athena Rising as a part of the continued discussion regarding female senior leadership representation in the military. Surprisingly, two more friends mentioned the book as a tool to become better leaders and mentors to female service members. With three good friends reading it, deciding to download this book was a no-brainer.

W. Brad Johnson and David Smith mentioned the criticisms they would face writing a book regarding the challenges of women in the workplace. Divided into two sections, the introduction was pretty difficult for me to process without feeling like both men are mansplaining challenges women experience. For the uninformed, mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning “to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.”


Athena, the Goddess

The authors reference the Greek goddess Athena as some sort of model that women in the workplace should aspire to in Chapter 1. Besides the fact that she is a fictional character, likely written by a man, Athena is a problematic character in regards to the challenges that women face. Here is why.

Athena is the virgin Goddess of military strategic warfare, wisdom, and handicraft. She was the only God of Greek mythos that was born with complete armor from the head of Zeus. While history regards her as the protector and patron of cities. Athena is regarded as a more superior strategist than her brother Ares. Accordingly, men have the highest level of respect for her due to her prowess in the realm of warfare. Johnson and Smith dedicated the entire first chapter that women should aspire to achieve that level of respect. Despite being a woman, I would argue that Athena was not an advocate and supporter of women. She is quite the opposite. An example of Athena’s abuse of women can be illustrated in the tragic story of Medusa.

For readers of Greek mythology, many would recall Medusa as the monster Perseus killed in order to slay the sea monster and rescue the princess. But how many recall the origin story of Medusa? Would it surprise you to know she was once human? Medusa was a virgin priest in Athena’s temple. Raped by Poseidon on the altar, she called out to Athena for help. Instead of coming to her aid, Athena cursed Medusa and transformed her into a Gorgon while unknowingly pregnant. Her offspring Pegasus was born from her death. Medusa was not only a rape victim of Poseidon but a victim of Athena’s rage all because she was no longer a virgin. An ironic, dark, and grim parallel to the military’s justice system for victims of sexual assault. Check out Medusa’s tragic story here.

This was one of many stories of Athena’s cruelty towards women. Like Athena, many of the women interviewed in Athena Rising did not publicly advocate for the equality and representation of more women in positions of leadership across society. As mentioned, many were overwhelmed with a flood of subordinates vying for their attention in the form of mentorship.

Let’s take the Army, for example; the last time a woman was promoted to 4 stars was in 2008 when Ann Dunwoody was selected as the Commanding General of Army Materiel Command. Some would argue it wasn’t her fault and that being the only one at the table would hinder such a voice. Fast forward 12 years, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, and the former Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, admitted to delaying the nomination of Lieutenant General Laura Richardson to General because of anticipated resistance from the Trump Administration due to her gender. This is a perfect example of a room full of men who knew she was the best-qualified person for the promotion but denied her the opportunity because of her gender.

If the top-ranking officer in the U.S. Armed Forces wouldn’t advocate for a female general, I can only imagine the number of commanders at the operational and tactical level denying female leaders positions and promotions because of their gender.

Reading a book written by men about women in the workplace is beyond cringe-worthy. The only women Johnson and Smith interviewed were women who were promoted to the highest or most senior leadership position. Yet many missed the point where women in entry and mid-level positions were subjected to hostile work environments, sexual harassment, and extreme hazing by their peers, subordinates, and in some situations — seniors. While being subjected to these challenges, women are often held to different standards for workplace performance than men. It is often the lack of awareness regarding these biases or mansplaining them away that makes me frustrated with surface-level attempts to level the playing field. This book is one of these attempts.


The Intersectionality of Race and Being a Woman

Two old white men writing a book on mentoring women in the workplace missed the mark of the most obvious thing: the intersectionalities regarding women of color. What would they know? They benefit from the systematic discrimination and bias towards people of color. Despite interviewing Admiral Retired Michelle Howard who is an African American woman, the racist comments followed by her selection to admiral were glossed over. However, she mentioned it when she was interviewed in a 2014 interview with NPR. Johnson and Smith’s mention of racial bias only covered less than a quarter of a page.

They failed to realize, either through omission or commission, that African American women are immediately labeled as hostile and difficult. Asian women are dismissed and treated as if they are invisible and Hispanic women are reduced to insulting tasks like planning parties or making coffee. As men who espouse allyship, the authors (and their advocates) need to be aware of the additional layer of racial bias coupled with gender.


Science to Justify Misogyny

Chapter 4 The Biology and Psychology of Men and Women in Relationships has to be the most cringe-worthy of the chapters. The last time I heard anyone use science to justify prejudice it was the Nazis and doctors during antebellum slavery. Sure it sounded nice and pretty, but it most definitely gave the vibe. What does the number of times a woman cries compared to a man have to do with her ability to do her job? Would this so-called psychological and biological breakdown be a factor if the senior leader in question was homosexual? If a senior was gay and he was attracted to his subordinate would it raise the same issue?

The only time biology should be taken into consideration is if the female employee is pregnant. Creating a safe environment where she can trust you to disclose something deeply personal like the loss of a pregnancy, a difficult pregnancy, complications with the birth, or postpartum depression. Do not assume for her. Do not make the decision for her. Give the employee the safety and space to come to you and address whatever support she needs. Transgendered women are women. Leave your religious beliefs out of the workplace. Transgender women are already subjected to violence and harassment. Once again create the space for them to feel safe and trust you. Do not assume they need your help; let them come to you.

You would never assume a man needs your assistance dealing with a personal matter. You would never make a personal career affecting decision for a man without his involvement. You would wait until he comes to you. Afford the same courtesy to the women in your organization. If you won’t do it with a man don’t do it with a woman.


Glossing over Workplace Hostility and Harassment

The most disappointing aspect is its failure to address the microaggression of workplace hostility. This is especially tone-deaf considering Smith is an officer in the United States Navy. Since the time this book was published the number of women coming forward with their accounts of being sexually harassed and, worse, sexually assaulted is continuing to climb at rapid numbers. There are men to this day who feel women do not belong in the military.

When the US Army opened up Ranger School to women, the two first female Rangers were met with threats of rape and harassment on social media. All because they passed the prestigious course. Google “sexual assault in the military”, the numbers are still climbing. Congress is still weighing whether or not the military can be trusted to investigate and prosecute sexual assault — a damning indicator of how this problem is beyond the reach of uniformed leaders to control. And they can’t seem to address the obvious issues regarding their program.

As a senior leader, you should be advocating for all women: not just the women you mentor. Correcting microaggressive behaviors like cutting off a female officer while she is briefing while letting the male officer complete his thoughts. Correcting service members when they use the term “female” in a derogatory way.

Even when I shared my dislike for the book in my Book Club on Facebook, one member was bold enough to say the authors were experts on women because they were married. Another completely dismissed my opinion citing the book was, “For men who mentored women. It met the intent”.

Just two examples of microaggressive behaviors women in the workplace face on a regular basis. Another microaggressive comment, “I know the authors personally,” continues to dismiss the concerns myself and other women address regarding how a woman should be mentored. Extending your personal trust doesn’t pass for logical arguments and transparent action — in fact, personal trust is how sexual predators hide in our workplaces (he’s a good father, husband, boy scout leader — I trust him. That should be enough for you).

It’s the same language used when Congressman Yoho was verbally scolded by his peers after he called Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez a bitch. Instead of apologizing for his behavior, he responded, “I have a wife and daughters”. I guess that’s supposed to be enough to make him a good guy.


The Curse of the Likeability Factor

Both military and civilian women of all professional fields have struggled with the likeability factor. Women are judged on whether or not they are likable. Never mind the fact they are the best and most qualified person for the job or position. Oftentimes they are passed over because they are simply disliked.

When mentoring women, men should check their bias on whether she is likable or not. Ask yourself would it matter if she was a man? Would his likeability matter? I can personally recall being told by my commanding officer I wasn’t going to receive a good evaluation because I wasn’t likable. It didn’t matter I had accomplished everything he listed and met his intent. Because he didn’t like me or claimed other officers didn’t like me. I received a low-performance rating that threatened my ability to be competitive to the next rank.


Can Men Be Effective Mentors to Women?

Society has a serious problem with misogyny and viewing women as capable equals. This book was a painful reminder of the blatant sexism I personally experienced when I was an Officer in the United States Army. It also brought to light the neglect senior female leaders made when it came to addressing workplace hostilities and harassment. Instead of changing the status quo they upheld and supported it.

While the book was intended for men to learn how to be better mentors to women, it missed the mark completely by placing women into this cookie-cutter persona an ideal fictional character. No breadth and depth of the complexities associated with being a woman. If you don’t expect men to divulge intimate information about themselves, why would you expect women to do so? Unless you are caught in a mental prison of your own biases.

Can a man be an effective mentor to a woman? In my honest opinion, I don’t think so. As a woman, the lingering concern of “why” will always be in the back of my mind. I cannot speak for all women just myself. Will my ability to be mentored be clouded by a mentor’s potential physical attraction towards me? If I reject a sexual advance, will it cost me? While the book addresses the different types of behaviors a man exhibits when he works with a woman, everyone is a threat. And the concern is very real to any woman who has been harassed, assaulted, or personally knows of someone who has been.

However, I know there are men who are trying to do better. For men in leadership roles or serving as mentors, I would recommend a woman as their sound boarding and an additional oversight layer to cover their blind spots. There are unique challenges women experience that men will not get or understand. So having a woman as a confidante and advisor will reduce the blind spots.

I would not recommend this book to any man who is progressive and forward-thinking in regards to the advancement and equality of women in the workplace. I would not recommend this book to women because it mansplains the issues professional women experience on the daily. It missed the mark on so many other issues I did not mention in this review. Honestly, I think it was written to sell and make money vs having an open and honest conversation regarding misogyny and workplace hostility towards women.


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‘Vesper Flights’ by Helen Macdonald Shows Nature’s Magic Lies in It Not Being Human

Cautiously approaching Helen Macdonald’s latest after the deeply personal experience of reading (and re-reading) ‘H is for Hawk’

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Does one need a reason to read Helen Macdonald?

She is one of my literary heroes and I’ve read H is For Hawk four times to date (twice on audio and twice in print, if you care to know). I took my time getting to Vesper Flights because I really liked knowing there was new work out there waiting for me.

Vesper Flights is a collection of previously published and new essays by Helen Macdonald. As thrilled as I was when I first heard about it, I confess I was a little nervous approaching this one.

Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk means so much to me, and I worried that an essay collection wouldn’t be as powerful following such a magnificent memoir. What could compare to the experience of wandering around Cincinnati in the summertime, fresh into post-college life, listening to H is for Hawk for the very first time?

Or to returning to the same memoir a year later, searching and finding some semblance of guidance to move through my own grief for the first time?

“We so often think of the past as something like a nature reserve: a discrete, bounded place we can visit in our imaginations to make us feel better.” — Helen Macdonald

As I cracked open my copy of Vesper Flights, I reminded myself not to compare. No matter how much we love an author, each new book will be a fresh, different experience. Writers are human, and they will grow and change. Their work can and should reflect that.

We, too, will grow and change. That’s part of why I reread books like H is for Hawk. The book stays the same, but I don’t. Therefore it resonates differently each time.

And so, who sat down to read Vesper Flights was a slightly different person from the one who first downloaded H is for Hawk and set off on a long, meandering walk she’d end up finding excuses to extend so she could keep listening.

I needn’t have worried about whether I’d love this book.

It took a little getting used to the beginnings and endings, as many of the essays are quite short on the printed page, around 3 pages being the average. This led to reading at a quick clip, and a few longer essays stalled for me because I got used to the pattern.

Yet each of the essays is full of the sharp, beautiful observations of nature and human beings that make Helen Macdonald such a phenomenal writer.

She has a fascination with the way in which humans insist upon nature reflecting us, holding up a mirror to teach us about ourselves.

“… we have always unconsciously and inevitably viewed the natural world as a mirror of ourselves, reflecting our own world-view and our own needs, thoughts, and hopes.” — Helen Macdonald

Macdonald does this, too, but she returns to and insists upon the wildness of things, ultimately.

Nature, she argues, doesn’t intend to mean anything to us. We are the ones who thrust our own meanings upon it.

As with any essay collection, some of them landed with me more than others. Many of the essays deal in a sense of nostalgia for the landscapes of Macdonald’s youth, tangled up in the anxiety of climate change. This theme joins up with that of the interactions between human beings and the natural world, how we shape it and how it adapts to and defies all that we try to press upon it.

It felt like very much the sort of book one would want to read during a pandemic, a quirk of good publication timing.

Many of the essays spoke to and resonated with me, and many others made me stop and consider things I hadn’t thought about before.

In particular, I found solace and comfort in the essay Symptomatic, which makes a brief appearance in an essay about my chronic pain disorder.

Though I loved it for its depiction of Macdonald’s migraines, the essay is truly about the ways in which symptoms are not always clearly recognized or linked to any underlying cause. It is a meditation on climate change, the symptoms of which we cannot and do not always link to the cause, because there is no single root cause.

In all, I adored this collection of essays. It isn’t H is for Hawk and, of course, we shouldn’t ask it to be.

The insight and sharp observation that make Macdonald a phenomenal nature writer shine through on every page. I highly recommend this collection to anyone and everyone who is a human being in the world, stumbling along and trying to make meaning.


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The ‘Brown Sisters’ Series by Talia Hibbert Spoke to All My Personal Quirks

I found myself in Chloe, Dani, and Eve in different ways, and it felt like the i’s and t’s in myself were finally dotted and crossed.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown got me straight from the title. After all, I’ve always been told to get a life. I’ve always been geeky, responsible, the kind of good girl who always opted for a Pepsi lemon at a party, to my friends’ evergreen despair and raised eyebrows. So when Chloe Brown decided to make a list of activities to help her get a life, I felt like nothing else could sum up my life better than that. It was exactly what I’d do: tired of my monotonous, way-too-calculated existence, in an attempt to become more spontaneous and adventurous, I would, without hesitation, start with a list. Because how else would someone without a life get a life?

I was surprised on how many other levels Chloe and I were the same. As a chronically ill web-designer, Chloe’s daily life is fogged by the pains she has to deal with every time she does anything remotely uncomfortable, like moving too much or too suddenly. This is where the book got interesting for me. No, it wasn’t the heart-pounding, steamy romance (although Redford is without a doubt my type). Chloe’s chronic pains, I realised, a few chapters in, were shockingly similar to the horrendous backpain, leg pain, and headaches I was dealing with on the daily back in the summer of 2020, when I happened to read this book. I was never diagnosed and the one chiropractor I went to for back pains said I was simply too weak and had to strengthen my muscles through exercise if I wanted the pains to stop. I suspect he dismissed it a little too easily.

Whenever Chloe would deal with her pains, I felt seen. I felt represented. Like my suffering was suddenly not just a sign of mere fatigue or lack of exercise anymore, but something a lot more serious. Much like Chloe, I had moments when the pain got so excruciating and intrusive, it would cloud my reason. I became scared to carry anything lighter than an almost empty backpack and the idea of walking to work terrified me. Because I knew what would follow. My pains have stopped months ago, for whatever reason, be it that I became more active or stopped mentally indulging them and got on with my life. But Get a Life, Chloe Brown was there to tell me I wasn’t complaining about nothing.

Dani Brown’s story followed and it spoke to my workaholism way, way too clearly. Pink-haired, decisive, responsible Dani is an established academic with a slight obsession for her work. Sounds familiar? To me, it hit home. Take a Hint, Dani Brown is probably the most see-saw-like story of all three, with a fake dating narrative that keeps you on the edge, but again, I came for the romance and stayed for the familiarity. Dani Brown refuses to let anyone distract her from her work. At her desk, in the library at the university where she teaches, in the café, Dani will always do research, or write, or read, and it feels like she can never stop. Although I fully resonated with Dani and her stubborn refusal to allow anything to interfere with her rock-hard focus, observing someone like that from the outside felt like an awakening. I felt like I’d been caught in the act and it made me re-think my work habits. I hope Dani has reached that point too.

Ah, Eve Brown. Confused, immature, one-job-today-no-job-tomorrow, I-ran-my-boss-over Eve Brown. Act Your Age, Eve Brown was one of many reminders I need, much like any other person in their early 20s, that everything will work out in the end. Maybe not next week, next month, or next summer. But things will work out and there is a place for me out there. I’ve been having symptoms of what I think is job-seeking anxiety for a while now. Which is, to be honest, a small thing to deal with in comparison to all the panic, confusion, and identity crises I’ve seen around me from people in my position. It often feels like you’re pulling a weight towards no direction in particular. Like everything you do, although progressive, leads nowhere significant, and the more you pull, the more you want to stop.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown opens with yet another fail for Eve in her pursuit of a dream career. At 26 years old, she has tried it all. Setting up her own business (several times), getting a degree, getting a qualification, working a regular day job, working for her parents, working in the creative sector. And every time something goes wrong, she bails. Until, through the most unlikely, most random set of circumstances and a decision to interview for a job completely unprepared (then proceeding to run her future boss over, which I related to to a concerning extent), Eve Brown finally finds her calling. And a deep, deep sigh of relief escaped my chest like it had been trapped there for years. Because it made me reconsider my constant fear I’m not doing enough and every second I don’t apply for a job is another missed opportunity. I’ve had plenty of Eve Brown-like random experiences that proved life-changing. And I need to keep reminding myself they will keep happening, and I will be there to catch the right train and build the life I want.


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Introducing: Coffee Time Reviews

A publication for pour-your-heart-out book reviews and any other kind of books-related content.

I launched Coffee Time Reviews for one main reason: I’m tired of being told how to write book reviews. I’m tired of respecting a certain format, making sure I always do it in a particular, rigid way, that severely limits what I truly want to say about how that book made me feel

I’ve been living with this frustration ever since I reviewed one of my favourite books of all time for a university assignment, and I was severely downgraded because I didn’t criticise it enough. I understand balance is important in journalism. But I also know the beauty of reading lies in how you connect and relate to a book, and a review should give you the freedom to fully embrace and express the emotion that a book awakens in you.

I’ve been a top writer in Books and Reading on Medium several times, but, oddly enough, the only true book review I’ve ever written since joining the platform is this one, in My Selection. The reason for that is I always hesitated to write just a book review and strived to add more value to every piece. All my reading-related pieces have mostly been published in Books Are Our Superpower and A Thousand Lives, both of which are incredible publications I love contributing to. BAOS does not publish straight-up reviews which I appreciate, but that wasn’t the only reason why I’ve struggled to put my reviews out there. The main reason was I never thought there would be enough interest in my reviews, and I was also held back by what I’d been taught a book review should include.

But after a while, I started questioning whether there was really not enough value in a book review. Because a lot of my favourite, sometimes life-changing reads came from watching or reading book reviews, so surely, my determination to always twist every review idea into something more, wasn’t always justified. When I started reviewing books in my head, because I always hesitated to write them down, I realised how much I’d really wanted to write an honest and unhindered book review. A good review can encourage conversations, lead to empathy and networking, and ultimately point others to books that could significantly improve their lives. That’s when the idea of Coffee Time Reviews popped into my mind.

Coffee Time Reviews does not aim to be a competitor to any other books-focused publication, but rather a place where writers can pour (coffee pun very much intended) their hearts out on how they feel about books, without thinking they should critically analyse what they review. Writing is all about emotion and passion, and I believe imposing rigid guidelines on writers can limit them unnecessarily.

So this is how the concept of pour-your-heart-out book reviews was born. And it is the key to writing for Coffee Time Reviews. Whenever you want to just take out on paper everything you feel about a book, you now have a publication more than happy to show it to the world. You never know how many other readers feel the same, or how many people could benefit from how a book moved you — maybe it will move them even more.

Reviews are our focus at Coffee Time Reviews, but our content aims to go far beyond that. Basically, whatever you want to write about your passion for reading, would perfectly fit our publication. All you need is substance and emotion to drive your writing. If you want to write for us, make sure it’s out of pure love for books.


If you believe in the same philosophy and would like to become a writer for our publication, please visit our Write For Us page for more details. We’d love to welcome you on board!

‘The Music of What Happens’: a Queer Love Story on How to Navigate Trauma

CW: Mentions of discrimination and assault

I didn’t relate much to Bill Konigsberg’s The Music of What Happens. But its character development, and the heart-warming love story between two teenage boys who find a way to navigate trauma together moved me to tears and made me root for the protagonists until the very end.

Max and Jordan remotely know each other from school. But when Max accidentally witnesses Jordan’s mum breaking down on their very first day of trying to build a business and get their lives back on track, the two boys become inseparable on a beautiful, but challenging journey. Max is of Mexican origin and openly gay, which has been met with its fair share of discrimination and raised eyebrows, even from his own father. Because of that, he develops a coping mechanism, where he sees himself as a superhero whenever he feels emotionally frail. On top of everything, Max suspects he has been assaulted without even realising, which drives him into self-doubt and confusion.

Jordan is grieving his father and trying to protect his mother, a fragile woman with a gambling addiction, who hasn’t recovered from her husband’s death. When Jordan’s house is in danger of being taken away, he tries to re-start his late dad’s business, a food truck that used to be their main source of income. But his mum is unable to cope, so they hire Max to help along. Bonded over this sad, but urgent issue they have to overcome, Max and Jordan start having feelings for each other. The intense traumatic experiences both boys have gone through makes them become indispensable to each other while they slowly reach out for help to deal with their experiences.

The book has a lot to offer particularly if you’ve gone through similar situations as the protagonists or if you’re queer and find yourself in one of them. As a straight woman, I didn’t relate to Max or Jordan much, but that didn’t keep my heart from squeezing when they were in difficulty. A key way in which The Music of What Happens moved me was the gender stereotypes projected on Max in particular. When his dad would tell him that real men don’t do certain things or act certain ways, thus invalidating a very dangerous experience that had to be addressed, Max started imposing the same things on himself unawares. I felt so deeply for him when he thought he was weak just for realising he had been assaulted. Because similar things are imposed on women and girls from a young age, which often turn severely damaging later in life. Max being told to always be strong resonated with how I was told to always be graceful and sit up straight, or control my emotions in public.

All the issues the book approaches are dealt with sensitively, but seriously, acting as reassurance for anyone who may have gone through similar things. It deals with grief, addiction, toxic masculinity, race and sexuality, and it shows all the ways in which parents can contribute to the struggles of their children without even knowing it. For any queer young adult who can identify with either Jordan or Max, I’m sure this book will act as a beautiful place of comfort and representation, that shows them they are not alone, and adults don’t always have the answers.

The love story is gentle, supportive, and strong, often acting as a safety net when everything falls apart for the two protagonists. Both Jordan and Max are sensitive and, although not entirely alienated, lonely in many different ways. They both experience the absence of a helpful paternal figure, although Max’s dad is simply impossible to get to, while Jordan has lost his father altogether.

The Music of What Happens made me a silent, but thoroughly involved observer to a teenage experience that has lived it all, from all the ways generations clash, which I’ve felt in myself and my parents over the years, to all the reasons why teenage love isn’t as meaningless as we’re told growing up. Particularly for marginalised genders and sexualities, books like this speak volumes about how intense and profound a connection like Max and Jordan’s can be, as they’re tied through their mutual struggles as queer men, but also through family struggles and mental health traumas.

I started this piece by saying I didn’t relate much to The Music of What Happens. I mentioned I’m a straight woman, so Max and Jordan could only be relatable to a very small extent. But in a few years I will be the sister of a teenage boy. One day I might be the mother of a struggling teenager. I might witness my friends’ children discover their sexualities or find it difficult to fit in. I might be asked for advice or support by someone in a similar situation as any of the two protagonists. And for those hypothetical situations alone, for how The Music of What Happens shaped my behaviour in the most subtle ways and made me think twice about parenthood and being an adult figure to a teenager, it was worth every gut-wrenching, heart-warming second.


Have you read The Music of What Happens or any other book you’d like to write about? Consider becoming a contributor for Coffee Time Reviews! More details here. If you liked this review, please consider subscribing, or giving us a follow on Medium and Twitter. Happy reading!