Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“What sort of woman kills men?”

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

That synopsis alone had me enchanted, so you can imagine how much I ended up loving the actual story written by Kent and narrated by the phenomenal Morven Christie. Speaking of, deciding to listen to the audiobook was one of the best ones decisions I made. It helped tremendously in learning how to correctly pronounce Icelandic names and places. And Christie’s narration only added to the eerie and gloomy atmosphere of this book. She’s purely brilliant in giving the characters their fitting voice, especially the one for Agnes Magnúsdóttir. I would come to anticipate her chapters purely for the fact that Morven Christie’s gave her such a richly measured and distinctly calm voice. Plus, when I tried to pick up the book and read it by myself, it just didn’t have the same haunting effect.

And if you’re not convinced after reading this next passage…

“I remain quiet. I am determined to close myself to the world, to tighten my heart and hold on to what has not yet been stolen from me. I cannot let myself slip away. I will hold what I am inside, and keep my hands tight around all the things I have seen and heard, and felt. The poems composed as I washed and scythed and cooked until my hands were raw. The sagas I know by heart. I am sinking all I have left and going underwater. If I speak, it will be in bubbles of air. They will not be able to keep my words for themselves. They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say ‘Agnes’ and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”

This piece, written with such haunting and hypnotizing detail, completely seized my heart. Which I quickly came to realize would occur more than once throughout Burial Rites. The imagery behind certain pieces in Kent’s writing were so evocative, raw and hauntingly powerful, I was left in awe more than once.tumblr_okn1w1vcum1tuehrqo3_250And I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when I grew fond of Agnes Magnúsdóttir with each passing page. It was the little things I noticed that left me under her spell, such as:

  • Her obsession with foresights, superstitions, omens and ravens. I loved this because it reminded me of my favorite magical realism story, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton:

“And creatures should be loved for their wisdom if they cannot be loved for kindness. As a child, I watched the ravens gather on the roof of Undirfell church, hoping to learn who was going to die. I sat on the wall, waiting for one to shake out his feathers, waiting to see which direction his beak turned. It happened once. A raven settled upon the wooden gable and jerked his beak towards the farm of Bakki, and a little boy drowned later that week, found swollen and grey downriver. The raven had known.”

  • Speaking of magical realism, I was over the moon when I saw how seriously some characters took their dreams in here, because same!!

“‘Reverend,’ she said quietly. ‘If I tell you something, will you promise to believe me?’
Tóti felt his heart leap in his chest. ‘What is it you want to tell me, Agnes?’
‘Remember when you first visited me here, and you asked me why I had chosen you to be my priest, and I told you that it was because of an act of kindness, because you had helped me across the river?’ Agnes cast a wary glance out to the group of people on the edge of the field. ‘I wasn’t lying,’ she continued. ‘We did meet then. But what I didn’t tell you was that we had met before.’
Tóti raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m sorry, Agnes. I don’t remember.’
‘You wouldn’t have. We met in a dream.’”

I said it once and I’ll say it again: This is how you win over my heart in a flash.

  • Also loved how Agnes didn’t give a flying fuck:

“‘You called me a child,’ Tóti said.
‘I offended you.’ She seemed disinterested.
‘I wasn’t offended,’ Tóti said, lying. ‘But you’re wrong, Agnes. Yes, I’m a young man, but I have spent three long years at the school of Bessastadir in the south, I speak Latin and Greek and Danish, and God has chosen me to shepherd you to redemption.’
Agnes looked at him, unblinking. ‘No. I chose you, Reverend.’”

Kelis ft Too $hort – Bossy plays in the background, just like when Noora shredded William into absolute pieces with her words in Skam. *
giphy

  • And quickly circling back to the writing, some passages simply left my mind reeling with how seamlessly perfect, dark, and brutally honest they were.

Exhibit A:

“‘And do you remember her death very well?’
Agnes stopped knitting and looked around at the women again. They had fallen silent and were listening. ‘Do I remember?’ she repeated, a little louder. ‘I wish I could forget it.’ She unhooked her index finger from the thread of wool and brought it to her forehead. ‘In here,’ she said, ‘I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.”

Exhibit B:

“‘But, Agnes, actions speak louder than words.’
‘Actions lie,’ Agnes retorted quickly. ‘Sometimes people never stood a chance in the beginning, or they might have made a mistake. When people start saying things like she must be a bad mother because of that mistake . . .’
When Tóti said nothing in response she went on.
‘It’s not fair. People claim to know you through the things you’ve done, and not by sitting down and listening to you speak for yourself. No matter how much you try to live a godly life, if you make a mistake in this valley, it’s never forgotten. No matter if you tried to do what was best. No matter if your innermost self whispers, “I am not as you say!” – how other people think of you determines who you are.’”

If there’s one thing that I’m sure of, it’s that Hannah Kent can write like nobody’s business.

  • On that note, I have to mention the memory Agnes was talking about in the first exhibit, because I cannot stop thinking about it ever since I read it. Agnes describing the death of her foster-mother during birth… it was painful and tragic and vivid, and I’m still speechless that it all occurred during a storm.

“‘It’s strange,’ Agnes said, using her little finger to wind the wool about the needle head. ‘Most of the time when I think of when I was younger, everything is unclear. As though I were looking at things through smoked glass. But Inga’s death, and everything that came after it . . . I almost feel that it was yesterday.’”

I had hardly breathed during Agnes recalling this memory. That whole chapter messed me up… AND NOW I CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. Real talk, those were some masterful storytelling skills on the author’s part.

  • Side note: Iceland is one of my top places to visit, so I was beyond ecstatic to explore it through words. And the author did a beyond phenomenal job of bringing the place to life. Also, I loved getting to know a bit of history on the place and its customs. (P.S. this photo essay of the places Kent wrote about was great to look into after reading.)
  • And one last thing I want to discuss: that ending… I knew what was coming, but that didn’t help ease the pain in the least when what happened, happened. My heart ached even more when we got to see Agnes growing closer to the members of the family at the farm of Kornsá. Margrét in particular was like the mother figure she’d never had. And so their goodbyes consequently broke my heart into tiny little pieces.

“Margrét is reaching out to me and she takes my hand in hers, clasps my fingers so tightly that it hurts, it hurts.
‘You are not a monster,’ she says. Her face is flushed and she bites her lip, she bites down. Her fingers, entwined with my own, are hot and greasy.
‘They’re going to kill me.’ Who said that? Did I say that?
‘We’ll remember you, Agnes.’ She presses my fingers more tightly, until I almost cry out from the pain, and then I am crying. I don’t want to be remembered, I want to be here!
‘Margrét!’
‘I am right here, Agnes. You’ll be all right, my girl. My girl.”

MY GIRL. I had to stop myself from crying at this point. (Still, as I’m writing this.)21955051If one thing’s for sure, this beautiful, all-consuming novel about family, secrets, and murder won’t be leaving my mind for awhile.

Plus, listening to this emotional song really got me further into the story:

5/5 stars

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Review: That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

In the near future water falls from the sky whenever someone lies (either a mist or a torrential flood depending on the intensity of the lie). This makes life difficult for Matt as he maneuvers the marriage question with his lover and how best to “come out” to his traditional Chinese parents.

“Coming out would have hurt less a decade ago and it’ll hurt less now than a decade from now. Unless I just keep quiet and wait for my entire family to die off. Now there’s a cheery thought.”

I’ve been on the search for a captivating magical realism story and this one fit like a glove. The premise of That Falls on You from Nowhere remains to be completely fascinating to me: tell a lie and rain shall fall from the sky. I’m still amazed with the author for coming up with it.

On that note, I’ve gathered a list of things that left me with a content heart:

  • To-the-point writing style.
  • It was a lovely and quick distraction from daily life.
  • Superb characterization in only twenty or so pages.
  • I unexpectedly started loving Matt’s mother after this passage:

“Mom asks me if we’ve eaten. According to the textbooks, it’s a polite greeting, but she always means it literally. If I tell her I’m not hungry, she’ll say, “不餓還需要吃啊.” (Even if you’re not hungry, you still need to eat.) That must be true since that never causes the water to fall.”

  • I LIVED for those moments when it would say if water had fallen or not.
  • Then this one scene with Matt and his older sister, Michele, kind of reminded me of my favorite dynamic between Jessica Huang and her sister, Connie, in the show Fresh Off the Boat:

“You understand what I’m saying. I shouldn’t have to spell it out. You don’t trust your own sister?”
When I was eight, she convinced me that she was psychic, then foretold exactly how horrible my life would be if I didn’t do exactly as she said. It’s embarrassing how many years she got away with it. If the water had been falling back then, she’d have flooded the house.”

  • And one last thing: Matt’s partner, Gus, is an amazingly supportive love interest with such a generous soul. Which is why this next scene utterly warmed my heart:

“Matt, you’re leaving out of spite.” The doorjamb neatly frames Gus. “Okay, your sister had a bad reaction, but poe poe and gohng gohng don’t seem to be taking it badly.”
I blink and shake my head. It takes me a few seconds to realize that he’s talking about my parents.
“Did you just call my parents 婆婆 and 公公?”
“Yeah, poe poe and gohng gohng.” He looks confused. “I tried to call them Mr. and Mrs. Ho this afternoon, but they both corrected me before I got past hello. Am I pronouncing it wrong?”
“We can work on that, but that’s not my point.” I shut his suitcase. “‘婆婆’ means husband’s mother and ‘公公’ means husband’s father.”


Overall, I highly recommend you give this short story a go. Not only does it have a stunning cover, but the inside is just as phenomenal, if not more so.

4/5 stars 

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Review: Amour Amour by Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie

“I no longer want to live in fantasy.
I want the images in my mind to be real.
It’s why I’m in Vegas after all. Following my dreams.”

This was another phase of I-can’t-fall-asleep-and-it’s-3am-so-let’s-just-read, and thankfully I was so swept up into Thora’s journey that I barely noticed the hours fly by. It was magical. I didn’t even feel a hinge of regret upon finally waking up with minimal sleep.

And since this book started off so promising, here’s a list of things that I loved (and later on hated) in Amour Amour:

  • I knew this book was a keeper when Thora mentioned One Three Hill in the first chapter:

“He’s not the Clyde to my Bonnie or the Damon to my Elena. Shay is and will always be the Lucas to my Haley. A great, protective friend. Like that of One Tree Hill. Who will point out the storm ahead for me while I choose to relish in the sunshine.”

A girl after my own heart.

  • However, I quickly realized that I hated her “friend” with a fiery passion. Shay was the definition of an awfully unsupportive friend. And I despised how he repeatedly teared down all of Thora’s hopes and dreams. So I was more than glad to see him gone.
  • But on a positive note, the first two chapters of Amour Amour are completely stellar. They had me so hooked that I couldn’t let go until my eyes literally hurt from reading. Aka one of the best feelings.
  • I also loved how Thora believed in herself. Like she said, “I am my biggest cheerleader. Always have been. Probably always will be.” It was inspiring having a main character saving herself in this one (at least, in the first half).
  • Thora’s meet-cute with Nikolai was anything but cute. It did, however, leave me on the edge of my seat, screaming, “Did she just do that?” “Did he just say that?” “HELP.” To say that it was unlike anything I’d read before would be a severe understatement. (Piercing her fucking nipple!!!) But it did its job in leaving a lasting impression on me with the addition of an intoxicating adrenaline rush.

“Guess what, myshka?” The glow necklace and strobe lights swath him in deep red.
“What…?” I hesitate.
He stands. Towers, really. And he tilts my chin up. With grays like gunmetal skies, bearing down from up above, he says, “I choose you.”

This was literally my facial expression upon meeting Nikolai Kotova:

I was daring myself to dislike this six-foot-five Russian athlete, but in my heart of hearts, I knew I was a goner for his tricks.

  • Side note: the number of times this book mentioned Nikolai’s height is kind of funny. You could low-key make a drinking game out of it…
  • I also found it both comical and cute how Thora liked reading paranormal romances. Especially when she recommend her favorite one to Nikolai’s sixteen-year-old sister, Katya. Which she ended up loving so much she almost missed practice:

“If you want to try out for Noctis, you need a full-in, full-out or a triple sault, and you’re not going to get there by sitting on your ass, reading…” He scrutinizes the paperback’s title and cover (legs intertwined on a blue silk sheet) with confusion and then gives me a weird look.
“It’s a good book,” I assure him. Though I start to wonder whether it’s age appropriate. I mean, I was reading explicit adult books at twelve—but I didn’t really understand some of the graphic sex scenes. Sixteen can’t be that bad.”

This had me cackling.

  • And since we’re on the topic of his siblings, I have to say that I fucking loved the Kotovas. They are what made this book so much better. Especially in the end when Thora and Nikolai’s romance left me extremely underwhelmed. Real talk, those two failed at making me feel or experience any kind of emotions when they got together. There wasn’t anything special or exciting about them after that initial meeting at the club. So Nik and Thora just ended up being your average hetero romance between two white people. And all the fun I experienced when they’d just met and were circling around each other kind of disappeared.
  • Thankfully, I still had the rest of the Kotova family for my entertainment: from gambling issues to competitiveness and alpha glaring contests to kleptomania, this book has it all. If I had to sum up this family in one word, I’d say they’re kind of a mess… the kind that reminded me of the Gallaghers in Shameless.tumblr_mig3xuq6he1qzm2geo6_250Nikolai even had a similar scene as Fiona Gallagher about raising his brothers and sister:“You raised your siblings. You realize that, right?”
    He lets out a short laugh. “Not well enough.”
    I frown and shake my head. The waiter comes around and takes our orders. A salmon dish for me, and chicken for him.
    “You’re wrong,” I tell him, the flames creating shadows over his strong features in the dark. He looks like a devil dressed in black at first sight, but coming to know him, he’s the god that everyone describes. “Katya is sweet and friendly.” I think about his brother, the one who offered me mints and stole Skittles for his little sister. “Luka is generous and kind.” And Timo—magnetic. There are no just words to define him. I smile, staring off. “And Timo is…captivating, more full of life than anyone I’ve ever met.”

I love siblings that take care of each other, so this made me as emotional as Fiona’s speech:

  • And continuing about the tv show, I kept thinking of Debbie Gallagher when Katya was around. Since both were raised by older siblings, wanted to grow up faster and earn their independence. Oh, and just throwing this idea out there: I’d be over the moon excited if Katya got her own point of view in a later sequel.
  • One last positive was that Amour Amour included LGBTQIA+ aspects: Thora’s friend, John Ruiz, gets together with one of the Kotova brothers, Timo. They’re one of the reasons why I want to continue on with the sequel.

“Don’t stare into his eyes!” John shouts to me. “Little parts of you will die inside!”
He almost lifts my spirits.
A smile stretches Timo’s beautiful features. “So you’re admitting to feeling something from me, John?!”
John glares. “Death. I feel death!”
Timo whistles, but I can’t hear the sound from the pop song. “That’s a strong feeling.”

And it’s also why I loved this tweet:

  • But quickly circling back to the main Kotova brother: Nikolai. I mentioned before how I was a goner for him… but that was before he fully showed his overly protective, possessive and controlling side. It just left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Like, I physically cringe when I think back on his behavior. tumblr_ojzpbbp6wl1vs3hvqo3_400
  • And since I’m on a roll about the negatives, Amour Amour was also so damn unnecessary looooong. As a result, my thoughts kept shifting when I wasn’t captivated by what was happening. Which ended up occurring quite often when the Kotova siblings weren’t in the picture.
  • I started skimming around towards the last 100 or so pages. I just didn’t see what it had going on other than Nikolai’s obsession with Thora. So I ended up high-key despising that convenient ending for those two to be together.

For now, I’m hesitant on whether I should move on to Luka’s story in Infini, since I’m interested to see what surprises that one will hold (hopefully less of Nik and Thora). But I still can’t ignore how utterly disappointed I am with this book, especially after loving it so damn much for the first half… I guess only time will tell.

3/5 stars

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