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. *
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  • 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

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Burial Rites, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

“You’ve never been in anyone’s shadow. You are your own light source.”

Twelve reasons why I became totally smitten with Queens of Geek:

1. Set around SupaCon, we follow three lively best friends attending the convention: Charlie Liang, a Chinese-Australian actor with gorgeous pink hair. Pro fangirl Taylor who has autism spectrum disorder and deals with anxiety. And “Flirty McFlirtersons” Jamie who’s one of the kindest and also “got the whole Peter Parker thing down to a tee, right down to the camera hanging around his neck.”
I love me some Peter Parker.

2. I nearly passed out from joy at all the pop culture references thrown in here… IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES. From video games and comics to Felicia Day to Youtubers to the cast of The Vampire Diaries (my past self was over the moon at that last one), this book had it all.
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3. I was so lost into this book that I barely noticed what was going on around me. My eyes were practically glued to the pages, so the above gif is a pretty accurate portrayal of what I looked like throughout.

4. A f/f love story. Charlie and Alyssa (my intersectional feminist queen!!!), two of the most smart, compassionate, and outspoken characters I’ve read as of late, we’re seamlessly perfect together.

“It feels good to talk to someone who’s in a position similar to mine, who’s finding herself more and more in the public eye, and who’s being herself in a world that tells her not to.”

5. Charlie’s bisexuality is talked about on the page and not just hinted at!!!

“I love everything about crushes. The butterflies, the possibilities, the giddy wonder of it all. But this is the first time I’ve liked a girl who might actually like me back. The moment I first realized I’m into more than one gender was a quiet one. It was sudden and almost anticlimactic, so it’s not a particularly exciting story.
I was fourteen, and by that time I’d had more than one crush on a girl, mostly movie stars. But I never interpreted my feelings as a crush; I just thought I admired them a whole lot. It didn’t occur to me that those feelings were similar to the way I felt about guys I liked.
I saw a post on Tumblr with the title “You Won’t Believe These Actresses Are Bisexual” or something stupid like that. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, so I googled it. It didn’t take long to recognize myself in many of the articles I found.”

And not only that, but the book also took the time to talk about bi-phobia and bi-erasure, AND I’M SO THANKFUL!!

“But how could you possibly know you’re bi? Have you ever been with a girl?”
I remember seeing the frustration written all over Charlie’s face, and I spoke up. “How did you know you were straight before you were with a girl, Reese?”

That was exactly my response to his ignorant question. Side note: I hate Reese with the fire of a thousand suns.

“He’s all for equality, but he doesn’t even believe bisexuality exists.” She rubbed her fingers over the space between her eyebrows like she had a headache. “You can’t pick and choose whose equality you support. That’s not equality.”tumblr_nmkaqfvmsw1qdxd3qo2_400

6. Girls supporting girls. Girls standing up for girls. Girls loving girls. Girls, girls, girls!!!
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7. As mentioned before, anxiety is also greatly discussed and represented.

“Most people think of anxiety as panic attacks. That’s not entirely accurate.
I haven’t had a panic attack in years. I started to recognize the signs and learned what I needed to do to stop it spiraling. I learned how to internalize it to avoid public embarrassment. Anxiety isn’t an attack that explodes out of me; it’s not a volcano that lies dormant until it’s triggered by an earth-shattering event. It’s a constant companion. Like a blow fly that gets into the house in the middle of summer, flying around and around. You can hear it buzzing, but you can’t see it, can’t capture it, can’t let it out.”

8. Sexism in the acting world is addressed, which, YES PLEASE:

“This is the third interviewer in a row who’s asked Reese an in-depth question about his job as an actor, and then asked me about my workout and diet regimen. I want to tell this guy to ask me something else, but I don’t want to look like a bitch or get in trouble with the studio, so I grin and bear it yet again.”

9. I loved when Taylor talked about her love for her literary hero, Queen Firestone. And the dedication it took to perfect her cosplay for SupaCon.

“I thought about buying one, but the ones I found online were too small to fit me comfortably, and the crown on the back wasn’t right, so I decided to make my own. I became so engrossed in it that some nights I sewed until sunrise without realizing, even forgetting to eat. Luckily my mum and sister were there to pull me out of my trance or I would have starved.”

Also, same about being so engrossed with things (reading) that you barely notice time flying by.

10. The discussions of fandoms and how heavy & intense it can get really reminded me of how similarly Radio Silence tackled these issues.

11. On a completely opposite note, this book made me laugh giddily multiple times throughout. The one scene I remember being most starry-eyed about was when Charlie and Alyssa where shooting their first collab. It was so damn fun to read; it was like getting to watch behind-the-scenes footage.

“I was thinking we could do a Q and A tag? Where we have about ten questions and we take turns answering them?”
Alyssa sits on the couch and crosses her legs. “Awesome.”
“Those videos are always pretty popular, plus they’re a lot of fun.”
Plus, it’s a great way for me to get to know Alyssa better, without it being too obvious that I’m interested in her.”

This part was all awkward and cute and achingly real. And it was just the perfect blend of romantic and fun… I was rooting for them with all my heart.

12. This was truly one of the funnest books I’ve read so far. From running through zombie mazes to filming collabs and participating in SupaFan contests…  it was hard not to fall in love with my Queens of Geek.
And with all the fun and games, this read still took the time to address vitally important topics such as body-positivity, friendship, love, change, shaming others, coming-of-age, accepting yourself… And it got to a point where I was dreading for the book to end. (Update: I loved the ending, even if it felt a bit rushed at certain points.)


All in all: though it took me a couple of chapters to really get into the story – because of how meta it felt – I eventually came to embrace the vibrant SupaCon energy and everything that tagged along with it. Queens of Geek left left me on such a high that the only thing that could bring me down was watching the recently released episode of Grey’s Anatomy. And if one things remains for sure, it’s that I’ll be on the lookout for any future works by the author.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March  14th, 2017

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Queens of Geek, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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 

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying That Falls on You from Nowhere, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!