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Healthline Zine's January Reads

Featuring The Keeper Of Stories by Sally Page, Everybody Come Alive by Marcie Alvis Walker, and The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore.


Lonely Hearts Book Club | Lucy Gilmore, Sourcebooks Casablanca (28 March, 2023)

★★★★☆

A young librarian and an old curmudgeon forge the unlikeliest of friendships in this charming uplit novel about one misfit book club and the lives it changed along the way.


Because books have a way of bringing even the loneliest of souls together...


The Lonely Hearts Book Club was an absolutely lovely read. This book was full of all the things that I never knew I wanted in a story - I was so captivated by the sheer love captured in its pages. The Lonely Hearts Book Club follows a group of very different people, tied together by their book club. When Sloane, a librarian, meets an ornery old man by the name of Arthur, she cannot help but make friends with him. One day, Arthur doesn’t show up at the library, and Sloane begins to worry. After tracking him down, she finds him bedridden and in need of help. Along with Maisey, Arthur’s neighbor, they begin a book club. Soon after, their book club is introduced to more members, including Arthur’s estranged grandson.


Following the growth of friendship and love in this book was an absolute delight. The way each and every member grew to care about each other was so endearing and exactly what I needed. The book switches between multiple different POVs, and being able to see the story from multiple perspectives was something I enjoyed. There were a few times where I wasn’t able to properly discern one character’s voice from another, but overall each of the sections contributed a new and nuanced take on the situation at hand.


I enjoyed all of the characters in this story, with Maisey being my favorite. She seemed like such a sweet person, and I was rooting for her relationship with her daughter throughout the course of the story. What was most evident in her POV was the loneliness that she felt- it was something present in all of the members of the book club, but it was expressed the most in her section. That loneliness was something I thought was instrumental to the story, as the characters bonded and began to fill their hearts with the book club.


In terms of pacing, I thought the beginning of the book was a bit quick- I felt that Sloane’s relationship with Arthur didn’t develop as much as I wished it would have, and it felt a little jarring when Arthur disappeared and Sloane immediately went out to look for him. Seeing the book club’s relationships progress throughout the rest of the story was such a good experience. I was rooting for Mateo to follow his dreams, for Arthur and Greg to open up to each other, and most of all for Sloane to stay where she was happy. The ending felt satisfying, and I loved the platonic love developed throughout the story.


Overall, I would absolutely recommend this book to others, and I’d give it 4.5 stars out of 5.


Review by Staff Editor Ivi Hua.


The Keeper Of Stories | Sally Page, Blackstone Publishing (24 January, 2023)

★★★☆☆

A charming, uplifting debut novel—full of humor and depth—that has taken readers around the world by surprise.


The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page was a good read for me. There aren’t many stories that follow the seemingly ‘unimportant’ or unexciting characters, especially older ones. A middle aged woman working as a cleaner doesn’t seem to have a story upon first glance, but through this novel, Page expertly tells us that everyone has a story worth telling, whether they’re the Prince of the castle, or a simple knight guarding the palace walls.


I’ve never really come across stories about storytellers before. I originally suspected this book to be a sort of epistolary novel told through the perspective of Janice, the friendly neighbourhood cleaner, but I do like that she took the main stage and the story ended up being about her and her experiences, not just the people she cleans for. The writing style of the story was a bit hard for me to get into at first, but I eventually was able to adapt to it and I found that it fits the story, making it feel as if it is a story being told rather than a novel being read.

Although I believe that this book had a powerful story to tell, and I liked the themes and ideas it brought up, I felt that it was heavy handed at times. The story was adamant about Janice not being important and how she didn’t have a story, which made the reveal at the end about her family life seem out of place. It could be commentary on how most people view their lives as uninteresting despite the experiences they go through, but (without spoiling the book) I believe that someone who went through an experience similar to Janice’s would not view themself as storyless. Throughout the novel, Janice moves away from this idea that she has no story into thinking she has to hide her story - which kind of dampens the point that anyone can have an interesting story if the person in question already has an important story to tell.


The narrative device of telling the story of Becky in parts was effective, but it began to lose its magic as the story went on and I became more interested in other plotlines. I liked how some of these threads weren’t completely resolved (not everything gets a good or even clear ending in real life), but at the same time the actual ending of the book ties up everything into a neat little bow that felt a little too perfect. Janice reaches out to all the people she was worried about speaking to, and easily reconciles with them. She leaves her husband, gets to keep the dog she loves, and finds the perfect man in Euan, the bus driver. It was definitely sweet, but a not-so dormant part of me wished for just a little bit of chaos to seep into things.


All in all, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this read. I liked reading about an older woman realizing that she wasn’t stuck in her life and that she could change things for herself. It was a healthy reminder that life doesn’t end when you turn 30, which is something I believe most of us could use every now and then. Although I found that this book couldn’t hold me (which is partially due to my reading slump), I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a short, comfortable read about starting over, finding magic in the mundane and discovering your story.


Review by Staff Creative Jaidah-Leigh Wyatt.


Everybody Come Alive | Marcie Alvis Walker, Convergent Books (30 May, 2023)

★★★★☆

A dazzling memoir that explores what it means to become fully alive and holy when we embrace the silenced stories we’ve inherited—from the creator of Black Coffee with White Friends.


‘Black’, ‘woman’, and ‘holy’: these would be the words I’d use to describe Marcie Alvis Walker’s memoir ‘Everybody Come Alive—and the effect of those words (also the titles of the book’s subsections) only grows stronger throughout the book. Walker uses the essay format to create a coherent narrative of her own life, forming intersections between her childhood and the overarching framework of being black, being a black woman, being a dark black woman, and being a dark black woman married to a white man. Through her prose, Marcie mesmerises the reader, her words coming alive so strongly in their minds that parts of the book often feel like the world of 1970s America is born right in front of their eyes.


As a woman of colour, I resonated with her notion that she is black and woman and holy—that the body of a person of colour (man, woman or gender non-conforming) can never be consumed into the normative structures of power. I adore how Walker uses the word ‘holy’ rather than ‘beautiful’ to describe bodies of colour—removing the aesthetic dimension to create an ethereal divinity to the body, filling it with wonderment about how it works to aid us every time. The pacing of her essays with real-life events that happened to black people during Jim Crow America frames her lived experiences in the broader framework of racism and how its subtle existence hinders upon the progress of black people all over the country.


Also, I adore how Marcie uses religion—more often than not a tool used to justify subjugation—to frame her existence in a narrative of power, using poetry to fill in the questions of her childhood, and of her own power. Finally, Walker ends the book with her child, Max, and how their existence—along with the presence of other marginalised bodies in a heteronormative society—is in itself a movement to change, a movement to be seen and heard, and a movement to be holy all over again.


Review by Staff Creative Keerthana A.


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