Review: “The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls” by Anissa Gray

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry GirlsTitle: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author: Anissa Gray
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ ½
TW: Eating disorders, body hatred, child abuse, neglect
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Debut author Anissa Gray presents a startling oftentimes harsh picture of a family in The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.

The Butler family has had their share of trials – as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lilian can attest – but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives.

Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband Proctor are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened.

As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters. What unfolds is a stunning portrait of the heart and core of an American family in a story that is as page-turning as it is important.

If you follow my blog then you’ll know how I feel about family dramas. They either work for me, like in the case of Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) or, well, lull me to sleep. But even with the genre’s track record I still, somehow, picked up another family drama to read hoping that I’ll once again hit the jackpot like I did with The Last Romantics.

It didn’t quite work out the way I wanted to.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls was a well-written story about the complex entity that is family. It dug deep into the core, dragging secrets, betrayals and shifting alliances into the surface.  Anissa Gray created a deeply flawed, utterly believable set of characters. There’s Althea, the eldest of the Butler siblings. She takes on the matriarch role when her mother dies at a young age, taking care and raising her siblings almost on her own. Then there’s intelligent Viola, the middle child who harbors a deep secret of her own. Last is Lilian, the baby of the family. Nervy, flummoxed, and unsure of herself, Lilian seemed to be the opposite of her formidable older sisters.

I greatly appreciated the way Gray wrote these three characters, these sisters who are so connected to one another. They are her narrators and movers both. These three women – Althea, Viola, and Lilian – were so effectively written, their voices and personalities so distinct that a reader would be able to easily tell who is who. Together, these three women carry the whole story on their shoulders, moving and dictating its flow, pace and direction with their every choice and decision.

This is one powerful story about family and all its complexities, and I appreciate that. I love that Anissa Gray tackled the topic of incarceration, giving us readers a glimpse into what the families of felons go through with the use of the Butler family. It’s something that you don’t see so much of.

That said, even with how amazingly well-crafted this story was, I still couldn’t connect with the characters. They felt far away. Reading this story was like watching from a distance as things happen to strangers. There isn’t much emotion involved.

Another part that could have used more work were Althea’s daughters Kim and Baby Vi. I felt like they were underutilized and only partly explored, a missed opportunity for the author. I honestly think these two characters could have added so much more to the story, maybe provide a contrasting image to their mother and aunts. Gray’s portrayal of bulimia though was particularly jarring and so realistic.

Overall, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls was an excellent literary work. Anissa Gray is a promising new author. Her writing was beautiful and she created complex and very human characters. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from her. However, I’ll be an outlier and say that while I enjoyed this book it didn’t quite stir my emotions. It could simply be a matter of personal preference, but this is my honest opinion of the book. I would still definitely recommend this to other readers, especially those who appreciate reading about complex family relationships.

Author Q&A (2)

Anissa GrayANISSA GRAY was born and raised in western Michigan. She graduated from Western Michigan University and received her Masters in English from New York University. After graduate school, Anissa went on to work as a print reporter at Reuters in Manhattan, covering global financial news. That was followed by a move to Atlanta and the initiation of her career in broadcast journalism at CNN, where she has held roles as writer, editor, and producer, receiving Emmy and DuPont awards for contributions to the network’ coverage of major stories.

After more than 20 years as a journalist, Anissa, a lifelong book lover and voracious reader, pursued fiction writing, applying her love of storytelling from the realm of real-life, newsworthy happenings to the events and encounters that shape our lives.

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First Line Fridays: “The Last Romantics” by Tara Conklin

First Line Fridays (feature photo)

First Line Fridays is a weekly feature hosted by Hording Books.

Welcome to another installment of First Line Fridays this first Friday of February. I’m going to be sharing the first couple of lines from a book I’m currently reading, The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin.


Year 2079

At first I believed the girl to be an apparition. A ghost. She rose from the crowd in the auditorium and walked to the microphone.

I remained very still. For the past ninety minutes, I had been seated onstage to discuss my body of work. As much as I dread large crowds, the event had been a success. The audience was respectful, intelligent, curious. I’d even made them laugh. That joke about the frog, of all things. We heard the sirens only once, a brief wail during which I paused my reading. We all waited, the thousand here in the auditorium and the thousands more watching via satellite and DTR. We waited, and then the sirens quieted, and I resumed with my                                                            poem.

I’m only close to 50% of this book. Work is still busy with all the annual reports I have to write so reading has taken a temporary backseat. But this book has really piqued me.  It’s a story about family and siblings, about love and how much you could only do to help someone. I have a feeling that by the end of this book I’ll be a mess.

The Last Romantics releases on February 5.



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Book Review: M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans”

The Light Between Oceans

If you were caught in between two choices both with very heavy consequences, what would you do? Which would you choose? Would you sacrifice the feelings of the people you care for and love to be morally correct, or would you rather continue living your life as it is with a complete family knowing that while you’re happy someone else is suffering because of your decisions? Will you be able to live with that kind of guilt? Will you ever be able to forgive yourself?

Some tough questions, right? Well, that is what M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans is about – the intricate interconnection of lives, choices and decisions, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

 “After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.”

The Light in Between Oceans is a beautiful novel that’s both compelling as it is heart-breaking. It’s a tale about loss, about choices and consequences, about a mother’s love for her child. It is filled with potent characters that all have to make tough, often misguided, decisions. They are people who only want what’s best for the ones they love, people who are flawed, who also hurt; people who are very much like us.

M.L. Stedman created believable characters that readers will surely be able to empathize, maybe even sympathize, with. Many times I’ve found myself understanding why Tom and Isabel did the things they did, though it’s not something I would condone. They both have different and conflicting ways of dealing with their situation. A quote from another character in the story, Ralph Addicott, Tom’s friend,  puts it best. “God knows what got into the pair of you out there. There’s been lie upon lie, all with the best intentions. But it’s gone far enough. Everything you’ve done to help Lucy has hurt someone else.” It’s hard to judge them, Tom and Isabel. Everything they’ve done was to protect Lucy, but everything has its consequences. Tom and Isabel’s characters are both strong and very much affecting. They will make you think about yourself, what you would do if you were in the same situation. Indeed, if I were put in their shoes, I think I will also make a handful of irritional decisions, maybe I could even do worse.

Writing is another strength of this story. The author writes in almost poetic fashion, descriptive and meaningful. She let’s her prose unfold slowly, bit by bit, letting readers absorb and really immerse themselves into Tom and Isabel’s life.

Emotional, deeply affecting and thought-provoking, this is an excellent debut by the author M.L. Stedman. It actually took me months before I finished this novel. I started it last March and only got myself to finish mid-August. It also took some time to let the story really sink in, thus the late review. Usually those are signs I didn’t enjoy the book, but for this one it’s the exact opposite. I enjoyed reading The Light Between Oceans, it was just painful to read about all the characters’s misgivings that I had to stop very often that’s how much I was affected by this story. If you want heart-rending tales, this one is a must-read.

Rated: 3.5/5