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Not to be Overlooked

By Natalia Alvarez and Gurnish Kaur 

Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame by Olivia Ford and Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.

Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame by Olivia Ford

Review by: Natalia Alvarez

As the summer months get closer and closer, readers will no doubt be gravitating towards more lighthearted books to keep as companions for beach days or fun-filled trips. One novel that fills this role perfectly is Olivia Ford’s debut novel, Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame. Published by Pamela Dorman Books in January 2024, this feel-good novel has everything you could want, including an intense coming-of-old-age story, romance, and best of all, baking! Perfect for fans of the hit TV show, The Great British Bake Off, this will prove to be the must-read novel of the summer.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Jenny Quinn, who spontaneously decides to apply for the popular baking show “Britain Bakes” at seventy seven years old after her husband comments that they have no more big adventures in store for them. Jenny has recently been feeling stuck. With no grandchildren and her husband for her only company most days, she decides there is no harm in submitting her application, even if her chances of being accepted are slim. To her surprise, she is accepted as a contender. After much deliberation and self-doubt, Jenny decides to seize the opportunity, wanting to be challenged and prove to her husband that she still has some adventures left in her. So, she packs her bags and sets out to show she has what it takes to be a successful baker, despite the age difference between her and the other competitors. 

As Jenny is thrown into the whirlwind of the competition and adjusts to having cameras on her constantly, she finds she rather enjoys the spotlight. Each bake takes Jenny back to specific instances in her life, including a secret she has kept even from her husband, despite their many happy years of marriage.

This book is an all-around fun time, especially for readers who are familiar with The Great British Bake Off, as much inspiration is pulled from the experiences in this show. While Mrs. Quinn’s Rise to Fame may be lacking shock factor plot points, this is a novel that readers are meant to simply sit back and indulge in, much like the deserts they are reading about. It is easy, heartwarming, and hopeful all the way through. The author uses a witty writing style and I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for something fun and easy to pick up as we get into the hot summer months to come. I can promise you will not regret it!  

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong 

Review by: Gurnish Kaur

Many readers may be aware of Vuong’s later work, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous published in 2019, a novel encapsulating the themes of class, masculinity, family history and communication beyond words. This was the first time I discovered Vuong’s writing and quickly found his debut poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds, published in 2016, garnered critical acclaim for its profound emotional depth and technical brilliance. The collection reflects his personal history as a Vietnamese-American, grappling with the legacy of the Vietnam War and the complexities of immigrant life in America. Through his poems, Vuong navigates the haunting landscapes of memory and heritage, offering readers a visceral understanding of the intersections between past and present, personal and collective.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds has received widespread acclaim for its emotional and artistic impact. The collection won the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Whiting Award, among others, cementing Vuong’s place as a significant voice in contemporary poetry.

The collection is a masterful exploration of identity, trauma and resilience. Vuong’s introspection transforms personal and historical pain into an ethereal, almost transcendent experience for readers.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds delves into themes of violence, love, loss and survival. Vuong’s poems are populated with vivid, often startling imagery that evokes both beauty and brutality. In "Aubade with Burning City," he juxtaposes the chaos of Saigon’s fall with the tender strains of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” creating a powerful contrast that underscores the surreal nature of war. This juxtaposition is distinctive of Vuong’s style, blending the mundane with the extraordinary to illuminate deeper truths.

While deeply personal, Vuong’s poems resonate on a universal level. His exploration of queer identity, for instance, is both intimate and expansive. In “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” he addresses his younger self with a tender, almost paternal voice, offering solace and understanding. This poem, like many others in the collection, transcends the specifics of Vuong’s life, speaking to broader themes of self-acceptance and love.

Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds is a remarkable collection that speaks to the resilience of the human spirit. Through his exquisite command of language and form, Vuong captures the complexities of identity and the enduring impact of trauma. His poetry offers not only a window into his own experiences but also a mirror reflecting the shared human condition. For those seeking a deeply moving and beautifully crafted exploration of life’s most profound challenges, Night Sky with Exit Wounds is an essential read.



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