Everything is The Worst. [PINNED POST]

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

2002-06-30 - KCTrip-Day08 - Stop01-Nelson-AtkinsGrounds-016 - Kelly&Shane [kim]

Oh, to be twenty-something again.
——————————

Just a few days into the new year, my husband, partner, and best friend Shane P. Brady passed away of natural causes. I’m tempted to add scare quotes because there doesn’t seem anything natural about being struck down by a heart attack at 41. It feels pretty got-damn unnatural to me. I went to bed worried about our foster dog, B., who had been vomiting off and on all day; by the time I woke up, Shane was already gone.

To say that the last two hundred-odd days have been difficult … well, “difficult” doesn’t even begin to cover it. In less than four years, I’ve lost four dogs, a grandmother, and now my husband. My life – my heart – is in tatters.

I knew that 2017 was going to be terrible, but I had no idea. We had Trump to look forward to, of course; the guy who blundered his way into the White House, buoyed by a swell of white nationalism and misogyny, and was all but guaranteed to fuck everyone’s shit up. (I had to give up on the news for awhile; it was just too much for me to bear, on top of everything else.)

On a more personal note, I expected continuing dog drama into 2017 and beyond: my youngest remaining dog is Finnick, who will soon turn twelve; he’s followed by O-Ren (13) and Mags (13 going on 14). It’s not unreasonably fatalistic to think that I’ll lose one or more of them this year; sooner rather than later, certainly. And there have been some health scares, though thankfully nothing fatal thus far; most notably, O-Ren’s heart murmur worsened to the point that she had a rather alarming fainting spell in June. Now I have to monitor her resting respiratory rate on the daily, which focuses my attention on her health issues even more, thus feeding into an awful, gut-churning cycle of stress and anxiety. I’m also pretty sure that Mags is going blind (though I can no longer afford to take her to the ophthalmologist for something as frivolous as confirmation), and probably deaf too, but that at least is manageable. It just breaks my heart to watch their old bodies start to fail them, you know?

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Book Review: The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel (2017)

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Not for the faint of heart.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for child abuse and violence against women, including rape, as well as suicide. This review contains clearly marked spoilers, but I tried to keep it as vague as possible.)

“Roanoke girls never last long around here.” She skipped along the hall, her voice growing fainter as she moved, like we were standing at opposite ends of a tunnel. “In the end, we either run or we die.”

My feelings for Allegra were never complicated. It didn’t matter if she acted crazy or made me angry or smothered me with devotion. In my whole life, she was the only person I simply loved. And I left her anyway.

THEN

Camilla Roanoke’s suicide doesn’t come as a surprise to her fifteen-year-old daughter Lane. For as long as she can remember, her mother has struggled with depression – not to mention alcoholism, mood swings, and blinding bouts of rage. Some days the tears come so fast and thick that they threaten to drown them both. So when she’s found dead in their NYC bathroom, bathrobe belt wrapped around her neck, Lane is more or less numb. Yet the cryptic note Camilla left behind – I tried to wait. I’m sorry. – puzzles Lane. The news that she has family – her mother’s parents, Yates and Lillian Roanoke – who aren’t merely willing to take Lane, but actually want her? Well, that’s the biggest shock of all.

Camilla rarely spoke of her life on the family estate, Roanoke, situated among the prairies and wheat fields of Osage Flats, Kansas. And there’s a damn good reason for it – one that Lane will discover during summer she turns sixteen. One hundred days of being a “Roanoke Girl” was all she could take before she fled Kansas – hopefully for good.

NOW

Eleven years later, a late-night phone call from her grandfather summons Lane back to Roanoke. Back home. Her cousin Allegra is missing, and Lane is determined to find out what happened. It’s the least she can do, for leaving Allegra behind all those years ago.

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Book Review: History Is All You Left Me, Adam Silvera (2017)

Monday, January 16th, 2017

“history is how we get to keep him.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

You’re still alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral. I know you’re out there, listening. And you should know I’m really pissed because you swore you would never die and yet here we are. It hurts even more because this isn’t the first promise you’ve broken.

I’m a seventeen-year-old grieving his favorite person.

We first meet Griffin Jennings on Monday, November 20th, 2016. It’s been exactly one week since his best friend and ex-boyfriend Theo McIntyre died: drowned in the Pacific Ocean while his new love, Jackson Wright, watched helplessly from the shore. Now Theo’s East Coast/West Coast lives are about to collide – over his casket, no less – as Jackson and Griffin meet for the first time at his funeral. Only things don’t play out exactly how you’d think.

Theo was most of Griffin’s firsts: first date, first kiss, first time, first love. Childhood friends, they came out to each on the L train; weeks later, they came out to their parents, together. (This was a happy scene, the sort of which all LGBTQ kids deserve.) Griffin always knew that he’d have to say goodbye to Theo, who’s one year older/ahead of him in high school – but his early admission to the animation program at Santa Monica College sure upended the timeline. Griff broke up with Theo the day before he left, thinking he’d spare himself the pain of eventually becoming the dumpee – and, just two months later, Theo began seeing Jackson. Drama, heartbreak, passive-aggressive sniping, and betrayal ensue.

We’ve all been there before. Except Theo ups and dies before any of it can be resolved, and Griffin and Jackson (not to mention Wade, the third member of the Manhattan squad) are left to sort through the detritus of a life too shortly lived.

To complicate matters further, Griffin suffers from OCD – mostly manifested in directions (left is good) and numbers (odd is bad) – which is getting progressively worse in Theo’s absence and death.

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Audiobook Review: Afterward, Jennifer Mathieu (2016)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

A surprisingly gentle story about trauma, recovery – and finding support in the most unexpected of places.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free audiobook for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape/childhood sexual abuse.)

Caroline

Maybe it’s Jason McGinty’s weed or my own desperate, clawing attempt to try to do something to help Dylan, but I get an idea. The beginning of one, anyway. Something hazy and weird and probably screwed up.

Ethan

Groovy notices the brush in my hand and flips over, squirming in excitement. His tail even wags. I’d have to be a pretty big asshole not to brush this dog right now.

Eleven-year-old Ethan Jorgenson is out riding his bike one warm Texas afternoon when a car runs him off the road. Before he can even process what’s happening, Ethan finds himself crammed on the floor of a truck, surrounded by cigarette butts and Snickers wrappers, a gun pressed to his head. For the next four years, Ethan is held captive by a middle-aged man named Martin Gulliver.

Though Ethan’s abduction is big news in Dove Lake, the police have zero leads to go on. That is, until Marty snatches another boy, eleven-year-old Dylan Anderson, meant to be Ethan’s “replacement.” Shortly before he went missing, Dylan’s neighbor noticed the boy walking around outside, alone – which is unusual, since Dylan has low-functioning autism and never goes out unsupervised. Around the same time, she spotted an unfamiliar black pickup truck with severe damage to the rear bumper. The police traced the vehicle to Marty’s workplace in Houston, a hundred miles away; when they approached him, he slipped out the back of the restaurant and shot himself in the head. When they searched Gulliver’s apartment, they were shocked to find not one, but two missing boys: Dylan and Ethan.

This story is about what happens afterward: the slow and painful recovery that comes after an unimaginable trauma.

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DNF Review: Kill the Next One, Frederico Axat (2016)

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Not for me.

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Obvious trigger warning for suicide and other forms of violence, including animal abuse.)

Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang. Insistently. He paused. He couldn’t press the trigger when he had someone waiting at the front door.

DNF at 58%.

Recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, thirty-seven-year-old Ted McKay has decided to end things on his own terms. He plans his suicide meticulously: he draws up a will, settles his affairs, and sends his wife Holly to her parents’ home in Florida for the week, begging out at the last minute “for work.” He locks his office door and leaves a note on the outside, so that his daughters Cindy and Nadine won’t accidentally barge in and be the ones to discover his corpse.

He’s poised to pull the trigger when an insistent knocking upends his resolve. It’s a smarmy-looking lawyer named Justin Lynch who – somehow, improbably – knows what Ted’s about to do. He doesn’t aim to talk Ted out if it, but rather has a better way. And so Ted’s recruited into a sort of suicide daisy chain. The price of admission? Assassinate one Edward Blaine, a well-known d-bag who murdered his girlfriend, but got off “on a technicality.” (Really the forensic team bungled the job, but you say tomato….) Then Ted just has to kill a fellow suicidal member, and it’s his turn. With his death disguised as a hit or perhaps a robbery gone wrong, Holly and the girls are spared the pain of knowing that Ted chose to kill himself. It’s a win-win!

Only not so much, since things aren’t exactly what they seem.

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Book Review: Yesternight, Cat Winters (2016)

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Supernatural horror + timeless misogyny = a compelling creepshow.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Dreamt I to-day the dream of yesternight,
Sleep ever feigning one evolving theme,
— Of my two lives which should I call the dream?

—George Santayana, “Sonnet V,” 1896

Alice Lind,
Alice Lind,
Took a stick and beat her friend.
Should she die?
Should she live?
How many beatings did she give?

If I hadn’t been a psychologist—if I didn’t find the idea of reincarnation so absurd—I would have wanted Violet Sunday to exist.

A female mathematical genius.

A Victorian female mathematical genius.

What an absolutely delicious idea.

A school psychologist, Alice Lind spends her days traversing the western United States, administering psychological and intelligence tests to children and advising the Department of Education how it can better help students who are being under-served in their communities. While the work certainly goes to Alice’s desire to help kids – especially troubled ones like her younger self – too often she feels trapped, suffocated, and bored.

After obtaining her Master’s degree, Alice applied to multiple doctoral programs, with the hope of one day studying human memory – and its malleability and resilience, particularly where repressed memories are concerned. Despite her obvious skill and passion, Alice was rebuffed at every turn, only to watch her less qualified peers move on to bigger and better things. The year is 1925, you see, a time when higher education for women was considered a quirky anomaly at best – and a sinful rejection of one’s “God given” role as a woman at worst.

Our first glimpse of Miss Lind comes as she steps off the train and into her latest two-week placement at Gordon Bay, Oregon – by the special request of the schoolteacher, Miss Simpkin. Among her pupils is a precocious seven-year-old named Janie O’Daire (to whom Miss Simpkin is also known as “Aunt Tillie”), an exceptionally bright student and apparent math prodigy, who seems to experience memories of another life. A past life.

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Book Review: Listen to Me, Hannah Pittard (2016)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Nope, no thanks, not for me.

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

Mark and Maggie’s annual drive east to visit family has gotten off to a rocky start. By the time they’re on the road, it’s late, a storm is brewing, and they are no longer speaking to one another. Adding to the stress, Maggie — recently mugged at gunpoint — is lately not herself, and Mark is at a loss about what to make of the stranger he calls his wife. Forced to stop for the night at a remote inn, completely without power, Maggie’s paranoia reaches an all-time and terrifying high. But when Mark finds himself threatened in a dark parking lot, it’s Maggie who takes control.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Surely I can’t be the only one envisioning a Roaring Rampage of Revenge after reading this description? Picture it: months after being mugged at gunpoint and knocked unconscious in an alley, Maggie once again finds herself in a perilous position. Only this time’s she’s ready. Prepared. Expecting it, even, thanks to the PTSD and anxiety and depression. And she fights back. Kicks some serious ass. Maybe comes to her husband Mark’s rescue. Mark, the same guy who’s spent the better part of a year tiptoeing around her, walking on eggshells, maybe even scoffed at her paranoia, once or twice, when he thought she wasn’t looking. Bonus points if he’s entertained fantasies about how he would have protected HIS WOMAN, if only he had been there when it happened. But now that he is, he’s paralyzed with fear, unable to protect himself, let alone his wife. Yeah. That’s what I’d expected, going into Listen to Me.

As it turns out, this is the most misleading yet still dead accurate book description I’ve seen in a while. Maybe ever. Certainly in recent memory.

Here are three reasons why I disliked Listen to Me, from least to most spoilery:

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Book Review: Gena/Finn, Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson (2016)

Monday, June 20th, 2016

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to throw the book across the room.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

I’m telling you this, Evie, because stories change in memory and in the retelling, and because you write and rewrite them until they’re what you want them to be, but this is one story I want you to remember the way it happened. I want you to remember the people we are now, the times I was there for you and the times I let you down. I want you to love me weak like I loved you crazy, and when we’re both on top again we’ll remember that we did it.

the truth is
your heart is stronger than you think it is
the truth is
loving someone isn’t a period
it’s a semicolon
and the choice you make is what comes on the other side
maybe it’s a picket fence and a subaru and 2.5 kids
maybe it’s a fantasy world that lives in your computer
maybe it’s a guild
maybe it’s a fandom
maybe it’s the last thing you ever expected

Gena/Finn is the story of two young women who might never have met, if not for their shared love of a cheesy cop drama called Up Below (whose emotionally tortured, pathologically codependent male leads are highly evocative of Sam and Dean Winchester). They meet online and strike up a tentative friendship via email, IM, texts, and comments left on one another’s fan blogs. A once-in-a-lifetime bargain allows them to meet IRL, at the annual Up Below con in Chicago – and a surreal chance encounter draws them even closer. With Gena struggling in college and Finn questioning her long-time relationship with high school sweetheart Charlie, the girls turn to each other for solace and support. And then tragedy strikes and things really go sideways.

I’ll be honest: for the first dozen or so pages, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this book. It’s what I like to call a “crafty” book (filed under “crafty book is crafty”), artsy and told in an unconventional way, through a series of blog posts and comments; emails, IMs, and text messages; bulletins and reports; and even the odd post-it note and governmental doc. This wasn’t the problem, though; I usually read more traditional novels and thus welcome the occasional creative deviation. Rather, it was the fandom that got me. While I can relate on a general level, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Up Below. Since the story is kind of Up Below-heavy at the beginning, I worried. But as Gena and Finn’s relationship evolved and took center stage, the issue became moot. Sure, I skimmed the episode recaps (and inevitable arguments over who’s hotter, Jake or Tyler) later on, but these are few and far between.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The 100 Year Miracle: A Novel, Ashley Ream (2016)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for suicide and child abuse.)

It did things to people, this miracle. Strange and not wholly wonderful things.

“Do you know what it’s like to be terrified of a shower?” Harry asked. Rachel did know. Unfamiliar showers sometimes had abrupt changes in temperature, which hurt her back terribly, but she did not say this to Harry, who had continued talking without her. […]

Most people, Rachel knew, didn’t want you to talk about your pain, not unless it was temporary like a twisted ankle or hitting your thumb with a hammer. If you did not hold up your end of the bargain and get better, things fell apart quickly. People would avoid you. It was easier to keep hidden, and she felt sorry for Harry because he could not hide.

Every hundred years, the Artemia lucis – tiny, eight millimeter long arthropods – come alive. They hatch from ancient eggs and spend the next six days mating, or trying to, before laying the next generation of eggs and dying. During the nighttime, they emit a neon green glow, turning the whole of Olloo’et Bay – their only known habitat – into a wondrous light show. The phenomenon is known as The 100 Year Miracle.

Yet, despite the colloquialism, few people are aware of the insects’ more miraculous properties. The (fictional) Olloo’et – southern Northwest Coast peoples who resided on (the fictional) Olloo’et Island until they were forcibly relocated in the 1920s – believed the (fictional) Artemia lucis sacred. During their infrequent periods of activity, the Olloo’et men partook in a ceremony: accompanied by a shaman and tribal leader, the men spent six days and nights drinking the bay’s water (complete with insects), which had hallucinogenic effects. The men reported having visions, slipped into trances, experienced great physical pleasure – and even claimed that the bugs cured their physical illnesses. Occasionally someone died; “usually by walking out into the water and never coming back.”

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Book Review: Beside Myself, Ann Morgan (2016)

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Can we make 2016 the year of Creepy Twin Shenanigans? Please please please!?

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for rape, including the rape of a child and sibling sexual abuse.)

You stroke his smooth skin. Its softness makes you want to climb inside him, put on what he is, and begin the world again.

Bored and left mostly to their own devices – as they so often are – six-year-old twin sisters Helen and Ellie Sallis decide to play a trick on the adults: swap identities and see if anyone can tell the difference. The prank proves such a smashing success that, by the time anyone catches on, it’s far, far too late to turn back. Having gotten a taste of what it’s like to live as Helen, Ellie refuses to go back to the way things were.

Ellie holds fast to her story, insisting that she is indeed Helen, and their mother Margaret believes her: after all, Helen was always the responsible, mature one, while silly Ellie spins fanciful tales, tells outright lies, and has trouble distinguishing reality from make-believe. When the real Helen speaks up, her claims are brushed off as just another one of Ellie’s phases. The only adults who believe her – Grandmother and Mrs. Dunkerley, their next door neighbor and sometimes-babysitter – both suffer from dementia, making them even less reliable witnesses than Ellie herself.

If you think that stealing your twin’s identity is a drastic measure, well, desperate times. To say that Margaret (and, more generally, life) treats Ellie unfairly is an understatement of epic proportions. Mom is emotionally abusive at best: she frequently neglects Ellie; purposefully leaves her out of mother-daughter activities, like shopping trips; and scolds and mocks her. Ellie is always ‘making their side look bad’ or ‘letting the team down.’ Naturally, this behavior rubbed off Helen: she often bullies Ellie, both verbally and physically.

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DNF Review: Bird Box, Josh Malerman (2014)

Monday, November 9th, 2015

 

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

DNF at 48%.

The story’s premise is intriguing, but it never really takes flight. The characters are one-dimensional; the dialogue, flat; and many of the plot points and character decisions defy common sense.

Take George’s classified ad, for example. He would have had to place it before the world fell apart, when people were still showing up to work and the phone and internet were up and running. So why invite strangers into your home in lieu of friends, family, neighbors, etc.? People whose temperaments and personalities you’re at least somewhat familiar with? (Don, I’m looking at you.) And what’s so special about George’s house that it should attract people from miles away? The hydro power is a handy advantage (not mentioned in said ad, mind you), but in terms of safety, it’s not like his little slice of suburbia is any more fortified than the surrounding homes and neighborhoods. There’s no fence keeping the creatures (and marauders) out. Terminus it ain’t.

Also, during all their raids, the group has yet to find a single phone book? Really? I have asked, demanded, and begged to be removed from phone book deliveries, and yet I still have at least half a dozen of the suckers gathering dust on my bookshelves.

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Book Review: A Madness So Discreet, Mindy McGinnis (2015)

Monday, October 5th, 2015

asylum [uh-sahy-luh m] – an inviolable refuge; sanctuary

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence, ableism and misogyny, and suicide.)

“These are your friends now, Grace Mae. A madman who eats cancer in the dark and another who searches for a different kind of killer, the kind who smiles at you in the light of day. This is your new life. I hope you can stand it.”

Like so many women before and after her, Grace Mae was institutionalized not because she was “crazy,” but inconvenient: Women who possess opinions, as well as the voices to express them; women who have little interest fulfilling their prescribed gender roles; women who don’t want (or can’t have) children – or become pregnant out of wedlock; women whose possessions – money, land, even their very bodies – are coveted by the men in their lives; women who, simply put, stand between men and what they want. Women like Grace, who’s pregnant with her rapist’s child. Her father’s child.

With nothing more than a judge’s decree and a single male relative’s testimony, such women could be forcible imprisoned in “asylums,” many of them never to be heard from again.

Grace’s sentence is lighter than most; after she gives birth, she’s to rejoin the Mae family in Boston. Her friends and extended family think she’s on a protracted European tour. Yet as miserable are the conditions in the Wayburne Lunatic Asylum, she’d rather spend the rest of her years there than be thrown back into the viper’s nest. A man of privilege, and a senator to boot, Nathaniel Mae is used to getting his way. Grace is just the latest in a long line of victims. (Picture New York Magazine’s infamous Cosby cover.)

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Book Review: Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon (2015)

Friday, September 4th, 2015

This Impossible Life

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for domestic violence and child abuse.)

Sometimes I reread my favorite books from back to front. I start with the last chapter and read backwards until I get to the beginning. When you read this way, characters go from hope to despair, from self-knowledge to doubt. In love stories, couples start out as lovers and end as strangers. Coming-of-age books become stories of losing your way. Your favorite characters come back to life.

If my life were a book and you read it backward, nothing would change. Today is the same as yesterday. Tomorrow will be the same as today. In the Book of Maddy, all the chapters are the same.

Until Olly.

According to the Big Bang theory, the universe came into being in one single moment – a cosmic cataclysm that gave birth to black holes, brown dwarfs, matter and dark matter, energy and dark energy. It gave birth to galaxies and stars and moons and suns and planets and oceans. It’s a hard concept to hold on to – the idea that there was a time before us. A time before time.

In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.

Eighteen-year-old Madeline Whittier has no memories of her father and older brother, who died in a tragic car accident when she was just a few months old. Nor does she remember life on the Outside: the feel of the sun’s rays shining directly on her skin; of warm, wet sand squishing between her toes; or of a salty ocean breeze tickling her face and tousling her hair. Maddy was diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) shortly after the accident, and has spent the past fifteen years confined to her home, with only her mom Pauline and full-time nurse Carla for company.

Maddy doesn’t live in a bubble per se, but close to it: her house is specially outfitted with industrial air filters, which keep out anything over .3 microns and recycles the air completely every four hours. An airlock separates the front entrance from the rest of the house, and all visitors must undergo an exhaustive physical exam, background check, and thorough decontamination before entering.

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Book Review: Coming of Age at the End of Days, Alice LaPlante (2015)

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

The Tribulations of Adolescence: A Character Study

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for sexual assault.)

Anna Franklin has never really fit in. A native of Sunnyvale, California, Anna was perhaps the least “sunny” kid in her subdivision. Socially awkward and unsure, she usually watched from the sidelines while the neighborhood children played tag. Her parents meant well, but failed to pay Anna enough attention, absorbed as they were – are – in their own interests: she, a pianist; he, an amateur scientist.

When Anna turns sixteen, things go from bad to worse as she’s caught in the bleak, gloomy grip of depression – or melancholia, in Anna’s parlance. Nothing can seem to shake its hold on her: not a psychiatrist (who Anna dislikes), not drugs (which Anna tosses), not her parents’ well-intentioned encouragements. Until, one night – in an effort to rekindle mother-daughter rituals of old – Anna’s mom institutes mandatory bedtime reading. Her first choice? The Bible. Not for any religious purposes, mind you – Anna’s parents are both atheists – but because it’s the basis for so much subsequent literature.

Yet something (read: the promise of death, violence, and retribution) in Revelations speaks to Anna. She discovers that she is “passionately in love with death.” Anna begins to have dreams – and then waking visions – of a red heifer. Anna’s overnight religious mania coincides with the arrival of the Goldschmidts, a weird family that seems mostly disengaged from the world (or at least Anna’s small slice of it). When Lars invites Anna to his church, she finds a ready and receptive outlet for her newly discovered fundamentalist fervor.

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Book Review: Every Last Word, Tamara Ireland Stone (2015)

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Crazy Again Today

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and suicide.

Review title pulled from the lyrics of Fiona Apple’s “Paper Bag,” which was a staple on my college-era depression playlists. It’ll click once you read the book, okay.)

Then I see the walls.

I spin a slow three-sixty in place, taking it all in. All four walls are covered with scraps of paper in different colors and shapes and textures, all jutting out at various angles. Lined paper ripped from spiral-bound notebooks. Plain paper, threehole punched. Graph paper, torn at the edges. Pages that have yellowed with age, along with napkins and Post-its and brown paper lunch bags and even a few candy wrappers.

Caroline’s watching me, and I take a few cautious steps closer to get a better look. I reach for one of the pages, running the corner between my thumb and forefinger, and that’s when I notice handwriting on each one, as distinctive as the paper itself. Loopy, flowing cursive. Tight, angular letters. Precise, blocky printing.

Wow.

Sixteen-year-old Samantha McAllister is dreading the start of junior year – and with it, the disappearance of “Summer Sam,” the better, braver, happier version of herself. It’s not that she’s ostracized or unpopular; just the opposite, in fact. She’s been best friends with Kaitlyn, Alexis, Olivia, and Hailey since kindergarten; collectively, they are known as the Crazy Eights (they’ve lost a few members over the years), THE “it girls” in school.

While these lifelong friends should provide Sam with some measure of support and stability, they’re just as likely to send her into an “Eights-induced thought spiral.” Led by head “Mean Girl” Kaitlyn, the clique is quick to pick apart each other’s hair, makeup, cloths, nicknames, taste in guys, you name it. So it’s no wonder that Sam hides her “crazy” from them. Imagine what they’d say if they knew that she’s suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) her whole life, and that her level of dysfunction is such that she’s been taking anti-anxiety meds and sleeping pills and seeing a psychiatrist once a week for the past five years? No thanks.

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Book Review: Church of Marvels: A Novel, Leslie Parry (2015)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

“I have witnessed the sublime in the mundane…”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from the publisher.)

But this story, in truth, is not about me. I am only a small part of it. I could try to forget it, perhaps. I could try to put it behind me. But sometimes I dream that I’ll still return to the pageantry of the sideshow, hide myself beneath costumes and powder and paint, grow willingly deaf among the opiating roar of the audience and the bellow of the old brass band. It will be like the old days – when Mother was ferocious and alive, before the Church of Marvels burned to the sand. But how can I return now, having seen what I have seen? For I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows I know.

Why, he wondered, did he have to peddle his difference for their amusement, and yet at the same time temper it, suppress it, make it suitably benign?

How would it feel to know there were people who’d chosen to live as they felt, not as they appeared, and never looked back? Could she bear their happiness, as shunned as they were? Was she brave enough?

She had seen it done. Wherever they glittered in the afterlife – flying among the high rafters of heaven, swimming with her mother in an undersea cave – she hoped the tigers had known it, and roared.

For the first time in her seventeen years, Odile Church is alone. Her mother’s sideshow carnival, the Church of Marvels, burned to ash in the spring, the casualty of a freak fire. With it went her mother, many of her friends, and the only life she knew. Her twin sister, Isabelle Church, was spared – only to run off to Manhattan not long after. That was three months ago; three months without a word.

And then Odile receives a cryptic, ominous letter from Belle: “If for some reason this is the last letter I should write to you, please know that I love you.” Armed with little more than an old map of her mother’s and Belle’s letter, Odile hops the next ferry to Manhattan in search of her sister.

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Book Review: Watch the Sky, Kirsten Hubbard (2015)

Monday, April 13th, 2015

“We’re both made of stars, Jory Birch. Everybody is.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Signs were everywhere.

Everywhere and anywhere, Caleb said. That was the problem. They came at any time. And they could be almost anything.

Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in an aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks.

“How do you know?” Jory had asked his stepdad once. “I mean, how do you know you’re seeing a sign? Instead of a bunch of coincidental fish?”

“You’ll just know,” Caleb had replied.

Caleb was fickle with explanations. Sometimes he shared them. Sometimes he didn’t. But he had no problem giving orders – mostly camouflaged as suggestions.

Eleven-year-old Jory Birch has been looking for signs for the better part of five years – ever since his stepfather, Caleb, swooped in and “saved” him and his mother. From what, Jory’s not exactly sure.

A veteran who served “in a desert war Jory didn’t know much about,” Caleb is convinced that something’s coming. Something big. That’s why he moved his family – mom; Jory; and Jory’s younger siblings, Kit and Ansel – to the farm at the edge of town. Why mom spends most of her day picking and preserving cucumbers and squash from the garden; why Caleb is growing a stockpile in the locked barn; why the kids are discouraged from socializing with outsiders or confiding in anyone outside of the family. Jory’s life is a maze of secrets – secrets which become increasingly harder to keep once Jory starts fifth grade and finds himself (gasp!) making friends: with the affable Erik Dixon and outgoing Alice Brooks-Diaz.

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Book Review: The Half Life of Molly Pierce, Katrina Leno (2014)

Monday, October 6th, 2014

An Unexpectedly Heartfelt Look at Mental Illness

five out of five stars

(Trigger warning for depression and suicide. Also, this review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are mine and not the author’s or publisher’s.)

Seventeen-year-old Molly Pierce is blacking out. Losing time. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes; other times, hours or even most of a day passes before she comes to. One afternoon, the Massachusetts native was halfway to New York before she woke up behind the wheel of her car.

Though this has been going on for a year, Molly can’t tell anyone: Not her parents, who already walk on eggshells around her as it is; not her sister Hazel or brother Clancy; not her best friends Erie and Luka; not even her psychiatrist Alex. She’s too afraid of what might happen. She’ll be labeled “crazy,” shipped off to a “loony bin,” perhaps. Plus, talking about it? Giving voice to her problems? Makes them real. If she can just pretend to be normal, maybe she will be. Eventually.

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Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return, Annie Cardi (2014)

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

Interesting Concept, Unlikable Narrator

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: This review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are my own.)

It must have been like this for Mom – the longer you go without talking about something, the harder it is to start, until eventually you don’t know how to.

A junior at Oak Ridge High, Alex Winchester has tried to stay under the radar; until this year, it’s mostly worked. She’s failing driver’s ed., which is understandable given her phobia of driving – but since she’s too embarrassed to explain her fears to the adults in her life, they keep pushing her to get behind the wheel of a car. That is, until she drives the school’s Volvo right through the end zone, incurring the wrath of the football team and its newly rabid fans. As if this humiliation isn’t bad enough, her mom suffers a nervous breakdown during the meeting with her driving instructor Mr. Kane. The weird idiosyncrasies Alex has observed in her mother during the past few weeks fall into place: Janet Winchester is convinced that she’s Amelia Earhart.

A battery of tests and a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital are of little help; whatever Janet’s problem, it has no physical cause. And with insurance refusing to cover extended care, Alex and her family – father David, sister Katy, and brother Teddy – must care for Janet at home. Each member of the family deals with Janet’s illness in her own way: David is patient to a fault; Katy loses herself in her schoolwork; Teddy takes advantage of Mom/Earhart whenever possible; and Alex alternates between hostility, despair, and camaraderie. Before the illness, her relationship with her mom was rocky at best; now, she often stays up late at night, confiding in this new, not-quite-Mom. (Though the relationship isn’t as idyllic as the book’s synopsis would have you believe.)

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