Heart Berries

Heart Berries

Remember a while ago when I was running my Memoir Monday series? I got to a point where I couldn’t read so many memoirs all at once because the entire industry (genre?) seems to be dealing in pain and trauma. If you don’t have some kind of abuse in your past, you’re not publishing memoir right now, or so it would seem. Even the light hearted memoir has to have portions that have an “if I wasn’t laughing, I’d be crying” kind of feel.

Heart Berries is chock full of these themes and more. The writing is set like a journal, like a “dear diary” kind of confessional. It covers relationships and parenthood and mental illness. The entries lead you on the author’s journey of self-discovery – through a psych ward, on a reservation (the author is of Native American descent), in the homes of others and her interactions with her children.

I’m not really sure what to say about this book. It’s very short, only about 150 pages, and it’s like a dramatic monologue that will either touch you deep in your heart, leave you confused, or both. It is a very personal journey. I felt like I was eavesdropping or spying on someone who was truly struggling and there was nothing I could do to help. It was super emotional and thoughtful and weird. I got to the end and I just said “WOAH” out loud; I didn’t know what to do with what I had just read.

I encourage you to try this one out. It won’t take you long to read, and it’ll for sure make you feel things. I’d be interested to hear what you think, because I’m still not entirely sure what I think.

Face the Fire (Three Sisters Island #3)

Face the Fire

Dance Upon the Air (#1)
Heaven and Earth (#2)

(Spoilers abound.)

This is easily the weakest book in the trilogy. Mia Devlin is the red-headed, older, wiser witch. She’s helped both Nell and Ripley through their magical awakenings – Nell discovering that she has power, and Ripley with controlling hers. But the third test still remains, and with the darkness exorcised from Jonathan Harding, there’s a gross evil shadow wolf lurking about the island, working to drive Mia to her ancestor’s fate of jumping to her death in despair.

That premise alone is shaky. Bolstered by the prior success of her two “sisters,” it stands to reason that Mia would be confident about facing her demons. She’s been presented to us as nothing but the confident leader, and with a complete circle and full support, we would expect her to just absolutely flatten anything that comes her way. Her thoughts of suicide just don’t add up with everything we’ve seen so far in the serious.

I also don’t like how Sam Logan, her former lover, just comes back to the island and barges into her world, and she gives into him almost instantly. Their first kiss is him grabbing her and forcing himself on her – not totally down with that – and then she just grabs him for more kissing. Honestly their “romantic” entanglement isn’t hot because I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that a strong, smart, 30-year-old woman who is a powerful and knowledgeable witch who teaches and leads others would act like this. It’s like Nora Roberts just guessed at what a suicidal person might have running through their heads and had her think it – and it doesn’t add up.

I hate the ending. I hate it so much. I already have to suspend belief about the previous two books, but having it end with a shower of stars and her being a starry eyed babe wanting marriage and children ASAP and that’s how the curse is broken…I don’t know man, I know it’s a romance novel and ending it with an independent woman who don’t need no man isn’t how these things go, but could we at least have had a second love interest? Like, new love versus old love, and she has to choose? But no, we end right where we expected to, with marriage and babies for everyone! Yuck. Just a complete 180, out of character resolution to the trilogy. Okay, I guess.

It’s still one of my favorite trilogies of hers, because the first two books are so strong and I love the magic and the curse. But this last book always makes me mad that Mia, the best of them, couldn’t have been more than this. I wanted more for her.

 

The House of Broken Angels

House of Broken Angels

It is a shame that this book did not hook me like I wanted it to. I love books with good, healthy family drama, and the fact that this was based on a Mexican family with mixed immigration statuses also fed my hunger for stories that speak to deeper societal issues too. Unfortunately I got about 90 pages in and became weary with reading about how Big Angel (the patriarch) is dying and all the things he thinks about and the family dynamics around him…I don’t know, I just didn’t care enough to keep reading.

This is a book that would be a perfect seminar book. I need to make a tag for those – you know, the kind of book that you could read across a semester in an English class (high school or college) and there are enough references in the fiction to connect to actual, real world issues happening currently in real time? Immigration, how the armed forces treats its members that are not civilians, Mexican time/family dynamics, drug issues, gang issues – they are all here. It’s a book I want someone to read with me and discuss, not necessarily one I would read for enjoyment or in my free time.

So I set it aside, not because it was poorly written or a bad story, but because I’m not really in the mood for an academic read disguised as a fiction novel at the moment. If you enjoy books that expose you to culture and teach you about it through story, grab this book right away. It’s current and fresh, and the writing is good. I know I’ll come back to it at some point, it’s just not the right time right now.

 

Heaven and Earth (Three Sisters Island #2)

Heaven and Earth

Dance Upon the Air (#1)

The second installment of the Three Sisters Island trilogy focuses on Ripley Todd, a policewoman on the island and the direct descendant of the witch called Earth that originally formed the island sanctuary. Her central issue is control; she wields the most power of the three, but has locked it away instead of learning to use and control it.

With the vanquishing of Evan Remington on Samhain, and Nell finally free, the first seal on the curse is broken. Ripley knows that she must face her demons next, or the island will perish as as result of the curse.

The actions that the three “sisters” took to drive Evan Remington mad have caught the eye of two men. Jonathan Harding, a reporter, and MacAllister Booke, a paranormal researcher. Booke comes straight to the island to do research, and Harding travels to meet with Remington, who he discovers is now a raving lunatic, and walks away with more than he bargained for. Both men head for the island for answers.

Booke is a hot nerd, and he and Ripley have this fight-a-little, kiss-a-little, get-so-angry-we-have-sex kind of courtship. He’s patient with her, which is nice, because she’s the kind of person that only resists destiny harder when she knows she’s being forced into it. So she comes around to liking him without him doing anything but his normal day to day activities – studying the history of the island and the magic that is done on it. Ripley finds his clumsy nerd act combined with hot bod endearing, and so the love story portion of the tale is born.

So Ripley has to control her power and find a way to have both justice and compassion at the same time in order to break her ancestor’s piece of the curse. Will she succeed? Will she get to keep the sexy nerd? Read to find out!

(PS – This is definitely the sexiest of the three books.)

The Song of Achilles

Song of Achilles

There isn’t anything that I am particularly nerdy about. When I say nerdy, I mean something that I love so much that I have taken the time to know it inside and out. The closest example of what I mean is how Stephen Colbert knows just about everything about the universe of The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit. He’s read everything, asked questions, collected information, and not because anyone told him to, but because heĀ wanted to know it.

If I could have been ultra-nerdy about anything, I think it would have been Greek and Roman mythology. Every time I read something even loosely based on it, my brain feels…I’m not sure how to describe it…like a horse in the starting gate before a race. Poised? Anticipatory? Like if I had the time I would immediately go get three other books just about this topic and read them too. Like I wouldn’t know how to stop.

As a teacher, I also appreciate when this kind of information is brought to the present, and given to me in the colloquial. Reading the Iliad or the Odyssey can be fun as long as the language isn’t all tangled in ancient terms. The stories are good, otherwise they wouldn’t have stood the test of time through an oral tradition, so there is no reason why we can’t tell them in our modern day terms.

Putting all of this together made The Song of Achilles a book that latched onto my face like an alien and bored itself into my brain as quickly as humanly possible. I read the first half of the book in the span of like 3 hours. It’s the story of Achilles, told from the point of view of his lover Patroclus. It follows them from their childhood all the way to the siege on Troy. It’s written like a YA novel, focusing more on the gay love story than the actual details of the myth. What Madeline Miller used to her advantage here is the general knowledge of the myth – she had the ability to tell a different story while telling the same old story, couching the new in the very familiar, and in doing so making the book both a comfort and a revelation.

I do not want to spoil the ending for you. Its beauty is something that should unfold before you without anyone giving you any information. When I read the last italicized words I felt relief. I felt thankful. I felt at peace.

Go get you some.

Dance Upon the Air (Three Sisters Island #1)

Dance Upon the Air

I have recently done away with the phrase “guilty pleasure,” mostly because I’m coming to an age where I am ready to like what I like and as long as that thing doesn’t harm other people, then other people can go kick rocks. But when I was in a stage where I was ashamed of things, books by Nora Roberts definitely fell into the guilty pleasure category. I don’t care for most of her books (they get a little ~marriage and kids are the only goal~ for me) but a few of her trilogies have stuck with me. When I found myself between being out of library books at home, and needing to pick up more that have come in from my holds list, I decided to pick up an old favorite: the Three Sisters Island trilogy.

Honestly I’ll give anything that involves witches or elemental magic a try. I love the idea of an ordinary woman having extraordinary powers and using them to get justice or revenge. It warms my heart. Even better is when a woman doesn’t realize she has powers, and discovers them slowly, enjoying the newfound freedom.

In this, the first book of Roberts’s trilogy, Nell Channing arrives on Three Sisters Island at the end of her escape from an abusive husband. Her husband is a wealthy socialite in Los Angeles, and after going to the police about his behavior, and having them not believe her (and being beaten for “embarrassing” him) she doesn’t see a plausible out. She changed her name and her appearance, and even faked her death to get away. Now she’s looking for a fresh start in a new place, far from her terrible past.

What she didn’t count on was a hot sheriff who is kind and interested in her, and two other women on the island who seem to be connected to her in strange ways. And her chosen location, the island itself, has a history that she cannot escape and a future that she must help to ensure. What she didn’t count on was discovering that she is one of a trio of witches destined to be together in this place, at this time, and she must discover and take charge of her powers to prevent calamity.

If you’re looking for tons of hot sex scenes you won’t find them here, but there are two or three that make sense with the story and help to build to the final confrontation. It’s one of the things I really like about all of Roberts’s books – the sex works in the story, not as an aside. For this particular book it was also important that the sex scenes be handled with care, especially considering the history of abuse involved. The sheriff, Zach, handles Nell with such care and kindness that she opens up to him like a flower. It’s believable and careful, which makes this first book my favorite of the three.

if you love magic and powerful women and “coming home” stories, you may want to check out Dance Upon the Air. I think you’ll be hooked and want to finish out the trilogy. Go get you some.

Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol

I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, but I am familiar with the feeling that you know something that the protagonist doesn’t and the urge to yell “HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!!” Josh Malerman’s Unbury Carol starts at this moment, and it’s a race to the finish from there.

Most of the books that I read are what I think many people would call character-driven. This book is 100% plot-driven and it was actually a breath of fresh air. You don’t need details about the characters or their backgrounds or what they look like or how old they are blah blah blah. You are given what you need to know and then all that matters is WHAT HAPPENS NEXT FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

Carol has a condition that causes her to fall into a two-day coma, and she appears dead to everyone that does not know about how her condition works. Her mother knew, she told an ex-lover who then ran away, and her current husband knows. Her best friend knew, but the book begins with his funeral, leaving only her husband left to know. The stress of her friend’s death sends her into an episode, and we discover that the husband is planning to use this to his advantage – claim she’s dead, and then claim her fortune. News of her “death” reaches her ex-lover, who knows the truth and sets off to save her from being buried alive. He is pursued by an assassin who has been hired by a witch who is working with the husband to gain Carol’s fortune.

All of this is wound so tightly and efficiently that you are strapped in from page one. You see the demons in the closet and you are powerless to stop them. You’re floating with Carol in her coma, able to see what happens around her but without the ability to change anything. There were a few chapters where I found myself holding my breath, dreading the next event, hoping everything would be okay. The ending was also strangely satisfying.

I read this book in less than 24 hours. I didn’t have a choice. The story had me by the balls and I had to go where it took me. Bravo. Go get you some.