Everything Here is Beautiful

Everything Here is Beautiful

New Release: 1-16-18

Mira T. Lee’s novel Everything Here is Beautiful is a Viking title that was provided to me by Penguin Group as a digital review copy ahead of publication via Netgalley.com in return for an honest review.

One of my best books of the year in 2017 was Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong. I liked it because it was equal parts sad and happy. Reading it made me sad, but it also taught me things about love, family, and coping with mental illness. The book left me with a smile that a tear passed through as it fell. It was beautiful and uncomplicated.

Lee’s novel Everything Here is Beautiful takes that idea to the next level. Miranda and Lucia have been brought to the US from China by their mother and they live in New York. The central concern in the book is that Lucia has a combination of bipolar disorder and schizo-affective disorder among other things. Miranda grows up being forced into the role of caretaker for Lucia, because their mom dies of cancer, and this power imbalance affects their relationship and the relationships that they find themselves in throughout their lives.

At first this book felt like it lacked focus, but as I continued to stick with it I began to see the pattern. Lee explores immigration issues, misunderstanding of mental illness and how that exists across cultures, and most importantly of all, agency – when someone has a debilitating illness of any kind, who gets to say what that person gets to do? When is it their life and when is it the caretaker’s? How do we allow freedom while taking care of someone who cannot always take care of themselves?

Miranda’s inability to step back and allow Lucia to make her own decisions about her life was both damaging and life-saving to Lucia. If you walk away from reading this novel with one pondering, it should be to explore the relationship between self-care and obligation, between when to help and when to let go, and maybe more than knowing that difference is thinking of how you would do what was necessary should the situation present itself. Everything Here Is Beautiful does a wonderful job of helping us all to understand that this conflict is never as easily resolved as we might think.

This was a wonderful yet challenging read. It will ask you to feel things that might be uncomfortable, and that can be tough. This read is so necessary to expanding our understanding and acceptance of mental illness in general, and more specifically how families can effectively manage and assist when someone they love is struggling. if we all read more books like this, maybe we can all learn to support each other and survive together.

 

Two Girls Down

Two Girls Down

Release: 1-9-2018

I almost did not request this book as an ARC. I am not usually a fan of mysteries or thrillers. But it’s 2018 and I could stand to experience something new, so I took the chance on Louisa Luna’s new novel and I was not disappointed. This ARC was provided by Doubleday Books via Netgally and Edelweiss+ in return for an honest review.

Two girls are taken from a Kmart parking lot and their mother is frantically looking for them. There seem to be no leads and the overworked, understaffed police are at a standstill, when the grandmother calls in a famous face from California. Alex Vega has found every person she has ever searched for (although the condition they are in when she finds them varies) and is now being paid to work either with or around the police in order to find the children. In addition to a tech genius called “the Bastard,” Vega enlists the help of a local, disgraced cop, Cap, who is also very skilled at solving cases and is now retired from police work because he took the fall for another cop.

Something remarkable about this book is how it bends your expectations, especially in regards to gender. Our famous, tireless investigator Vega is female, and Cap is a single dad who maintains an excellent relationship with his daughter Nell, who is no slouch in the intelligence department herself. The characters in this story are very interesting and you will worry about and care for them as the story moves forward.

There is a very important reason I like to give all books with a relatively slow start until about 50% on the ol’ Kindle; often something goes down by that point that picks up the pace and begins the race to the end. And a seemingly out of place murder starts our investigators on a trail that will end even more disturbingly than you might imagine. I was absolutely on the edge of my seat right until the end and it was just perfect.

If you’re a lover of mysteries and crime novels, you should definitely pick up Two Girls Down, out today at a bookstore near you!

A State of Freedom

AStateofFreedom_CvrWithSpine_rev0705.indd

There is a rule that I hold to in all of my reading that if I reach anywhere between 30 and 50% complete with a book and I am not “feeling it,” I have permission to put it down and move onto another read. A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee was a DRC provided by W.W. Norton and Company via Netgally for an honest review, and while I gave it a good faith effort, I had to set it aside.

Each section of the book is a story set in India, and it’s meant to slowly expand upon different cultures and experiences that exist in the large, diverse nation while keeping you grounded in a set of connected characters. The first section is about a man who takes his young son sightseeing, only to eventually witness him die at the hotel where they are staying? To the casual reader, the first section would be enough to go back to Barnes and Noble for a refund. I, however, pressed on to give the next section a chance.

The second exploration is much more relatable. A son has moved away to go to school and to work in London, but returns home to his well-to-do parents’ home once a year for a month. They think he doesn’t come home enough, he thinks that their treatment of the servants is inhumane and unkind, and so the generations clash as only modern and older generations can. The themes in this second section really spoke to me, and the additions of uniquely Indian issues helped me relate my experience to one with which I am not familiar, and so I learned some things! Hooray for learning!

The third part of the book is where Mukherjee completely repulsed and lost me. A baby bear is found abandoned in a small, rural, poor town in India and a man decides to keep it, break it, and teach it to dance so that he can make money by entertaining people. The descriptions of the treatment of the bear made me tear up and become very uncomfortable, and the overly academic writing made the story feel disjointed. The bear is beaten, starved, tortured, mangled, and eventually it dances but, since my Kindle informed me I had reached 40%, I could say “that’s enough!” and put it down.

It may be a literary triumph, as many reviewers have already decreed, but for a casual reader looking to travel through literature, this is not the book to pick up. It’s more of an academic journey through Indian culture, working with layered characters (one story references a character from another story while expanding on another character from yet another section) in order to show how such different pieces of the Indian puzzle are interwoven to make one nation. It’s the kind of book that a very cultured book club might read and pat each other on the back for understanding each of the complex themes and messages while drinking a very dry chardonnay. It’s definitely not a fun or easy read, and while I enjoy a challenging read, this one just wasn’t worth the effort. It’s cruel in parts, obtuse in many others, and you should probably choose a different book to spend your time with.

On to the next one!

Angel Picks: Best of 2017

It is that time of year for me to join the other major publications in giving you the books that I felt were the best for me in 2017. Last year it was just a list of books I read in 2016, not necessarily books published in 2016, but this year all of my favorites were published in the oppressive heat of The Year of Our Dumpster Fire 2017. These are in no particular order, but as I look at them they are an assortment of themes that were incredibly important to me personally this year. Each and every one of these books are reads that I would demand that you start reading them right now. HURRY. šŸ™‚ I have linked to the original reviews below. Enjoy.

the wrong way to save your life

The Wrong Way To Save Your Life – Megan Stielstra

This book made me a better person and helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. Just go read the review, it says it all.

The Life She Was Given

The Life She Was Given – Ellen Marie Wiseman

I was all about realism in 2017 and this story did not disappoint. Historical fiction focused around the terrible truth behind the first circuses and the beautiful lives that can be made at the heart of horrible circumstances. This book does not have a happy ending, but it does have a fantastic ending.Ā 

All Grown Up

All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

It was a year of change for me, and not all by choice. With changing priorities and expectations, All Grown Up came along at just the right time for me to enjoy reading about a main character who felt as though she was as lost as I was. This book is an absolute triumph.

Goodbye Vitamin

Goodbye Vitamin – Rachel Khong

This is what familial relationships should be like. The kindness and love in this book was stunning. I thought it was going to be very sad but it actually renewed my hope in humanity.

 

And I Darken/Now I Rise – Kiersten White (Books 1 and 2 of The Conqueror’s Saga)

Recommended by my Facebook book group, I discovered And I Darken this year. I read it so quickly that I moved immediately onto Now I Rise, which was released this year. I needed to read about Lada, the spitfire main character who is determined to reclaim her homeland despite the obstacle of her gender. Her singular focus, her ferocity, and her strength inspired me in a year that lacked in hope. White is also a master wordsmith, and her historical setting for this story will keep you turning the pages until you are disappointed that there isn’t more to read.Ā 

 

The Wrong Way To Save Your Life

the wrong way to save your life

Okay guys, I’m a little shaky today because I stayed up until 1am reading this book without realizing I had stayed up so late, and when I am up that late I am a zombie the next day. But I had to race to the computer to let you know that this book is life changing.

Stielstra has written a collection of essays about times she was afraid, or more generally, about fear. What makes you afraid? Chances are you will identify with the majority of this book. From parent relationships and care to job instability to simply being a woman, Stielstra takes us on a terrifying yet cathartic journey through being alive in the modern world. A world we are living in right now!

You know that my book reviews tend to be more about how I felt about a book rather than its literary structure and whatnot. I want you to understand whether a book is enjoyable or boring, exciting or dull. This collection of essays is just…everything you need. It’s a historical record of the world in the past 30 years, but if a normal person wrote it and was truly honest about how they were feeling. Omg it was refreshing and scary and it brought back memories I had hidden away just to survive what at least the last fifteen years have been. I felt safe to remember.

One of depression’s lies is that you are alone. Reading this book into the wee hours last night was like having a fellow adult look at me and say “omg yes this has all been shit hasn’t it? But I’m proud of you, you’re proud of me, and we’re in this and we can do it!” It was like having a big hug and a pep rally and a quiet space alone to cry all at once. I could’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing this book was and how I might be able to put it into words today. Stielstra showed me that even when thingsĀ literally catch on fire, as long as you grab what’s important you can always find a way to keep going.

Please go buy this book as quickly as you can and read it and know that you are not alone. Life is fucking scary and difficult and You. Are. NOT. Alone.

Are you done reading it yet?

 

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

DSOM

In the spirit of starting all of the fantasy series that are out and hot right now, I decided to take a dip into the universe of the many Londons. I really appreciate V.E. Schwab’s ability to keep this book exciting while laying out all of the information, characters, and locations that we need to know about once this series really gets going. Sometimes first children of a book series can get too bogged down in details or burn out too early with too much action, but this book is a nice mix of the two.

A few things to keep in mind. First, there are 4 parallel universes, each with a different approach to magic. Pure magic, every day magic, controlled magic, and not really any magic. The main character Kell calls them Black, Red, White, and Grey Londons respectively. And London is the name of the city they all share, but that’s all they share. England as a country doesn’t exist in all of them, so London is our lynchpin.

Kell is a special kind of person that can move between the worlds, and he is one of only two of that kind of person left in all the universes. Something terrible happened in Black London and it has been locked away and inaccessible from the other Londons. So we travel with Kell to see what’s going on, and we see that there is some trouble brewing. All in all it’s a really slow burn but the fireworks at the end are amazing.

This is a very smart book. I was never bored, I never rolled my eyes. The rules of the universe(s) are clear and more are slowly coming into focus so you never have to take things for granted. The ending was grand and speaks of more adventure to come in a very subtle way. Come with me and discover A Darker Shade of Magic. You won’t be disappointed.

Glass Sword

glass sword

Okay. Remember back when I was reading through the Delirium series? If you don’t, take a second and read how absolutely furious I became as the series went on:

Delirium

Pandemonium

Requiem

A challenge for YA writers, especially those writing series books, is keeping things interesting and continuing to make sense. That initial book of a series is usually stuffed to the gills with interesting characters, a neat plot and premise, and an enemy person or idea that we feel motivated to bring down. That first book hooks us in enough to be excited about the next book to see how all of this fantastic stuff advances towards a conclusion.

Since everyone wants to compare all dystopian YA series to the Hunger Games, I’ll make an example of it here. The first book of the Hunger Games series was amazing. It was terrifying. There were characters we cared about, and enemy that was real and difficult, and obstacles to overcome that were so huge that we were glued to the pages hoping for Katniss’ survival. Even the movie was good. I cry every time Rue is killed.

But then we get to the second novel and it was like Suzanne Collins said “well that first one worked out great. How can I replicate that success without changing too much?” and we got Catching Fire – book one with more romantic angst, a little revolution brewing, but essentially the same damn book as the first. I never read Mockingjay but I watched both movies and they were BOOOOOORRRINNNG so I’m glad I saved myself the reading time.

Same story with the Delirium trilogy, just with worse writing and no conflict resolution. And it appears we are treading into familiar waters with the Red Queen series.

At the end of the first book we are faced with a terrible betrayal, an escape, and a purpose: to find the “newbloods” like Mare Barrow who are a strange combination of Red and Silver – Red bloods with Silver abilities. A few thoughts about why I am struggling with this series:

  1. Victoria Aveyard is trying really hard to convince us that Mare is struggling with her feelings for both Kilorn and Cal, and I’m just not buying it. It’s a Peeta/Gale situation but without any of the emotional buildup. There was not enough work done in Red Queen to support this version of angst. Just write her falling in love with one or the other and get it over with.
  2. I get so bored with the “I’m responsible for all this death and suffering” bullshit. “Oh no all those people died because I exist, I’ve got the vapors!” Ugh. Anyone who has ever had to survive anything knows that you do what must be done and you deal with it later. Every other sentence is Mare reminding herself that she is the little lightning girl (an annoying, repeated nickname) and she doesn’t have the luxury of guilt or feelings or distractions or love or blah blah blah nonsense. YOU SPIT LIGHTNING FROM EVERY PORE LOVE WHO YOU WANT LIFE IS SHORT AND MADE OF SUFFERING THIS IS A REVOLUTION PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DIE WHY ARE YOU SO DEADPAN AND BORING.

    glass sword1
    Are you kidding me with this? VOMIT.
  3. The creepy new King Maven is stalking the daylights out of Mare. I’m not here for this. It’s fucking creepy and he’s popping out of the shadows and torturing her and wanting her for his very own and it’s so terrifying but not in a good way. More in a way that would keep women who regularly walk out after dark up at night.

So I am making a hard decision today: I am putting down the Red Queen series. I feel like it has potential, but I don’t want to get into the same situation that I did with Delirium, that by the time I force myself through this book and King’s Cage I’m just so mad I can’t deal.

Maybe I will come back to it. It’s at my local library so I can always pick it back up. I wouldn’t call this a full abandonment, more that I’m reading other things right now that are justĀ better. The Throne of Glass series is simply knocking my socks off and I would rather spend time with Celeana and her Odyssey than watching Mare bounce around Norta in a stolen jet, suppressing her feelings and avoiding a stalker.

The moral of this rambling post is that it’s okay to put a book down when it’s just not doing it for you. Others might think it’s the bees’ knees but if you don’t like itĀ you don’t have to keep reading it. There’s too little time and too many awesome things to read out there. Go and find them and devour them like the bad book bitches I know you are.