My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Expected publication July 10, 2018

Copy provided by publisher in advance in exchange for an honest review.

This book was genuinely confusing to me. One second it was making me feel one way, and the next another, to the point that I wasn’t sure if I loved it or if I hated it. I think that this is the beauty of this book as it lands in the midst of our socio-economically imbalanced society. You can resent the fact that this woman has the freedom to explore sleep as a valid therapy option while still feeling sympathy for what is obviously a very deep depression that she is struggling with after the deaths of her parents.

She decides to hibernate for a year in an attempt to reset her brain and have a new, emotional approach to her reality. She finds a “therapist” (finger quotes intended) in the yellow pages who is 100% a quack and is willing to help her jump through the insurance hoops to prescribe her every combination of sleep drugs under the sun. The first six months are full of adjustment to the medications – sleep-walking, sleep-talking, sleep-shopping – and she tries to put the pieces together after her blackout events while dealing with an abusive ex, a flighty “best friend,” and managing the resources that her parents have left to her.

About halfway through her year she realizes that she can’t be fully rested and restored if she hangs onto anything from her old life. She partners with an artist she was connected with in her old job and apparently connected with during a sleepwalking episode, to cleanse her space, lock her in, and let the true transformation begin.

This entire concept was so dangerous. The combinations of medications she is allowed to take by a person that so obviously does not have her best interests at heart as a member of the therapy profession. Her only close friend, Reva, is so selfish and self-deprecating herself that you wonder if she is able to keep an eye out for our unnamed narrator. The amount of money that she (the narrator) seems to have at her disposal is constantly the deus ex machina that allows her to continue forward.

As I was reading I did branch out to read some reviews to see how others reacted to this novel. Some said it was an interesting theory that the brain could be reset through extended hibernation and how it might be used in a safer environment with proper nutrition and monitored vitals. Others asked why we should feel bad for someone so rich that their problems are solved by drugs and money. One reviewer said that we should feel compassion for the rich, because so often the riches that we envy them for are the very things that prevent them from learning to struggle and survive, so they lack a very important set of skills that other members of society are forced to curate over time.

I agree with all these takes, although I do not feel as much empathy towards the wealthy as some reviewers seemed ready to have. What was so compelling to me about this book was the familiarity of the depression and the need to sleep. I love sleeping and being alone. I was able to ignore this woman’s wealth enough to live vicariously through her hibernation, especially the times when it really worked for her.

This seems as though it would be a very divisive book, one that would make for a good book group read. How do we give credence to all cases of mental illness while still understanding the real privilege at play in this tale? How can we be empathetic and disdainful at the same time? I love that this book presented me with this challenge. You should let it present it to you as well. Go get you some.

Nothing Good Can Come From This

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Due for publication August 7, 2018

This book was provided to me by the publisher in advance of publication in return for an honest review.

I am not the biggest fan of memoir, specifically the kind of memoir that seems to trod out the idea that we are in a suffering Olympics. That someone’s story isn’t worth reading unless they have enough trauma and hurt in their lives to kill a bull elephant. Those kinds of memoir just weren’t for me.

So when this ARC came across my desk I decided to read it immediately to get it out of the way. It was only 220 pages and wouldn’t take me very long. Once I started, however, I ended up not wanting it to stop. Kristi Coulter has written a memoir about addiction and freedom that will make you feel free and empowered no matter what your personal struggles might be.

She describes the slow slip into alcoholism as one glass of wine a night turns into two, and then three. We watch her as she attempts to live a normal life in a high powered job in the midst of a society that seems to drink to relax, celebrate, cope, socialize, really you name it and booze is there to hold your hand. The beauty in this book is seeing Coulter come to recognize that she is an alcoholic, make the decision to become sober, and then navigate the road to rediscovering who she is without alcohol.

It is that rediscovering that spoke to me the most. Her questions seemed to always start with “What would I like to…” as she discovered what she enjoyed and who she wanted to be now that she was sober. The constructive struggle mixed with the hope and freedom that these kinds of choices bring makes this a memoir that sees past the struggle to a bright, limitless future full of possibility. Maybe the closest comparable would be breaking up with a long-time partner. Who am I without this person? It’s a bigger discovery than some people realize.

What would I like to eat now that I don’t drink? Will food taste different? Will I be able to taste new things out of the haze? All these questions are so interesting and wonderful that I would have read an entire book of her talking to me about the things she discovered about herself while sober. It was like she had emerged from the cocoon and stumbled around for a bit before realizing she had wings. “What do these do?” she mused, and then she took flight.

I love that her husband quit drinking with her. That is love and support. He may not have been an alcoholic but she describes him as different and a bit angry when he drank, so that decision was probably good for them both.

She changed her goals and team at work too. Once she wasn’t drinking she discovered that the project and team she was working with was too fast-paced and, as she described it: “this isn’t me.” Not only was she discovering how things she wanted to keep around were, she gained the clarity to be able to determine those things that had to go. The aspects of her reality that just weren’t tenable anymore.

The luxury of space to breathe and the freedom to make choices concerning your own reality and well-being are front and center in Coulter’s journey, and while that is couched in the struggle of alcoholism, her tale is only ever reaching forward, only looking back in an effort to fuel progress. The only thing you can do is cheer her on, because you will be so proud of her perseverance.

I have placed this book on my Christmas list. I plan to place it alongside Megan Stielstra’s The Wrong Way to Save Your Life and Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting In Real Life on my shelf. Very slowly I am making a small library of stories that make me feel inspired and, more importantly, less alone. No matter your struggles, Coulter’s journey will inspire you to ask about what you like in your own life so that you can surround yourself with joy and not miss out on a single experience. Go get you some.

A Double Life

A Double LIfe

Expected publication: July 31, 2018

A Double Life was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest review. 

This book is set in London. A member of the House of Lords (Parliament) has committed murder and has gone on the run to avoid prosecution. He had intended to kill his wife, but instead killed the nanny and only injured his wife before fleeing the country. The book alternates between the past and the present, showing us what happened but also showing us how his children are doing now. We see the story mainly through the eyes of his daughter Lydia, who has been searching for him since she was a little girl.

Have you ever looked up someone you used to know, or someone you used to date, online? If you have you know that little burst of adrenaline, that sense that you are able to see something you maybe shouldn’t be looking at, and the freedom to observe someone you might have mixed feelings about from afar. It’s simply a part of being a part of social media. Now imagine you could condense and bottle that feeling an then turn it into a book.

That would become this book.

It’s really an exploration of how people can come back and heal from trauma, especially trauma that seems to have been visited on us by those we are supposed to trust the most in the world. Mixed in is the idea that in this age of the internet nothing can ever really be forgotten, moving on from anything is very difficult with constant reminders just a click away, and letting go of the need to know why is hard when you can find just about anyone on the internet.

I’m hesitant to recommend this book. It was very evenly paced, but could be triggering for individuals who have social media addictions or family trauma in their past. The ending also seemed kind of convenient, almost like the book was due so *poof!* everyone gets what they need with just a little scuffle. It also shouldn’t be ignored that doing your own detective work or searching for people in real life is very dangerous, especially if the people you are looking for are violent or abusive.  There are a lot of unhealthy behaviors running amok in these pages.

It does have what I enjoy in a book, and that’s realistic human behavior. Lydia/Claire did exactly what I thought she would do given the circumstances. It wasn’t what I would have chosen to do, but her actions made sense for the most part (the ending notwithstanding).

It was an interesting read and it asks some compelling questions. I don’t think it’s a book I would have chosen to read and I’m not completely enamored with it, but I’m not going to discourage you from reading it either. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

Mammoth

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Expected publication: October 10, 2018

Mammoth was provided to me as a physical ARC by Eric Smith and Jill Baguchinsky in return for an honest review.

I am a fat woman. It is what it is. The books that I read growing up didn’t have me in them, or if they did I was the comic relief, the best friend, or the tomboy. Never the main character. In recent years books like Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock have put girls that are larger or different on the main stage ans asked readers to understand them. Representation matters.

When I started Mammoth my initial reaction was that there was too much going on. The main character Natalie is fat, dealing with her bullying past, running a blog about vintage fashion and paleontology, and getting ready to do an internship at Austin State University. In the beginning we are treated to a lot of details about the shapers that she wears and how clammy they get as well as how she guesses the weight of everyone she meets. We’re also treated to a possible love triangle with an Iowa farmboy. It was all a bit shallow and strained and I almost put the book down.

When she arrived at her internship it got even worse. She’s wearing self-made dresses and fashion shoes to this paleontology internship where she has to know she’s going to be in the mud and dirt a lot of the time. Has this girl never dressed down for gym? She’s a self-professed paleo-geek, a fossilista, but she doesn’t know she needs a pair of cargo shorts, boots, and a sturdy tank top, flabby arms be damned? I kept reading but after she spends the first half of her internship reapplying makeup and struggling to breathe because of her wet, sweaty body shaper, I felt like the story was lacking in realism a bit.

I was ready to tear this book apart, to say that it portrays fat girls as shallow and fashion obsessed and hoping to be beautiful using makeup and clothes, but then about 60% of the way through, something happened. Natalie gets in trouble for drinking with her fellow interns and sneaking off with the farmboy to make out. She’s given a second chance and suddenly we start to see Cody as more than just the guy who gives tours at the Mammoth Welcome Center. Her paleo hero Dr. Carver steals credit for something she finds in the bone storage and forces her to reassess her worship of his work.

The layers start stripping away bit by bit, and we hear less about fashion and more about integrity. Less about hero worship and presentation and more about risking it for what matters. Less about performing for a large audience and more about brushing away the dust at the surface to find the sabercat underneath. The book that was a bit revolting to me at the start suddenly had its arms wrapped around my heart and was telling me that it was okay to not wear make up, it was okay to be comfortable, and it was okay to pursue what I really cared about.

I am glad I finished this book. If I had given up when I felt like I wanted to, my review would have been much different. I believe that this book does justice to fat girls everywhere and shows that it’s okay to be who you are, as long as you know who that is and what you want. As for knowing those things, you shouldn’t let anyone get in your way of those important discoveries. If you have a young lady in your life that is prospecting, get her this book. She might find something she’s been looking for.

Read. Be brave. Stay angry. And go get you some. 🙂

The Flight Attendant

The Flight Attendant

There are three major reasons I stop reading a book. Four really.

  1. I get bored.
  2. I don’t care about the characters.
  3. The story isn’t compelling.
  4. The library has a hold on the book and if I keep it any longer I have to pay money.

The Flight Attendant starts in a very promising way. It presents us with a flight attendant who makes a connection with one of the people in first class and goes with him to his hotel in Dubai. They drink A LOT, and when she wakes up the next morning she finds him dead next to her, his throat slit, and he has bled out. She wipes down everything she might have touched, showers, gathers her things, and runs back to her airline’s hotel in time to catch the van back to their returning flight to JFK.

The story asks us to feel the suspense building between Cassie’s constant fear that someone will discover she was with the murdered man, and the revelation that he was wrapped up in some kind of Russian conspiracy and was assassinated for skimming and now the assassin, Elena, who had originally decided to spare her life, now hunts her to tie up the loose end.

I made it to page 214. 60% of the way through. The story was compelling enough that I wanted to give it a chance to wow me. I was ready for some kind of twist or shocking event. What killed the book for me was that I simply didn’t care about the characters.

The main character is Cassie, who is so much of a drunk that her sister won’t leave her alone with her niece and nephew. She was so black out drunk that night that she is only 93% sure that she wasn’t the one to kill Alex in that hotel room. Every three paragraphs she’s talking about how she needs a drink, and every 4 paragraphs she’s having one. She’s very stupid and has no redeemable qualities. Half of my decision to put this book down was made when I realized that I didn’t care if that Russian assassin caught up to her and killed her. Tension lost.

Elena is the dumbest assassin I have ever heard of. She killed Alex as ordered but then left a person alive in the room? I expected it to take the turn that Cassie would then be set up and framed for the murder, leaving Elena to go unnoticed, but her stated reason was that Cassie was an innocent and just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her daddy issues fueled her compassion. Elena believes that the assassin agency had her dad killed, and is working to get revenge once she uncovers who is responsible, but is sidetracked to go to America and murder Cassie because the agency says it’s either Cassie or her to die because they can’t be connected to Alex’s death.

I’m so fucking confused. This whole book could have been solved in the first 50 pages if Elena had either killed them both or not killed either of them at that moment, but waited for Cassie to leave and killed Alex later. I have no respect for Elena as a character, and I don’t care if Cassie lives or dies, so the book is dead for me. When I saw those patterns would not be changing I just put the book down.

It’s marketed as a thriller but I am here to tell you that it is not thrilling at all. You are given just enough hope that it might become one, but honestly don’t waste your time. It’s a no from me.

Dance of the Gods (The Circle Trilogy #2)

Dance of the Gods

Morrigan’s Cross (#1)

It’s about this time that I get bored with Nora Roberts. Her books are so predictably formulaic that if you read too many in a row you start to hate them simply because you know what’s coming next like ten pages ahead of time. Dance of the Gods takes our circle of 6 heroes (3 couples) into Moira’s realm of Geall to prepare her citizens to fight Lilith and the vampire army in the Valley of Silence on Samhain.

There are a lot of moments in this book when the group decides to flex their muscles and make a statement by poking at Lilith’s forces that are hidden in the nearby caves in Ireland, which is where they are staying as of the first book. Each time they do this ends predictably – someone learns a lesson about not going it alone and making sure to work together. The person who learns this lesson the hardest in this book is Blair, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer character that was ignored and then abandoned by her father and whose daddy issues cause her to want to always be alone. The “everyone I ever loved has left me” boo hoo pity party really makes her badass character a lot less believable, but you’ll make do I’m sure.

Roberts’s thing being a couple per book, Blair is destined to be with the shape-shifter Larkin, who is from Geall and came with his cousin Moira through the Dance of the Gods (the stone circle) to train with the other four members of Morrigan’s circle of six. He shifts into different kinds of animals and at one point he shifts into a hawk in front of Blair and she says something like “that’s so hot” and she does that a couple of times, enough to make me think she might be into bestiality, but I’m not sure.

He wants to care for her, she believes she’s meant to always be alone, and they fight through that tension to have sex a couple of times, until finally she admits she loves him after they return to his country and get ambushed by a bunch of vampires that are also preparing for the battle. I get the themes that Roberts really wants to touch on here: that you can be a tough woman and a sensitive one too, but in the way of romance novels the story doesn’t get much deeper than what gets them into bed. And that’s okay, if I hadn’t just read four other novels set up exactly the same way just before this.

After returning to Geall the group informs the country that (1) yes, women are in charge here and will be teaching you how to not die, (2) vampires are real, and (3) magic is cool and okay. I liked the way that the women dealing with other women was written here. Some women wanted to hold onto the “women’s work” but were brought to understand that anything is women’s work (small caveat: it takes Glenna asking how they might protect their babies to get them to fight, so I guess it’s not exactly 100% feminist but their lives were on the line so whatever works?).

The book ends with Blair agreeing to marry Larkin (again, I don’t understand why the ending for every couple has to be marriage) and Larkin agreeing that he will leave Geall behind to return to Earth with Blair so she can continue to be a hunter of vampires there, and they streak across the sky with a flame sword and I guess she writes an entire sentence in the air like a plane might? Again, this book is a lot of “LET’S SHOW HER WHAT WE’RE MADE OF” and a lot of it just ended with them getting their noses bent.

This is not my favorite book of the series. It makes a strong woman look weak and needy, and the actions the characters take are stupid and dangerous given the stakes. I’m going to wait a bit before beginning Valley of Silence, because it has my favorite pairing and the battle is cool, but I have to get this Nora Roberts taste out of my mouth so it doesn’t spoil it for me.

The Mars Room

The Mars Room

Synopsis here on Goodreads

A stripper goes to jail for killing her stalker to protect herself and her child. As she moves through the prison system we learn more about her past, the stories of the prisoners she interacts with, and the intricacies of the prison system itself.

This book is my own personal nightmare come to life. It’s like what would happen if the Cell Block Tango became a book about those women, but with the horrors of the prison industrial complex that exist today.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t finish this one. I was having nightmares about being arrested or raped or stuck behind bars and unable to call the husband – being trapped anyplace is terrifying to me and being in prison in America is 100% a trap that hardly anyone escapes from. And I just couldn’t read about it any more.

Another book I’ve read this year that really strikes home the horror of our US prison system was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and in that book you’re also given a taste of how the justice and prison systems are particularly unfair to PoC as well. Both books were extremely troubling to me, but I would say that The Mars Room was somehow darker and more revealing.

If you don’t know anything about how tangled a mess our prison system is you need to go read both of these books. It will make you furious and sad and scared all at the same time.

Also I do want to take this moment and remind you that if you have an initiative on your state’s ballot that gives felons the right to vote, please be sure to vote yes on that shit. Do it now. They deserve to have a say in the world in which they live, and that world should not be a prison that just happens to them. They did their time. We live in a democracy and everyone that shares a community with us should have a vote. I plan to vote to restore the voting rights for felons here in Florida this fall, and if you live in Florida you should too.

This book was very good, so good that I had to put it down because of my own fears. You should give it a try. It is well written and very revealing. Rachel Kushner definitely did her homework. Go get you some.