Nothing Good Can Come From This

IMG_20180630_181543.jpg

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.

Morrigan’s Cross (The Circle Trilogy #1)

Morrigan's Cross

Time travel? Check. Sorcerers and witches? Check. Vampires? I mean, okay. Celtic vibes? FUCK YEAH.

The goddess Morrigan has come to Hoyt McKenna in Ireland after his twin brother Cian has been attacked and turned by the vampire queen Lilith. Hoyt is a sorcerer and Morrigan tells him he must travel through time to gather a circle of six people who will lead an army to take down Lilith. If they do not, Lilith will bring about the apocalypse across worlds and timelines, turning some, murdering others, and enslaving the rest. So Hoyt travels through a stone circle and lands in present day New York. He finds his brother, now about 1,000 years old and ready to help bring his maker down.

A witch named Glenna (I know, right?) also lives in the city, and is connected to Hoyt in her dreams. She follows her intuition and clues to Cian’s club and find the twins collaborating in the apartment upstairs. They all agree that returning to Ireland via Cian’s private plane is the best course of action, and along with Cian’s giant, black bodyman King, fly to Cian and Hoyt’s childhood home to train and wait for the remaining two members of the circle. Moira and Larkin do arrive through the same stone circle, but from a different realm of Geall, and then they all begin to train.

Nora Roberts’s books have a formula, and it’s a coupling per book, no more, no less. Our first couple is Hoyt and Glenna and what I find hilariously inconvenient is that every time they have sex all the candles and fireplaces in the giant old Irish house get REALLY BRIGHT AND DANGEROUS and instead of letting the sex scenes get me excited I laugh because I imagine the other characters reading or listening to music somewhere else in the house and then suddenly their candle blowtorches to the ceiling and they’re just like “really painted the ceiling with that one, huh Hoyt?” omg I can’t stand it, it’s too funny.

I love this trilogy because of the magic and the honest to god creepy and scary villain. I believe Lilith is terrifying. I believe that having drunk the blood of hundreds of sorcerers and witches she has gained their power and more and can reach between timelines and realms. This is a problem that must be solved or else all worlds will end. And I’m here with my popcorn, ready for it.

My problem with any Nora Roberts novel is the timeline of romance. Hoyt and Glenna know each other for like 6 days and he proposes to her after having sex twice. It’s just difficult for me to really invest in the love story when in a week and under duress characters are pledging their lives to each other. This book was written in 2006 so I don’t feel like it would be completely wild to just have them be together without bringing marriage into it.

I can accept that they have a deep connection, and that magic brings them closer together, and that the end of the world creates a sense of urgency – all of that is believable and I am with you when they are just suddenly attracted and having sex. What I’m not here for is for some reason throwing in marriage proposals like us ladies can’t handle Hoyt getting it in without making an honest woman of Glenna. It’s the end of the world. Get it in when you can, don’t worry about planning a ceremony or anything.

By the end of this book the circle is complete, if not in the way you expect, and plans are in place to return to Moira’s land so she can take up the mantle of queen and lead her people as the circle’s army to take down Lilith in a battle of the ages. It’s really a fun trilogy, one of her best. Go get you some.

 

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.

 

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 he 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.