The Night Olivia Fell

The Night Olivia Fell was provided to me as a digital advance reader copy by Gallery Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Expected publication date is February 5, 2019.

Abi is awakened in the middle of the night by a call from the police. Her teenage daughter Olivia was discovered on the riverbank, assumed to have fallen from the bridge above, and is currently in the hospital with no brain activity and a baby on the way. Abi immediately demands answers to how her daughter died, and slowly her own past is woven into what happened to her daughter, showing how our choices can catch up to us and bring consequences long after they are made.

They reveal pretty early on that Olivia encounters another girl that looks just like her while on a campus tour, and so we understand that her dad might not really be dead like her mom has always told her. When Abi doesn’t give her the honest answers she asks for, Olivia goes off on her own to try to get answers. This search sets off a series of events which we see in pieces that lead us to the answer to how she came to both become pregnant and fall off a bridge.

I enjoyed this book but it didn’t move me like I expected it to. Everything I expected to happen, happened. Even the little bit of suspense in the whodunnit gave off enough misdirection vibes that even the most casual reader would realize that it was a false trail. It ended like I expected it to and now we’re here.

I have to admit that when I started, and the doctor told Abi that he couldn’t take Olivia off life support because in Washington state it’s illegal to take a woman off life support without attempting to bring the baby to term, I thought this was going to be a legal-type book. I thought Abi might attempt to figure out what happened to Olivia while fighting a legal battle about how women aren’t just incubators. There was a point to be made, even if subtly, that was never even addressed. The doctors help Olivia’s body fight off infection after infection to keep her working just long enough to get the baby out alive, and every time the story took me to the hospital I felt myself get a little angry. Like it wasn’t bad enough that she was basically murdered, she couldn’t have just been released into oblivion in peace without being forced to be on life support while being life support. I was just so tired and angry for her.

This one is a book that you could read, but if you didn’t read it you wouldn’t have missed anything. Don’t rush to it, but if it crosses your path give it a chance.

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We Cast A Shadow

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley as a digital review copy in advance of publication in return for an honest review. We Cast a Shadow is scheduled to release on 1-29-19.

Ah yes, we have reached the first “did not finish” book of the year. We Cast a Shadow follows a young, black lawyer as he attempts to climb the corporate ladder while navigating the inherent racism in the system. While I recognize that these books bring important truths into the world and allow black voices to be heard, if I’m reading fiction I cannot immerse myself in the evils that I am already drowning in every day in the real world.

The very first chapter describes a party in which the four black junior associates are being asked to be as stereotypically black as they can in order to earn a promotion. The narrator arrives at the party dressed as a normal lawyer, and discovers he must perform or be fired. The host offers him an African garb costume from her in-house museum-esque collection, and through a silly African dance and subsequent nudity when the costume falls off, he runs out of the house and into a promotion to the head of the diversity committee for community outreach. There’s so much there to unpack that I was completely stunned but also not surprised when I read the scene.

And that’s just his work life. At home he is married to a white woman and they have a biracial son with a birthmark that gets bigger every day; the blackness that he has given him that grows to overtake the whiteness. The father/narrator uses creams, bleaches, and is pursuing this promotion at work to be able to afford an operation to have his son’s birthmark removed. He seems to be the only adult involved that is concerned about it, and the son goes along because he loves his dad and doesn’t completely understand what the problem is.

I see all the symbolism here that is relevant to the struggles with race and society that black people face every day. The idea that a father would become nervous the darker his son became resonates with me in a world where unarmed black men are killed so often we don’t even see them on the news anymore. Where I decided that it was enough was when drugs and squalor entered into the story, and suddenly everything became a hallucination that the narrator had to describe life through to me, the reader. I just…I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to see this all presented in this way and be able to appreciate it. It is important to understand the difference between when something is not good and when something is not written for you.

We Cast a Shadow is well-written. The stories told present a plethora of black diasporic experience and struggle in a way that doesn’t preach, it shows you what it looks like in practice. I simply do not think that it was written for me, and that’s why I cringed my way through about 32% of it and then gave myself permission to put it down. Please do not see this review as a non-endorsement. This book is good and troubling. It was not boring and the story was very compelling. It just wasn’t for me.

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The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker was provided to me as an advanced digital review copy by Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Many novels like to explore the aftermath of a pandemic or a natural disaster, often from the point in time where everything normal takes a hard right onto survival street. The tension is in the survival, the alliances, whether or not a decision will turn out okay or spell disaster for the decider.

I would argue that true tension lies in the onset of a disaster: patients zero-ten, the 10-day weather forecast, the detection of the distant meteor – and watch ’em scramble like eggs in a pan. Is there enough water? Can we get out of town? Can we defend ourselves? Have I been exposed? Oh man yes, this is the thriller I ordered, now don’t forget to refill my breadbasket.

I have never read a normal length book this fast. From the moment the girls in the dorm start falling and staying asleep I was locked into this story to find out how far the sickness would spread, whether it would be contained, and how it would all turn out. Babies, adults, children, college professors, all will fall to the airborne virus that makes you fall asleep and dream really fucked up dreams that might be windows into the past, reflections of the present or *gasp* predictions of actual or alternate futures.

The best part of the book is when the sickness is spreading and you don’t know how far it will spread or whether the people infected will ever wake up. They are all alive and dreaming, and they keep flying in people to help take care of all these sleeping people, and those volunteers then fall victim to the sickness. I was shocked/not shocked at how long it took them to accept the reality that something was wrong and lock that town down. Kids were trick or treating even after many people had already fallen ill. WOW.

Which leads me to my major critique, which is that all this build up leads…nowhere. I was on the edge of my seat, until I wasn’t. The crisis builds and builds, but then there is very little payoff for it. A few people die, but for the most part everything goes back to normal with some psychological after affects for the dreamers to deal with. Oh, their dreams were so real that it was like they lived another life so they were sad when they woke up and found that they had a different life? BOO HOO PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL PANTS – that’s what waking up every day is like. The ‘getting to sleep for three weeks’ part of it all is a fucking benefit if you ask me. Sign me up for the sleeping plague.

You should read this book. The escalation was enjoyable enough reason to do it, just know that you’ll feel just a little empty at the end because your thirst for disaster and suffering will not have been quenched. I’m not sure how that’s possible in 2019, but Karen Thompson Walker has achieved it.

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Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Expected publication date July 31, 2018

Advanced copy provided by publisher in return for an honest review.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a story told in alternating points of view, between the privileged Chula and her family’s housemaid Petrona. They are growing up in Columbia during the time of guerrillas, Pablo Escobar, and political upheaval. Chula is able to escape to America with her mother and sister, while Petrona is left behind to make her way with her boyfriend and newborn baby.

The story is mostly about the events that led up to Chula and her family fleeing the country. It includes some pretty blatant socio-economic discrimination that I wasn’t real wild about. I got about halfway through and realized that I’m basically watching this story happen in real life in the news. I wasn’t feeling any suspense or urgency. I hate to say it, but I read for fun. I’m okay with a little angst or bad things happening, but I’m all full up on babies in cages with deported parents that were originally seeking asylum and now they have no way to reunite them and when they can, sometimes the kids don’t remember the parents…I don’t know man, I get enough of these stories in real life, I don’t think I want them in my fun times. Self-care, angels.

If you like international stories and understanding historical events through fiction, the writing is very good and the story was good too. I only put it down because of the subject matter. You should give it a try and see what you think.

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.

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

IMG_20180625_193151.jpg

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. 🙂