2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.

 

Green – Review

“It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston.”

Green is a unique coming of age story, told from 12 year old David Greenfield, growing up in Boston in the early 90’s. The year Green focuses on for the entirety of the novel, is the year 92-93. We start when Dave is entering 6th grade, and the novel ends right before his 7th grade year begins.

The year is significant, because this school year is a milestone year for Dave. He has the only chance to take an entrance exam to get into Latin, a school that grooms students for college. The school is also notoriously a feeder school for Harvard. And Dave feels that Harvard is the answer to all of his problems. Or at least out of the ghetto he believes he and his family lives in.

Even more significantly, Dave feels very self-conscious attending King Middle School. He is one of a very small population of white kids, and he feels after the riots and Rodney King trial, that suddenly, his being white is more noticeable to his peers than before.

His first few weeks of school are exactly as he expects: being ignored, or hassled, feeling left out and left behind. His parents won’t buy him new shoes or stylish clothes. Even his quasi best friend ditches him for cooler friends. But life begins to look up when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him to a bully and their friendship begins to grow.

“It’s starting to hit me: Mar isn’t just my best friend, he’s my first. Up until now I had no idea just how lonely I’d been.”

I am on the fence with this book, and my review may contain some mild spoilers, though I will try and avoid them as much as possible.

This novel is based on the author’s own childhood and experiences. And, in that sense, I can’t argue. I can say, however, that I didn’t really connect with Dave and the style that it’s written is very distracting. Mostly, I’m referring to the language. So. Much. Slang.

Here’s the thing with slang. I get that kids use slang words. It’s that this is a book written from Dave’s perspective, solely in the first person. And I just don’t buy that a kid would talk this much slang, all the time, as the voice in his head. It didn’t feel natural or real to me. I’ve never met anyone who talks like this kid. Maybe they exist, maybe this really is how a kid would hear himself speak. I don’t know. But for me, it didn’t feel real.

It’s hard to say if the author chose to write that way to highlight the way Dave felt out of place and was trying so hard to fit in. Because the kid does try to fit in. He is ashamed of his own personality, or so it seems, and only wants to fit in with the cool kids. So perhaps the slang is simply really driving home how hard he tries and how awkward he really is. It certainly felt awkward reading, so I can see that angle.

I also have an issue with how his brother Benno is handled. We know that Benno has chosen not to speak for over a year. That he had an accident, where he cut himself, and since then has been under therapeutic care and attends a special school. Dave often resents the treatment Benno gets. One example is how Benno gets tater tots with meals, while Dave is forced to eat homegrown vegetables and rarely gets processed food. Benno often gets to stay home from school and has little rules dictating his behavior at home.

I find it odd that parents who are so invested in one child, would be so oblivious to the anxiety of their other child. I suppose it happens, parents often can make a healthy child feel overlooked in the face of a sick one, but they rarely even try to explain what’s going on with Benno when Dave tries to talk to them about his own struggles. Even worse, we never even get to understand or learn why or what Benno is going through.

But what really bothers me about the book the most, is that Dave doesn’t seem to learn any lessons at all. He complains, often and loudly, about no one having his back. Yet, he repeatedly lets his friends get beat up and picked on. Even when Mar spells this out to him, he can’t muster the courage to even speak up, let alone jump in to help. He acknowledges his fear, but never seems to comprehend that no one will defend him unless he starts defending either himself or others.

Dave is obviously a kid so desperate for attention and approval, that he is willing to sacrifice his friends feelings and needs if someone ‘better’ is around and offering either of those things. And he doesn’t seem to understand why his relationship with Mar changes after betrayal after betrayal occurs. He is oblivious. Which I would expect of a kid, but Mar is patient and explains his reactions multiple times. Dave just doesn’t want to settle for anything he perceives as less. Unfortunately, Mar falls into that less category too frequently to maintain a semblance of a friendship. And while Mar seems to realize this, Dave never sees his role in the distance.

“His head is tilted to the universe, but he looks more lonely than awed. Everyone else is smiling and pointing, and he’s just standing there, squinting, biting his upper lip.”

A good come of age novel should have an “aha” moment. A moment where the main characters realizes where he went wrong and attempts to fix it. Dave sort of has this moment at the end, a moment where he confronts his old best friend and tries to talk to Mar one last time. But it felt like very little, and far too late. And even then, I never got the sense that Dave really understood why Mar distanced himself from Dave.

This book is supposed to be about class and privilege. And while it’s clear to the reader that Dave is sort of spoiled and immature and very privileged, Dave himself never really seems to have his “aha” moment. He realizes he has made wrong choices in regards to his friendship with Mar, but it’s completely unclear by the end of the book whether he really understands how much easier his life is simply because of the color of his skin.

He feels a lot of resentment towards the other kids in his neighborhood because of the color of his skin, but he never seems to piece together that this resentment is because of his privilege not him. Maybe that realization is difficult for a sixth grader to comprehend, but since so much of this novel hinges on that dynamic, it’s hard to sympathize with a kid who feels picked on, and can identify racist behavior without understanding at least on some level that he lives a far different life than his peers. Especially when he visually sees the drastic differences in their living conditions and lives.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed without liking the main character. But, this is a tough one, because he is the story. And I just didn’t like him. Maybe I was meant to sympathize with him feeling ostracized and confused about who he is. But he just didn’t come across as likable. He needed more redeeming moments and to become aware of his privilege far earlier in the novel.

Thank you to the First To Read program for sending an early copy to read and review.

 

 

 

The Salt Line – Review

“The burn was the first rite of passage.”

Man! Strap in when you open this novel, because you are in for an intense ride! The Salt Line is everything a solid dystopian novel should be.

We learn that the burn referred to in the first sentence, is the burn of a Stamp. A small device that kills the lethal female miner tick and any disease or eggs she has implanted in your body. Kills it, as long as it is administered in time.

This is presented to us through a class, given by an outdoor extreme trainer, getting ready to take a small group of wealthy adventurers beyond the Wall and out of their safe zone. Exciting right?

As the training unfolds, we get to know the characters and through them a picture of the society we are in begins to emerge. We know that what was once America is now divided into zones. Currently, we are in the Atlantic zone, one of the more stable and thriving zones. We learn that other zones are not faring as well. These zones were put into place after this miner tick and the outbreak of a deadly disease began to run rampant.

“The thing was, you hoped like hell to be in a zone as clean and safe as Atlantic, and if by birth or luck or talent you got in one, you stayed put — because the rules kept changing, the quarantines and security measures kept getting revised.”

There is an art when writing dystopian, to drawing your reader into the new world while also giving them some idea of why it emerged. Sometimes books can get too bogged down in the history, making them feel clunky and bloated. And other times, we don’t get enough of a sense of the past to make sense of the future. This novel; however, gets that balance absolutely right.

Jones gives us the history of the society while also introducing us to each character. And some pieces of information are done within dialogue, so the effect is so subtle, I found myself flipping back to make sure I didn’t miss these details. While I can appreciate that perhaps this isn’t a style some readers enjoy, for me, it added a rich texture that made the novel completely suck me in. Each character was able to add context through their own experiences, and so Jones was able to really provide a lot of depth to not just their individual past, but the overall zones as well.

The other thing I loved about this novel is that there are so many strong women! Evie and Marta are the first main characters we meet, and though they are presented as a rockstar’s girlfriend and a mobster’s housewife, their strength and vibrancy go far beyond their societal descriptions. We also meet Wes, a young CEO, arguably the wealthiest and most influential man in the Atlantic zone. He seems to be at odds with himself to participate in this excursion, and yet is driven to succeed. It is through their eyes that we see the training and the initial moments of the excursion unfold.

This isn’t simply a dystopian where a group of adventurers has to survive the harsh wild. It isn’t a typical things go wrong and they have to make it through. Even though they deliberately set out beyond the Wall to attempt to survive a three week adventure, the things that go wrong are all provoked and planned by humans. The group is taken hostage by a group of people who have been waiting for a group like this to fall into their hands for a long time.

The political undertones written in the plot are very smart, and add a touch of realism. It is easy to imagine a group of people operating like this, both in zone and out. And as each hostage faces shifting alliances and new information, they have to decide which truth they believe, if any.

“There’s this assumption that most people, if you strip society and its laws away, are capable of evil.”

If I had a complaint, it would be in June, leader of Ruby City. I wish I had gotten to see a little more of her and what she was capable of. We saw glimpses, but never the in depth reveal that would have made her character more satisfying. She was a complicated character, impossible to tell if she was a victim of circumstance caught up in a game she lost control of, or a very tightly controlled manipulator who knew exactly what she was doing. I have my opinions, but they are built on shaky ground, and I would have really loved to have been given more in either direction.

In all, there is so much to like about The Salt Line. In all directions, there is danger lurking. You get the sense that there is more to the story in any direction you look. And, for a dystopian, thats exactly how you should feel. Uneasy. A society that has changed for logical reasons into something illogical. And we get that here.

Beyond Marta and Evie, we get June and Violet, all strong female characters that are so varied in not only age, gender and race, but in personality and motives as well. We are given things to like and things to dislike in each of them, but they are true to themselves throughout it all. And yet, it isn’t a book that forgets the men. We get to know Wes, and Andy, their guide and betrayer. They are just as flawed and varied and diverse as the women. In all, each character, no matter how large or small their role, is balanced and real.

I don’t know if there is a sequel to this book. The ending was satisfying as a stand alone, but could lead to future books. I would really enjoy more from these characters and this society. In fact, I will be reading previous books from this author, I enjoyed her writing so much.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dystopian fiction. There is intensity and mystery and suspense, and refreshingly, no romance or other silly distractions to take away from the heart of the plot. Very enjoyable.

The Salt Line goes on sale TOMORROW!!! Don’t miss it!

Thank you to Penguin Random House and Putnam Books for approving me through the First To Read program in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

 

How To Behave In a Crowd – Review

“I guess that’s what happens when you’re the only one to notice a thing: you feel responsible for it.”

How To Behave In A Crowd follows a French family living in a small town in rural France. We get our introduction and view of the family from the youngest son, Isadore. Dory, or Izzy, as he would prefer to be called, feels separate from his family. The rest of his siblings have all skipped grades, shown to be prodigies in one way or another, sometimes multiple ways. Yet Dory is in the grade he belongs and has no idea what he wants to do or who he wants to be.

Rather than presenting a straight forward coming-of-age tale, the Mazal family is struck by a tragedy early in the book. This tragedy becomes the defining moment of the family, and so the book, in how each member moves forward with their grief.

Even though Dory isn’t a prodigy academically, he is prone to observing and understanding people better than the rest of his family. This sensitivity and ability to empathize, is his family’s best shot at healing from their grief.

“I knew my mother thought that of me. That I was kind, and good at reading people’s emotions. What I didn’t understand was why she thought it was a good thing.”

This book was presented as a dark comedy. While I did see the darker aspects of humor in the characters, the comedy of it didn’t quite work for me. I could see the quirks written into each character to make them seem eccentric, aloof, and in their own way, humorous, but it just didn’t work entirely for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. But rather than finding the humor in the writing, it felt very tragic and sad. Dory was meant to be the one to bring the family together and help them heal, but I didn’t see that happen. In fact, in a rather abrupt ending, we are told about Dory’s role, rather than shown that role.

The fact that Dory feels unseen and out of place is made very clear. I realize that eccentric people can seem cold and unfeeling, when really they have much more depth. In fact, this depth is usually where the humor lies. I think for me; however, we are never really shown that depth from anyone but the mother. We are shown the struggles that Dory’s siblings go through, but how he helps them to resolve those struggles is a little less clear.

By the time I reached the end, and Dory gets hit with another severe emotional trauma, I was fairly fed up with the family. Instead of coming across as eccentric, quirky but well-meaning members, they all came across as self-absorbed and dysfunctional.

I imagine that being the youngest of six children would make any child feel somewhat invisible. I can also understand how living a normal life in a family of prodigies would really highlight that feeling. But the siblings all felt too absorbed in their own intellect to really try and connect with each other. I didn’t get the sense of a big family, full of unique personalities, challenging each other. Instead, the siblings were all involved in their own projects, their own lives, and had a difficult time connecting. One scene described all the siblings home, the visitor asking if Dory was by himself due to the quietness of the home. It gave the impression of a home that is sterile, cold, devoid of any warmth that a family should provide. Again, it felt more dysfunctional to me, rather than eccentric. Having the mother emphasize Dory’s kindness and empathy only drives home that the other siblings aren’t.

“Sometimes, I feel like I brought up a batch of little misanthropes,” she said. “You’re all so intolerant. You only look up from your books to criticize the rest of the world.”

The trauma Dory experiences, both instances of it, leave him with an anger that demands an outlet. I really would have enjoyed that anger land him in some sort of trouble that forces the family to rally around him. When you hear the book compared to The Royal Tennenbaums, you can easily picture this crisis. It would have provided the siblings and even the mother the chance to redeem their quirks, their selfishness, their lack of interaction. Instead, we are given half attempts from half of the family. His anger is somewhat released, left largely unaddressed and there isn’t a clear path forward when the novel closes.

Ambiguity in a character isn’t a problem for me. Life ends nightly on unknowns for all of us. In general, I love when a novel shows the openness and possibility at the end, and if fits the character. In this case, I had no sense of hope for Dory. There was no sense that the siblings would ever be involved in his life, or change their efforts in regards to him. the mother did seem to be more aware of his struggles and there was hope that she would perhaps change, but given how small her role in the family was in relation to Dory, I’m not sure that was as satisfying as it could have been.

In all, the book was melancholy and sad. I felt terrible for Dory throughout the entire book. This kid needed friends, family support and most of the time a really big hug. Perhaps that’s the American in me. Maybe it was a cultural translation that didn’t work for me. I’m not sure, but whatever the reason I just didn’t connect with this family.

Thank you to the Penguin Random House First to Read program and Crown Publishing for the early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Dying Game – Review

“This is where we’ll place you when you’re dead.”

These are the words that Anna hopes will lead to her freedom.

Anna Francis is a single mother living in a future totalitarian Swedish society. The year is 2037 and the future is bleak. Anna is back at her old job, barely surviving her day to day life, when she is called to meet with The Chairman. In the meeting she is given the opportunity that may save her life. Participate in one task, 48 hours of service, and in exchange receive a sum of money that will enable her to live the rest of her life in peace.

A group of individuals will be placed on an isolated island, Isola. They are all being evaluated for a position high in the government. Anna will be murdered the first night, and then remain hidden behind the walls to observe how each candidate handles the stress of this extreme situation.

Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem, and the moment she sees Henry, a man from her past, things get complicated for Anna very quickly. First, the Doctor with whom Anna is partners in the truth with, also gets murdered. Or does she? Anna sees her dead body, but is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, neither the body or the Doctor is anywhere to be found. And then the others begin to disappear, one by one.

While we try and figure out what is actually happening on the island, we learn that Anna was suffering already from some fairly serious PTSD from her previous assignment. And the more we learn about her past, the more we begin to wonder what the true intention of this test is. And if anyone was intended to make it off the island at all.

Anyone who is a fan of Black Mirror will love this novel. As in the show, the plot and twists aren’t shocking for the sake of shock, but more subtle and nuanced. They are events that unfold slowly and then all at once. Each glimpse into Anna’s past makes the current events more foreboding and suspicious. And the reality of what could be happening is frightening.

Avdic does a brilliant job with the details of writing this society. The drabness of clothing, details within elaborate government buildings to contrast the rest of the surroundings, even cobblestone bombed streets, all serve to paint a dreary picture. You feel that you are in Cold War-esque Germany or Russia. A society where everyone is the same, trying to blend in while the leaders show their differences in opulence alone. It all lends to a sense of reality that sometimes dystopians are lacking. There aren’t high tech tricks to move the plot along. It simply drives forward in the uncomfortable reality we can so easily envision.

Woven into alternating narration are chapters from Henry’s perspective. These are fewer than Anna’s, but serve to give us a better look at Anna herself. How Henry sees her. Which doesn’t seem important on the surface of the story, but it is vital to the ending.

The final twist isn’t so much shocking, as it is twisted. You feel complicit in the manipulation, even though you’re just the reader. This is a book of political intrigue, yes, but also one of psychological warfare. How far will a government go to control their people. What extremes will they consider? As you read the end, it isn’t so much the extreme of events but how realistic they could be that are the most haunting.

It is the chilling reality of this novel that makes is so terrifying. The day to day lives of citizens in this society is in all ways controlled. The extremes that Anna’s mother took, and that even Anna herself considers, all illustrate this control. While it may seem that Anna had a choice in the initial assignment we know she doesn’t. ‘No’ is not something this government humors.

The Dying Game is a classic dystopian reminiscent of Huxley and Orwell. It isn’t lengthy but packs a concise punch within it’s pages. And like Huxley and Orwell, this isn’t a novel about the government or the world they live in. It is a dissection of human experience. Of how psychology plays a role in submitting to such a totalitarian regime. It is an examination of the human psyche.

I read this book in a day. Anyone who has a love for the classics, and especially an appreciation for the twisted manipulations of Black Mirror should enjoy this novel.

Thank you Penguin Random House and their First To Read Program for the opportunity to read this early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Address – Review

“We all have our own magnificent prisons, even the queen, I’d venture.”

I love how fitting this quote is for both narrators in The Address. Each woman, separated by a hundred years, is trapped in a prison unique to them.

Sara, a woman in the 1880’s, running a hotel in England before being hired to run a new Apartment building in America is prisoner to the edicts of her time. A woman can only do so much, say so much, and really, are quite powerless in a male dominated society. Not quite nobility, yet not quite working class, she isn’t sure where she fits and only wants to find her way.

“Her mother had done her a disservice, constantly reminding her of her blood connection to nobody, while at the same time cursing her bastardy. She didn’t know where she belonged.”

Bailey, living in the 1980’s, isn’t as constrained by society as Sara once was, but finds herself in a prison nonetheless. Hers are more self imposed though, the bars made up of the drugs and alcohol she is addicted to. Bailey is also trying to find her way, wanting to know who she is and where she comes from, since her familial past has always been shrouded in mystery.

There is quite a bit to enjoy in this novel. First, historical novels are always a favorite of mine to get lost in, especially one as rich as detailed as the one Davis creates. It isn’t just the time and place that we get a sense of, but also, how difficult it was to simply be a woman. Sara, no matter how successful she is, continues to find herself at the mercy of men. The pieces focused on the asylum are chilling but again, convey a realistic sense of injustice women faced constantly.

Sara and Bailey are connected to each other, though neither knows it. Bailey unravels the mystery of the Dakota and her great-grandfathers murder, while Sara gives us the added details leading up to the murder. This is something else I love in novels. When we get to see a mystery from multiple perspectives, each chapter giving us another sliver, another glimpse, each section strategic in it’s reveal.

I quite enjoy when novels intertwine stories like this. At the beginning we think we know the story. We have the answer, and are simply filling in the details. Except, as the story proceeds, more questions emerge. It’s fascinating to me, because I think this is how history happens. We think we know answers. We think we know the facts. But just because a narrative fits, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

Using the Gilded Age was also brilliant. There is underlying discussion on things we desire. Sometimes we want what we can’t have. But we also tend to glamorize those things. Think that they are better and more perfect, than perhaps they really are. Sara wants Theo to be her partner, her husband, her everything. She sees his wife as cold and distant, unappreciative of what she has. Bailey wants to belong by blood, not just name, to the Camden family. She sees her cousin Melinda as spoiled and shallow. Each wants what they don’t have, focused so intently on what they’re missing, perhaps they don’t see what they have in front of them.

“You know, I never really thought about the fact that it was called the Gilded Age, as opposed to say, the Golden Age. That the era was all about money and the illusion of success, as opposed to offering anything truly valuable. Reminds me of New York City these days, to be honest with you.”

So much of the Gilded Age was seen as shiny on the surface, yet harsh underneath. A pretty exterior to cover the plainness below. And so much of the plot fits that description. The surface shows one thing, while hidden beneath is where the truth lies.

Theo, it turns out isn’t quite all that he seems. And neither is his wife. These lies and manipulations unfold leaving Sara to make a quick decision that impacts everyone far into the future. This one decision, her choice, impacts Bailey profoundly.

Anyone trying to uncover the hidden truths of the past will struggle with never actually knowing the entire truth. We can only see what is left to us, and decipher these clues as best we can. Sometimes we may get close, other times the truth is nothing near what we could ever have guessed. And I love it when authors are able to give us a story that shows this struggle.

Davis is able to give us a sense of both the 1880’s and the 1980’s. Times both known for excess in New York, yet she gives us the perspective of women trying to fit into those worlds. We see the dark side of the city, the pieces that these times would want us to overlook and forget. There is an allure to success, but there is also always a cost.

I also really liked how Davis used the idea of legacy. The important families in the 1880’s were defined by their legacies. It was often the most important thing to them. What people would think, who would carry their names forward and what history would say about them. By the 1980’s, many of the families in Sara’s time have died out, or faded into obscurity. Buildings have changed, the city has changed, the legacy isn’t what their ancestors dreamed.

Bailey wants to find her history, even though her personal legacy is embroiled in bitterness and anger. Her father wants nothing to do with the Camden’s, believing his grandfather was shunned and rejected. The legacy of even the building, The Dakota, changes over time. In Bailey’s time it is in the midst of evermore change as the shooting of Lennon has once again marked it’s exterior.

This book is an excellent examination of women’s role in society. Their power and powerlessness, both in equal measure. It’s a look at what we want, and what happens when we get it. Can women be passionate without being insane? Can we be successful without losing ourselves? What are we willing to lose to keep the ones we love safe? How far will we go for that love?

The Address shows how strong women have been throughout history. It gives brilliant insight into the roles of women versus men, rich versus poor, and the lengths we go to for love.

This book goes on sale August 1.

Thank you to Penguin Random House, Dutton Books and the First To Read program for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Readymade Thief – Review

“What do you do when the one true thing in your life turns out to be a lie?”

Lee Cuddy is used to being invisible. She isn’t seen by her father, who leaves without a goodbye or even a forwarding address. She isn’t seen by her mother, who quickly succumbs to her new boyfriends whims and wishes. She isn’t even really seen by her peers, until she becomes useful to them.

“It wasn’t that they teased her or ostracized her or thought her weird, but none of them seemed to see her, either.”

All of this invisibility makes stealing easy and she quickly graduates to shoplifting. This readymade ability quickly gives her a reputation and she finds a place in popularity as Edie takes her under her wing.

But, easy come, easy go, and betrayal follows when Edie finds her the easiest way out of her own troubles.

Lee quickly sees that it isn’t just Edie that is quick to dispose of her. Her own mother, guided by Steve, allows her to take the fall, refusing to even give her the money she stashed for her defense. Life in the Juvenile Detention Center is worse than anything thrown at her so far, and a nervous breakdown lands her in the psych ward. But lower security also provides the opportunity for a quiet and invisible girl to find a way out.

The Readymade Thief is a novel that is both fast paced and maddeningly slow. This combination doesn’t seem possible, and yet it is. Every page is written so that you know something is happening, but you aren’t quite sure what. The result is you feel as on edge and unsure as Lee.

Once Lee escapes from JDC we are introduced to even more subterfuge and intrigue. We are thrown into the world of secret societies and underground movements. The S.A. parties continue to pop up, inviting her to join their world, except her gut instinct screams to stay away. Fear for her friend Edie, even after her betrayal, compels her to go searching and almost leads to disaster.

Tomi, a mysterious young man, saves her and takes her in. He introduces her to life underground, the world of abandoned building hunts and secrets of the Subnet. She wants to trust him but every turn in her life has led to betrayal and lies. Still, it’s easy to fall into his earnestness, especially given her connection to him.

Lee discovers that S.A., a secret society devoted to uncovering the hidden puzzles and meanings behind the artwork of Marcel Duchamp. She unwillingly and unknowingly finds herself at the heart of their obsession. Somehow they think she is a key to their mystery, even though she has no idea how. No matter where she turns, or what she does, she finds herself a pawn in their games, time and time again. They are always one step ahead, always surrounding her, always controlling the circumstances of her life.

This secret society is obsessed with more than just art. They are also responsible for a chilling new drug that leaves its users docile and empty. Creatures willing to do anything suggested with little or no reaction. Unable to take care of themselves, many of them end up in JDC or worse; the Crystal Castle.

This book has a lot of layers going on in it. It is easy to get overwhelmed, or lost in the information. You want to keep pushing ahead to find out what is happening, but I found myself going back to reread portions at a slower pace to really understand what was being said. This is a book that needs more than one read through to really appreciate all the detail and nuance written into the plot.

One of the examples of the level of detail and intricacy is the title. Duchamp created artworks that he called ‘readymades’. Essentially, he viewed art of the time as ‘retinal art’. Easy to look at and pleasing to the eye, but there wasn’t anything more in depth than that. His response was to take everyday items and make minor changes to them, thus instantly turning them into art. Readymade art. The title, Readymade Thief, refers to Lee, already a shoplifter and petty thief, who has been repurposed for the societies use.

Usually, reading the line of phrase that uses the title of a book is a quick AHA moment. One that makes sense in terms of a character or event. In this case, the moment isn’t written out or explained by the author so much as hinted at. You are led to it, able to uncover it’s meaning as you read. I think it’s very clever.

There is a lot of art history, specifically to the work of Duchamp. I have no idea how much is based in truth and how much created for fiction. Some parts of this history lesson got very confusing for me. It was a lot of information given. Again, I think this is an example of why the book needs more than one reading. There is just so much to dissect at once.

Rose manages to pull off quite an elaborate story. There are clues placed at the very beginning that aren’t noticed until they are pointed out later. Things suddenly make sense, and the level of betrayal in Lee’s life is astounding. Everything in this novel is connected somehow, even if you can’t see how or why, you will in the end. The pure genius is that the end answers questions you didn’t even know you had.

This book will be enjoyable for anyone who loves mysteries and suspense novels. The art history is impressive and I can’t imagine the amount of research that went into composing this plot. It’s astounding! Weaving the art into a secret society will delight any conspiracy theory lover.

Thank you First to Read, Penguin Random House and Viking books for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Spoonbenders – Review

“The thing about skeletons was, you never knew how much space they were taking up in the closet until you got rid of them.”

Spoonbenders is a funny story about a family. This particular family, the Amazing Telemachus Family, is a family of psychics. Each with abilities to astound and dazzle. Except, they don’t really work, and maybe they don’t exist at all.

In each chapter we meet Teddy, the family patriarch; Irene, the human lie detector; Frankie, who can move objects with his mind; Buddy, who can see the future; and Matty, Irene’s son and who recently discovered he can astral project.

Each chapter is told through one of their eyes, and they alternate the narrative, driving the both the plot forward and filling in the gaps of the past through their own perspective.

This novel is a story of misunderstanding, miscommunication and misperceptions.All families have secrets. Big secrets that we pray never sees the light of day. Little secrets that we hope never come out, but would cause little damage if they did. And a myriad of white lies, major lies and medium sized secrets mixed in for good measure. The Telemachus family is no different.

The story unfolds in the mid-90’s. Life has given them disappointment and heartache since they were kids. They find themselves facing a life they don’t recognize, and have gone down a path to try to fix that. But small choices can have big consequences.

As they each decide how to move forward, they all think they are acting in the best interest of their family. Matty only wants to help his mom make some extra money so she’ll be happy and they can move out of his grandpa’s house. Irene just wants to find some peace of mind and raise a normal son. Frankie wants the world for his family, to regain the notoriety they once had, and live the life he thinks they deserve. Teddy is always looking for the easy mark, someone to hustle. And Buddy, well, Buddy just wants the past, present and future to line up in a normal fashion.

Each of these desires are so intricately connected and reliant on another member of the family, yet they all keep secrets from each other, thinking that this will keep everyone safe until the end.

This book is very funny. Gregory finds the humor in everyday situations and delivers with such wit, you will find something to laugh at many time throughout.

“”Eight-year-olds playing soccer, Teddy decided, was a lot like a pack of border collies chasing a single sheep, except that the dogs would’ve used more teamwork.”

There’s just something so simple yet deeply hilarious about everyday observations like this, and they are sprinkled generously in this story.

I really enjoyed the way Gregory gives us the idea of power. I know I’ve dreamed of being able to move things with my mind, or detect a lie, or even see the future. He gives us these amazing talents, but he also shows us that perhaps they aren’t as alluring as we might initially think. There are still struggles and heartbreak and heartache, even with these amazing abilities. Life, still requires a lot of work.

Even though Buddy can see the future, he can’t see all the details so misunderstandings create false understandings. And, just because you can see the future, doesn’t mean it changes anything.

“Everything he knows about the whirlpool of past and future tells him that the universe does not owe you anything and even if it did, it would never pay up.”

Because of this, Buddy simply stops talking much at all, terrified of what he may inadvertently let slip. So when he begins tearing apart and completing random construction projects around the house without a word of explanation, its difficult for his family to understand. Yet, there are various moments when other family members think that if Buddy would only help them see the future, their decisions would be easier. Buddy seems to be the only one with the knowledge of how heavy and hard the future can be.

Irene can detect when someone is lying. Even a small, harmless lie. So she doesn’t trust anyone. And can’t open herself up to intimate relationships. Hearing the lie, no matter how small, is sometimes more painful than not knowing it’s there at all.

Frankie can move objects. Except, only sometimes, and never when he wants to, and never when it’s important.

And then there’s Matty. Who can leave his body and see the world. Except, there’s a few embarrassing things that need to happen before he can actually do any of that.

I absolutely loved the use of Teddy in the story. Teddy is always more than he seems, or exactly what he seems. A conman, a huckster, a fast talker. He knows how to work people and get what he wants. His sleight of hand is what makes him so good. So, we don’t expect Gregory to use the same tricks in his writing to make us look one way, when really he is leading us another. As the story unfolds, we are more and more confident of where the story is leading, yet when the pages are complete, it is exactly what we expected and at the same time, not at all what we expected. It’s a magic trick in plot. And it’s genius.

I really like the way the story is developed. Using the memories of each character to help us learn the past, as well as each characters current point of view creates a lush, deep, and rich view of the entire family. We get a sense of who they are and more importantly, why they are the way they are. We also get to see pieces of the plot unfold, knowing the missteps being planted along the way, unknowingly by each family member. But, again, the real delight is watching these plans hatch and being just as surprised by the outcome as they are. It truly is masterful story telling.

This is a quirky, fun, wonderful novel about family. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a funny, entertaining story! I loved it, and will revisit the Telemachus family in the future.

Thank you so much First To Read, Penguin Random House and AA Knopf, for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Wildling Sisters – Review

“It’s not the dead who suffer. It’s the living, you see.”

The Wilding Sisters is an exceptional book that spans the lives of two families separated by decades.

In the 1950’s, we are introduced to the Wilding sisters. A group of four girls, raised by a bohemian mother in London. The highlight of their summers used to be visiting their cousin in the country and losing themselves in the magic of Applecote Manor. But tragedy strikes, and those summers come to an end. Until several years later, when their mother decides to send them back for one final summer.

Over 50 years later, Jessie, a young mother and struggling step-mother, sees the magic in Applecote Manor. She sees the crumbing estate as the chance to escape London, where her husbands deceased ex-wife holds them all hostage, especially her teenage daughter, Bella. In Applecote, she sees the chance to heal, to escape, to rebuild.

We flip back and forth in time. Margot tells us her story from the past, and Jessie from the present, but the mystery and tragedy around Audrey refuses to disappear, intertwining and impacting both womens lives. Margot wants desperately to know what happened, thinking that the answer will somehow save them all, especially her Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry.

“For the first time since she went missing, I realize I desperately need to know the truth.”

Jessie wants the mystery and rumor of Audrey to simply go away. She is terrified that the truth will taint Applecote, thereby making the idea of uniting her family impossible. Bella clings to this mystery, obsessing over every small artifact she finds in the yard or buried within the house. Even worse, she has turned her room into a living shrine to her mother, Mandy, shocking Jessie with the totality of it. Mandy on every space on the wall. Mandy’s clothes. Mandy everywhere. Between clinging to her mother’s memory and her determination to uncover the mystery of Applecote, Bella is farther away from accepting Jessie than ever before.

“Bella’s face simply empties, and she runs upstairs, slams her bedroom door in the way only Bella can slam it, like an act of war.”

This book is quite a powerful discussion on the relationships women have with each other. Sister. Mothers. Daughters. They are all complicated and complex.

At the beginning of the summer, Margot, Flora, Pam and Dot, are a tightly knit unit. They are united against the world. But the more time they spend at Applecote starts to introduce small divisions. Secrets and unspoken changes. When two young men stroll through the meadow, the divisions become more pronounced as each sister, except Dot, see each other as competition for the first time.

The summer continues, driving the sisters further apart until a shocking turn of events forces them to decide: will they go their separate ways, or unite together again?

For Jessie and Bella, their timeline isn’t over the course of a summer, but rather a winter. The symbolism of the corresponding seasons is striking and appropriate, and I felt really highlighted the differing tensions between the relationships. Hot and passionate, versus cold and indifferent.

“She had no idea that trying to love Bella, let alone parent her as she grew into an angry teen, would be like trying to hug an animal that wanted to sink its teeth into her neck.”

The tension between Jessie and Bella is different. Bella does not want Jessie or her step-sister around. She would rather have her mother back, but in absence of that, would much prefer to simply have it be just her and her father. She is resentful and cold. But some of her behavior with her peers in London and then to her younger sister Remy are concerning to Jessie. Distrust blooms, which puts significant strain on Jessie’s marriage.

“There’s something in Bella’s gaze that is just not sisterly sometimes, not even particularly human.”

Even though there is an element of mystery, in regards to the mystery of Audrey woven between the two narratives, this really isn’t a mystery. There are parallels set up for comparison, or maybe even to simply observe, the complexity of love.

Margot and her sisters have a mother, but she is flighty and irresponsible. She is not someone seen as deserving of four daughters. In contrast, Sybil, a woman where motherhood is more natural, lost her only daughter Audrey to mysterious circumstances.

Jessie is Remy’s mother, but Bella’s mother died, unexpectedly and tragically. There is no mystery to the loss, but it doesn’t make it any easier to bear. Unlike Sybil though, who tries to find Audrey in Margot, Bella doesn’t want a replacement in Jessie. She wants less while Sybil, and even to some extent Margot, wants more.

There is also the contrast between the sisterly relationships. Margot and her sisters are an intimate tribe when they first arrive at Applecote. A unified front against the world. An oasis that they know they can always rely on. At least they were. But Harry and Tom bring out a competition never before known, and words from their mother suddenly begin to make more sense.

“Brothers always want to murder each other, Ma would shrug, It’s sisters you need to look out for. They’re the ones who can break your heart.”

It’s interesting that men are the divider in both relationships. Between the sisters, because they all want the attention that only two will win. With Bella and Jessie, they both are vying for Will’s attention. Even though Jessie still wants to mother Bella, Bella’s rejection sets the stage for them to compete. Men, both knowingly and unknowingly, are the catalyst for division.

Tragedy and shocking events also shake Jessie’s world, but it is Bella who has to decide whether she will accept Jessie or not. This acceptance is pivotal in determining the future of this small family.

Secrets and betrayals and heartbreak unfold slowly as we come to the end. And even though the timelines are decades apart, the resolution fits them all succinctly together. Questions are answered, and while some leave you reeling, they are all satisfying.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The pacing was perfect. Each chapter ended with just enough momentum that you felt the mystery building. Each story was framed to be solid on it’s own, but left enough clues that you knew they tied together, but you weren’t quite sure how. It was suspenseful without being terrifying.

The writing is breathtaking. Some sentences and passages are so beautiful they hurt.

“The dusk sky is aflame, volcanic and otherworldly, like something might actually be about to happen.”

There is magic in her descriptions. Chase captures the struggle to be a sister, a mother, a wife, in all it’s difficulty with the same lyrical precision. There is heartbreak in love. And in letting go.

Finally, I think the examination of death is one of the most captivating pieces of this novel. Not actually knowing makes Sybil and Margot hold on to Audrey. What begins as hope turns unhealthy and obsessive. A refusal to mourn and grieve. Yet Bella is dealing with the opposite. Knowing her mother is dead and refusing to move on anyway.

Life and death. Love and loss. These are complex issues that we all can relate to and identify with. I loved the story and how these issues were framed and explored. And I absolutely loved the writing. It was gorgeous. Very well done.

This book comes out July 25. Pre-Order link for Amazon is below:

The Wilding Sisters

Thank you so much to the First to Read program through Penguin Random House, and to Putnam books for allowing me to read this beautiful novel.

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words – Review

Heartbreaking and tragic. Powerful and poetic. It will be a long, long time before this book leaves me.

I went into this book a little blind. As my TBR piled up, I simply made a list of which reviews were due and dove in. The title didn’t reveal much so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

What I got was an incredible story about love and the resilience of life.

I will admit that I probably would have been intimidated at the prospect of reading a book about Apartheid South Africa. This is a heavy subject matter. And it shouldn’t be trivialized or glamorized. Perhaps the uncertainty of reading a book about a time and a place I don’t know much about would have scared me, made me reach for something a little more in my comfort zone. But I am so glad I didn’t. This book is overwhelming in its beauty.

This book alternates between the narrative of Robin, a young white girl living in a Johannesburg South Africa in the 1970’s, and of Beauty, an Xhosa woman desperate to find her daughter after she has gone missing after an uprising.

Robin’s parents are killed the same night Beauty’s daughter goes missing, leaving her in the care of her well-intentioned aunt. Edith never wanted children and can’t fathom changing her glamorous career as an international air stewardess to care for a child. Beauty’s desire to stay in Johannesburg and search for her daughter coincides with Edith’s need for a caregiver, bringing Robin and Beauty together.

The most heartbreaking thing about this novel is how it deals with racism. Systemic, inherent racism where children are taught to hate another group of people simply for the color of their skin. It is hard to read. And heartbreaking because simple observations through the eyes of a child show how hate is taught, how it is learned.

“If people didn’t come in the right colors, how would we know who to be scared of?”

Both Beauty and Robin make such profound observations about life, and love, and power, so frequently they are shocking in their simplicity. Marais has an extraordinary talent in her ability to weave these thoughts together in a soft and subtle way. But like water, they are only soft and subtle in the right order. They can also be as hard and unmoving as a wall, hitting you with blunt force instead of washing over and around you.

Beauty becomes a mother and grandmother to Robin, intertwined in a complicated relationship. She must keep many things about their relationship and living arrangements a secret, which is a large burden for an already burdened 9 year old.

Both Beauty and Robin find solace with each other, and love with each other.

Any book in which topics as hard, and heavy, and unbearable, such as racism, in my opinion, are heartbreaking. It’s difficult to read about atrocious crimes, and hideous words, and odious actions. They aren’t easy.

I think the brilliance of this book is in alternating the experience of Beauty, with her lifetime of living directly with these injustices, and Robin, a child being taught (unknowingly) to be the oppressor. Robin repeats what she has been taught, stating hypocrisy or even outright hatred without thought. It is only when Beauty begins to question her beliefs, has her think about the reasoning or logic behind what she thinks she believes and what she has personally experienced, that Robin begins to decide who she wants to be. Beauty unroots the seeds that have been planted in Robin’s mind, and allows new ones to grow in their place.

Edith, in her own way also helps to unroot these ideas in Robin’s mind simply by who she is. She has homosexual friends and doesn’t agree with segregation. She isn’t outright rebellious, but is still defiant in her refusal to conform. In some ways, this extends to how she cares for Robin. She loves her, but simply cannot change who she is because of what people think.

I loved how Marais used the invisibility of children to highlight what we say as adults and what we do in a way that both highlights the absurd and confusing nature of adults, and society at large. Children don’t know why we behave in certain societal norms, but they accept these norms anyway. Many of the things Robin says are funny, but also serve to show how much children listen, even if they do not understand.

“Children are invisible because we’re thought to be powerless, so people say things in front of me here that they wouldn’t say otherwise.”

This book is a complex look at the relationships we have with children. Whether our own, or us as children, we are shaped by who we are surrounded by. We can become good, or bad. Violent, or peaceful. Angry, or loving. All because of who shapes us.

Our nature is to love. But love is often misunderstood, or manipulated, or changed. We carve it and need it so much, that our fear of losing it often keeps it from us.

“I wanted to find the words to express that I thought I was coming close to understanding the nature of love; that love can’t be held captive, and it can’t be bestowed by a prisoner on their captor, even if the prisoner is in a glass cage and oblivious to its captivity.”

This book is about love. Love of a mother and daughter. Love of an aunt and niece. And love between two strangers, brought together because of tragedy.

“I am learning how love wells up and causes great pain when it has nowhere to go.”

We are meant to love. This book strips down our complicated human nature and paints it in stunning simplicity. Along the way, we are exposed to a rich narrative showing the history of Apartheid South Africa. We are shown that the line between good and evil is often very blurry. That life is never as clear as we wish it was, and that truth comes in many forms.

I highly recommend this book. It comes out July 11.

Pre-order link

Thank you Penguin First to Read for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book!