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The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

⇒ “It’s really a paradise on earth, if paradise for you smells of paper and paste.” –The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Berkley Publishers, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Abbi Waxman

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Women’s Lit / Romance / Humor

Format: Kindle Edition

Publication Date: July 9, 2019, by Berkley

Pages: 352

#TheBookishLifeofNinaHill #BookishLife #NinaHill


…she thought of books as medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things.

What a smart, funny book! It’s a romance, but the “love stuff” is surprisingly detached from the principal story, not saturated into every chapter. The Bookish Life... is simply about a woman and her love of literature and trivia. Nina Hill seems like a fairly normal bookstore employee. She reads, a lot. She knows trivia, a lot. And she talks to her cat, the normal amount.

In public Nina was a quiet, reserved person; in private she was an all-singing, all-dancing cavalcade of light and motion.

Things start to get a little abnormal when single child Nina discovers that her estranged father has passed away and left her an inheritance and a large extended family as well. Add that discovery to an unexpected mutual attraction to a fellow trivia buff who always smells like sawdust (what? sawdust is sexy!), and you have the formula for a series of events that threatens to uproot Nina from her quiet, introverted existence.

Book nerds are daredevils, as you know.

This book has everything: rowdy relatives, a talking cat, flying cupcakes, and Mephistopheles. But if you’re thinking that it sounds like that makes it an utterly ridiculous story, you’d be utterly wrong! Bookish Life is a witty and well-rounded book that left me laughing, commiserating, and then, at the end, wishing that I knew Nina Hill irl. This book earned every one of the five stars I gave it.

Trust people with your truth, and bravely tell them you’re not brave at all.


Read the first chapter here: First Chapter

Buy it here:


Abbi Waxman

Hi there. I’m a chocolate loving, dog loving writer living in Los Angeles. I sit down if I can, and lie down whenever possible. If you enjoy my book and would like a personalized, signed bookplate to go in it, email me your name and address and I’ll send you one! abbi@amplecat.com


After the End

⇒What is your life’s crossroad and which new beginning will you choose?⇐


After the End is my second #Julybrary book. I’m celebrating libraries in July by checking out all of this month’s reads from my local library shelves!


Author: Clare Mackintosh

(4.31 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Adult Contemporary

Published June 25, 2019by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 390

#Aftertheend. #Julybrary


Over the last few months we have learned that hope is one side of a seesaw balanced by despair; too quickly tipped from one to the other.

Before I begin this review, I have to warn that it may inadvertently contain spoilers. I’ll definitely try my best to keep them out, but in case I miss something, just know that you’ve been warned.

Like 90% of other reviewers of After the End, I found it incredibly hard to make it through this book. It isn’t a happy story. Period. But I’m sure it also wasn’t an easy story to tell – especially by an author who had to make this terrible decision irl.

Here’s the book blurb: “Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re the best friends lovers– unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son. What if they could have both?”

Sometimes you only know for certain if you’ve made the right decision once you’ve made it.

Within a few pages of the very first chapter of this book, I knew it was going to be a rough read for me. Riddled with personal triggers which acted as emotional landmines throughout nearly all 400 pages, it both started and ended in uncertainty. This story has some serious triggers for sensitive readers: cancer, kids with terminal illnesses, and other triggers that I can’t even mention without spoiling some parts of the plot.

There were many times when I considered not finishing this book. It was, at times, difficult to turn the next page. Dylan’s condition was heartrending, and his parents’ predicament was one no parent should ever have to face. But my difficult decision was to keep reading, and I managed to do it, but not without being deeply affected.

Turns out you can hate what someone’s doing, yet still love them so much it hurts.

Once I was able to separate myself from the story (cancer is a strong trigger for me), I was able to better appreciate the flow and artistry of this difficult story. And then, when the court decision is made and the author introduces two alternate realities along two different timelines, the complications only intensify.

If you’ve read anything by Clare Mackintosh before, I can tell you that this book is not like any of those. I don’t understand why Goodreads lists it as a thriller– it is more like a slow burning emotional suspense novel. The decision of life and death hovers over the entire first half of the book, and little or nothing can be more suspenseful than that.

In the second half, the suspense comes in with Max and Pip making decisions that will take them into the next phases of their lives. Neither portions of the book are comfortable to read and at times I felt my inner reader screaming at both of them. But, here again, is a decision that no one can say is the right one unless you’re living it.

But when you stand at a crossroad you cannot see each destination, only the beginnings of the paths that will lead you there. All you can do is choose one, and walk, and hope that someone will walk with you.

OK, so let’s address the elephant in the room– why only 3.5 stars? It is, by no means, a bad book. It’s beautifully and sensitively written. Even in the midst of horrible circumstances, Mackintosh gives all her characters meaningful and unique personalities and perspectives.

But the hard parts of the book never let up and the ending doesn’t bring the relief or closure that I felt I needed as I closed the back cover. Not every reader feels this way, and I think it’s definitely proof that this book affects everyone very differently.

It’s possible to look without seeing. To act without feeling. You just have to close your heart for a while.


Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant now writes full time. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.


Save the Date

How good are you at finding the best little beach read? I found mine, but it turns out I could read this little gem anywhere!⇐


Author: Morgan Matson

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / YA / Romance

Published June 5, 2018by Simon Schuster

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432 (Paperback)

#SavetheDate


It seemed like the second you tried to tell someone why you loved someone else, it took the luster off it, like pinning a butterfly down in a case—it never quite captured it.

Every year my family goes to the beach. We look forward to it all year long and we often start packing long before the week of the trip. This year was no exception. The clothes, the swim gear, the travel-sized toiletries – all that is important, but the most vital thing is Which Books Should I Bring! 

This is a really hard decision on any regular day, let alone on a day when you will be spending time near surf and sand with nothing but lazy hours in front of you. This is prime reading time people! And the last thing you want to do is waste those hours with a book you don’t really enjoy.   

Thankfully, I made an excellent choice in this perfectly paced little romance that also shared some spicy little family drama and more than one (OK a lot!) of truly comedic slip-ups. Save the Date couldn’t have been a more perfect vacation read. It was an easy read with fun (and funny) characters that were easily introduced and remain unforgettable. Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect. … Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

You don’t get to freeze the picture when you want it. It would have been living in the past and eventually, you just start doing the same jokes over and over again.

If you’re anything like me, it may take you quite a long time to decide on a book to read while you’re on vacation. I made a special trip to the bookstore to pick this one up specifically for this trip. I wanted something light and funny with just enough depth to hold my attention without being frivolous and silly. Save the Date hit the nail on the head on every point.

And, no, it’s not a new release, so I felt that I could choose it on its own merits instead of feeling led along by the masses all grappling for the next new and shiny shelf bauble.  And although I didn’t finish my book while actually sitting on the beach (it ended up raining for most of the time) I found that it really didn’t matter. Save the Date became a book that is good on or off of the sand. I got totally sucked into the Grant family drama and my only regret is that it ended a little too quickly!


Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson grew up in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College in Los Angeles but halfway though a theater degree, she started working in the children’s department of Vroman’s Bookstore and fell in love with YA literature.


Blog Tour | The Scent Keeper

⇒Blog Tour: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister – An olfactory-charged coming-of-age story that will trigger your fondest and deepest memories. ⇐


Author: Erica Bauermeister

(4.19 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Publish Date: May 21, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press

Pages: 311

#TheScentKeeper

Many thanks to the author and St. Martin’s Press for providing a free copy of this book for my review. I received no monetary compensation and my thoughts are my own.


I inhaled, and fell into the fragrance like Alice down the rabbit hole.

Emmeline

When I was a little girl I lived in the mountains of North Carolina for a time. I thought the world was magical back then. I believed in fairies and mermaids and all types of supernatural things. It must have been that mountain air!

I remember things just smelling differently up there. The soil was blacker in the mountains than it is here in Georgia, and it had a tart, metallic smell to it; like iron. The air was less heavy, and the grass – whether cut or long – smelled tangy and sweet. I still remember all those smells so vividly in my memory.

I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of us. Certain smells trigger specific memories of places or events from our past. The smell of cinnamon and bread takes me back to my Meme’s pantry. And the smell of fried chicken makes me remember my Great Aunt’s kitchen on Friday nights. Smells are powerful that way, and The Scent Keeper is a story all about that very specific power.

Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination. -(from Goodreads)

I inhaled again, slow and deep, and felt the smells flood my head, so full and three-dimensional I could almost wander among them.

Emmeline

I will summarize this book first by saying that books like The Scent Keeper are why I read. They allow me to see the world through someone else’s eyes – the writer’s and his/her characters’. I experience my own world irl and then I can escape into any one of theirs at any given time.

And Emmeline’s world of scent-memory and discovery is one that I could have remained in much longer than the 311 pages allowed. This is a coming-of-age story told with an added dimension: smell. Everything in Em’s life is associated with aromas. There is a certain magical science that goes into the way her father catches the fragrances of life around him and stores them in tiny bottles in their hidden island cabin. She grows up with this magic being as normal and fantastic as the rest of the world around her.

I could feel myself turning into air. The fragrances of the scent-papers became my lungs, the blood in my veins. I found it easier and easier to lose myself in them.

Emmeline

If you are a fan of lyrical writing and story lines that drag you deep into other worlds, then this book will not disappoint. This is a fairy tale told for a modern age – complete with Google searches and skyscrapers. I went from not knowing what to expect in the first few chapters to expecting everything under the sun in the final ones.

It is a tale of adventure, a family drama, and a love story all wrapped into one. There is mystery and suspense, danger and violence, victory and celebration, but there is also tragedy and loss. My biggest takeaway from The Scent Keeper is that people are inherently both good and bad. Just when we think we have them all figured out, they show us something new.

Out there, in the midst of all that air, our scents wove together and had their own conversations. It was as if the more space we had, the less we needed it between each other.

Emmeline

I cannot encourage you enough to read this book. I don’t give 5 stars lightly or regularly. But I meant this one. I really appreciate this book for its poetry, its scenery, and its ability to transport me into a different space among strangers that became friends. And then to not only hear and see them, but to smell what they saw, held, ate, and touched too. It takes a certain talent to pull a reader into a story like that; Erica Bauermeister has that talent.


***I am so embarrassed that my blog tour is a full week LATE! Guess my new-school attempt at keeping an electronic calendar isn’t the best method after all. Sheesh. But I had to go ahead and post my review because this is a book that needs to be touched by many hands and read by many eyes. It is a quick read and is one of the few that I couldn’t drag myself away from. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and I hope the kind folks at St. Martin’s Press forgive me for missing my tour date. 🙂 ***


BUY IT HERE:


Erica Bauermeister

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of four novels — The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, The Lost Art of Mixing, and The Scent Keeper. Her memoir, House Lessons, will be published by Sasquatch in the spring of 2020. She is also the co-author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She currently lives in Port Townsend, Wa with her husband and 238 wild deer.


Fifty Things that Aren’t My Fault

⇒Witty essays about the crossroads of life, and how to celebrate each twisty turn.⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Cathy Guisewite

(4.06 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Humor / Essays

Format: Kindle Version

Publish Date: April 2, 2019, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 336 (Kindle version)

#Fiftythingsthatarentmyfault


There’s absolutely no direction I can look without making eye contact with the fact that life as I knew it is over.


Let’s face it – adulting is difficult. There are taxes and bills and insurance and whatever you’re really supposed to know about changing the battery in your home’s fire alarm or changing your car’s oil. This is not easy stuff. I mean, even as I sit here, I’m struggling. I was supposed to have finished writing this blog days ago (when I finished reading the book), instead, here it is, 10:00 at night and I’m pecking away furiously at my phone (because my laptop is now officially toast), trying to write this review before my eyes involuntarily shut for the day.

I spent my whole weekend spring cleaning – only getting one room completely done – and work looms tomorrow like a big ugly Monday morning ogre. And I’m thinking about all the random things I need to accomplish this week. Is this being an adult? Cuz I don’t think I’m doing it right, and I seem to have a friend in Cathy Guisewite.

Here’s an abbreviated blurb from Goodreads…

From the iconic creator of the “Cathy”comic strip comes a collection of funny, warm, and wise essays… centered around the particular challenge of caring for aging parents and growing children, all while trying not to lose oneself in the process… Her deeply funny and relatable look at the life of a frazzled career woman became a touchstone for women everywhere, and now, in her debut essay collection, Guisewite returns with her signature self-deprecating wit and warmth, this time taking a look at her own life.

There’s no honor in mentioning what happened last night with nine “100 Calorie Packs” of Mini Oreos.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize Cathy Guisewite’s name, you probably are instantly familiar with the image of her beloved comic strip character, Cathy, especially if you grew up in a certain generation (mine!).

And while cartoon Cathy certainly had her fair share of bumpy roads, Fifty Things is about flesh and blood Cathy’s all too real life challenges, triumphs, and tripping points. Relatable? Yes. Uplifting? Enh.

Life is overflowing with expectations and obligations that use up our time, energy, and spirit and leave us feeling exhausted, insecure, and alone.

If you can get through the first couple of chapters while maintaining a positive attitude, you just might end up liking this book. I was nervous at first- it had the potential to become one big 300-plus-page gripe fest. But she saves it by being entirely candid and displaying all her jagged faults- even the ones we’ve tried to hide in ourselves.

Ok, so why should you read this book? If you’ve ever spent 37 minutes getting ready for bed, using magic face creams, special hair curlers, under eye brighteners, etc., etc. only to wake up the next morning looking exactly the same, you might relate to Cathy. If you are so excited to go shopping and come home only with a pair of earrings or a pair of shoes because they were the only things that fit, you might relate to Cathy. And if you’re in the middle of releasing adult children and corralling aging presents, you’ll definitely relate to Cathy.

Now I know what that lump is that’s still stuck in my throat- it’s What Comes Next.

As I still battle with trying to also love nonfiction, I have found that humor does help (Bill Bryson- winner, winner). So when Guisewite finds the funny in ordering takeout or trying on swimsuits, I think, “Hmmm, maybe both adulting and nonfiction aren’t that bad after all. “

Maybe.


Cathy Guisewite

Cathy Lee Guisewite is the cartoonist who created the comic strip Cathy in 1976. Guisewite was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Midland, Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. Guisewite received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1972. She also holds seven honorary degrees. –Bio adapted from Goodreads.


Sharp Objects

⇒When you shake the family tree and more than a few rotten apples fall out.⇐


Author: Gillian Flynn

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Published 2006by Broadway Paperbacks

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254 (Paperback)

#SharpObjects


I like checking days off a calendar — 151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone.


About one fourth of the way into this book, I had parts of my review already written. In my head, it was complimentary and mostly lighthearted. Then I kept reading.

While I knew Sharp Objects would be telling a dark story (hellooo, murder), I wasn’t prepared for this next-to-hell level of depravity. Ummm, Gillian, Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects? Your therapist is working overtime, sweetie. But I’m glad for it because this book was terribly fantastic.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.


I’m almost afraid to write this review because I don’t want to give anything away. This is when I could use a little of Flynn’s skill because she gives NOTHING away. Reading Sharp Objects is like lifting off the top of the first Matryoshka doll and finding a rotten egg in there instead of another doll. And then a cockroach inside the egg. And then Ebola inside of the cockroach. Not exaggerating. This story is all kinds of messed up.

They always call depression the blues… Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss.

Our first-person perspective comes from Camille Preaker, who pretty much proves she’s unreliable and dangerously flawed before we’ve even made it out of the first chapter. But this is the ticket we paid for, so buckle up ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. As the layers of Camille’s past are peeled away during her visit home to Wind Gap, Missouri, the murders of two young girls almost take a back seat to Camille’s personal family drama. Who are these weirdly damaged people?! Once you meet her mom, stepdad, and half-sister, you start to understand why Camille did a stint in the psych ward; you really can’t blame her. After reading this book, I’m thinking that checking out the Talkspace app may not be such a bad idea.

How do you keep safe when your whole day is as wide and empty as the sky? Anything could happen.

So the book’s subject and events are dark, but I didn’t find it gloomy or depressing. Flynn wraps up all the impending danger and distress like a little present and then stands back like a sinister villain to watch us unwrap it. It’s like watching Black Mirror on Netflix when you think you know what’s going on, but then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what the heck happened just now?!” Same feeling.

Readers of Gone Girl will love Sharp Objects – if they haven’t already read it (I know I’m behind the crowd on this one). It’s suspenseful, gritty, mysterious, and strange. There are almost too many triggers to list for sensitive readers, and if I did try to list them, some might spoil the cleverly crafted plot development.

There isn’t much pretty or clean about it, but it is, in fact, a masterpiece. From the first few paragraphs, I knew Flynn was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I love her now for that.

To refuse has so many more consequences than submitting.

Camille’s family portrait should be the top-right-corner graphic on the Wikipedia page for “dysfunctional”. (Is dysfunction-in-denial an entry?) As this book ended, I wanted to go hug my family and tell them thank you for always being good to me even if every single one of them is cuckoo-crazy! Oh, and I also kept touching my teeth with my tongue too. Read it, you’ll get it then.


Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

⇒And eventually there is no one left in the world except people who don’t look at each other people’s faces… and these people are all special people like me.⇐


Author: Mark Haddon

(3.87 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery

Format: Paperback

Published July 31, 2003by Vintage Books

Pages: 226 (Paperback)

#CuriousIncident


This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them.


As Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Please know that I have this advice in mind when I evaluate this book. I am not a patient person. I know this about myself; I own it. There are certain pet peeves I have that will immediately set me off. Becoming a parent cooled my hot temper by several hundred degrees, but impatience still lingers beneath the surface of my otherwise sunny disposition! And now I’ll pause so all my friends can write sarcastic comments refuting that last statement. I’ll wait…

OK, moving on! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was not an easy book for me to read. It was frustrating, sad, maddening, and at the same time fascinating, poetic, moving, and victorious. I have never read a book like it before, and maybe I hope to never again. Not in a bad way, but because I found it to be so eccentric that anything similar might only be seen as a copy cat.

Here is what Curious Incident is all about: “Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher, a mathematically gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor’s dog and uncovers secret information…”

Everyone has learning difficulties, because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult.

I left off the end of the book’s summary. I found that description on the copyright page and thought it was a perfect summary… until the last three words. Talk about a spoiler alert! I’m glad I didn’t run into that summary snippet until after I finished reading the book. In those three words is one of the best twisty plot points, and not knowing those three words going into the book makes the development of the story even better.

I haven’t done my reviews like this in a long time, but, for this book, it seems appropriate…

WHAT I LIKED: The story was entirely absorbing. You just have to know what this kid is going to do next. Christopher is quirky and unpredictable and unreliable to his core, so it’s a trippy ride to keep up with him. The humor is so subtle that it leaves you wondering if you really should be laughing (but you do anyway, and you definitely should be because it’s funny!). And finally, it’s a really fast read. Both the writing style and the under-300 page count made it possible for me to read this book in just two days, and I do not consider myself a speedy reader at all.

I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Curious Incident left me feeling like a bad person! There are people naturally gifted with patience and compassion who are brilliant at relating to and caring for relatives, students, and/or friends who are on the spectrum. That’s not me. Just reading about the way they approach life makes me frustrated and angry because of my frustration. The book is chock full of behaviors that had me screaming and groaning almost as much as Christopher did. I could not relate to him as the main character on any level, and that inability to connect made reading his story more than a little irksome.

Oh, and just one other little thing: Math! I.loathe.math. It makes me sad and confused and bitter. I see numbers in an equation and I get “brain burn”. If you enjoy math, I’m truly happy for you. No, I am, seriously. The world needs people like you because of people like me – people who despise math and wish that the whole world just worked off of words and pictures instead.

I came very close to not owning this book at all. I was browsing through books at a giant library sale and I picked up Curious Incident and glanced at the unique cover. I was about to place it back on the stack when a man beside me said, “You should buy that one. It’s good. It’s different, and weird, but it’s good.” So I bought it. And even though Christopher Boone took me on a bumpy ride through Swindon and London and back again, it was totally worth the trip.


Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is a British novelist and poet, best known for his 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He was educated at Uppingham School and Merton College, Oxford, where he studied English. – Bio from Goodreads


The Witch Elm

⇒Secrets and lies color a life on the verge of incalculable change. This is the Butterfly Effect on Xanax.⇐


Author: Tana French

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Mystery

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 9, 2018, by Viking

Pages: 509 ; 18 Audio Discs (22 hours)

#TheWitchElm


What if I never got another day in my life when I was normal again?

Toby

In middle school, my friends and I (how I wish I could put it all on them, but I can’t) decided to prank our classmates. Just a certain few of them who we thought were a bit too big for their britches. We did the usual obnoxious phone calls – which worked back then because no one had caller ID yet (I’m dating myself) and everyone still used landlines. It was the perfect way for some bored pre-teens to spend Friday nights while also watching network TV and being housebound (no internet or social media back then).

One such prank went just a little further than the rest. We called one of our classmates and threatened to fight her (insert dramatic music and loads of judgment right here). She was a “mean girl” and totally deserved a good thrashing (Not really, but I’m trying to justify my 12-year-old mind). We told her to meet us by the water fountain on the red hall after lunch the next day – if she wasn’t scared. It was maddening to wait all those hours to see if she would actually show up!


So what in the world does this have to do with The Witch Elm? Spoiler Alert: this book is about questionable life choices. Well, it’s about a lot of things, but making bad life choices is key among them – bad choices that get justified along the way and then accepted as harmless or inconsequential. But let me let you read the Goodreads blurb to see what else it’s about:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.


…one gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.

I’ve managed to get this far into the review without saying that I really didn’t like this book. Why? Well, I didn’t want to start out my fresh new year of reading with a dud. OK, let me be fair, it wasn’t a “dud”, but it wasn’t for me.

This book was a long, slow march to the death of everything I thought I loved about long reads and audiobooks. I started feeling like I was being punished around disc 5 and from there (all the way to disc 18) I was sure I had angered the literary gods somewhere along the way for them to steer me towards this dark, vice-riddled study in depravity. Then I started criticizing myself for being too critical! Maybe I just needed to get past Toby’s seemingly endless inner monologue and focus on the deeper meaning of the story: self-discovery, balancing perceptions with reality, etc. And I honestly tried to do that. But I still felt like getting through the whole thing wasn’t enjoyable – it was just drudgery.

There are plenty of people who 5-starred this book. It has been well-recognized and earnestly reviewed. And I should have left them to it.

To be fair, Tana French is a good author. Her prose is classically descriptive, and at some points reads like poetry. But… did there have to be so MUCH of it?! Half of the book takes place in Toby’s head (not a comfortable place to be, btw) and the best action only happens when he looks outside into the world for a change. What’s most troublesome about that is that he is not a likable character. You want to like him, but he doesn’t allow it. He’s unreliable for many reasons, not the least of which is that he’s wishy-washy. First, the answer is A, but then it could be B. Nope, back to A, I’m sure of it. Wait… but now C is looking interesting… But I can’t discount B again because remember that time back in high school… Arrrrgggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

…it was me, wronged innocent, white knight, cunning investigator, killer, selfish oblivious dick, petty provocateur, take your pick, what does it matter? it’ll all change again.

Toby

High praise to Paul Nugent, the audiobook narrator, however, whose lilting Irish brogue was my only salvation as we both slogged through this 18-disc, 22-hour behemoth of a book. Twenty-two hours! That’s almost a full day of tainted introspection, Xanax-influenced rants, and the tiniest bits of truth tossed in here and there about guarded explorations into the weight of our perceptions of the world around us.


So by now you may be wondering whatever happened with the water fountain fight threat. Can you believe that she actually showed up? And with a group of her “mean girl” friends too! My friends and I stood just close enough in the midst of the gathering crowd to hear their heated conversation about what they would do if “whoever” showed up. We didn’t want any of what they were promising! Plus, we had no real intentions of fighting anyone anyway. Even though it was great middle school drama, it was ultimately a waste of everyone’s time and energy, and I stopped pranking after that. Life lesson learned. And another one learned years later: be very wary of 500+ page Tana French books.


Tana French is the New York Times bestselling author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser, and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.


Obsidio (The Illuminae Files #3)

⇒An exhilarating journey is about to end, but before it does, new heroes and new dangers emerge. Battle lines are drawn and the die is cast.⇐


Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

(4.58 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: YA / Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 615 (Hardcover)

#Obsidio #Illuminae #Illuminaefiles


I am clarity, I am necessity. I am inevitability. But am I evil?

AIDAN

If you are a series reader, and if you enjoy some YA sci-fi tossed into your reading list, then do not skip this series. It is clever, inventive, fresh, and masterfully written. I read a lot of series – some that have gone on past their Use By date – but the Illuminae Files is one that I wouldn’t mind starting over again (if I ever get to a point in my life when my TBR pile isn’t so massive.

Obsidio is the third book in the Illuminae series and it is as intense and exciting as both the first and second releases. More characters, a different spaceship, but the same dark, evil threat looming over them all: BeiTech. Here’s the Goodreads blurb…

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion? 
Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. 
With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.


Before I launch into a glowing review of how good I think Obsidio is, Here are links to my reviews on both Illuminae and Gemina just in case you’re curious about the series and haven’t quite committed to checking it out yet. Hint: You should. Seriously.

I should say first, do NOT let the size of these books scare you off. They are actually really quick reads. There are pages that read like comics. So even if your regular reading material is closer to the 200-250 page range, you’ll feel comfortable with this even though Obsidio‘s page count is 615. Trust me on that.

The book is written in a series of Audio Visual transcripts and Instant Message screenshots — there are even some personal scribbled notes tossed in there too — and fascinating illustrations that put you right in the thick of the action. The layout of these books is one of the best things about the series. Any time I find myself turning a book in circles in order to read it, I know the author has me hooked and could do basically anything on those pages. And Kaufman and Kristoff do just that.

Live a life worth dying for.

Kady Grant

Obsidio plays out on the page like a movie plays out on the screen. One hundred moving parts and yet all of them gel into a violent, deadly, animated, touching story of resilience and grit. Sure, it’s teenagers running around doing amazing things to save their part of the universe, but I feel sucked into their world and I don’t want to know anything other than their reality — it’s just that compelling.

The two “stars” in Obsidio are girl-next-door Asha Grant and her ex-boyfriend (now turned to the dark side), BeiTech soldier Rhys Lindstrom. Both of them are in situations that they didn’t choose, but to survive they have to learn to trust each other all over again. And that’s not easy to do in the midst of a forced enemy occupation that leads to a space war right over your head.

Every story needs its monster. <error> And the monster is me.

AIDAN

One thing that kept pulling me into this serious is the presence of the mad/mad genius AI supercomputer, AIDAN. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with this thing (entity?). Is it that AIDAN has no conscience? Or is that he has more conscience than a computer should have, and therefore creates chaos? Read the books and you decide. But one thing is sure, AIDAN is the catalyst for most of the action in all three books. And if action is what you like in your reading (along with questionable moral decisions and awkward computer romance), then this is the series for you.

I’m sad that it ends with Obsidio, but I feel that this book wrapped everything up nicely – no pretty bows or shiny paper here, but a solid ending that puts a bold period where the previous two books left question marks. I’m satisfied after this series, and that’s not something that I get to say a lot when reviewing other books in a series. The Illuminae Files does not disappoint.


Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Kaufman Website

Kristoff Blog


A Head Full of Ghosts

⇒My October Spooky Reads book #4 is A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. What do you do when you’re literally living with your deepest fear?⇐

by Paul Tremblay
SmellRating3.5
(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published June 2, 2015, by William Morrow

Genre: Fiction / Horror / Thriller

Format: Paperback

Pages: 284

#AHeadFullofGhosts

A Head Full of Ghosts…being literally and figuratively haunted by outside forces, is almost as horrible as what actually happened. Almost.

October Spooky Reads month continues, and I’m getting exasperated! I AM NOT BEING SCARED! Ok, ok, so maybe my book picks are at fault because I chose to read primarily from physical books that were already on my shelves instead of lining up some truly, awesomely frightening books from the library. BUT!…. some of these have held the promise of “scary” without quite delivering.

A Head Full of Ghosts for example. I mean, come on! It’s right there in the title! Ghosts. In a Head. Gotta be horrifying, right? Meh, only marginally so.

…there are all these ghosts filling my head and I’m just trying to get them out…

Here is Goodreads’ synopsis:

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show, and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

Are you good at keeping secrets, Merry?

The story is told from 8-year-old Merry’s perspective, so we get the innocence and gullibility of youth combined with her faith that her big sister and best friend would only always protect her. With a sister like Marjorie though, that’s blind faith indeed.

Marjorie is fourteen. And we all know how heinous some teenagers can be. Sure, blame it on imbalanced hormones and the awkward state of trying to “find oneself”, but Marjorie had some help with her misplaced aggression and angst: a psychotic break.

Here we tread on thin ice – do we pity her because mental health issues are gravely serious and people suffering from them should be treated not only with medicine but with respect and dignity? Or do we make Marjorie the monster because, hey, she’s “crazy” and this is a fictional book? You decide because I couldn’t.

I mean, this chick was definitely certifiable, but it seemed that her family was too in many ways. They definitely didn’t help her situation. So many different turns could have been taken that weren’t. It feels more like they were all in on it together, so their story really ended in the only way it could have.

What if you expelled the person’s real spirit and only the demon’s spirit was there to take its place?

Gripes: (in my whiny voice) I wanted it to be scarier! I wanted a real horror book. I read psych thrillers a lot, and that is what this book felt like to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad book – and there are some genuinely creepy moments. However, I found myself looking for more of those moments instead of being interested in the rest of the story.

Were these the most irresponsible parents on the planet? I’m thinking yes. Right now, I’m sitting here trying to dredge up one redeeming value about either of them… I got nothing.

And was that supposed to be a twist at the end? Hmmm… no spoilers, but I think what was supposed to pass as astounding information in the final two chapters just felt like a given. Still interesting, but predictable.

… I’m wicked smart, because I have to fill my head with something other than the ghosts.

A Head Full of Ghosts left me wanting more horror, but it was still a creepy book that had me questioning on several occasions whether or not there was really more to Marjorie’s mental health issues than what we’d rationally surmise. Could there have possibly been ghosts? In her head? Extremely willful and manipulative ghosts?  And how does that line up with the scientific definition of what psychosis is understood to be?

In the 1800s, Marjorie would have probably been burned at the stake instead of given her own reality show (19th-century folk didn’t play around with demons or witches), but that age is long gone; the spectacle is now more important than the cure. It’s sad. And that’s how this book makes me feel. Sad, instead of pleasantly scared and jittery like I wanted to be.

But that’s not quite right either. Maybe I really feel horrified, but in a completely different way than I intended.


About the Author

Image result for paul tremblayPAUL TREMBLAY

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Paul G. Tremblay is an American author and editor of contemporary horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction. He is also a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards.

(Bio from Google)


 

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