Spells Trouble Review

Book: Spells Trouble
Author: PC Cast and Kristin Cast
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Year: 2021
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Hunter and Mercy Goode are twin witches, direct descendants of the founder of their town of Goodeville. As their ancestors have done before them, it is now time for the twins to learn what it means to be Gatekeepers – the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds, ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and nightmares come to life.
When their mother becomes the first victim in a string of murders, the devastated sisters vow to avenge her death. But it will take more than magic to rein in the ancient mythological monsters who’ve infected their peaceful town.
Now Hunter and Mercy must come together and accept their destiny or risk being separated for good.

Review: Spells Trouble is, in a word, disappointing. I was so excited to get an ARC that came as a package – it delivered with a notebook, candles, a crystal, a map of the town of Goodeville, and the book. How cute is that? That was likely the best part of the entire experience reading this book. I can appreciate the thought that went into the ARC package, especially when most ARCs come alone and I feel lucky to get a piece of paper with a few more details in the envelope when I receive them. But, if you’re going to put this much thought and effort into the ARC package, surely there was room for more thought and effort in the execution of the book. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read through, how this ever got past an editor. There were plot holes, to say the least, the character development was flat and stale, the conversation was laughable, and there were so many instances where it felt impossible to follow what was happening that it’s almost a wonder I managed to finish the book at all.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept is compelling especially in the realm of YA fiction, but this should have been a first draft. It would have made for an awesome first draft! The execution is poor. There’s an instance where a character’s outfit changes mid chapter, mid scene – after having made a point of mentioning their dress just paragraphs earlier, suddenly we find this character wiping her hands on her jeans. The writing feels…off. There’s mention of someone’s jean skirt but it’s written multiple times as a ‘jeans skirt’. My partner suggested that this could be a regional thing, but Spells Trouble is set in Illinois and I’ve lived in that part of the country, it’s not regional. It’s poor writing. I can only assume we learn Hunter’s best friend, Jax, has the last name of Ashley at the beginning of the book (I don’t remember reading that, it’s entirely possible I did and it didn’t stick), because somewhere around 3/4 of the way through the book he’s referred to as Ashley with zero explanation and it’s never mentioned again. Poor writing.

I also want to talk about how overdone and tired the Salem witch trial genealogy trope is. Surely we can come up with better examples? The witch trials of Salem were such a small part of American history, let alone world wide history. Witch trials happened all over the world and yet we almost exclusively find fiction related to Salem. A teensy bit more research could have made this a more compelling read. I’m so sick of seeing books, tv shows, and movies that focus completely on Salem and disregard other places in which hundreds of people were accused, convicted, and killed for witchcraft. For a city who convicted 20 people of witchcraft, it’s hard to see why it continues to hold the spotlight during a portion of history in which some 12,000 people were convicted. And yet, here we are again.

There are a few steamier scenes for a YA novel, so I would put this more in the arena of a high school read, but the writing reflects more of a middle school / elementary school read. There are graphic scenes of violence that I would not recommend for anyone under high school age or anyone who might be sensitive to things of that nature as well, but again, the writing reflects a much younger audience. Like I said, poor writing, and I’ll add poor editing to boot. There are so many things about this book that frustrate me. My frustration largely resides with the potential this book had. It could have been so good, it could have been done so much better, it should have been edited so much better, but it’s mediocre at best. I struggled between giving this a 2 and a 2.5 but ultimately I landed on a 2 because It wasn’t good enough to hit a 50% in my book. I can’t say it enough, it felt like a first draft. I know ARCs are often incomplete, still lacking a final touch of editing, but this goes so far beyond a final touch. This book requires several more rounds of writing, editing, and rewriting. Sigh.

Advice: Steer clear of this one. It’s genuinely not worth it and that’s about all I have to say on that.

The Other Black Girl Review

Book : The Other Black Girl
Author : Zakiya Dalila Harris
Publisher : Atria Books
Year : 2021
Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Nella Rogers is an ambitious young Black woman trying to make her mark at the legendary Wagner Books. Needless to say, she is thrilled when Hazel joins the team and is eager for the friendship she assumes will be just around the corner, easy, and immediate. but when a moment of support goes horribly wrong (in a very public way), Nella retreats and finds herself watching and questioning Hazel’s every move. Urgent, propulsive, brilliant, and hilarious, The Other Black Girl is a psychological masterpiece, where micro aggressions and gaslighting turn a company’s “civilized” atmosphere into a slowly unraveling horror.”

Review : The Other Black Girl was a slow burning, psychologically thrilling, completely haunting novel. I’m torn, generally, between love and hate for a book who jumps between characters; it’s either done well or it’s not, there’s very little middle ground. Harris nearly-perfectly executes this technique (nearly, hence the .5 rating) throughout the entirety of the novel but lost me briefly at the end with a chapter that was not entitled and left me trying to guess who the character was supposed to be – probably the point of the chapter, but ultimately it felt disjointed. Aside from the minor disjointedness from the final chapter, the rest of the book read easily and enjoyably. Finally, a thriller that doesn’t follow the same, old, stale routine. It’s a miracle.
I loved the pacing of this book. It’s not clear it’s even entering into the world of thrillers and horror until you’re well into it, setting the stage for a deeply personal encounter. All of the build up had a point, it all lead to a conclusion that was surprisingly twisty, and I never once felt like there was story just for the sake of filling pages. I’m grateful when I find a book that engages details that further the plot rather than a book I come away from wondering why I read half of what I read.
Harris leaves us wanting more as she wraps the book up and for that I’m both frustrated and glad. I wish there was more! I still have questions and there are characters I was hoping to hear more from, but it doesn’t feel empty or come across as incomplete. It reads like a good book should: realistically (as much as can be expected from a thriller / horror novel). Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t always want a book to tie up a story into a neat little bow, they read as stilted and unlikely. Harris proves that you can have an unlikely story without creating a book that feels unlikely.

Advice : If you like thrillers, psychological movies, or an unexpected ending, you’ll love The Other Black Girl. It is a truly well written novel that will suck you in and keep you coming back for more. I highly recommend this book!

I Don’t Forgive You Review

Book : I Don’t Forgive You
Author : Aggie Blum Thompson
Publisher : Forge
Year : 2021
Rating : 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “An accomplished photographer and the devoted mom of an adorable little boy, Allie Ross has just moved to an upscale D.C. suburb, the kind of place where parenting feels like a competitive sport. Allie’s desperate to make a good first impression. Then she’s framed for murder.
It all starts at a neighborhood party when a local dad corners Allie and calls her by an old, forgotten nickname from her dark past. The next day, he is found dead.
Soon, the police are knocking at her door, grilling her about a supposed Tinder relationship with the man, and pulling up texts between them. She learns quickly that she’s been hacked and someone is impersonating her online. Her reputation – socially and professionally – is at stake, even her husband starts to doubt her. As the killer closes in, Allie must reach back into a past she vowed to forget in order to learn the shocking truth of who is destroying her life.”

Review : I Don’t Forgive You employs tired tropes that seem to be plaguing the suspense / thriller book world. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Without any effort whatsoever, I can think of five recent thriller books that have the exact same plot – woman has a dark past, woman is too stubborn to share dark past with anyone in her life, woman drinks heavily and is considered unreliable by everyone in her life, woman is accused of crime, woman refuses to do anything to clear her name of crime, and finally, when the book is 99.5% complete, the truth comes out and within a page and a half the book is over. Throw in some blatant spousal gaslighting, police incompetence, a bumbling main character who somehow has no idea how the internet works, and you have yourself the outline of a brand new! never before seen! thriller novel!
Allie Ross is supposed to be somewhere around 35 with a slightly older husband, I’m guessing he’s older by 4 or maybe 5 years. At one point, when he asks her how to pay for an Uber, she rolls her eyes and calls him “such a gen-xer” and yet, when Allie’s home computer (not laptop, somehow) is taken from her house by the police, she wonders to herself how in the world she’ll pay her bills – all of which she pays online. She wonders this to herself as she holds her cell phone. But the epiphany doesn’t come in the form of her phone, it comes when she realizes they’ve left behind her laptop. We’re supposed to believe this woman in her mid 30s has zero concept of computer hacking, trolling, or that fake accounts using your name and likeness is something that happens on a regular basis. She bumbles her way through google searches, contacts Facebook and Tinder like they’re real people she expects to have conversations with, and ultimately acts like she’s never seen this new fangled thing called the internet before. As a woman who’s just a few years shy of Allie, I find this to be exceedingly unbelievable.
Laughable, even.
Can you tell I wasn’t impressed? I’m sick and tired of the “woman with a dark past who cannot open up to anyone in her life including her husband/boyfriend/family and in doing so ultimately makes things much worse for herself” trope. I’m even more sick and tired of the “woman drinks moderately but everyone in her life believes she’s an alcoholic because she has three glasses of wine occasionally and therefore becomes unreliable” trope. Surely in the year 2021 we could come up with more impactful plot lines for a thriller. Perhaps I’m asking too much.
I do not find solace in the online reviews for this book. On GoodReads, I Don’t Forgive You is rated 4.4/5 and on Amazon it’s called “a terrific page turner” both of which I profoundly disagree with.

Advice : I have little to say other than don’t waste your time or your money. If a thriller is what you’re looking for, you could walk into your nearest bookstore, go to the thriller section, close your eyes, choose a book at random, and you’d likely find yourself reading a book with the exact same plot.

The Anatomy of Desire Review

Book: The Anatomy of Desire
Author: L.R. Dorn
Publisher: William Morrow
Year: 2021
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis :
Cleo Ray : I taped this quote above my sink: “What does it matter if an influencer gains all the followers in the world only to lose her soul?”
Erin Newcomb, Chief Deputy : We were feeling sick in our hearts. Who leaves the person she’s planning to marry drowned in a lake and takes off?
Alana Belknap, Defense Counsel : When a defendant changes her story – the one she told police her family, her attorneys – it’s a turning point … As in, What else hasn’t she told us?
Sandy Finch : He told me to go with my conscience. So I did. No matter what, I knew I couldn’t sell out Cleo.
Cleo Ray : Alana and Reuben wanted to go with the truth defense. They wanted me to testify and tell my story. That gave me this amazing surge of hope. The ear worm I took into court that day was “the truth shall set me free.” The truth shall set me free.

Review: The Anatomy of Desire reads in it’s entirety as episodes of a docuseries following the arrest and murder trial of fitness influencer Cleo Ray. Told from the perspective of both defense and prosecution, we read the book as a script. Initially I found the format a little hard to get into, but once I got going I really found myself immerse within the trial. We find ourselves following the story of a girl who is accused of murder, who pleads not guilty, and who subsequently loses all that she’s worked for, which amounts to a rising social media career, minor fame, and near celebrity status.
Something I found interesting in the format of this book as a docuseries is that as a reader, not only are we witnessing an actual trial regarding the moral character of Cleo Ray, we as readers are given the opportunity to determine for ourselves if she’s truly innocent or not. This isn’t told from the first person, it’s told in interview style, with Cleo defending her position both in the court room and to the interviewer, Duncan McMillan. We can choose for ourselves if she is truly a reliable narrator or not, (though I should note, she’s not actually the narrator, but she is who we hear from most). Do we believe her story? Or do we listen to the evidence presented by both sides of the aisle and form our own conclusions based on what we read?
Per the authors, The Anatomy of Desire is based on “a true crime drowning of Grace Mae Brown by her lover, Chester Gillette” – a story from 1906 which then went on to inspire a novel called An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, several movies, tv shows, radio shows, plays, musicals, and now another adaptation. While I’m not familiar with An American Tragedy or the true crime story of Grace Mae Brown, I find this to be an interesting modern day adaptation. We truly are living in the era of the social media influencer and from that we find a nuanced story that underscores what celebrity status means. From millions of instagram followers to a media circus that follows her trial, Cleo Ray embodies the polarity of social status. We understand her rise to fame and likewise have witnessed, like her own, many others who have fallen hard in the public eye.
I do appreciate that this book doesn’t necessarily zero in on or highlight the idea of cancel culture, but rather shows the humanity behind a face on a screen. It characterizes the depth of character that we often overlook when we follow strangers on social media platforms – these people are more than just what we see, there is a history, there are traumas, lives lived, and unseen experiences. Nor does this book focus singularly on social media – there’s a lot of talk about the actual crime, about motive, the legal process, details of the case, and the human element. While we find ourselves living within a world of social status and influencers, we’re also afforded the luxury of being able to peer behind the curtain and see what’s going on beneath the surface.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, like I said I initially found it a little difficult to get into with the format being the way it was, but it ended up flowing really well and following a pace that made sense both as a book and as individual docuseries episodes. I finished the book and ultimately felt that it needs to be immediately turned into a tv show and I would definitely watch it if it ever were to be. My only hitch in this whole thing is the title of the book. The docuseries itself is entitled The Three Lives of Cleo Ray and I’m not sure I see a point in naming the book differently. In fact, I don’t see a direct correlation between the title of the book and the actual story told, but I suppose that’s just a personal opinion and being an advanced reader copy it’s possible that could change, though I doubt it.

Advice: If you’re interested in true crime or a fan of true crime tv shows / docuseries, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. It isn’t graphically violent and in that regard could be much easier to read than many docuseries are to actually watch. I found this to be a quick read and one that kept me thinking after it was over, which I find to be the mark of a good book. I recommend this book if the subject matter sounds interesting to you, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Magicians Trilogy Review

Book: The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land
Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2007 – 2014
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: (from The Magicians) “Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he’s secretly fascinated with a series of children’s fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined….
The Magicians is one of the most daring and inventive works of literary fantasy in years. No one who as escaped into the worlds of Narnia and Harry Potter should miss this breathtaking return to the landscape of imagination.”

Review: To fill you in on a little background, I found The Magicians through a show on the SciFi channel appropriately named The Magicians. It was compelling, I was immediately struck by what a massive budget the show must have had, and I was completely sucked in by the quality effects and overall put-together-ness you often miss with fantasy and sci-fi shows. It wasn’t until this year, though, that I realized the show was originally a book series so without much thought I dove right in.
I’ve struggled to find ways to review this series without also reviewing the show, continuously finding ways to compare what was done in the show to what was written in the book, seeking out plot holes between the two, and being somewhat marveled by the apt characterization of each person in the show vs the book. It’s already a bit of a strange review, attempting to review a series rather than each book individually, but I found the stories blended so seamlessly, I could have been reading from one enormous book.
Despite plowing through this series in under a week, I chose to rate these books with ultimately 50% because I’ve found, particularly in more recently popular fiction, one does not have to be a great writer to turn pages. One only needs to be compelling, and Lev Grossman writes stories that are nothing if not compelling. If we look past the glaringly obvious copy-cat of The Chronicles of Narnia, we’re still confronted with an author who wields the trope of a miserable, privileged teenage boy as if it’s a blazing sword of originality. It isn’t. I remarked recently, in the show you’re presented with Quentin as a miserable, privileged boy in a way that points to the remarkably pathetic nature of his character, in the book, however, we’re supposed to believe wholeheartedly in his “nothing is ever good enough” facade. Was it meant to be written in a way that makes you want to gag slightly over how rough Quentin has it with his genius IQ that allows him access to a magical world he’s been dreaming about his whole life only to continue pining for something more (a something more that included access to every ivy league school he could possible wish for)? I doubt it. I think we’re truly meant to feel sorry for him and that’s not something I can find myself doing. Poor rich boy, with his magic and his smarts and all the doors opening for him – it hits harder when we realize that his best friend, a girl who is likely better at magic and just as smart as him, didn’t gain access to the magic world for reasons that are never fully explained in the book.
Moving on. Grossman is cavalier with his use of mental illness, he relies heavily on fat shaming, and throws around words I wouldn’t dare use as a conversational piece. Looking at the published date of 2007, I’m not entirely surprised by some of the language he uses, but it doesn’t stop Grossman from continuing to make light of horrific sexual trauma and deep depression even as his writing moves further into the 2010s. That alone is enough to knock the rating down at least two points, in my opinion. It neither adds to the story nor furthers any action, it merely serves to show how little Grossman cares for an audience that often seeks fantasy and sci-fi to escape from the realities of life; mental illness, trauma, abuse, and bullying.
Something I found hard to move past in this trilogy is the way in which Grossman sets up magic; it’s unattainable to the average person and unless you have an IQ higher than practically everyone you know, the idea that you could insert yourself into this world he’s created is implausible. He builds a world we are meant to love and wish to escape to and then holds it so high over the heads of his readers to keep them out that we couldn’t reach it if we jumped. It’s impossible to insert yourself as a reader into a world like that, and frankly isn’t that what sci-fi and fantasy are about? How can we, as readers, be expected to escape to a beautiful world of magic if it’s so far beyond our intellectual reach?
Grossman writes in such a way that I thought perhaps he was simply trying to convey how pretentious Quentin and his friends are throughout the series, but the more I progressed through the books the more I realized it isn’t Quentin and his fellow magicians who are pretentious, it’s Grossman. I found myself looking up words I absolutely never hear or read – thrown into books that read at a YA level, words that, again, don’t further the plot or move the action along; they serve merely as yet another tool to keep his readers at arms length.
Finally, as I finished the trilogy, I began to see the book devolve into a tangled mess of “probably”. I didn’t have the time, energy, or heart to go back through the entirety of the third book, but I did sift through a few of the final chapters (26-28) and found the word probably used over fifteen times – often as the start of a sentence, used both in narrative and conversation. What’s the point? I’m really not sure. Did the other two books and maybe even the remainder of the third contain more of the p-word than I realized? Probably.

Advice: These books are compelling, they really are. I found it hard to put them down, wanting to know what was going to happen next, reading quickly because the plot moved quickly. It’s an enjoyable read if you don’t think about it too much, or if you’ve watched the series and found it to be something you liked. It’s not an enjoyable read for a myriad of other reasons and I will likely not be reading anything further from Grossman in the future.

Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls Review

Book: Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls
Author: Nina Renata Aron
Publisher: Crown
Year: 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “‘The disease he has is addiction,’ Nina Renata Aron writes of her boyfriend, K. “The disease I have is loving him.” Their affair is dramatic, urgent, overwhelming – an intoxicating antidote to the long, lonely days of early motherhood. Soon after they get together, K starts using again, and years of relapses and broken promises follow. Even as his addiction deepens, she stays, confined that she is the one who can help him get sober. As a result of an adolescence marred by tragedy, Aron has always felt responsible for those suffering around her. How can she break this pattern? If she leave K, has she failed him?
Writing in prose at once unflinching and acrobatic, Aron delivers a piercing memoir that cracks open the long-feminized and overlooked phenomenon of codependency. She shifts between visceral, ferocious accounts of her affair with K – as well as her family’s own struggles with addiction – and defining moments in the history of codependency. Good Morning, Destroy of Men’s Souls is a blazing, bighearted book that illuminates and adds nuance to the messy theaters between felinity, enabling, and love.”

Review: Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls is more than a small synopsis on the back of a book, it is more than a tiny review on a website or post on social media. It is an all encompassing work, a memoir and an unfaltering look into the heart of the AA, Al-Anon, codependency, trauma, tragedy, love, and growth. Aron is at times a young Joan Didion, basking in the warmth of the California sun, radiating the innocence only a new, young life in San Fransisco can. She wraps the reader in a golden glow, enveloped in the potential of a bright future yet to be seen as she emerges, newly 18, on the west coast – having traveled from the far side of the east coast, from New York, Philly, punk shows and hometown suburbia, to find something of her own, to cast her flag upon new soil; an explorer of new lands and a conqueror of life at once. We spend ever the briefest of stays in Didion-esque Northern California before Aron returns home, called upon by her family and the addiction that grips her sister and in turn the entirety of her familial home.
Aron discusses the addiction that codependents find themselves drowning within and the difficulties this level of love, attachment, desire, maybe even lust for the ability to fix it, bring. She waxes poetic on the love she has for the possibility, the person she knows the addicts in her life could be. If only, if only, if only. She struggles; we find her neck deep in an intense and toxic relationship with an old flame, K, yet another addict (heroin, among others). This time she isn’t a budding adult, she has children and a career, a home and a car, both physical and intangible belongings which are easily broken beneath the weight of addiction. Admitting her own codependency, she swings between fury and guilt; quoting Lois Wilson, she acknowledges her own brokenness in needing to fix: “Living with me would be such an inspiration, I thought, that he would not need the balm of alcoholic.” and “Alas, for the codependent, empathy springs eternal.” (220, 218) If she were Joan in a cozy, golden California, in the midst of a lifetime of crisis and trauma she is Melissa Febos – wildly educated, wholly sunk into addiction and love, and deeply, deeply vulnerable.
Reaching into the jagged edge of a wound, Aron uses Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls to tear herself open, slashed and flayed onto the page for the reader to soak in. We are privy to her agony, the newness of motherhood, of “babylove”, of the milky smell of a newborn, and in the same breath we feel her guilt and sorrow as she struggles to hold everything together, to keep the people around her from crumbling to pieces even as she realizes they already have. She uses herself, her own story of codependence, of being a widow to a man who has not died, of her own addictions to both love and substance, to take the reader on a trip through the confoundedness of addiction trauma and enabling. Aron has written a story that rages quietly, burning through the pages as she discusses the history of AA amidst the anguish of her own life. It is heart shattering, honest, and raw.

Advice: This is not an easy book to read, as I said, it’s brutally honest as Aron speaks of addiction and love in blunt terms. However, it is an absolute must-read, a book that will change you, move you, bring you to the page to write a review. It is a deeply personal memoir that I found often challenging in reading it – I absolutely recommend this book, I will be chewing on it for days to come.

Where the Crawdads Sing Review

Book: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Publisher: Putnam
Year: 2018
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.
But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject the the beautiful and violent secrets nature keeps.”

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing came highly recommended and it was absolutely without question as to why my book club chose this title to read. It is a New York Times Bestseller, it’s a book in Reese’s book Club, and it’s been highly praised. A quick online search shows it ranks between 4.5 and 5 stars from multiple rating sources. I began reading this book truly uncertain about how I would feel – I waited until the last minute to cram it in before our bookclub meeting and never actually read the synopsis. The story begins in 1952 when Kya, the “Marsh Girl”, is six years old and jumps back and forth between the years leading up to 1969 and 1969 itself. Crawdads is Owens’ debut novel, though it is not her first publication. As a native to North Carolina herself, Owens has a unique perspective of the swampy, marshy areas along the coast, and in fact she has written several books on wildlife (though, notably not about her time in NC). The writing of Crawdads is gorgeous and striking, at no point during the novel are you lost in imagining the marsh and the amazing creatures who call it home. This, at the very least, warrants Crawdads 50% of it’s rating. However, while Owens’ writing skills are clearly well developed, her novel writing skills are not. The conversation is stilted and unbelievable – most townsfolk speaking as Owens writes: in prolific, beautiful language, describing things people would likely think rather than say. She weaves an intricate tale of murder throughout the novel, something that the entirety of the plot relies upon, yet when it comes time to reveal who the murderer really was (gasp! plot twist??) we are left with an incomplete story, a predictable ending, and a story that would absolutely never have happened. And maybe that’s my fault for hoping that a realistic book would have a realistic plot line, but I’d rather read something realistic and deeply moving than something that Nicholas Sparks himself might have written and written better.
The ending leaves the story with gaping holes and I find myself stewing over this days after having finished the book. If what the novel was aiming for was a purely romantic plot line with absolutely no need for reality, it could have and should have been written differently. If, what I suspect Owens was trying to do, the novel was written to be poignant, address prejudices, and introduce the reader to the amazing wildlife and human life that reside within a marsh, it should have absolutely taken about three different turns and concluded in a much different manner. But what I’m left with is disappointment and frustration that I spent $25 on a hardcover copy of what ultimately turned out to be a Nicholas Sparks book in disguise and for that I would have passed it up.

Advice: If you are interested in a slow moving and deeply unrealistic love story, first of all, no judgement. Secondly, this is the book for you. It is a gorgeous book with amazing tales of wildlife and a truly remarkable coming-of-age story that turns on its head and becomes a sappy love story at the end. I can admit that this is not at all my style but is the style of many a summer book reader. If you are not looking to think deeply about the plot or the potential holes in it, definitely pick this book up. Again, I can’t say enough about the gorgeous imagery Crawdads provides, it is striking and compels you to continue reading without putting the book down. It’s a 50/50 for me, some good with a lot of, in my opinion, bad.

Five Midnights Review

Book: Five Midnights
Author: Ann Dávila Cardinal
Publisher: Tor Teen
Year: 2019
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.
If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping through Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there — murderer, or monster?”

Review: Five Midnights is the forthcoming debut YA novel from Dávila Cardinal, a Puerto Rican who currently lives in Vermont. What Dávila Cardinal has created is a riveting story of a 16-year-old girl, Lupe, coming of age while visiting a country she has allegiance to, being half Puerto Rican by descent. Over the backdrop of a YA fantasy novel, Lupe struggles with her own heritage as a half Puerto Rican, half Irish girl hailing from the mainland United States (Dávila Cardinal’s own Vermont) who doesn’t feel that either location is quite “home”. As she struggles with the idea of being light skinned and light haired, a trait she inherited from a mother who left several years ago, she tries to move into her role as a Puerto Rican but finds to her dismay that she is identified as “other” to native Puerto Ricans.
Dávila Cardinal’s novel is an engrossing tale of cultural heritage, Island myths, and young teenage love. Lupe, spending the summer in PR with her extended family, shares a love for true crime with her Tío who happens to be the local police chief. When she arrives on the island she quickly finds her way into the middle of his investigation into the strange deaths of two young men who died on the eve of their 18th birthdays. The following story is quick moving, enjoyable, and peppered with just enough mythology to spark interest without overwhelming the story with fantastic beasts or creatures.
As someone who has a vague knowledge of the Spanish language, I found this book to be fun to read as it’s filled with Puerto Rican jargon and often challenged my understanding of the context in which it was written. The dialogue is quick and believable, the characters are relatable, and while the story errs on the fantasy side, it is grounded in reality. I had a hard time putting the book down and ended up plowing through it in just under 48 hours – the mark of a quality novel.

My Advice: Do you enjoy the YA genre? If you said yes, this is the book for you. It’s a quick read, perfect for summer with a release date in early June of 2019, and it introduces the reader to an interesting Latin American myth that proves just spooky enough without giving nightmares. Other reviews call this novel “unputdownable” (Paul Tremblay) and they’re correct. It’s a great dive back into YA fiction and with the personal and profession knowledge possessed by Dávila Cardinal being both Puerto Rican and VCFA’s leader of a Puerto Rican residency, it reads with an air of authenticity that can’t be beat.

Daisy Jones & The Six Review

Book: Daisy Jones & the Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year: 2019
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
“Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ‘n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.
Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camilla finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.
Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.
The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Review: Daisy Jones & The Six received a tremendous amount of fanfare preceding it’s release in March of 2019. It was read, reviewed, and adored long before it was available to buy; nearly every book reviewer I follow read the book and was singing its praises. Naturally, I was excited to pick it up, expecting a wild ride through rock and roll, drugs, and the culture of the seventies. I was sorely mistaken. DJ&TS is a kiddie ride by comparison, though Reid does discuss prolific drug use and there is some mention of sex, the details are left out and what the reader finds is a watered down story you could find on VHS’ Behind the Music. The style of the book is told as an interview, each band member giving their thoughts on the time, looking back from some fifty or sixty years later. While this style of writing is interesting and different, it requires interview subjects who have a strong grasp of the details and events as they unfolded. These former rockers talk about night after night of partying, allude to hard drugs, and mention doing lines before shows – none of which give me the impression that they would be capable of rehashing the minutiae, and yet I have come away from the book with a full and complete story. Somehow.
Reid puts a singular emphasis on foreshadowing throughout the book, leading the reader to an explosive climax, or so it seemed. The build up was hundreds of pages long, being alluded to early on and continuously referenced throughout the interviews, but when the eventual fallout occurred it was quiet, quick, and expected. In this same style, Reid turns the end of the transcript into a second “reveal”, giving the reader the details of who had been performing the interview throughout the story – here’s a spoiler: it adds absolutely nothing to the book or it’s plot.
DJ&TS is finished with a predictable rom-com ending that I saw coming from nearly the first chapter of the book. It is cheesy and it trivializes the deep connection Billy and his wife Camilla had for their entire adult lives. It takes a woman who sacrificed everything for her husband to go on tour and become one of the most famous musicians of the time, and turns her into a backdrop and a consolation prize.

My Advice: If you are looking for a book with any sort of female empowerment or feminist message, this is not the book for you. It is lacking, it is weak, and it is a massive disappointment. If you like the idea of a one note story, pun not intended, and a terribly written rom-com then this is absolutely your book. Reid calls Barbara Streisand her primary influence for Daisy’s style and after looking at pictures of young Babs online, I can say with confidence that not only was she the influence, Daisy’s style was an exact rip off of her look. It’s been done. Don’t waste your money, turn on any band interview and you’ll have the gist.


Amateur Review

Book: Amateur
Author: Thomas Page McBee
Publisher: Scribner
Year: 2018
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis : “Amateur follows the author, a trans man, as he trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence. Through his experience boxing — learning to get hit and to hit back, wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym, confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body — McBee examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes, and the limitations of conventional manhood. Interrogating masculinity as emotional landscape and cultural positioning, he binds his experience to a free-ranging examination of the ways in which men fail and are failed by our society.
At once a deeply reported narrative and an intensely personal journey, Amateur is ultimately a story of hope, as McBee traces a new way forward, a new way of being a man, in the ring and outside of it.”

Review: Thomas Page McBee’s Amateur is at once a study of masculinity within the boxing ring and a deeply moving study of gender in and out of the context of boxing. McBee struggles with the concept of manhood and embarks on this boxing journey to further understand his role in the world as a man. Sharing a unique perspective on toxic masculinity, McBee provides the reader with a deep understanding of the paradoxical world in which he lives; having once lived as a female and now living as a male in a time where men are viewed often as aggressive and dangerous, he finds himself fearful and apologetic.

Not only does McBee have a new realm of existence to explore, he discusses the implications of being a “real man” whose male role model growing up was his stepfather, a man under whom he experienced decades of sexual abuse. In exploring this relationship, McBee discusses the impact this understanding has on his siblings as they become parents themselves.

Delving into the world of boxing, McBee explores masculinity in terms of love, connection, emotions, and touch. He grapples with the loss of his mother, with understanding how to interact with the women in his life, and the perception the world holds of him both as a passing male and as an out trans man. We watch as McBee falls and grows, learning how to find himself, rather than the identity he seeks based on his gender.

My Advice: If you have any interest in reading memoirs, snag this book immediately. If you have any interest in gender roles, snag this book immediately. If you have any interest in boxing, snag this book immediately.