The Orphan Witch Review

Book: The Orphan Witch
Author: Paige Crutcher
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Year: 2021
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Abandoned as an infant, Persephone May has been alone her entire life. Uneqxplainable things happen when she’s around – changes in weather, inanimate objects taking flight – and those who seek to bring her into their family quickly cast her out. To cope, she never gets attached, never makes friends, never dates, and is always leaving one town for another.
Persephone things perhaps she was made…wrong. Maybe she’s cursed.
Invited by the one friend she’s managed to keep, Persephone finds herself on the elusive Isle of Wile – a place that may hold the very things she’s been searching for her entire life: family, sisterhood, and a sense of belonging. But will a 100-year-old curse force her to sacrifice her life for the ones she now calls home or will her lineage remain lost forever? Magic always exacts its price.”

Review: I’m not going to lie, after my last somewhat witchy ARC, I was a little hesitant to get my hopes up for The Orphan Witch, in fairness I’ve had a lot of not-so-great advanced copies this year and my hopes have been rather crushed. I’m happy to say, though, that Crutcher has restored my faith in ARCs with her beautiful debut novel. The Orphan Witch is dripping with imagery in all the right ways, it feels like drinking a cup of hot tea with honey: warm and refreshing and decadent.
That’s not to say there aren’t some rough patches that I expect with an ARC – places where a word has been left out or the story doesn’t quite add up but it’s nothing that a final revision won’t take care of and I have no worries that the finalized copy will be anything less than magical.
Crutcher weaves a beautiful story of family and friendship, interwoven with fantasy and stunning mystical realms that makes you want to find your way to Wile Isle as quickly as possible so you can see the thick fog rolling in through the trees, plant your bare feet in the greener than green grass, and maybe buy some baked goods from the locals who are cursed to remain on the Isle for half of the year. I’m ready to pack my bags and go! Persephone is a relatable character, despite clearly having magical powers and isolation issues. Her new-found friends turned family are welcoming characters to read and you immediately begin to picture exactly who they are, what they look like, how they interact with each other without being explicitly told any of those points – which in my estimation is what makes a good book great.
Crutcher, in her bio, mentions that she’s a yoga lover and it’s easy to pick that up throughout the book as she throws little yoga philosophies in here and there almost with a wink and a nod to the yoga-loving reader. She mentions crystals and actually gets their meanings and colors correct, as I’ve found are often misconstrued in fiction, and has her characters drinking hot tea on a regular basis which served to make me want to drink hot tea as I read through the book. The Orphan Witch is well crafted, well researched, well written, and well edited which feels like a feat sometimes, to be frank. The pacing flows well, the conversations feel real, and the overall feel of the book is warm and inviting. I can’t wait to read what she comes out with next!

Advice: Mark this one on your calendar, you’re going to want to pick up a copy as soon as it comes out September of 2021. Reading this one felt like watching Practical Magic – there’s something comforting about it that you turn to when you’re not feeling well or just need a boost of happiness and enchantment. I highly recommend this one!

True Raiders Review

Book: True Raiders
Author: Brad Ricca
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Year: 2021
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “True Raiders is The Lost City of Z meets The Da Vinci Code. This books tells the untold true story of Many Parker, a British rogue nobleman who, after being dared to do so by Ava Astor, the so-called “most beautiful woman in the world,” headed to a secret 1909 expedition to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant. Like a real-life version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, this incredible story of adventure and mystery has almost been completely forgotten today.
in 1908, Monty is approached by a strange Finnish scholar named Valter Juvelius who claims to have discovered a secret code in the Bible that reveals the location of the Ark. Many assembles a ragtag group of blue blood adventurers, a renowned psychic, and a Franciscan father, to engage in a secret excavation just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
Using recently uncovered records from the original expedition and several newly translated sources, Raiders is the first retelling of this group’s adventures – in the space between fact and faith, science and romance.”

Review: You really don’t have to twist my arm very hard to get me to read a book about a real life expedition to uncover the Ark of the Covenant. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark enough as a kid to have a genuine fascination in the adventurer-archeologist who sets off for undiscovered locations in historic lands. I had, as you can guess, high hopes for True Raiders, most of which were dashed upon the rocks of the poorly described Palestinian desert as I began to read.
I’m not sure what Ricca’s aversion to pronouns is, but the majority of the book spoke without them. Ricca uses each character’s name over and over and over ad nauseam, which was particularly glaring as I read this book aloud to my husband and found myself necessarily changing names to he or him or his constantly. The conversations were written in such a halting and stilted manor that it made reading them out loud nearly impossible, which seems to miss the point of a conversation – it should be capable of being read aloud. Each chapter followed a different character, which I quite enjoyed as we got a well-rounded telling of the story, clearly each being told from, mostly, real-time written accounts. There was a great deal of repetitive storytelling, however, in some cases entire passages were copy and pasted from one section to another, and spoke to the poor writing of this book.
I know that ARCs are often unfinished, unpolished writings, but never have I ever received such a clearly unfinished book in my life as True Raiders. Words were repeated, misspelled, or completely omitted, littering the book with typos and errors that at times made entire sections of the book nearly unreadable. I’m not sure why you would send out an advanced copy so early in the game unless perhaps it had yet to be edited, and again…why would you send that out?
The story itself was fascinating, though read like a textbook more often than not and felt as though it lacked any soul. The cypher used by Dr. Juvelius was incredibly interesting and I wish, truly, that we’d spent more time with him and his theories than with nearly any other character from the book. As a reader, we learn a great deal about the biblical history of the land they’re searching and I found that that be the best part of the entire excavation story – the idea that Moses’ grave may contain yet additional treasure, or that the Ark may be literally suspended within an underground cave system designed by Hezekiah, or that any number of unknown biblical and historical treasures may exist still in undiscovered places draws me in and makes me want to know so much more.
We learn near the end of the book that a family member of Monty Parker lends previously unseen written accounts of this expedition to Ricca and I couldn’t help but feel terribly sorry for the Parker family at how butchered this story ended up being. What a disappointment it must be to have a family story told so poorly. I wanted so badly to love this book, to feel satisfied with the writing style and quality, but I can’t pretend that I do. It’s disappointing through and through.

Advice: I hesitate to tell you not to read this book if the idea of a real-life search for the Ark of the Covenant sparks your interest, but I have to warn you that this book does not conclude with any kind of resolution and it’s written in such a way that you may never find your way to the end. I want to tell you it’s going to be exciting and pull you along for the journey, but that was not how I found it. Perhaps you should do your own research on this expedition or maybe you should just rewatch Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Retreat Review

Book: The Retreat
Author: Elisabeth De Mariaff
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Year: 2021
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Maeve arrives at the High Water Center for the Arts determined to do one thing: begin her own dance company. A retired performer and mother of two, time is running out for her to find her feet again after the collapse of a disastrous – and violent – marriage. And initially, there’s a thrill to being on her own for the first time in years, isolated int he beauty of a snowy mountain lodge. But when an avalanche traps the guests inside, tensions begin to run high. Help is coming, so the just have to hold on – right?
But as the days pass, strange deaths befall the others one by one. Soon Maeve must face how little she knows about anyone there…and how useless a locked door is if the darkness is already inside.”

Review: I was pleasantly surprised to find in my hands a thriller that didn’t fall into the same old drunk female narrator / unreliable female narrator trope. For once. De Mariaff successfully creates a story that genuinely thrilled me, kept me guessing, and found me on the edge of my seat which seems like a feat these days in the realm of thrillers. We find Maeve, the narrator, high in the Rocky Mountains at a nearly empty ski lodge as a blizzard moves in and blankets the entire town, effectively cutting the lodge off from the rest of the world. Phone lines are down, the electricity goes out, save for a generator at the lodge, and the threat of grizzly bears in the wilderness reigns supreme.
We get just enough background information on Maeve to know that she’s resilient, strong, and fierce – a protectress of anything she holds dear. Her fellow occupants of the lodge are mostly unknown, though they do eventually end up spending a bit of time together as the heat slowly escapes from their rooms and the occupants are forced to spend days and nights together in the main room of the lodge. We begin to realize all is not as it seems with her fellow artists and strange happenings start to occur. While the end doesn’t exactly present itself as a plot twist, we do spend much of the book wondering and guessing who the killer could be, and in my opinion that’s exactly how a thriller should be. There is little to know actual investigating that happens, though, the book is primarily comprised of survival, including the end.
The finale of the book left a bit to be desired, as it wrapped up with mere pages left. A trend I’ve noticed in the world of thrillers is a long and slow buildup to the climax and a brief conclusion that leaves you wondering why you just read 300-something pages for a single page ending. The Retreat was no different. We find ourselves at the end of the book with perhaps two pages left as Maeve finds the killer and wraps up the climax action and the books ends with essentially no conclusion. It’s up to the reader to decide whether Maeve truly survives in the end or not and personally, I don’t love that in a book. I can appreciate certain details being left hanging for a reader to wrap up in their own way, but I just did all the work of watching Maeve fight for survival, I’d at least like an epilogue that let’s me know she actually did get out after all.

Advice: This book should come with some content warnings as it does deal heavily with domestic violence and birth trauma, so if those themes are sensitive for you to read, this is likely not going to be the right book for you. If you love a thriller, a locked room riddle, or a good-old-fashioned ski lodge mystery, I think you’ll enjoy The Retreat.

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 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.

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.

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.


Abandon Me Review

Book: Abandon Me
Author: Melissa Febos
Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA
Year: 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Hailed by the New Yorker, Marie Claire, and Guernica for its “sheer fearlessness,” “ruthless honesty,” and “deep reserves of empathy,” Melissa Febos’s dazzling collection, Abandon Me, captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection with family, lovers, and oneself. With it “she has emerged as one of our most creative and most unflinching memoirists, essayists, and teachers” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
In these linked essays, Febos tries to reconnect with her birth father and finds that an instinct for self-erasure binds them as surely as their blood. She remains closely tied to the loving sea captain who raised her, absent for months at a time. The hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance affair with a woman marks her exploration of the worship and withdrawal that haunt her love life. Woven throughout is her insatiable hunger for self-knowledge, the difficult kind, and the powerful conviction that universal truths begin there. Abandon Me is at once a courageously vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity.”

Review: Melissa Febos delivers a series of essays that weave her present with her past into a web of self understanding. She opens her wounds wide for the reader to fully experience, laying herself bare upon the pages of her memoirs.
On abandonment, she writes: “I want the people I love to do not as I would or have done, but whatever will keep them safe (…) There is a sorrow in me deeper than the regret of any cruelty for the fact of this: none of us could have protected each other. We could not even have protected ourselves.” (78).
On the early stages of love: “Love is so often a wish to have our wants seen and met, without having to ask” & “It is not easy to be seen, no matter how we crave it. It is not easy to look hard at the ones we love. It is always a little gruesome, as love is: full of contradictions and impossible promises” (103, 106).
On self discovery: “My stories are containers into which I pour myself and the indigestible parts of my experience (…) Once filled, they carry more of us than our lovers can bear, than we can. And sometimes they carry us away” (127).
On soured love: “I sat for hours in therapy sessions, searching for my feelings. I wanted to “get in touch with them.” I thought that when I finally found them it would be like a reunion with a childhood friend – emotional, surely, but also sweet – a reward for all my hard work. I did not think that I was leaving messages for a serial killer. I did not think that my feelings, receiving my invitation, would arrive on my doorstep like a cabal of madwomen and refuse to leave. I though that the host of the party decided when it ended and her guests went home. But feelings have terrible manners – they are like children, or drunks. They are mad. They gorge as the starved will gorge, until they are sick, until their stomach split (…) They do not leave when you want them to. They leave when they are finished” (213).
On her native heritage: “How could I ever know my own motives? The Pilgrims believed God had cleared a path, that the pestilence delivered by other whites was a path the Lord had cleared for them. They called it “The Miraculous Plague”. The natives called it “The Great Dying”” (287).
And on baring your soul to the page: “If you want to write about something, I tell them, you have to look at it. You have to look long enough that your own reflection fades” (292).

Abandon Me is complex and heartbreaking. It meets you in your own space and shows you pieces of your own self through lyrical essays that flow like water. Febos writes with metaphor, comparing the sun to a cup that has spilled onto the table, her emotions to a melon cracked upon the concrete, and her emptiness as a pit that cannot be filled. She invites the reader into her stories, allowing an intimate look at her darkest parts.

My Advice : This book is a must read. It is one of the most well written contemporary books I have read and will stick with me for a long time. It is deep and thoughtful; something to chew on. The book’s first fifteen pages are filled with glowing reviews and it is well deserved.



The Westing Game Review

Book: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1978
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger — and a possible murderer — to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing the game!”

Review: I found The Westing Game on the clearance shelf of my local Half Price Books store for $1. The book is in near perfect condition with the exception of a final page that has come lose and threatens to spoil the ending for the next unsuspecting reader. All of these things made my heart beat faster: I had found a childhood favorite I’d long since forgotten about.
The Westing Game is a young adult book, though when I read it I was about 8 years old so young adult could be a bit of a stretch there. It centers around 6 families who have received anonymous invitations to tour and rent Sunset Towers, a luxury apartment complex with a view of the Westing estate – a mansion with an owner who disappeared years before in the wake of a tragic car crash that left his friend crippled and battered Westing. Not long after the 6 families have moved into Sunset Towers, they are summoned to a reading of the will of Mr. Sam Westing, having each been named as his living heirs following the discovery of his dead body within the Westing mansion. As a man who loved games of all sorts, Westing chose to give his guests clues that must be unscrambled to solve the mystery of his death and discover the alleged murderer or murderess. The winner will receive Westing’s vast fortune: $2 million. What follows is a fun, imaginative Clue type murder mystery complete with explosions, deaths, and secret identities.

My Advice: As a kid, I read this book with great interest, marveling at the clues as they played out and attempting to solve the mystery before it was revealed at the finale. I read it again a few years later, again trying to work out the answer to a puzzling book I love but couldn’t unravel. As an adult, it has been over a decade since I last read The Westing Game and I had no recollection of the result. Reading it again, I found myself once again racing to solve the mystery before the end, only this time I finally solved it..well, mostly.
What I found was a book that moves quickly, keeps the reader captivated, and stuns with a surprise ending and more than a few twists and turns along the way. If you have any interest in children’s lit or young adult lit, I’d suggest going to your nearest library and checking this one out for a light read. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprise.

The Girls Review

Book: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Year: 2016
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, teenager Evie Boyd sees a group of girls in the park and is immediately struck by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. The group’s sprawling ranch is eerie and run-down, but to Evie it is exotic, thrilling, charged – a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.”

Review: I picked up The Girls because of the hype that had surrounded the book upon it’s release. Cline’s first novel was being read by everyone and being reviewed in publications like the New York Times and NPR; the cover art is simplistic but catchy and inviting, it nearly jumped off the shelf at me. I read the synopsis and against my better judgement decided to give the book a try.
Let me explain.
The year is 2019. We have a white man for president. “Literary geniuses” are more often than not white men. White men dominate the news. In an effort to combat this, I have chosen to read only works from authors who are not white men. I picked up a book by a white woman, Emma Cline, hoping to read a fresh take on an old story. What I was bombarded with, instead, was a stale story about a white man who has been romanticized beyond exhaustion.
How many times have you seen a “new and exciting!” documentary about Charles Manson and the Manson girls? Did you watch John McNamara’s Aquarius when it debuted in 2015? Or perhaps you have noted the movie featured on Netflix “Manson Family Vacation” (again, 2015 release) or the newer documentary “Truth and Lies: The Mason Family” (2018) on Hulu. There is a trend, a fascination, a morbid desire to pick these horrific events apart piece by piece and imagine what could have led people to act the way they did.
Cline writes of a man, Russel, who has a strange hold over the people in his sphere. He speaks of love and a world without race and has seemingly deep and meaningful connections with every girl who lives with and follows him. And as every Manson story goes, if you read just a tiny bit further and delve just a little bit deeper the facade peels away and you’re left with the scum and filth underneath; a sexual predator and young girls who are so lost that they blindly follow the words of their supposed savior.
My hopes for Cline’s novel were less than high, admittedly, but I did wonder if she would perhaps refresh this fascination with Manson and rather than simply retell the story with new names attached would create her own world with new ideas and figures.

My Advice: Perhaps you haven’t seen Charles Manson’s face in the news, a swastika tattooed on his forehead and scraggly hair sprouting from his scalp. Maybe you haven’t watched any of the numerous Manson documentaries, movies, or tv shows that have picked apart the events of the Manson family so such degree that there is nothing left to scavenge. If this is the case, my advise to you is go to your local used book store and pick up a copy for $7.
If, however, this is not the case and you have indeed been privy to this sick obsession with a sexual predator who had no motive beyond his own selfish desires, there are plenty of other books out there that would be better suited for you. And if you still feel like you are missing out, watch Aquarius. It’s the same story.