Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Her Name in the Sky [review]

Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen
Published on February 23, 2014
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.23 (as of 2019-08-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Hannah wants to spend her senior year of high school going to football games and Mardi Gras parties with her tight-knit group of friends. 

The last thing she wants is to fall in love with a girl–especially when that girl is her best friend, Baker. 

Hannah knows she should like Wally, the kind, earnest boy who asks her to prom. She should cheer on her friend Clay when he asks Baker to be his girlfriend. She should follow the rules of her conservative Louisiana community–the rules that have been ingrained in her since she was a child.

But Hannah longs to be with Baker, who cooks macaroni and cheese with Hannah late at night, who believes in the magic of books as much as Hannah does, and who challenges Hannah to be the best version of herself. 

And Baker might want to be with Hannah, too–if both girls can embrace that world-shaking, yet wondrous, possibility.

Oof, this was a tough read. As the blurb states, this is about a girl falling in love with her best friend and struggling with those feelings. What the blurb leaves out is that both girls attend Catholic school and that their faith is quite important to them, as well as the people around them. Having grown up surrounded by plenty of Catholic family members, I found this quite an interesting slant to things, but I can definitely see that making this a difficult or impossible read for some people.

She wakes, hours later, in terror. She sits straight up in bed with her heart sprinting in her chest. Her face and neck are damp with cold sweat. She sweeps the back of her hand across her forehead and remembers, with the force of a stone slinging down into her belly, that she had been dreaming about God.

I thought Kelly Quindlen did an excellent job portraying high school friendships. The kids were all goofy and raucous and constantly referencing inside jokes. Unfortunately, it was so realistic that it grated on me at times and I found it a bit over-the-top and obnoxious. But I can respect the fact that this book was certainly not written for a 27-year-old, so the things that bother me aren’t likely to bother a teenage reader. And in a way it was quite nostalgic. I’ve had friendships like those and they are something very high school. Additionally, juggling a cast of six characters is quite difficult, but Quindlen handles it well. They are all their own discrete people with different mannerisms.

She tries to ask God, but she can’t seem to find God anywhere. 

As I’ve already stated, I found the religious aspect to be quite interesting. Hannah struggles deeply with what she’s always been told about gay people contrasted with the feelings she herself is feeling. There’s a lot of potentially triggering content, as Hannah literally tries to pray the gay away. The scenes with her begging God for answers were absolutely heartbreaking and, while not really religious myself, I desperately hoped she would find a way to reconcile her faith with her sexuality. And it is really nice to see a book that seeks to find a connection between queerness and religion rather than abandoning faith entirely due to conflict. I think a lot of religious, particularly Catholic, folks in the lgbtq community will see themselves in this and appreciate it.

Sometimes I think God reacted the way he did because he was so, so anguished that Adam and Eve hated something about themselves. They didn’t realize how beautiful they were in the Garden. They didn’t realize how perfect they were in their love. When their eyes were opened—when they saw that they were naked—they felt as if they had to cover themselves. They thought what God had made was shameful and embarrassing and wrong. Can you imagine how that made God feel? How his heart must have ached to see them denying their beauty, their humanity, in front of him like that? It’s the most heartrending part of the story.

Overall, I think this is quite an important book for young adults. It offers a new path that I think a lot of stories bypass. And that’s fair, I can see why religion is hard for a lot of lgbtq people, but I can also see how it helps others. This is a tough read, but it’s also an important story of self-revelation and self-acceptance. I definitely recommend it if you think you’d find these topics interesting, or if you’re intrigued by any aspect of the premise.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

A Closed and Common Orbit [review]

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager on October 18, 2016
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.36 (as of 2019-08-15)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

After adoring The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which planted Becky Chambers firmly on my auto-read list, I decided I better read the rest of her backlist (and continue the Wayfarers series). A Closed and Common Orbit picks up right where The Long Way leaves off and while it could be read independently, I wouldn’t recommend it. The plot of this book relies heavily on the ending of its predecessor, so spoilers from the first book will be present here.

As before, my favorite part of reading this was the characters. The main character, Sidra, is the AI formerly known as Loveless, now present in a human-like body known as a kit rather than controlling a spaceship. I really liked Sidra and found her journey towards finally feeling one with her body to be quite compelling, although I’m sure it will resonate more with some than with others. Sidra goes through a lot as she struggles to integrate into a world she wasn’t necessarily meant to be in, although she has plenty of support along the way.

Pepper and her partner Blue have taken guardianship of Sidra in order to protect her and help her find her place in the world. Pepper has a soft spot in her heart for AI, for reasons we soon discover through flashbacks into her childhood. I’m a big fan of the dual timelines when done well, which I feel Chambers has done here. And Pepper is such a fun character that I was happy to get more of her — and Blue!

Again, Chambers tackles a lot of futuristic moral issues: namely, are AIs people? As one would expect, the answer is a resounding yes but I think the way she demonstrates it is quite good. She also delves more into the cultures of other alien species, which is another thing I really liked about The Long Way. I think the aliens and the societies she creates are so fascinating and I just love learning about them. Rather than an info dump, we are taught by experiencing it all through the lenses of human (or human-designed) characters, which I think gives it a more authentic feel.

Basically, I’m just totally in love with Becky Chambers’ writing and I can’t wait to read the next book in this trilogy. I’m also quite excited about her upcoming novels. If you liked The Long Way, I think you’ll also like A Closed and Common Orbit. 

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We Went to the Woods [review]

We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach
Published by Random House on July 2, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.15 (as of 2019-08-13)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Certain that society is on the verge of economic and environmental collapse, five disillusioned twenty-somethings make a bold decision: They gather in upstate New York to transform an abandoned farm, once the site of a turn-of-the-century socialist commune, into an idyllic self-sustaining compound called the Homestead.

Louisa spearheads the project, as her wealthy family owns the plot of land. Beau is the second to commit; as mysterious and sexy as he is charismatic, he torments Louisa with his nightly disappearances and his other relationships. Chloe, a dreamy musician, is naturally able to attract anyone to her–which inevitably results in conflict. Jack, the most sensible and cerebral of the group, is the only one with any practical farm experience. Mack, the last to join, believes it’s her calling to write their story–but she is not the most objective narrator, and inevitably complicates their increasingly tangled narrative. Initially exhilarated by restoring the rustic dwellings, planting a garden, and learning the secrets of fermentation, the group is soon divided by slights, intense romantic and sexual relationships, jealousies, and suspicions. And as winter settles in, their experiment begins to feel not only misguided, but deeply isolating and dangerous.

We Went to the Woods is a quietly intense novel following five not-quite-yet adults as they leave the comforts of the modern world to create a commune of sorts in upstate New York. All are there for different reasons but the narrator of the novel, Mack, is attempting to escape her infamy after a very public experiment goes awry. While the threads of a mystery are woven throughout, this is very much not a thriller; the focus is held much more deeply on the characters and their relationships and introspections than on the plot itself.

Even if most of my days felt useless, days where I came home with some cash felt like they hadn’t been entirely wasted. This depressed me, this feeling that my life mattered only as it was measured out in paper dollars.

Mack herself is quite relatable in some ways: she has fallen into this tightly knit friend group and feels more like an outsider than anything else. As readers, we are not privy to the ins and outs of the four other characters and must slowly figure them out alongside Mack. There is a strong element of voyeurism to this and it was difficult not to be torn between wanting things to settle down and wanting to watch the drama unfurling.

Could I learn to live? The clouds opened up and I let them drench me, waiting to feel something. The intensity I wanted seemed close, attainable — the chill I felt out here and the coziness I would feel inside, with them? Was that what I hoped for? The distance between two feelings?

I found the parallels drawn between past and present to be quite interesting. Mack begins researching older communities that had struck out from society at large in similar ways. It seems obvious that humanity keeps making the same mistakes rather than learning from those who came before them. Even when drawing comparisons to the Collective, another nearby commune, this much is obvious. Whilst Mack’s group has struck out alone in an effort to avoid existing groups and their mistakes, this means they simply turn around and make their own.

But action is not something that has ever come easily to me; I wait for others’ decisiveness, not choosing for myself. Never recognizing that my passivity, too, is a choice.

There is a lot to be said about the portrayal of sexuality in this novel, and I’m intrigued to see what others have gotten from it. It is clear that Mack’s draw to the others in the group is firmly rooted in the erotic tension they all share. This is something that Mack herself focuses heavily on, literally obsessed with the physical relationships between each of them. There seems to be little delineation as far as gender or sexual orientation goes and most of the focus is on “free love” though it is clear that not all of the characters enjoy participating in non-monogamy. Indeed, it’s clear that any lack of boundaries is more forced than natural, particularly as secret upon secret is slowly unearthed.

But then, how can one small group of committed individuals hope to alter a whole society bent on injustice?

As much as I enjoyed the novel, there were some aspects that I felt could have been handled better. For one, Mack’s infamy is a point of interest throughout the book that I felt was played up a bit too much. It is quite some time before the reader finds out what had happened and in my opinion, the eventual reveal was quite anticlimactic. It felt heavy-handed and clunky in the moment and I felt it could have been woven in better. Aside from that, the reason itself just confused me. Sure, what Mack did was terrible, but I was expecting something so much worse and felt let down by what had promised to be a major confession. Where Mack ends up in the end also irritated me and seemed like a throwaway, but that’s something I can’t get into without spoilers.

“That is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” Jack said, musing. “The idea that you don’t have a home inside your own head. That breaks my heart.”

Speaking of which, what an ending it was! While the tension slowly builds throughout the novel and a climax is strongly alluded to (there are a lot of “had I known what I was coming…” reflections), I was still unprepared for where it led. Again this is difficult to discuss without spoilers, but I’d compare Caite Dolan-Leach’s writing to a well-done score: it is easy not to realize how much it is impacting you until you realize you are taut with anxiety and all hell is about to break loose.

“Do you think it’s because of the pesticides?” I asked finally. “I think it’s because of the whole damn world, Wee Mack. There’s nowhere to get away from the poison.”

Anyway, yeah this is a doozy of a read. I wasn’t sure what to think of it as I progressed but I have to say that the last act really cemented things for me. I was actually racing through the pages and dreaded the idea of not finishing before I would have to put it down. There’s much more to think about than what I touched on here, and even what I discussed could be analyzed at great length. I’m really interested in seeing what others have gotten out of this, and definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a slower, more intense read.

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Amatka [review]

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
Published by Vintage on June 27, 2017 (originally 2012)
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.80 (as of 2019-08-11)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.

In Karin Tidbeck’s world, everyone is suspect, no one is safe, and nothing—not even language, nor the very fabric of reality—can be taken for granted. Amatka is a beguiling and wholly original novel about freedom, love, and artistic creation by a captivating new voice.

Amatka is quite creative as far as dystopian novels go. The world we’re dropped into is a strange place where everything must be labeled and referred to with its proper name (CHAIR, TABLE, etc.) or else it turns into a pile of goo. Language is vital for keeping the world together here. Our main character, Vanja, has traveled to the city of Amatka for a research project assigned to her by her employer. As is typical in most dystopian novels, things are not quite as they appear and some deep secrets are uncovered.

I had a lot of mixed feelings about some aspects of the novel. As is indicated in the blurb, Vanja falls in love with her housemate Nina. Interestingly, absolutely no ado is made about this and it’s clear that same-sex relationships are treated just as any others. The issue really is that there is no clear reason for Vanja and Nina’s relationship. We don’t see much besides lust develop between the two and while it’s obvious Vanja’s former life left much to be desired, it seemed bizarre of her to drop everything to stay. I will say Vanja’s relationships with others are similar: they exist only for the sake of the plot and don’t develop much otherwise.

The pace of the plot was quite good, as was the way things were gradually revealed. The reader is forced to pick apart clues along with Vanja and watch as she must decide whether it’s more important to fit in or to discover the truth. As is typical in this genre, things build slowly but steadily until they reach a frantic climax that is impossible to look away from. I had some mixed feelings about the ending itself, which I can’t discuss without touching on spoilers. I’ll just say that I didn’t love the way things were left and found the last bit of the novel to be a bit too frantic to take in easily.

Overall, though, this was a really neat book that I’m glad I picked up. I had no idea what to expect going in and I’m not sure how it even ended up on my TBR but I’m glad it did. I’ll probably be picking up some more of Karin Tidbeck’s works to see what else she’s been able to come up with.

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Truth or Beard [review]

Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers #1) by Penny Reid
Published by Cipher-Naught on July 21, 2015
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2019-08-04)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life. 

His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…

But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order.

Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?

This was the first book I read out of the Hilariously Ever After collection, which I snagged while it was free on Amazon. I’ve been in such a bad slump recently and decided some romance might help me through. And boy, was I right! I devoured Truth or Beard in one lengthy sitting, finishing sometime around 2:30am with no regrets.

I’ll get the things I didn’t like out of the way first, because there were a few. The first is probably the most minor and it’s the writing style. I literally almost DNFed on the second page because I couldn’t stand how it was written, but I persevered and ended up adjusting to it very quickly. There were still a few moments where I was thrown out of the story by the writing, but for the most part it wasn’t too bad.

There were also quite a few moments of questionable consent, which really rubbed me the wrong way. First and foremost is a scene where Jess thinks she’s getting hot and heavy with one twin when it turns out to be another. But throughout the whole book, Jess keeps physically accosting Duane even when he is definitely not giving enthusiastic consent — and she’s noticing that he’s not! I know that this kind of portrayal is common in romance novels, but I just couldn’t help but feel really icky every time it came up.

Thirdly was the slut-shaming leveled at Jess’ cousin Tina, who is a stripper and groupie for the local biker gang. One line about her was literally “I couldn’t talk to her about anything, because she didn’t know about anything other than townie gossip, biker gossip, how to work a pole, and how to spread her legs.” Loove the air-headed slut trope, thanks /sarcasm. On a related note, the last thing that I didn’t like was everything involving the biker gang. I agree with Destiny that it actually subtracted from the plot, and that I ended up skimming a lot of those interactions.

But, there was still plenty to like! The characters were all super well-fleshed out. There were plenty of funny lines to laugh at, too. Duane’s relationships with his brothers basically made the whole book for me. I adored them all so much and am actually quite excited to continue the series so I can get some more time with them. The chemistry between Duane and Jess, while perhaps overemphasized, was legit as well.

While it looks like there’s a lot more to dislike than to like, I really found this to be quite a fun read. If you’re looking for some easy-to-read romance, this is definitely a good candidate. I’m hoping some of the issues I had are remedied in the rest of the series, and I’ll definitely be trying them out.

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Wilder Girls [review]

Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Published by Delacorte Press on July 9, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.87 (as of 2019-07-28)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

A feminist Lord of the Flies about three best friends living in quarantine at their island boarding school, and the lengths they go to uncover the truth of their confinement when one disappears. This fresh, new debut is a mind-bending novel unlike anything you’ve read before.

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Wilder Girls thrusts you into the midst of an epidemic unlike any you will have encountered before. The story is centered around a group of three friends who have all fallen prey to the Tox, which has overtaken their boarding school as well as the island it sits upon. Many lives have been claimed by the Tox, both students and teachers alike. The girls have become quite accustomed to the situation, and seem to have accepted their fates.

Part of what I adored was how original the Tox was. I think we’ve seen plenty of sci-fi stories focusing on diseases, but Wilder Girls took this to a whole other level. We aren’t fed much info about the plague, which makes it feel quite mysterious, but its result is a whole lot of body horror that plays out differently in each girl. And believe me when I say it is a LOT of body horror. This book is really not for the faint of heart.

At first I had a bit of trouble discerning the differences between the characters themselves. It took me quite a bit to become attached to them and their relationships. The three girls at the center of the book kind of blurred together in my mind until about a third through. Luckily, I felt this issue was resolved and came to love them all in their own ways.

Also, believe the hype when it comes to how queer this book is. Hetty, one of the POV characters, is bi/pan/queer (she mentions liking both boys and girls, but no label) and Reese, another one of the characters, self-identifies as queer. Byatt, the third in the trio, doesn’t have her sexuality mentioned at all as far as I remember. There is a f/f romance that is not the focus of the story at all, but was very cute and did add a lot!

Overall, I think this was just a lovely sapphic YA horror novel that gave off some serious Annihilation vibes. If any of that sounds interesting to you, you’ll probably adore it. While I’d love a sequel (or a spinoff?), I do think the ending left things tied up quite nicely. I’m impressed by this debut novel and am quite excited to see what Rory Power puts out next!

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Evicted [review]

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Published by Crown on March 1, 2016
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.48 (as of 2019-06-23)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In this brilliant,heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Y’all know that meme that’s like “Uh, hey guys? Just found out about [bad thing everyone has been aware of for quite some time]. Yikes!” Anyway, that’s how I feel about landlords after reading this book. A lot of the people in my leftist circles have been damning landlords for quite some time now and while I didn’t love the fact that they profit off of the ubiquitous need for shelter, I just didn’t quite get how they were worse than any other staple of capitalism. Now I know.

It was easy to go on about helping “the poor.” Helping a poor person with a name, a face, a history, and many needs, a person whose mistakes and lapses of judgment you have recorded — that was a more trying matter.

Evicted follows two landlords in Milwaukee — Sherrena, who owns many properties in the inner city, and Tobin, who owns a trailer park — as well as several of their tenants. It does so gracefully, interweaving life experiences with research and statistics in a way that makes sense and enhances one’s understanding of the topics at hand. Most notable is the cycle of eviction and how impossible it seems to climb out of. There are so many factors at play but Desmond is able to explain them all without losing the reader.

Part of the reason why this works is the narrative format; with concrete real-life examples it is much easier to become invested in wanting to know how the system functions. Marrying the bare facts with personal histories turns a series of numbers into an infuriating and heart-wrenching reading experience. And believe me, you will be infuriated. The entire time I was reading this book, I found myself discussing it with family and friends. Learning the details of the housing system, I was deeply disturbed. I realized more fully how privileged I’ve been to live the way I’ve lived.

When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens.

While it’s easy to place accountability the landlords, making six figures and taking tropical vacations while throwing tenants out onto the streets, the blame is spread more widely than that. Although don’t get me wrong, they do deserve to shoulder plenty of it. They will intentionally refuse to maintain properties of poorer residents, particularly those who owe money. If a resident who owes calls a building inspector, the landlord will often evict them for the trouble — technically illegal, but not if the landlord cites the missing rent as the reason for the eviction. They will charge tenants using housing vouchers well above market value. Technically, the tenant doesn’t pay extra out of pocket, but an estimated 588 additional families in Milwaukee could be housed using the surplus money the landlords are charging.

One particular practice I hadn’t been aware of was nuisance property ordinances, in which the police departments can penalize landlords for their tenants’ behavior — meaning that the more the police are called to a specific property, the more likely they are to fine the landlord. Of course, this practice can have dire consequences for domestic violence victims. Instead of being supported, a battered woman is evicted as a “nuisance.” This leads women to remain silent about their abuse even more often, which could in turn lead to their deaths. Additionally, nuisance property ordinances aren’t fairly enforced. In Milwaukee, citations were given to eligible properties in primarily black neighborhoods at over twice the rate they were given in primarily white neighborhoods. Through this, the police have a direct hand in forcing more black residents to be evicted than white residents.

But those solutions depend on how we answer a single question: do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be an American?

All that barely scratches the surface of what Desmond has to share. This really is quite an engrossing read, and really educational. I’d like to put some work into researching tenancy laws and practices in my area, both to know my own rights and to lobby for necessary change. My only complaint is that Desmond doesn’t leave us much in the way of solutions, but I suppose that could fill an entire second book. He also notes that solutions will likely vary region to region and city to city, so the local context counts for a lot. Overall, I really cannot recommend this book enough. It is quite eye-opening and quite important and I’m so, so glad that I read it.

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When You Find My Body [review]

When You Find My Body by D. Dauphinee
Published by Down East Books on June 1, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.05 (as of 2019-06-16)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

When Geraldine “Gerry” Largay (AT trail name, Inchworm) first went missing on the Appalachian Trail in remote western Maine in 2013, the people of Maine were wrought with concern. When she was not found, the family, the wardens, and the Navy personnel who searched for her were devastated. The Maine Warden Service continued to follow leads for more than a year. They never completely gave up the search. Two years after her disappearance, her bones and scattered possessions were found by chance by two surveyors. She was on the U.S. Navy’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) School land, about 2,100 feet from the Appalachian Trail.

This book tells the story of events preceding Geraldine Largay’s vanishing in July 2013, while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine, what caused her to go astray, and the massive search and rescue operation that followed. Her disappearance sparked the largest lost-person search in Maine history, which culminated in her being presumed dead. She was never again seen alive. The author was one of the hundreds of volunteers who searched for her. Gerry’s story is one of heartbreak, most assuredly, but is also one of perseverance, determination, and faith. For her family and the searchers, especially the Maine Warden Service, it is also a story of grave sorrow.Marrying the joys and hardship of life in the outdoors, as well as exploring the search & rescue community, When You Find My Body examines dying with grace and dignity. There are lessons in the story, both large and small. Lessons that may well save lives in the future.

When You Find My Body is a nonfiction account of the last months of Gerry Largay’s life. Gerry went missing on the Appalachian Trail in 2013, her remains found approximately two years later. The book spans from the time Gerry spent preparing to hike the trail through the aftermath of her final campsite being found. Dauphinee interviews some of Gerry’s trail friends as well as wardens who were involved in her search. He examines every aspect of her hike in the interest of providing as many answers as possible to readers.

While it’s obvious that Dauphinee is a good writer, he is not without his faults. Most notably, I found myself distracted by his unnecessarily gendered writing. He talked about “farm boys” who were “able to experience the exotic and beautiful unshaved, makeupless women”; how he has “seen men in kilts, which is always okay, but [has] also seen men in skirts”; and in one sentence is able to discuss how some people lose skin and toenails, but describes women as dealing with “feminine issues” instead of using the dreaded word “menstruation.” While clearly not intended to be harmful, I still found myself rolling my eyes and frustrated by it all nonetheless.

While the novel is relatively short, I’d argue it could have been cut down more. There is a lot of repetition, mostly when it comes to discussing Gerry’s life and her impact on those she knew. While I understand the point Dauphinee was trying to make, that she was a beloved woman who would be deeply missed by many, he hammered it in incessantly. There is also an abundance of information about how the AT originated and while some of it made sense to include, I also just didn’t find myself very interested in most of it.

Finally, I just had to wonder whether Gerry’s family gave her blessing for this book to be written. I felt uncomfortable reading this and not knowing whether anyone, her husband George in particular, had given the okay for what were potentially the hardest days of their lives to be laid out on display like this. Portions of Gerry’s diary (already made public) were shared, as well as email newsletters she had written for friends and family. It made me squirm to think there was a possibility that I was privy to something I shouldn’t be reading. I wish Dauphinee had been upfront about this.

Criticisms aside, it’s a good book. I enjoyed reading it, as much as someone can enjoy reading about a tragedy like this. It was clear Dauphinee did his research and reached out to as many different people as possible, and his writing really pulls you in. I’ll probably be recommending this to nonfiction lovers and hiker buffs.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Vanishing Season [review]

The Vanishing Season (The Collector #4) by Dot Hutchison
Published by Thomas & Mercer on May 21, 2019
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.27 (as of 2019-05-28)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Spoiler-free Review

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A recent abduction becomes an unexpected link to a decades-long spree of unspeakable crimes.

Eight-year-old Brooklyn Mercer has gone missing. And as accustomed as FBI agents Eliza Sterling and Brandon Eddison are to such harrowing cases, this one has struck a nerve. It marks the anniversary of the disappearance of Eddison’s own little sister. Disturbing, too, is the girl’s resemblance to Eliza – so uncanny they could be mother and daughter. 

With Eddison’s unsettled past rising again with rage and pain, Eliza is determined to solve this case at any cost. But the closer she looks, the more reluctant she is to divulge to her increasingly shaken partner what she finds. Brooklyn isn’t the only girl of her exact description to go missing. She’s just the latest in a frightening pattern going back decades in cities throughout the entire country. 

In a race against time, Eliza’s determined to bring Brooklyn home and somehow find the link to the cold case that has haunted Eddison – and the entire Crimes Against Children team – since its inception.

First and foremost, I need to give my thanks to Rachel who has been with me for every step of this journey (I also reread her review of The Summer Children and realized it said everything I was trying to say below, but better). By which I mean she has put up with my endless livetexting of this godforsaken novel and my incredulity whilst reading it. Which comes across as rude, but I’m not sure I would have made it through without someone to vent to.

While writing negative reviews can be freeing in a way, I’ve been dreading writing this one. I absolutely adored Dot Hutchison’s first novel in this series. The Butterfly Garden was everything I wanted in a thriller, and I was absolutely blown away by it. I could not put it down! Shortly thereafter I read The Roses of May and while my review was glowing, my star rating slowly dropped the more thought I gave to it. The Summer Children peaked in quality a bit more, but the depth of focus given to the agents’ relationships, which many had critiqued in The Roses of May, finally began to irk me. The Vanishing Season takes it to a whole other level.

The problem with these books is that they force you to completely suspend your disbelief regarding professionalism and appropriate workplace behavior. There’s a time and a place for cutesy stuff like this, but FBI agents actively working a case ain’t it. It’s to the point where I hesitate to call this a thriller, or a mystery. While the last two books at least had some sense of danger and urgency, The Vanishing Season is honestly nothing but fanservice. The tonal shift is enough to give you whiplash.

I’m not saying that books need to mirror reality perfectly and most thrillers do require you to suspend your disbelief a bit, but it would take some serious mental gymnastics to think that a law enforcement team could actually function like this without crashing and burning, or at least getting a serious talking-to from an internal affairs department. I lost track of all the things I could not believe were happening. Agent cuddle parties. They all live next to each other! Always joking about the boy being outnumbered by LOL GIRLS (realistic but annoying). Her boss kisses her on the CHEEK? Literally everyone talks about the MC looking like an 8-year-old girl constantly and I’m seriously done with women being infantilized.

Aside from that, the excess of unnecessary detail was… overwhelming. I wish I had highlighted examples as I came across them because there were so many. In instances where a sentence or two would have conveyed a process just fine, a full page is used instead. There was so much infodumping that I just didn’t understand, and it came across as the epitome of telling instead of showing.

It sucks because between all the stuff I didn’t like, there was so much promise. The crime of the week could have been so much more interesting had it been expanded on, but it became more of a background to everyone’s personal problems. There was a really interesting exploration of realizing one had been abused that would have hit so much harder if it hadn’t been crammed together with a dozen other things. I feel like this book just tried to do everything at once and ended up shooting itself in the foot because of it. It’s a bummer because we all know Dot Hutchison is an incredible writer; The Butterfly Garden was kind of a masterpiece imo. The rest of the series was just an entirely different kind of writing.

So, unfortunately this really wasn’t for me and I can’t say I recommend it in its current state — I can only hope that some additional edits were made between the ARC and the finished copy. I guess if you’re obsessed with the characters and want to see them spend all their time goofing around or having Serious Emotional Moments together, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for an actual thriller/mystery, keep looking.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Silence of the Girls [review]

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Published by Doubleday Books on September 4, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.88 (as of 2019-05-22)
Spoiler-free Review

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The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.

I didn’t feel like anything that might have a name.

I had quite high hopes for The Silence of the Girls, which unfortunately just weren’t met. The best way to describe my reading experience is resounding apathy. Feeling apathetic whilst reading about a woman taken into slavery during war seems wrong, but here we are. I’d attribute this to a few things: the fact that I hadn’t read The Iliad before, the standoffish way I felt the story was narrated, and the fact that the POVs were not limited to Briseis, or even only to women.

I mentioned my lukewarm reading experience to Rachel, who noted that she wasn’t sure how much this book would hold for someone who wasn’t very familiar with The Iliad. While I knew bits and pieces of the story, my knowledge was really limited to its portrayal in The Song of Achilles as well as whatever I had picked up through osmosis throughout my life. As such, this was less of a retelling for me and more, well, a telling. On its own, I’m not sure the story stands as well as it would if I had more of a background with its greater context.

So we spent the nights curled up like spiders at the centre of our webs. Only we weren’t the spiders; we were the flies.

Briseis herself is quite terse throughout her narration. While she slips into emotional points, I found myself feeling untouched for most of the book. I’m certain others may disagree with me here, and I definitely think that this is quite a subjective opinion on my part. And I understand how this can be demonstrative of what she’s gone through — trauma can make or break us, and it’s clear that the Trojan women must put up walls in order to make it through the war without breaking entirely. I just wish I could’ve seen this in a way that didn’t make me feel distant from her as well.

Lastly, I was really drawn to this story as giving a voice to women traditionally silenced. So much of the focus of history is on the heroism of men and very little is on the women who they have been supported by, or who they trod on. And yet more than once the point of view is handed to Achilles, the very man who is actively oppressing Briseis. Whatever reason this may have been for, I didn’t feel that it enhanced the story for me. Quite the opposite, the first time it happened I felt jerked out of whatever immersion I was experiencing and had to reread a bit to ensure it was really happening. Each time thereafter it felt out of place and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like had the book kept its focus on Briseis, or at least stuck to the perspectives of the women.

Now he can see what he’s been trying to do: to bargain with grief. Behind all this frenetic activity there’s been the hope that if he keeps his promises there’ll be no more pain. But he’s beginning to understand that grief doesn’t strike bargains.

Criticisms aside, I can see why others enjoyed this. I can certainly see why it was included on the Women’s Prize shortlist. I wish that my experience with it had been better, but alas. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I do recommend trying it out if it seems to interest you. Particularly if you have more of a history with Greek mythology than I do! Hopefully my next pick off the Women’s Prize list treats me a bit better.

More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
The Silence of the Girls

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