Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

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

Mini-Review Compilation #15

Your Tarot Court

This felt more like a reference book than something you would take in front-to-back, but I enjoyed it and will definitely look back at it in the future. I enjoyed the various exercises provided as well as the wealth of information provided about the tarot court. The author also does a pretty good job at removing gender from the equation and speaking about each card more as a general archetype than anything else. I found it informative and would definitely recommend to those who partake in tarot.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Delay, Don’t Deny

This is a really helpful primer if you’re interested in intermittent fasting (IF). It mainly discusses using it for weight loss reasons, but does talk about other benefits as well. What I really liked was how Gin emphasized that this is actually a lifestyle change; any weight loss or benefits you experience WILL go away if you revert back to old habits completely. I liked that there wasn’t any of this magic bullet BS a lot of other people will try to peddle. She also explained the biology behind how it all works and provided extensive sources, referring readers to other books so that she could give a summary without bogging this book down with technical details. I’m still a little skeptical of some aspects, but am definitely interested in trying it out and learning more!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ancillary Justice

I wish I had more to say about this, but it unfortunately didn’t leave too much of an impression on me. Aspects of it were certainly interesting. The implication of AI having free will, and being intelligent and independent enough to pass as human beings was intriguing to consider. The mundanity of gender. A few other things that I can’t delve into without getting into spoiler territory. The issue mainly being that this is such a slow burn, making it feel unnecessarily long at parts. I found myself getting confused relatively easily at some points and just didn’t feel like whatever I got out of the book heavily outweighed the work I was putting into it. Still, I do find it intriguing and would like to see where the series goes so I plan to continue.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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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

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

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
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #14

Praise Song for the Butterflies

This is a difficult book to review; it feels wrong to give it a number and talk about it as “good” or “not good.” The story follows the life of a girl named Abeo, who is born into a relatively privileged West African family. After bad luck befalls them, Abeo is brought to a shrine and is left in ritual servitude. Praise Song for the Butterflies is quite simplistically written, but its matter-of-fact tone makes the horrors within all the more appalling. Unfortunately, it also holds the characters at arms length and makes it difficult to empathize with them on anything more than an artificial level. While the story is important and eye-opening I didn’t find it to be a meaningful literary experience. I’d recommend it to anyone interested, if you can stomach the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

An American Marriage
[spoilers below]

I’ve struggled for days to write this review. An American Marriage is well-written and engaging and while I appreciate what Tayari Jones did with this book, I just felt so frustrated reading it. Roy, the husband in the couple at the center of the story, treats his wife Celestial like little more than property and at one point even tells her he could rape her if he wanted to. I felt like he was irredeemably awful at times to the point where I wanted to put down the book and not pick it up again. I wish I had loved this more and it certainly wasn’t bad, but it also isn’t something that I see sticking with me.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Lovely and the Lost
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.

I blew through this book, which I requested from NetGalley on a whim. It follows a girl named Kira who trains search and rescue dogs with her adoptive family. Kira herself has a mysterious past that slowly comes further to light as the story progresses. While there were a couple of moments that seemed a little overdramatic and pulled me out of the story, I found this to be wildly compelling otherwise. The characters were all distinct in their own ways and I loved seeing their relationships play out on the page. The plot kept me interested, and I didn’t predict the twist at the end. Overall a really good read, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ work.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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The Witch of Willow Hall [review]

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
Published by Graydon House on October 2, 2018
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.79 (as of 2018-12-17)
cw: familial death, incest, suicide, miscarriage, child death
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

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821 

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Sometimes I feel as if we are standing on opposite sides of a great chasm, and I must watch helplessly as the gaping space between us widens.

→ What I Liked:

The Romance

I enjoyed the connection between the main character, Lydia, and her love interest. Their interactions were by far my favorite to read and the romance was really what kept me going through this. I really wanted to know how things came together (or didn’t) for the two of them.

The Readability

While it took some time to gain my interest, this took on an unputdownable quality for me. It really turned into quite the page turner and I read the entire second half of the book in one sitting.

→ What I Didn’t Like:

The Characters

Besides Lydia and, to some extent, her love interest, there wasn’t much depth among the characters. They all felt quite one-dimensional and were defined by one or two qualities that didn’t really change. I also hated the way the older sister Catherine was written — she was a stereotypical catty teenage girl whose only purpose was to cause strife. I’ve been over characterizations like these for a while now.

The Lack of Subtlety

I was literally rolling my eyes at the beginning of this with how hard it was hitting me over the head with the witch stuff. There were plenty of “hints” about Lydia’s true nature, but they were so blatant that they may as well have been screaming off the page. It really drew from the story itself for me.

The Ending

There was so much stuffed into this ending that it felt very rushed to me. A lot of it just felt so very… convenient. And the focus was so much on the romance and so little on the witchcraft that I was left dissatisfied and with very many questions. I want a sequel to learn more about Lydia’s abilities and family history, but felt like the way this ended didn’t leave much room for that.

→ TL;DR:

  • Romance was enjoyable
  • Page-turner
  • Side characters needed work
  • Lots of eyerolls
  • Ending was way too busy
  • Would recommend, but think of this more as a YA romance with paranormal elements than a fantasy or horror with romance on the side
  • Will pick up Hester Fox’s next book
Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #10

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The Woman in Black
cw: child death

At that moment I began to doubt my own reality.

This was my first Susan Hill read and I can say that I’m now very excited to explore some of her other works. I don’t read a lot of gothic horror, but this definitely worked for me and I’d like to wade a little further into the genre. The writing conveyed such a strong atmosphere and I found myself really swept up in everything. It was definitely spooky, but didn’t outright scare me, which is a nice happy medium. I thought the characters were well-done, although we only spend time with a few of them. My only complaint was that the ending felt rushed and a little abrupt.

Buddy read with Sarah!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

33099585

River of Teeth (River of Teeth #1)

I had high hopes for this one, but it just didn’t really do anything for me. The characters were good, but the story felt rushed and I didn’t get very invested in it.

Rating:⭐⭐.5

Sadie_FINAL cover image

Sadie
cw: pedophilia, CSA, abuse, drug addiction
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.

Every little thing about you can be a weapon, if you’re clever enough.

It seems like nearly everyone has been talking about Sadie lately. Intriguingly, pieces of it felt like they tied pretty closely to The Female of the Species, which I read directly beforehand. The formatting is what was most interesting about it. Half of the book is a podcast — where I’d imagine the audiobook version would have come in very handy — and the other half is from Sadie’s perspective directly. In this way, things that we could never necessarily know from one perspective are revealed to us through the other. While this method could be flawed in the wrong hands, Courtney Summers is able to carefully craft a chilling masterpiece, slowly (but not too slowly) revealing the full story to her readers.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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(All covers courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Dangerous Girls [review]

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Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
Published by Simon Pulse on May 6, 2014 (originally 2013)
my rating: ⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg:
4.12 (as of 2018-09-26)

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Spring break. Aruba. Swimming, sunshine, and drinks. Lots of drinks.

It’s supposed to be the best time of Anna’s life. Perfect.

But then Anna’s best friend is found brutally murdered.

And as the local police begin to investigate the gruesome crime, suspicion and evidence unfathomably point to one person—Anna.

Now trapped in a country not her own, Anna must fight for her freedom and prove her innocence. But as she awaits the judge’s decision, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but dangerous.

Very dangerous.

And when the truth finally comes out, it’s more shocking than anyone could have ever imagined…

Oh, do I have some conflicted feelings about this book. Spoilers abound. I read this as the last book in the postal book club I joined last year. I honestly wasn’t expecting much going into it. It seemed like a typical YA thriller and I thought it could be a fun read. On the plus side, I was correct about the latter part. I blew through this fairly quickly, and the story is super easy to get pulled into. The dialogue was a little awkward and left something to be desired, but otherwise there wasn’t much wrong with the writing itself.

The premise of the book is pretty simple: a bunch of high school kids are on vacation and one of them is brutally murdered. There’s a lot of jumping around between timepoints, which I found to be a little confusing and not super well-done. We go between the history of the MC and the murdered girl, the vacation itself, and the aftermath. But it’s confusing because it jumps around different parts of the aftermath as well, so sometimes it’s hard to know where exactly you are.

Parts of the story really got to me. It’s implied that there’s some sort of sexual tension between the girls and it makes me feel really uncomfortable for reasons I’m having trouble fully describing. I was absolutely livid at the plot twist. This is not how you write an unreliable narrator. We are given absolutely no reason not to believe everything the MC is thinking and saying. That’s the problem. We’re inside her head and she seems completely normal and then at the end — surprise! We find out she’s a sociopath and has been lying the whole time. I hate plot twists and characterizations with no support, and this is the epitome of that. A twist just doesn’t feel satisfying if the book hasn’t actually been building up to it.

Okay, that rant may make it sound like I completely hated the book, but I didn’t. Like I said, it was a fun read and I honestly couldn’t put it down. I just really wish the ending had gone differently or had been supported by the rest of the book. I think this would be good for someone who wants a mindless YA thriller, but I wouldn’t recommend expecting a lot out of it.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Bad Man [review]

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Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach
Published by Doubleday on August 7, 2018
my rating: ⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg:
3.38 (as of 2018-09-17)
cw: child abduction, abuse, fat-shaming, racism/slurs
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

Reddit horror sensation Dathan Auerbach delivers a devilishly dark novel about a young boy who goes missing, and the brother who won’t stop looking for him.

Eric disappeared when he was three years old. Ben looked away for only a second at the grocery store, but that was all it took. His brother was gone. Vanished right into the sticky air of the Florida Panhandle. 

They say you’ve got only a couple days to find a missing person. Forty-eight hours to conduct searches, knock on doors, and talk to witnesses. Two days to tear the world apart if there’s any chance of putting yours back together. That’s your window.

That window closed five years ago, leaving Ben’s life in ruins. He still looks for his brother. Still searches, while his stepmother sits and waits and whispers for Eric, refusing to leave the house that Ben’s father can no longer afford. Now twenty and desperate for work, Ben takes a night stock job at the only place that will have him: the store that blinked Eric out of existence.

Ben can feel that there’s something wrong there. With the people. With his boss. With the graffitied baler that shudders and moans and beckons. There’s something wrong with the air itself. He knows he’s in the right place now. That the store has much to tell him. So he keeps searching. Keeps looking for his baby brother, while missing the most important message of all. 

That he should have stopped looking.

I’ve been leaning into a lot of spooky reads recently and was very excited at the concept of reading a novel written by someone who was so well-known on r/NoSleep. I was a little worried about someone who was used to shorter fiction writing a novel (not that I know much about Dathan’s writing history besides the blurb on Goodreads). Unfortunately, I do think that the length got the best of him in this one.

The start of the book was nothing short of incredible. The more I read, the more I forgot how strongly it had started, so I’m grateful to past me for making note of that. Dathan is clearly a master of crafting atmospheric environments and did a wonderful job of setting up the story. I almost missed by stop on the train and at one point, while reading on my lunch break, I got spooked by someone walking by my desk in broad daylight.

It began to lose me around the 50% mark. I felt like the story was dragging and I didn’t really feel invested in seeing what would happen next. In fact, I’m not sure I would’ve finished the book if it weren’t an ARC that I felt obligated to read and review. Most of the characters other than Ben, the MC, felt really flat and I had no idea what was going on with the plot. There were also these weird inserts between chapters that, while they made sense in the end, didn’t accomplish much except for pulling me out of the story to roll my eyes.

Ben is also fat and there’s a lot of negative, unchallenged fat-shaming (both from Ben himself and others) that doesn’t feel like it has much of a purpose. Part of Ben’s weight is explained by his disability (a permanent leg injury), but it’s hard to tell whether the author is intentionally fat-shaming or is examining internalized fatphobia. Regardless, as I said, it’s not challenged at any point and may be difficult for readers who find that type of content to be triggering.

I will say that the book picks back up and I tore through the last 25% of it, frantic to know what was going on. I wasn’t quite satisfied by the end, but I think it was pretty well-done. It is absolutely horrific and did send chills through me, because it hits on something that freaks me out a lot personally. There were some things that definitely could have been tidied up, but nothing major.

Overall, it was an ok read. I’m right on the fence between “liked it” and “didn’t like it” and am probably gonna stay there. I think I would’ve liked it a lot more if the middle had been trimmed up and if the author had been able to maintain throughout the atmosphere he conjured at both the beginning and the end. If you think this is going to be your thing, I say go for it, but I’m also not anticipating putting this on any recommendation lists.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Rust & Stardust [review]

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Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood
Published by St. Martin’s Press on August 7, 2018
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg:
4.25 (as of 2018-08-21)
cw: kidnapping, rape, CSA, abuse, suicide
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

Camden, NJ, 1948.

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. 

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

It’s a shame I read this one so soon after Eden, because the two handle similar subjects in such different ways and I think Rust & Stardust ended up killed by comparison. Whereas Eden handles mainly the aftermath of a kidnapping, including the lifelong implications of trauma, Rust & Stardust follows the kidnapping itself and examines how it impacts everyone in the main character’s social circles. Where Eden is entirely fictional, Rust & Stardust is loosely based on a true story, something I actually didn’t realize until the end.

The book had such a strong start that I was certain it would be a five-star read. I found Sally’s naivety irritating yet realistic and thought the compounding issues in her life (her mother’s chronic illness and the suicide of her step-father) brought an interesting complexity to things. I thought the story itself was compelling and was interested to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, this only lasted until somewhere around the 50% mark. What followed felt like a lot of monotony; I think I really became tired of the constant abuse. While it was interesting to see the relationships that Sally built as she and Frank traveled, I struggled to stay immersed and was waiting for the story to move on.

Gasoline, gasoline, gasoline.

I also found the ending abrupt and unsatisfying. Reading the author’s comments after and finding out that this was the ending to the real-life Sally’s story helped me understand that a little better, but I think things could have been fitted together in a more cohesive way. I guess that’s the problem with true stories, though — they don’t always make sense.

While this seems like a good read for lovers of true crime and/or historical fiction, it just didn’t strike a chord for me. I’m glad to see that others have liked it, though, and think that speaks to T. Greenwood’s strength as a writer. I also want to warn that it has a lot of triggering content in it, and that all of the items mentioned in the content warning are covered in pretty great detail on page.

Her arms were as long as her legs, and she used them to embrace the whole damn damaged world.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Art of Escaping [review]

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The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan
To be published by Amberjack Publishing on June 19, 2018
320 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 
4.25 (as of 03/11/2018)
cw: statutory rape, ableism, homophobic slurs, alcoholism, depression

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC Provided by the Publisher via NetGalley

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Seventeen-year-old Mattie is hiding her obsession with Harry Houdini and Dorothy Dietrich from everyone, including her best friend Stella. When Stella takes off to boarding school for the summer, all of Mattie’s anxieties bubble to the surface, leaving her feeling adrift. To distract herself, she seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist whose life and career were snuffed out by a tragic plane crash.

With Miyu’s help, Mattie secretly transforms herself into a burgeoning escapologist and performance artist. Away from the curious eyes of her peers, she thrives in her new world of lock picking, straitjackets, and aquarium escapes. But when Will, a popular varsity athlete from her high school, discovers her act at an underground venue, she fears that her double life is about to be exposed. But instead of outing her, Will tells Mattie something he’s never told anyone before and the two of them find out that not all secrets can remain secret forever.

Told through the perspectives of the witty main characters, this funny and fresh debut explores the power of stage personas and secret spaces, and speaks to the uncanny ways in which friendships transform us.

This ended up being a relatively cute contemporary read that I worked my way through pretty quickly. The writing was good, the plot itself was very original, and the characters were well-developed. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it, and I think that’s because I didn’t feel invested enough in the story itself. At no point did I feel any concern that things wouldn’t turn out okay.

Maybe I’m just too distanced from high school now, but Mattie’s problems just… didn’t feel like real problems to me. She’s training to be an escapologist — a death-defying badass — but she’s terrified that people will find out and post something mean about her on LifeScape (this world’s version of Facebook). I feel like a story that focused more around her struggling through the training itself and less around her fears of exposure would have been more compelling for me.

There were actually more things (Mattie’s training aside) that didn’t feel fully fleshed out to me. Near the beginning, Mattie randomly has a nightmare about… LifeScape. This struck me as bizarre, but what struck me as more bizarre was that these (allegedly regular) nightmares didn’t come up again. Sure, her fear of being ridiculed on LifeScape came up a few more times, but it seemed more like an afterthought than anything else. I’m hoping this ends up more fully developed or pulled altogether from the finished copy.

The implication that Mattie’s secret double life and Will’s sexuality were on a similar level of potential life-destruction also made me uncomfortable. This is touched upon, but placing them side-by-side and making Mattie’s problems the main focus really felt to me like it was inadvertently minimizing the very real issue of coming out. I don’t think this was intentional by the author at all, but that was still the impact that I personally felt.

It also really caught me off guard and really upset me that Mattie is constantly disgusted by her brother’s inability to do anything when the narrative makes it clear that he is depressed and an alcoholic. To be fair, the author did note that the final copy clears up some ableist language, but I’m not sure how thoroughly this part of the plot was changed — the implication is that Mattie thinks she can inspire her brother to pull himself together, or something? When it seems like he really needs help and everyone is just… letting him languish.

Besides that, there were a few other things that made me cringe. Mattie sleeps with her older brother’s drunken friend — but she was 16 or 17 at the time, and he was in his mid-twenties. She also has hella “not like other girl” vibes. I think it’s fine to be different and quirky, but this treads dangerously on “I’m better than other girls because I do alternative things” territory. There are a couple other things, but mentioning them would be spoilers and I’m going to avoid that for now.

Overall, it was a fun, enjoyable read, but I worry about some of the content and hope things were cleaned up for the final copy.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)