There are two things I carry with me from Jenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess.) The first is the importance of perspective and picking your battles, and in my more recent history, a realization I came to about wishes.
The perspective thing is what changed how I see wishes.
At the end of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny is sitting with her sister talking about how they give up their wishes for their kids – when they blow out the candles on their birthday cake, they wish things for their children. The first time I read the book, that seemed like a great idea, and something I’d likely do if/when I have children. The thing is, I read that book a year ago and there hasn’t been an occasion, even an incidental one, that I made a wish. Yes, I had a birthday and blew out candles but it was kind of a crazy birthday this year and I didn’t actually make a wish because of performance anxiety, even inside my own head.
Today when I was moving the clocks an hour forward (*shakes fist angrily at daylight savings time*), I happened to look at my phone at 11:11. I like wishing on 11:11 – it’s the most random thing you can encounter that it has been arbitrarily decided you can make a wish on. The first wish that came to me was an impossible wish. It wasn’t even a hope or a dream, it was straight up the kind of wish you shouldn’t make because it hurts you just making it because of the sheer impossibility.
I wished my friend was alive.
I’m not saying that I would do or give anything for her to be alive again; I don’t think she’d like that. It would be very season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and she would be Buffy. She’s been gone a year and her loss has given me a freaking lot of perspective. I had an opportunity to look at our friendship and figure out why it worked so well and was so enduring when so many other friendships were not. I’m trying to implement those lessons in other relationships, figure myself out, and figure out how to carry or let go of the weight of my grief.
It’s this grief that has given me perspective on wishes.
There’s a very good chance that when I have children I will give them my birthday wishes. But those random encounters – 11:11, a shooting star, the wish you make when you blow away an eyelash – I cannot see a time in which my instinctive wish won’t be the impossible one.
One of my new mantras in life is that this is all an exercise in perspective. Right now, this is mine. And maybe when I figure things out, that perspective will change because it’s allowed to change. For the time being though, I’m going to avoid wishes.
This isn’t about Miriam, it’s about Harriet, but Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig is killer (ha!) (4/5)
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig was published September 2015, and I read it February 16-18, 2017. It is the first book in the Miriam Black series – a brief summary:
Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die. This makes her daily life a living hell, especially when you can’t do anything about it, or stop trying to. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. She merely needs to touch you—skin to skin contact—and she knows how and when your final moments will occur. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But then she hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, and she sees in thirty days that Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and Miriam will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.
Yeah, yeah way to go Chuck, great book. It was a 4/5 read for me – some parts were slow going and I’m taking a point off because I really want to hate Ashley but I mostly don’t. I am, however, deeply amused that a book character shares my name and was excited that for once it was a dude. I am a lady, but I know the origins of my name and think men need to reclaim it.
This book is dark, humorous, gory, and pretty graphic. You know how Stephen King sometimes writes really horrifically specific descriptions of bad things happening to genitals? It’s like that, but whole bodies and brains and emotions. But you’re also laughing and the tension is built SO FANTASTICALLY, especially the Interludes of the Interview. It took all of my self-control not to skip ahead and read those parts to see the whole sub-plot. There was also kind of a Pulp Fiction vibe, and I dug it.
I’m also super grateful to Chuck for the Interludes idea, because it really helped with something I was stuck on in my own novel.
Anyway, this isn’t really a review of Blackbirds, I just want to have a kind of spoilery rant about the character of Harriet.
Honestly, just thinking “carpet noodle” fills me with fury! Righteous, glorious fury! Not at Wendig, at Harriet. Wendig is awesome for this.
It just blew my mind that part of how Harriet became Harriet involved murdering a man because down with the fucking patriarchy…only to be manipulated and trapped under the thumb of another man. Only to be willing to disobey his orders to keep him all to herself – Harriet was oppressed by a man, and then controlled by one, and it’s like she couldn’t even see it. She couldn’t see that she was LEASHED! Ugh, even though Harriet was totally amoral and is not a person I would ever like to meet, the stunted possibility of her character just crushed me. Part of me was like – “Yeah, that’s right, carpet noodle, because once again you’re losing everything for a man who doesn’t even appreciate you!”
Yeah. So. You should read this book and then rant with me in the comments.
The demon is king, and the demon has married and killed each of his 300 wives. She is the wife who will survive. A review of A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (4.5/5)
I’ll admit that I’ve been riding the book review struggle bus so far this year – I have literally been writing and re-writing my review of Caraval for 14 days.
But I think A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston has broken through my funk. I read A Thousand Nights mostly in my bathtub on the evenings of February 11-14, 2017.
Some of the Summary (from Goodreads):
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.
And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.
As always, these summaries fall so far short of the truth of the story, but it’s also so hard to make a summary that doesn’t give away too much.
Things to know before reading: this book is not like other books. There are definitely pre-conceived notions about how to tell a story, and how to tell this kind of story, and I need you to throw those things out the window. There are pre-conceived notions of what a fairy tale is, and how to tell it. There are pre-conceived notions about how retellings should work, and I need you to forget those too. And I’m a person who went into this book with a little skepticism, given how fiercely I love Renee Ahdieh’s Shahrzad in the Wrath and the Dawn. But if you open the door, Johnston will lead you down a dark and magical path.
Things I loved: few of the characters have names, and the only ones named are the men. Rather than have this give the men priority or power, it is almost a weakness. The women are identified by their works or their relationships, and it is their work and relationships that is the source of their power. I loved that I do not know our narrator’s name because you feel like you are her, and she is you.
I also loved the precision of the language – it’s not that long of a book, and while I wouldn’t necessarily describe the writing as poetic, it’s specific. As the characters must weigh their words carefully, and consider the many meanings, so does Johnston. Space and words are not wasted on description or being buried inside the narrator’s thoughts. As she must be hyper-vigilant in her care and awareness with her words, we experience the same with the specific choices of Johnston. I was so bummed not to have my tabs with me because there were so many passages or lines that I wanted to mark. I guess I’ll have to read it again!
I am really curious now about Spindle – it’s not quite a sequel, more of a same universe later in time story – and if it will be written in the same style, and have the same kind of language and pacing. I almost hope that it doesn’t, as I think Johnston is quite inventive.
Also, the brief sections from the mind of the demon could be very disturbing. As someone who loves the creepy stuff, that little turn into the mind of the monster instead of the survivor was the chill I needed. It kept me motivated to keep going.
And, to be fair, some of the things that weren’t awesome: the pacing can be a little slow, and it takes a bit to get into the story and understand what’s going on. Surprisingly, it doesn’t get that confusing when no one has a name but sometimes I did have to go back and check if we were talking about her mother, or her sister’s mother, and I have no idea how many brothers she actually has. It’s worth sticking it out with the slow pacing and getting into the meat of the story – the beginning is necessary to understand the change being wrought in our narrator.
Overall, I give A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston a 4.5/5 – a half off because I almost gave up. I promise, you have not read a book like this, and you really should. I liked it enough that I have added her other works to my list of books to acquire. I already own Spindle (how can you not buy it just for the gorgeous craftsmanship?), but I also want to particularly get Exit, Pursued By A Bear as one, it’s relevant to my day job, and two, I think Johnston would do it’s story justice. And the title is taken from one of the best stage directions in the history of theater that perfectly describes when you’re trying to do the right thing and it all goes to hell.
My next read is Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, and after that I’ll be getting to Spindle. I’m also doing a readalong of A Darker Shade of Magic!
A traveling carnival, a small town in Louisiana, terror in the night, and an unexpected love – Freeks by Amanda Hocking (4.5/5)
After a long break, I have returned! With a review of a very enjoyable book. Freeks was released on January 3, 2017 and is a standalone novel by Amanda Hocking. I read it on January 12, 2017. I feel like I’m always reading series and this was such a self-contained story that felt like a balm for my brain.
From Amazon: Mara has become used to the extraordinary. Roaming from place to place with Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival, she longs for an ordinary life where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future.
She gets her chance when the struggling sideshow sets up camp in the small town of Caudry, and she meets a gorgeous local guy named Gabe. But before long, Mara realizes there’s a dark presence lurking in the town that’s threatening the lives of her friends. She has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she had in order to save everyone she cares about―and change the future forever.
This is not a great summary, but it’s better than the one I tried writing. This is a fun story in a familiar kind of setting. I recently read the Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology, and the short story “Brand New Attraction” by Cassandra Clare laid out the concept well – “It was a dark carnival. You know the drill.” We do know the drill, and Hocking doesn’t waste time setting up the mysteriousness of the carnival, but rather outlining the supernatural abilities of the members, and establishing their close ties and relationships. I wouldn’t say that the carnival of Mara’s universe is dark, but it has its secrets.
I don’t know why Hocking chose to set this story in 1987, but there’s a little bit of a Star-in-the-Lost-Boys feeling to Mara (appearance and dress mostly,) and god help me I was picturing a buff Steve Harrington from Stranger Things as Gabe (it may have been the mentions of fabulous hair.) I have to say, I love how suddenly we as a pop culture are excited about the ’80s again. Gabe’s house was also a fun setting – antebellum mansion with 1987 decor and art is quite the contrast to picture.
One of the best things about this book was the path of Gabe and Mara’s relationship, particularly physically. It was realistic (not saying it was right or smart, but realistic.) One of the things that pisses me off the most in YA is the lack of kissing. Not because I’m like “Oh squee kisses!” but because teenagers kiss each other. A lot. Before they should. Because they are struggling under an insane hormone cocktail and a lack of impulse control, and physical affection is fun. There’s a tendency to delay first kisses for ages even when the characters have clearly expressed feelings and attraction, and I think that it’s false tension. Not so in Freeks – the first night Mara and Gabe meet they make out, I think it was in less than the first 30 pages, and my first thought was – hell yeah, this is such a relief! It’s also pretty clear that Mara doesn’t trust people or give in to her impulses very often, so I think it also established early on that something with Gabe is different.
While Freeks is not a groundbreaking novel, it definitely has its own spin and flavor on carnival lore, supernatural abilities, and demonology. The characters are believable and sympathetic, and their relationships and histories established without extensive back story, and no flashbacks. There’s enough lore in regard to Mara’s family and the town of Caudry that the breaking point that leads to the final battle is strong, and a little scary. It was fun to read, and took my mind over and away while I was cozied up on the couch reading it. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. I really love my sleep.
There’s one thing that I keep going over in my brain, and I can’t decide if it’s a like or dislike. In a lot of books I’ve read recently, I feel like a lot of time is spent on knowing every single little detail about every character – and when the characters are interesting, it’s fun to fall down that rabbit hole. In Freeks, characters are tantalizing because we are given just a brushstroke of who they are – they aren’t central to the emotional plot, just the big picture resolution, so there really isn’t a narrative justification for knowing them more in-depth. For example, Gabe’s sister Selena. She wasn’t what I expected her to be and I wanted to know more about her, but there was no narrative reason for more to be revealed. Same with Gabe’s parents – I knew what Mara needed to know. There was no giant exposition from Gabe about his family that didn’t have to do with resolving the thing terrorizing the carnival. My curiosity was not sated, but even though I’m still curious, I’m not disappointed. Hocking stayed so tightly true to Mara’s perspective, and it’s just frankly awesome writing, and awesome choices.
And I know I started this saying that I didn’t want a series, but I would read the hell out of a book about Elissar, Mara’s great-grandmother. She sounds like a badass.
Overall, Freeks gets 4.5/5 rating from me – that half off because some things felt a little too rushed, and even the awesome writing choices can’t override the almost step into Chosen One territory. Still, another solid piece of writing from Amanda Hocking and a fun foray into the genre of dark carnivals.
Mori isn’t sure she can trust Lock, but Lock might be the only person who can help her stay safe. Mind Games: Lock and Mori Book 2 by Heather W. Petty (5/5)
Mind Games: Lock and Mori Book 2 by Heather W. Petty was released December 6, 2016 – I read it December 8, 2016.
From Amazon: Sherlock Holmes and Miss James “Mori” Moriarty may have closed their first case, but the mystery is far from over in the thrilling sequel to Lock & Mori, perfect for fans of Maureen Johnson and Sherlock.
You know their names. Now discover their beginnings.
Mori’s abusive father is behind bars…and she has never felt less safe. Threatening letters have started appearing on her doorstep, and the police are receiving anonymous tips suggesting that Mori—not her father—is the Regent’s Park killer. To make matters worse, the police are beginning to believe them.
Through it all, Lock—frustrating, brilliant, gorgeous Lock—is by her side. The two of them set out to discover who is framing Mori, but in a city full of suspects, the task is easier said than done. With the clock ticking, Mori will discover just how far she is willing to go to make sure that justice is served, and no one—not even Lock—will be able to stop her.
I really enjoyed the first book. There’s moments of humor alongside the usual Sherlock Holmes related detective-fare, but it’s also a very dark world for our young protagonists. What set Lock and Mori apart for me is that it’s usually the Sherlock/Watson relationship that is changed, or the push and pull between Sherlock and Moriarty (of any gender) is never fully explored. In the world of this Sherlock and this Moriarty, Watson isn’t even relevant yet. This is how a fraught, inescapable relationship is formed, and how that relationship will explode upon the world to create one of the best nemesis relationships in literature.
It’s kind of liking finding out Dumbledore and Grindelwald were a thing. A sexy thing.
There’s also the possibility that it is the destruction of this relationship that turns Sherlock into the consultant detective of the future – utterly objective, unemotional, even dismissive. Cold to the point of burning. A once burned, twice shy kind of damage.
Because Lock is my little cinnamon roll and I am waiting for Mori to burn him. I made so much quote art from Lock this time around. His lines were great practice for me.
Mori is wonderfully dynamic – sharp, intelligent, fiercely loving and protective, at war with her mind over her heart. In short – a typical teenage girl. And the kind of sad part is that while her circumstances might seem extreme, that’s only partially true. Many teenagers, probably many who would read this book, experience the kind of violence Mori survived in their own homes. Mori’s dad being a cop who got arrested as a serial killer and multiple people closing in on her for their own nefarious purposes is probably a little unusual though. I hope? I appreciate her fierceness and her ventures into the moral gray area.
I appreciated that Petty does not pull any punches, and uses this platform to discuss the dangers of the blue wall of silence. The phrase that when one officer does something wrong it stains them all is so powerful and accurate. It’s used like a knife, but it’s the line most activists have been screaming for a long time. There are good cops, there are cops who know they can be better, and then there are those who hide behind the shield. DS Moriarty is a monster with a shield – and after many, many officers turned away from injuries to his own children’s bodies – finally, someone is fighting for them and believing them. DS Mallory is definitely on the road to redemption by the end of Mind Games.
In the first book, the villain was obvious fairly quickly; there are too many villains for that to be possible in the second installment. It doesn’t feel cluttered or slapstick though; it plays both the political and personal landscapes. The obvious villains reveal themselves, but it’s the true mastermind behind what’s happening to Mori and sets up the next book that is surprising. All I’m going to say is that when Lock begins hunting the person trying to hurt Mori, boy is going to bring the pain.
The evolving love story between Lock and Mori is frustrating but in a realistic way. Mori starts the story still in love with Lock, but unable to trust him. Lock knows he’s done something to upset her, but doesn’t believe what he did was wrong. Mori tries to pull away, and thinks she can justify those decisions – like anyone who is hurting and has been betrayed on so many levels, she believes that isolating herself will both protect her and protect others. Lock makes the mistake of thinking that he can logic her into love. He can’t. It’s only in the moments when he lets go and lets his emotions reign that he begins to heal the divide between them. I want to shout at Mori to say what’s on her mind because I know Lock won’t turn away; but that would be fighting the universal truth of relationships: you are always afraid that if people know you, they won’t like what they see. We fear rejection in any relationship and Mori knows this rejection would be too much for her. For the first time, Mori allows herself to need someone.
Then, of course, life explodes around them.
As with the last book, I turned to the last page like, “what!? that’s the end?!”
The further the story goes, the more I can support Mori becoming a criminal mastermind.
5/5 all the way from me – it was exactly what I wanted in the this book. Um…when’s the next one?
When I was reading this book I kept thinking, “I need an adult!”
The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics was released September 27, 2016 and I read it December 5-7, 2016. Weirdly enough, I think I can consider this a holiday-appropriate reading choice as the conclusion of the story revolves around a Christmas party. Someone is even wearing a tinsel and ornament dress.
From Amazon: Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.
When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.
For those who might need it – trigger warnings for significant self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and general gore and violence.
Things that gave me feelings:
Lucy’s father is a bastard.
This is another one of those novels that affirms how much people suck, how self-centered we can be, and how we never really know anyone in our lives. There are just too many secrets, too many scattered and errant thoughts that start to change us or eat us alive to ever really say we know someone.
This book can get really scary because you doubt what you know, and everyone becomes suspect. It’s made clear very early that the Acosta family is exceptionally secretive and isolated, and that no one comes into their home or interacts with anyone else without motive.
While I agree with Lucy’s eventual realization that she gets caught up in herself and can be a little judgmental, I also think she might be too hard on herself. This poor girl is so clearly abused into submission, and it’s done in partnership by her two parental figures. No one really cares about her – she is just a tool. The interactions between Margaret and Lucy are especially heartbreaking because they are cousins, friends, but the thumb under which they function has twisted even that one good thing in their lives. Margaret is hella sassy though and I enjoyed her. I wish she had been used more to call out the bullshit – Margaret was the Id to Lucy’s Ego, and it would have been fun to see more of that go wild.
“How to write a novel: create shitty situation for your protag. Make it worse. Worser. Now REALLY make it worse. Resolve that shit. #theEnd”
That is pretty much how things for for Lucy, except true to horror form the resolution may actually be worse than anything else that has happened to her. The end is a big, gaping tunnel of mouth screaming “No!” for eternity. There are so many layers to why the ending is so awful, in general and for Lucy in particular. It was just devastating. But it’s also the source of one of my dislikes with this novel – why? Why did Lucy give in to the ending? Why would she stay?
Everyone is the villain in this story. There’s this sense while reading that there is no safe place – no person, no room, not even in sleep. The tension just builds and builds until all the shit hits the fan and then it gets weirder and weirder. I was less scared of the Big Bad at the end than I expected, and part of it is because…well, some of the shit that happened was justified. The Big Bad might be the only one who was justified to do anything, which is interesting to consider – the primal, ancient dangers that still lurk around us and how their violence can be acceptable.
I still have a lot of questions about why things went the way they did, and I can’t quite say this was a five star read for me. Lucy was clearly intelligent and aware of how dire the situation was and yet…nothing. Maybe it’s commentary on the fact that humans often talk ourselves out of the facts that are smacking us in the face and it’s easy to play them down or talk ourselves out of it, or say if something else happens or waiting for arbitrary reasons, we are punished by life itself.
From a purely technical sense, I was confused by some of the structure and I don’t think it was intentional. Chapters would start with Lucy’s narration as if a lot of time had passed, or as if she’d been bothered by a certain event or feeling for a period of time, and then we would jump from narration to action and I would find zero time had passed between the end of one chapter and the start of the next, or only a handful of hours. The sense of time was not what it needed to be in some chapters, and it kind of broke the feeling of urgency that was built. Luckily, it was built up again in quick fashion, but it still jerked me out of the narrative because I was asking questions about structure rather than plot.
I definitely want to read Lukavics’s first novel, Daughters Unto Devils, and will absolutely pick up her work in the future. She is a fresh, frightening, wickedly macabre and morbid voice and it seems that the women she writes have something to say. Or something to destroy. The Women in the Walls was 4/5.
When Ruthie’s mother goes missing, she is pulled into a mystery and a horror more far-reaching than she can imagine. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (5/5)
“If snow melts down to water does it still remember being snow?”
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon was published in 2014 – I read it December 4-5, 2016. As summarized on Amazon:
West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
It’s a mystery about grief and letting go – about magic – about ghosts – and maybe even…zombies? I definitely fall into the camp of people who would call this a zombie novel, albeit an elegant and delicately crafted one.
The novel switches between times and points of view: in 1908 we are with Sara and Martin, and in the present time we are with Ruthie, and a woman named Katherine who is pulled into the mystery through trying to understand the source of her own loss.
How things tie together is so immensely layered – all these little pieces come together to form a picture that is multi-dimensional. Things from the past effect the future of course, but things from the present shed a lot of light on the past. It really asks you to consider – how far would you go to see a loved one again? What price would be too high?
It’s interesting as well that the relationships mothers have to daughters and the bonds we form with our families play such an important role – even the peripheral characters have important roles in the plot, and in the survival of the mystery so that it stretches all the way to the present.
I cannot say enough that this novel is just expertly crafted – there are no wasted words or scenes, there’s very little exposition for its own sake, and it makes you question. Art is supposed to make you feel something, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable or wonder or doubt. I hope that anyone who reads this novel feels uncomfortable. It makes us confront the cost of our choices.
Also, it manages to be totally supernatural in a way that seems completely plausible. It plays on the unknown – just enough is revealed or explained to make you keep your disbelief suspended, but in the end you still don’t entirely understand how the magic works. You even get the feeling that you don’t want to – and I love that.
“Oh what power the dead have over the living!”
I give the Winter People 5/5 – it’s an excellent read.