Laurie Halse Anderson: The Impossible Knife of Memory

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

I want to title this review:  The Impossible Mediocrity of Mental Illness YA. For as complex and nuanced as mental illness is–you’d think that we would get more than just textbook representation in our stories. Unfortunately, time and time again, it’s all I see. So rarely do I find a novel about mental illness that truly shows what it is like to be in the thick of it–instead the depiction is flat and gray.

PTSD is such an important subject, and finding good help for our soldiers is a crucial, difficult task. That is one thing about this book that I did agree with:  how Halse Anderson wrote Andy’s character refusing help or medication. His characterization wasn’t incorrect, I think I just had a hard time with Hayley’s narration of it.

Something else stuck out to me–Finn and Hayley were going through such a similar situation:  they both had family members who were addicts. But instead of talking about it or having that bring them closer together, all they did was fight and scream at each other. Their whole relationship was a weird dynamic, but that really seemed off kilter. Also, it wasn’t lost on me that Gracie continuously suspected Topher for cheating on her as a projection from her dad…though I think everyone else in the story missed that detail. Those sort of plot holes bug me.

But mostly, it’s Hayley that bothers me. Her attitude is horrible, and she’s an unreliable narrator of the worst kind. And maybe that’s the problem. I don’t mind unreliable narrators if there are ways to fill in the holes, but I felt like that knife just cut through the plot until I had an impossible amount of memory to fill.

Trigger warning:  PTSD, Panic Attacks, Knives, Blood, Suicide Ideation/Thoughts/Planning, Drowning, drugs, alcoholism

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WWW Wednesday 6/7/2017

 

What are you currently reading?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

For Study:  The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde

For Study:  The Norton Anthology of American Literature by Nina Baym

 

What did you just finish reading? (As always, click on the link below to see what I thought!)

Crazy is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks

Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

 

What do you think you’ll read next? 

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass (Full series review coming in July!)

Ink and Bone Series by Rachel Caine (I have the 3rd ARC in July)

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

AJ Mendez Brooks: Crazy is My Superpower

Three-time WWE Diva’s Champion A.J. Brooks’ Crazy is My Superpower is a literary memoir chronicling her unlikely rise from 100-pound nerd growing up in extreme poverty and enduring years of abuse to international sex symbol and professional wrestling champion (known as A.J. Lee). A.J. fought against stereotypes, forced the men in her industry to view her with respect, and inspired a huge fan base of over 2 million Twitter followers with her fierce independent streak.

Let me start this review by telling you:  I know ZIP about professional wrestling. I have friends who set up a ring in the backyard and held their own faux championships, but outside of that and Dwayne The Rock Johnson…nope. Nothing. NA to the freaking DA.

What I’m trying to say is…if you’re looking for a review from a well educated wrestling fan, run in the other direction. That is not me.

But there was a nerdy girl in Chucks on the cover of this book talking about mental illness, and I’m all here for that.

Another thing I’m here for? AJ Mendez Brooks is a girl who gives ZERO fucks. And I do mean zero. She has been through hell a million times over and just doesn’t have time for people’s shit. She is going to conquer this world, whatever she puts her mind to–through poverty and a mega dysfunctional family and her own bipolar disorder. She’s just gonna do it. Also, she thinks abandoned dogs are the greatest thing since sliced bread and I am DEFINITELY here for that.

There are two things that gave me pause:

There is a lot of “I’m not like other girls, I’m just one of the guys” going on. I get it, you’re a TomBoy who wrestles on TV, wears sweats, and doesn’t brush your hair all the time…but sometimes it got a little superior in attitude. (Also she kept calling her sweats “asexual sweats,” and that’s just…asexuals can be fashionable too, you know?)

Also, if there is a negative or derogatory term for mental illness, she used it. I did hesitate when requesting this book–not because of my lack of wrestling knowledge, but because of the title. It’s a little off putting to me. However, like I said, she just gives zero fucks. And in the end, she tells us why she uses the word ‘crazy’ so much. For her, the only way to reduce the stigma surrounding the word is to reclaim it.

I think AJ could probably eat me for breakfast and move on. I absolutely admire her strength of character. I don’t agree with everything she said in her memoir, but her quirky writing style had me entertained right up until the end. I loved her diary entries that were interspersed between the chapters, and the drawings (I think by her brother Robbie) were kick ass. If you’re a wrestling fan, comic book fan, or just general all around nerd, I think you’ll like this memoir.

Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy of this book for unbiased review.

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The Vampire Chronicles: Interview With the Vampire

Series. The bain of my existence. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great series…but they are SUCH a commitment. And as a blogger, they are so hard to review, because do I a) read them as the books come out individually or b) wait until the full series is out? 

I almost never read a series when it is first out…but then I procrastinate reading the full thing in one go because then I have to forgo everything else I am reading. 

It’s such a challenge to fit everything in. TOO MANY BOOKS.

So, we are going to try something new here on ILR. I’m going to read full series, and review them, all in a row. I’ll post these on Mondays, and you can follow along with me as I read each book!

Up first:  The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I have the big silver Omnibus from Barnes & Noble, so it’s a great place to start. I read Interview with the Vampire in 2015, so the below is an updated version of that review.

Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.

Vampires have never held much interest for me in the supernatural world. I’ve always been much more interested in magic–witches and dragons and elves. The whole blood-sucking thing…not for me. It could be regional, I’m much more interested in old British lore than Germanic and Eastern European, which is where vampires reign supreme, so the ancient legends never made it into my repertoire. And the modern retellings…well…I’ll pass on Edward and Bella, thanks.

However, one can hardly be up to par on their literature lists without at least reading Anne Rice. Besides DraculaInterview with the Vampire is probably the most famous work on the subject. Rice’s lead character Louis gives an elaborate narrative to a young boy, detailing his life as an 18th century vampire in New Orleans and Paris. He tells how Lestat turned him in order to try and gain access to his property, and how they then took a child as their daughter. Lestat’s motives are always sinister, and Louis determines to get Claudia away as soon as possible. Thus begins a constant struggle for their eternal lives.

On my second readthrough, I picked up a lot more on the pedophilic undertones of the book. When I read Interview the first time, I thought Claudia’s age and relationship with Louis was weird–but it made sense in vampire-land, that she’d stay young. However, Lestat’s obsession with boys really creeps me out. I mean, Lestat is creepy all around, but why must he always “take” young boys? It would be one thing if it were just sucking their blood as food–but Rice clearly draws a relationship between the vampire lust for blood and human lust for sex–and so an older vampire taking children really messed with me.

By writing about these doomful creatures, Rice not only weaves an entertaining and dramatic novel. Louis has been written with quite they philosopher’s mind, and so the narrative thread weaves a tapestry rich with conversations about God versus Satan, morals and motives, and even a little creation theory. There’s no ignoring the depth in this one, and perhaps because you are encased in the world of vampires, it’s very hard to find the light.

I had originally given this 4 Book Dragons, but I’m going to drop it down to 3. I liked it, but not as much on the second read. Perhaps I went a little too far down into the dark. The next book is all about Lestat so…I have a feeling it’s about to get darker.

 

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William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying is Faulkner’s harrowing account of the Bundren family’s odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members—including Addie herself—the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

Can you believe that when I named my blog, I had actually never read Faulkner? I’ve since cut the “As” but really I just thought it was a clever play on words. I wonder what ILR would be called if I HAD read Faulkner first because it definitely would not be the same.

I looked up some Goodreads reviews to help me with this because holy cow I don’t even know how to explain this to you. Someone named Ademption explains it best. “THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HICKS THEY GO TO TOWN.” Thank you Ademption, that really about covers it.

Also, there is a fish.

Mostly, the first half of the book is every person saying “This woman is dying.” “Have you heard she’s dying?” “Do you think Addie might die?”

The second half, yup, you guessed it, Addie died. They trek through mud to get her to her hometown for burial.

GUYS WHY IS THIS BOOK FAMOUS?

The underlying theme, at least from what I can discern is how emotionally abusive their father is. He’s a complete jackass, a cheap bastard, and absolutely hates and ignores the needs of his children.

Annnnd that about covers it. Worst review ever? Maybe. Can we never talk about where I got my blog name again? Faaaaaaaaantastic.

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WWW Wednesday 5/31/2017

It’s been so long since I’ve been able to do this post! Between time constraints and WordPress messing with my links, it just hasn’t worked out. But, back to it! Here’s what’s going on with ILR this week:

What are you currently reading?

Unburied Fables by Creative Aces Publishing

For Study:  The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde

For Study:  The Norton Anthology of American Literature by Nina Baym

 

What did you just finish reading? (As always, click on the link below to see what I thought!)

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

True Colors by Kristin Hannah

 

What do you think you’ll read next? 

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Rosalyn Eves: Blood Rose Rebellion

The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

I’ve been waiting for a series to spark my interest for sometime and finally Rosalyn Eves has come along to capture it. She blends historical fiction with magical fantasy and brings a revolution I’d never heard of to life.

At first, I thought I was going to have to put this book down, or at least do a hate read. I was side-eying it SO hard because she was using the derogatory term “Gypsy” over and over again. However, that turned out to be the point, and it was challenged multiple times later on–especially by the main character, after she was corrected and informed on it’s nasty connotation by her Romani friend.

Blood Rose Rebellion turned out to not only be a book about the Hungarian Rebellion in the 1800s, but also an outstanding look at privilege and the difference in hiding behind it, or using it to help those who do not have it. Anna took her Luminate privilege and made hard choices to fight for the rights of others to have a level playing field, instead of taking the easier path.

“I could not ignore the external factors–the threats to me and to those I loved. But stripped of those externals, the question was a simple one:  should every individual (man, woman, creature) be free to decide their own course?”

Ok, enough serious stuff–I fell IN LOVE with so many people in this book. The characters were so well fleshed out, I just couldn’t help it. I related to Anna quite a bit:  she didn’t fit in with her family because of differences in herself she could not change; she had an advocate’s heart and wanted to help people but didn’t always seem to know where to start–but once she got going, it was impossible to stop her or change her mind; and Anna felt deeply things that she felt she had an effect on–intentionally or unintentionally.

One of my favorite things about the story is the interesting relationship Anna has with the men. There is a whole fleet of ships:  Freddy, Gábor, Mátyás…even a character named Hunger is around for awhile. I can’t go into them because, spoilers. But jealousy never enters the picture, and it never feels like a love triangle situation.

The world building is also very strong. I fell right into the magical world of the Luminates. It almost feels Steampunkish to me–maybe it was just the time period, but that’s what I was imagining.

I need to stop going on and on and just let you read this book. And you should read it. The reviews on Goodreads haven’t been stellar, which makes me sad. I almost didn’t request it because of them. But give this a shot, seriously. I cannot wait for the second installment. I tend to go against popular opinion on big series, and this is just one of those–I loved it.

Blogging for Books and Alfred A Knopf provided a copy of this book for unbiased review.

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Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

So usually when I tell you that a book made me cry, I don’t mean real tears. I get choked up or super emotional–I feel all the crying feels–but very rarely does a book ACTUALLY make me cry.

But I was having a seriously hard time holding it together when The Hubs and I were sitting by the bonfire and I was reading A Monster Calls. I’m not even talking “Oh it’s just the campfire smoke” kind of tears. No, this was full on sobbing kind of emotion.

I think it’s because we all know a family like this, right? A child who has to watch his parent slowly disintegrate before their eyes–everyone knows what is coming, but how do you explain it to that child?

Patrick Ness shows us so beautifully (and painfully) how much that child really does grasp–but without help, the grief twists those emotions into some terrible fears.

A Monster Calls is such a powerful and important book for both kids and their parents–not only for those families who are going through such a terrible tragedy–but every family. As I said before, we all know friends, neighbors, schoolmates who have or are going through this. I think (in my non-parent opinion, so take it or leave it) that this would be a good book to read together as a family, or at least talk about as you go through it. At least in my version, there were really great discussion questions in the back.

I’m super interested to see how closely the movie follows the book. I hope they stay true to the underlying message, and that it doesn’t get lost in Hollywood’s need for drama. I didn’t realize it was out already, guess I need to go watch it!

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Kristin Hannah: True Colors

True Colors is New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah’s most provocative, compelling, and heart-wrenching story yet. With the luminous writing and unforgettable characters that are her trademarks, she tells the story of three sisters whose once-solid world is broken apart by jealousy, betrayal, and the kind of passion that rarely comes along.

The Grey sisters have always been close. After their mother’s death, the girls banded together, becoming best friends. Their stern, disapproving father cares less about his children than about his reputation. To Henry Grey, appearances are everything, and years later, he still demands that his daughters reflect his standing in the community. 

Winona, the oldest, needs her father’s approval most of all. An overweight bookworm who never felt at home on the sprawling horse ranch that has been in her family for three generations, she knows that she doesn’t have the qualities her father values. But as the best lawyer in town, she’s determined to someday find a way to prove her worth to him.

Aurora, the middle sister, is the family peacemaker. She brokers every dispute and tries to keep them all happy, even as she hides her own secret pain.

Vivi Ann is the undisputed star of the family. A stunningly beautiful dreamer with a heart as big as the ocean in front of her house, she is adored by all who know her. Everything comes easily for Vivi Ann, until a stranger comes to town. . . .

In a matter of moments, everything will change. The Grey sisters will be pitted against one another in ways that none could have imagined. Loyalties will be tested and secrets revealed, and a terrible, shocking crime will shatter both their family and their beloved town.

With breathtaking pace and penetrating emotional insight, True Colors is an unforgettable novel about sisters, rivalry, forgiveness, redemption–and ultimately, what it means to be a family.

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Kristin Hannah’s books have become quite popular in recent years. I’ve only read a couple of them, but they are generally interesting women’s fiction novels that I have found to be enjoyable. I won True Colors in a Goodreads giveaway and was pumped when I saw how pretty the new paperback cover was for this 2012 novel.

Unfortunately, pretty much from the start, it was just all wrong. Sibling rivalry isn’t abnormal in fiction, but Hannah pits woman against woman in her story of three sisters, and the fights get pretty nasty. There’s also quite a bit of self-deprecation and fat shaming in one of the sisters–Winona is very much the “poor fat girl who can never love herself and is passed over by every man” trope.

But then enter Dallas Raintree, the half Native American ranch hand. The racism begins the moment he steps into our field of vision–or rather, Winona’s. She projects her father’s assumed racism onto him, trying to mask her own, and hires him “out of civic duty” and to piss off her dad. From then on, it only just gets worse. The book is a mess of stereotypes–temper, drinking, drugs, riding bareback.

It’s true that this is a book about the injustice of the Justice System for Native Americans. But yet again, we have a book about racial prejudice told from the wrong side of the bias. The title True Colors blazes across the sunset cover and only serves to highlight how truly harmful this book is. Even though I finished it, it only gets 1 book dragon, and this book will go on my Shame List.

I won a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press in a Goodreads Giveaway.

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Louise Erdich: Shadow Tag

When Irene America discovers that her artist husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, stashed securely in a safe-deposit box. There she records the truth about her life and marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative charade. As Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children, their home becomes a place of increasing violence and secrecy. And Irene drifts into alcoholism, moving ever closer to the ultimate destruction of a relationship filled with shadowy need and strange ironies.

Alternating between Irene’s twin journals and an unflinching third-person narrative, Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and the anatomy of one family’s struggle for survival and redemption.

Marriage can be a toxic place. We go into it with such intense hopes and dreams, but for so many of us, it doesn’t end up the way we thought it would. Whether it is the expectations we place on ourselves, or the extreme addiction love can be–sometimes you just can’t leave, even when we know we should.

No one but the couple really knows what goes on inside that marriage–and sometimes even the two parties have different interpretations of the situation. Shadow Tag dives deep into one such toxic relationship. If we were to only look at one person’s perspective, we might see it as only physically abusive, or alternatively, emotionally abusive. Erdrich gives us both sides, and so we see the intense tug of war that is being played. Both parties are predator and prey, abuser and victim. There is no saving this marriage, we know that from the beginning, but how will it end?

This struck a nasty chord in me right away and I almost didn’t continue. I still feel a little seasick after finishing this tumultuous novel. It’s powerful, certainly, and Erdrich is a storyteller that grabs your arm and doesn’t let go.

She is also one of our more well-known Native American authors. This book is #OwnVoices, and there are concerns in this book that those of us outside of indigenous culture do not face. It only adds another edge to that toxic weapon of a destructive relationship, at least in this instance.

Erdrich’s story certainly gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t really care much for Round House, which I read a few months ago, but Shadow Tag left a deep impression on my heart. I highly recommend it for fans of adult literary fiction. Make sure to add this #OwnVoices book to your TBR!

DIVERSITYBINGO2017:  Indigenous MC OV

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