All posts by Kelly

Rx

Finished Rx by Rachel Lindsay. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A graphic memoir about the treatment of mental illness, treating mental illness as a commodity, and the often unavoidable choice between sanity and happiness.

In her early twenties in New York City, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Rachel Lindsay takes a job in advertising in order to secure healthcare coverage for her treatment. But work takes a strange turn when she is promoted onto the Pfizer account and suddenly finds herself on the other side of the curtain, developing ads for an antidepressant drug. She is the audience of the work she’s been pouring over and it highlights just how unhappy and trapped she feels, stuck in an endless cycle of treatment, insurance and medication. Overwhelmed by the stress of her professional life and the self-scrutiny it inspires, she begins to destabilize and while in the midst of a crushing job search, her mania takes hold. Her altered mindset yields a simple solution: to quit her job and pursue life as an artist, an identity she had abandoned in exchange for medical treatment. When her parents intervene, she finds herself hospitalized against her will, and stripped of the control she felt she had finally reclaimed. Over the course of her two weeks in the ward, she struggles in the midst of doctors, nurses, patients and endless rules to find a path out of the hospital and this cycle of treatment. One where she can live the life she wants, finding freedom and autonomy, without sacrificing her dreams in order to stay well.”

On the surface, this is a very simple story. Rachel is institutionalized against her will after she spirals during a manic episode. The text and drawings are both incredibly large.

Take a closer look, though. While Rachel is what the eye is drawn to (we’re in her head, after all, and we see her thoughts), we also can see the stricken expressions of the people who are watching her slide ever further out of control.

There’s also the fact that she works for an advertising agency and that her job is to promote mental health drugs. At the same time, though, no one knows she’s been diagnosed as bipolar, so she’s basically marketing these drugs for people like herself. The ethics of this are starting to get to her, which ultimately lead to her quitting. (Well, and there’s the fact that she’s in a manic episode, snapping at people and spending a lot of money.)

This is a profoundly emotional story and it’s one that I think will affect the reader. I think most people now know someone with a mental illness, and this does a great job of showing what that’s like. Hopefully people already have empathy for those who suffer from depression or this, or whatever they were diagnosed with and if not, I think this will help show just how out of control Rachel was and how much it wasn’t her fault.

Recommended.

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Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground

Finished Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground by TR Simon. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A powerful fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood adventures explores the idea of collective memory and the lingering effects of slavery.

“History ain’t in a book, especially when it comes to folks like us. History is in the lives we lived and the stories we tell each other about those lives.”

When Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie Brown, discover that the town mute can speak after all, they think they’ve uncovered a big secret. But Mr. Polk’s silence is just one piece of a larger puzzle that stretches back half a century to the tragic story of an enslaved girl named Lucia. As Zora’s curiosity leads a reluctant Carrie deeper into the mystery, the story unfolds through alternating narratives. Lucia’s struggle for freedom resonates through the years, threatening the future of America’s first incorporated black township — the hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). In a riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T. R. Simon champions the strength of a people to stand up for justice.”

This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in ages. The synopsis doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story. (Which obviously is good; who wants to know everything?)

This is set in two times–the early 1900s and the late 1800s, but pre-Emancipation Proclamation. Zora and her friend Carrie are in the early 1900s; Lucia is late 1800s. Even though Zora has only ever known freedom, it’s clear that slavery still has a powerful legacy in her town (Eatonville). Because of this, basically any white face is cause for concern. There are exceptions, but not many.

But the value in this book is the way it lays bare how monstrous slavery was. Most of the white people in the 1880s section are what we would consider kind people. A couple of them are horrible, but most of them aren’t. They would never whip a slave. But they would absolutely sell them. One of them says to another white person (and I’m paraphrasing).  “Slaves aren’t people and they aren’t pets. They’re property and they aren’t your property. They belong to the plantation.”

Read that a couple times and let it sink in.

It wouldn’t even occur to them that Lucia is an actual person, with worth beyond what she can do for the white people in her life.

This book gave me the bad kind of chills.

But it’s also incredibly well-written and, while it’s hard to read, it’s also hard to stop reading. We need to remember what we, as a country, allowed to happen in order to keep it from happening again.

Highly recommended.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears

Finished Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.”

Merci’s life is very family-centric. Part of that is her choice (she loves her family, especially her grandparents) and part of that is the fact that she lives next door to her grandparents and two doors down from her aunt and twin cousins. (They are more than a handful and Merci has to babysit them a lot.) It’s not that Merci minds babysitting them so much; it’s more that it’s expected of her and it also gets in the way of things she wants to do (like try out for soccer).

Another unfortunate thing is that she’s assigned to help a new student get adjusted to their school. And it’s a boy. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that most popular girl (Edna) likes him and views Merci as competition. (Merci couldn’t be more clear about this not being the case.) This book shows what it’s like when people are in different stages. Merci wants to play sports with the boys but a lot of the girls in her class are starting to think about maybe dating them. Also there’s a lot of disparity with what different parents will let their children do. Edna’s parents give her a lot of freedom and Merci had to go to so much trouble to get her parents to let her go to the movies without adult supervision but with an entire group of kids. (And it was more a worry about their safety and not how annoying this gaggle of tweens would be to everyone else in the theater. I know I’m old; I’ll show myself out.)

But the biggest problem is how her grandfather, Lolo, is starting to get forgetful and his usually easygoing nature sometimes switches into a Jekyll and Hyde thing. It seems like the whole family has noticed but no one’s talking about it and everyone’s pretending it’s fine. Merci isn’t sure what’s going on, but definitely doesn’t like it.

This is such an important book. I think a lot of young readers could relate to one or multiple aspects of the story. Merci seems to feel unappreciated and overlooked sometimes, but she also feels left behind.

This is a sweet but also excellent story. Highly recommended.

 

Imposters

Finished Imposters by Scott Westerfeld. I received a copy for review. This is a continuation of his Uglies series, but can also function as a standalone.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . but very few people have ever seen them together. This is because Frey is Rafi’s double, raised in the shadows of their rich father’s fortress. While Rafi has been taught to charm, Frey has been taught to kill. Frey only exists to protect her sister. There is no other part of her life. Frey has never been out in the world on her own – until her father sends her in Rafi’s place to act as collateral for a dangerous deal. Everyone thinks she’s her sister – but Col, the son of a rival leader, is starting to get close enough to tell the difference. As the stakes grow higher and higher, Frey must decide whether she can trust him – or anyone in her life.”

I haven’t read the Uglies series (although I want to) but I couldn’t possibly love this one any more.

Frey and Rafi are basically two sides of the same coin. Rafi is the ruler’s daughter. She is charming and well-polished and basically whatever you would call a debutante in this world. Frey is a soldier and is there to protect her sister. No one even knows she exists, and she actually handles that dissonance pretty well.

But then she’s sent as collateral. And then things get out of control. And so maybe sending Frey away from home wasn’t her father’s best idea.

This is amazing, and it works as a standalone/start of a new series. There are references to the Uglies series, but it doesn’t make this one hard to read or understand. I think the experience would’ve been a little richer if I caught the references, but it didn’t make Impostors hard to follow.

Highly recommended.

The Collector

Finished The Collector by K.R. Alexander. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Josie always liked visiting her grandmother in the countryside. But when her mother loses her job in the city and they’re forced to relocate along with Josie’s sister, Annie, she realizes she doesn’t like the country that much. Especially because Grandma Jeannie has some strange rules: Don’t bring any dolls into the house. And never, ever go near the house in the woods behind their yard. Soon though, Josie manages to make friends with the most popular girl in the sixth grade, Vanessa. When Vanessa eventually invites Josie back to her house to hang out, Josie doesn’t question it. Not even when Vanessa takes her into the woods, and down an old dirt road, toward the very house Grandma Jeannie had warned her about.

As Josie gets caught up in her illicit friendship with Vanessa, Annie is caught in the crossfire. What follows is a chilling tale of dark magic, friendship, and some verrrrrry creepy dolls.”

When I was in elementary school, Scholastic published a lot of horror novels that I absolutely loved. I don’t think I read all of them, but I probably came impressively close. This reminds me of those. (And yes, this one’s definitely meant for middlegrade audiences and not YA, but if you made Josie a little older and had the book be a little longer, it would’ve fit right in.)

This book is definitely a good starter read for someone who wants something scary but who doesn’t want to be traumatized for life. It’s fun and creepy, but it won’t stick with you while you’re trying to sleep. (I don’t think. I’m not a fan of dolls, so we’ll see what happens when I go to bed tonight.)

This is the season for it, and if you’re in the mood for one good scare, check out this fun middlegrade.

The Real Lolita

Finished The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet, very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita.

Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.”

Everyone’s heard of Lolita, even if they haven’t read the book or seen one of the movies. We all know what people mean when they refer to someone as “Lolita,” right? When Amy Fisher shot her boyfriend’s wife, she was even dubbed the “Long Island Lolita” in the press. But what generally ISN’T discussed is the fact that Lolita is actually a victim (it isn’t even her name; it’s what her stepfather and rapist calls her) and we also don’t hear that she’s based on a real person.

Sally Horner is also the suspect of a YA novel (Rust and Stardust) and I would recommend both books. The novel focuses on Sally and her family; this focuses on Sally, obviously, but shows the parallels between her life and Lolita. Both are amazing books and both show a full picture of Sally.

And both are also tragedies. Sally survived this horrific ordeal and died only a couple years after getting to return home to her family.

This book is so well researched and you can feel Sarah Weinman’s passion about the topic. It’s impossible to forget that Sally Horner is a real person, with people who loved her and missed her and searched for her.

Highly recommended.

Sea Prayer

Finished Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite RunnerA Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed responds to the heartbreak of the current refugee crisis with this deeply moving, beautifully illustrated short work of fiction for people of all ages, all over the world.

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone.

Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution, and he will donate author proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe.

Khaled Hosseini is one of the most widely read writers in the world, with more than fifty-five million copies of his novels sold worldwide in more than seventy countries. Hosseini is also a Goodwill Envoy to the UNHCR, and the founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.”

I’m really not sure how to describe this book. It’s a letter from a father to his son, the night before they leave their war-torn country for a safer place. It’s not great and the father is terrified because it involves a great deal of danger (especially for the portion of the trip that’s by boat). You can feel his fear and at the same time his knowledge that there’s no real good choice. Leaving is dangerous and there’s a very real chance that one or all of them will die. But staying isn’t a good option, either. If you stay, you’ll almost definitely die. There aren’t any safe choices.

There are pictures throughout the book, these gorgeous sketches, and they absolutely broke my heart. It’s almost excruciating to read the few lines of text and look at the pictures. And there’s no resolution, because it’s the night before they leave.

I think it’s impossible to read this and not feel so much compassion for refugees. (But, of course, the people who need to find their compassion are the same people who would never read this book.)

Highly recommended.

The Dinner List

Finished The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

We’ve been waiting for an hour. That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends within her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day,and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.”

I love everything about this book. Everything. I love the appearance of Audrey Hepburn, the mending of relationships, the friendship, the romance, everything. This book is actual perfection for me.

It’s smart and funny and sweet but the word I keep coming back to is wistful. Sabrina’s life is good, but there’s also a lot missing. And this is about how to get all those pieces back, or at least in a better place.

Rebecca Serle’s books always manage to make me happy and this one did, too. But it also broke my heart a little. (And fixed it, a lot).

I want this to be a movie and I want Rebecca Serle to have a new book out immediately or maybe somehow even faster.

But I do have to argue with Matty. Yes, everyone pictures Breakfast at Tiffany’s but Audrey’s signature role is so definitely Roman Holiday. It’s her best, and I will die on this hill.

Highly, highly recommended.

A Room Away From the Wolves

Finished A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.

Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave…”

Oh, this book. This gorgeous, heartbreaking book. It becomes increasingly obvious what’s going on (and it starts fairly early in), but I kept hoping I was misinterpreting it.

I haven’t read most of Nova Ren Suma’s books (only this one and The Walls Around Us) and I am again angry at myself for not reading her backlist now.

This is a hard book to recommend because it’s a lot more character-driven than it is plot-driven and I know that this is a book that most people won’t appreciate. But if you enjoy creepy stories (and this is the season for it!) and sad girls, this is for you. It was definitely for me.

Highly recommended.

When the Lights Go Out

Finished When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica. I received a copy at ALA for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A woman is forced to question her own identity in this riveting and emotionally charged thriller by the blockbuster bestselling author of The Good Girl, Mary Kubica

Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known.

Finding herself suddenly at the center of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by grief and a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts are hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split-second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Has Jessie’s whole life been a lie or have her delusions gotten the best of her?”

I don’t know how I feel about this book. I really enjoyed most of it and then the ending came and I find it actually a little insulting. I don’t mind unreliable narrators or twist endings (Gone Girl and We Were Liars are two of my favorite books ever) but this is a whole other thing.

I’ve heard really good things about the author, and I’d definitely give her past books a try, because so many people I know have raved about them.

If you read this and feel differently, let me know. :)