A Timeless Sort of Story: Review of The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

The People We Keep
Image: Cover of The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

Synopsis

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be. 

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

Review

An E-ARC was provided by Gallery Books through NetGalley in exchange for review.

There was something simplistic and yet utterly fulfilling about this book. The People We Keep is a timeless sort of story about growing up and trying to find your space in the world. It’s a narrative that opens a few windows into the life of April Sawicki, a teenage girl from a small town in New York. She’s restless and has a longing for a life that would take her away from her tiny town and the path she thinks life is eventually going to lead her down. People don’t tend to leave her hometown and she saw life pulling her towards settling down with her high school boyfriend and essentially living life from there. Then a confrontation with her father pushes her over the edge and she leaves in an attempt to do something to save herself and change her future.

I’m not sure I realized how much of an emotional impact this book would have on me when I first started reading it. The writing style is simplistic but in my opinion that makes it more accessible since sometimes lyrical, prose heavy works keep people from picking them up. Since it was so easy to immerse myself into the story I flew through it and finished the book in one sitting. From the get go it could have been like any other book where a small town girl leaves to find her way but this was a lot different than I expected it to be. I plan on passing it on to as many people as I can. Honestly, it was profound to see April get so caught up in her negative experiences that she believes the only way to save herself is to run away again and again. It’s a self defense mechanism that I know all too well and I know other people may see it in themselves too. After I set the book down I ended up doing a lot of self reflection about my own life and all of the people that have walked through it over the years.

This book isn’t a romance. Yes, some romantic relationships did occur throughout and I honestly thought that in the end, April would settle down and be “happy” with whatever circumstances she ended up in. The more I read and the more that came to pass I realized that this was so much more than a romance. The title really says it all.

As characters were introduced throughout the book I ended up being surprised how they came and went and which ones ended up being the ones that April “kept”. By the end of the book everything began to tie itself together as April was forced to reconnect with people she had run away from. This was where everything began to hit me and I saw the full message of the story. Too often I think we focus on the people who we’ve lost. Personally I know I’ve spent plenty of time grieving for friendships and relationships that have ended. I also know that when I would run away from the negative experiences and places I always eventually come back to thinking about the people I left behind because I always wondered if they would have held out for me. This is a story that answers a question like that. April had such a unique found family and despite the fact that each person came from vastly different walks of life I adored seeing them come together to support her. This part of the story might not sit well with everyone because April was a messy person and she was dealing with a lot of trauma and not everyone will think that she deserves this type of love and forgiveness. But it was a surprising take on a coming of age story where a girl leaves her tiny hometown and I appreciated it.

To me, this was a reminder that we might not all get the love and acceptance we deserve. Especially when we make our own messes and run away because we’re too scared to fix them. But there are people that we have encountered that we will keep with us whether they stay by our side or they simply teach us lessons that we carry with us that sustain us through life. Sometimes we have to stop running away and I hope that if you do, you have your own people to remind you that you are loved and cared for.

This book was a five star read for me and if I were you, I’d add it to your must read list.

The People We Keep is a brand new release, it came out earlier this month and I’ll link below some places you can purchase it if you’re interested in getting your own copy!

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Indiebound (If you want to find a local store to buy through!)

Or add the book on Goodreads here!

You can also find me at the following:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review requests, etc.: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews here.

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is here.

Again, But Better: Rereading Christine Riccio’s First Book & Reading Better Together Too

It’s so weird to think that it was back in 2019 that I got sucked into book blogging. I had recently gotten back into reading after a years long slump and the book that pulled me fully into the reading community again was Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. I reread my original review and it was a bit of a mess but it was a book that I was honestly incredibly excited to read and I can tell how caught up in my feelings I was about it. I remember when I started to get views on that post and then likes and even a comment I was shocked! My blog has always felt so small and insignificant that I still tend to forget that actual people read my posts and I’m not just shouting into the void.

For this post, I wanted to reflect upon that original reading of Christine’s first book and then review it a second time with some updated thoughts. After that I’ll dive into my review of Better Together which is her second novel and I’ll finish with a small wrap up on this experience.

Just a note before I begin, this post will contain spoilers.

Again, But Not Better

Again, but Better
Image: Cover of Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

I read Again, But Better at exactly the time I needed to read it. It made me sad and nostalgic for people that I no longer had and life opportunities that either passed me by or that I wish I could experience again. Reading it in such an emotional mindset I think I chose to overlook a lot of things that bothered me more this second time around.

One of the first things I noticed while rereading this was that there were constant references to Harry Potter. Not only did these age very poorly, I don’t think they were necessary in the first place. When it comes to contemporary books I know that there will be pop culture references but authors need to tread carefully because the more specific they get, the easier it is for the book to lack a timeless nature. In terms of the writing itself after years of watching videos from Christine it was obvious that she wrote this. It was enthusiastic and awkward with a sprinkling of quotable lines throughout. This book was also a self insert to the extreme. With the recognizable writing style coupled with the FrenchWatermelon19 blog name of the main character I was shocked that Christine was okay with this book going out into the world… I can only hope that if Pilot was based off of a real person that he did not read this book. Pilot was such a weird character for me because I actually liked him more than Shane at times because he was subdued compared to her but he also had seemingly no autonomy and I don’t want to speculate on things simply because of the self insert nature but it seems to me like Pilot was a 20-something who wasn’t interested in something serious and the do-over put him in a tight spot that ended up causing people a lot of pain. As a person who heavily romanticized relationships because of books and “happily ever after” I just have to wonder.

Overall, a lot of the issues I mentioned in my original review remain the same. I disliked Shane’s family. The fact that her father threw a hissy fit in front of an entire restaurant of people and promptly disowned her was appalling. Families are messy but there’s a fine line between a messy family and abuse and I think that Again, but Better lacked the nuance to have been written about an abusive family. In the end I did appreciate that Shane had something of a self discovery journey over the course of the plot and it was nice to see her make her own decisions. In terms of the romance in this book, the codependent nature of Shane and Pilot’s relationship upon getting their do-over was annoying and I actually enjoyed when they broke up. I don’t think either of them had enough self awareness to do the right thing and during this reread I thought that there was a lot less chemistry between the two than the first time I read the book. I’m also still incredibly uncomfortable with the cheating aspects of the story.

Again, But Better was an awkward debut novel and despite being a book I read at the right time, the second time around revealed a lot more flaws after realizing this was rated 4 stars on my Goodreads I changed my rating to 2.

Please Stop Vomiting: My Review On Better Together

Better Together
Image: Cover of Better Together by Christine Riccio

I’m not going to do it. Like really I will not go back and count how many times the characters threw up on page…

Okay, I think it actually only happened 5.5 times (the half time being a spit take and not actual vomit) but I still think this is too much vomit for this book!

Anyways, the quickest way to sum up Better Together would be Parent Trap but with significantly more trauma.

Like really, sisters Siri and Jamie were separated by their parents messy divorce at the ages of 4 and 6. They both end up attending the same self help retreat over a decade later and with the help of some more unexplained magic they swap places. Here’s the kicker though, Siri thought that Jamie was an imaginary friend. Seriously, their mother told Siri that Jamie wasn’t real and sent her to therapy in order to FORGET HER SISTER. So this ended up leading to a very dramatic scene at the retreat where Siri panicked over her “imaginary friend” appearing in front of her.

I’ll admit that Better Together, while not amazing, ended up impressing me more than I thought it would. It was obvious to me that Christine had grown slightly as a writer although it still had much of the same enthusiastic and awkward nature that Again, but Better had. I thought that Siri and Jamie ended up feeling like much more realistic characters than Shane did, however that doesn’t mean huge improvement since I really didn’t find Shane to be a well written character. With that being said I thought that Jamie was frustrating as hell and without the anger I felt while reading her chapters I’m unsure I would have been able to distinguish between the two narratives.

The main issue that I had with Better Together (other than the whole traumatic imaginary friend thing) is that there was so much conflict and so much angst that could have been played into but Christine barely scratched the surface. Both Jamie and Siri had personal struggles that they were trying to deal with and I wish that we could have seen more of how their switch allowed them to cope with and work through what was going on in their real lives. For this to be a standalone it didn’t give me the resolution that I was hoping for by the time I had reached the ending. Though I will say I appreciated that Christine had both girls attend therapy throughout the course of the book. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start.

I’ve gone back and forth a few times now about how I wanted to rate this and I think I’ve settled on 2 stars. It was okay and while it did have improvements from Again, but Better it wasn’t great. I was uncomfortable with how the divorce was handled by the parents and I felt like a lot of aspects to this book felt underdeveloped. I’ve watched most of Christine’s videos about her writing process and I know that she overdrafts when it comes to word counts. That being said I have to wonder what she ends up cutting out.

But Will Her Next Book Have Better in the Title

Christine’s books seem geared towards a younger audience and I think that they could be good transitional books as young adult readers look for adult books to pick up. That’s kind of the path that I took with them anyways. They are very surface level in terms of conflict and overall character growth and I think that younger readers would find them enjoyable. However, I would just hope as these readers grow up and read more that they could look back on these two books and eye them a bit more critically. They’re not great examples for how families and relationships should work and while no family or relationship is going to be perfect I just don’t want young readers to end up being set on a path where they normalize things they shouldn’t.

And one last random point… Something that I’ve noticed with both of Christine’s books is that she isn’t consistent with the things that she changes about the real world or the characters. In Again, but Better Shane didn’t seem to swear and instead used things like “fudge” instead of “fuck” but then there were moments when she did swear and there wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to it. Then in Better Together with the changes about the real world there were numerous references to things and people that were unchanged, like Timothee Chalamet just randomly being included in the plot, but then in other instances Christine would do something like change a dating app name from “Hinge” to “Hunge”. The inconsistency was a bit confusing at times. Siri was also another character that “didn’t swear” so there were even more nonsense words in her chapters. Seriously, authors either use actual swear words or refrain from using any at all.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of either of these books, I thought that this was actually an enjoyable experience in the end. It was interesting reading the two books back to back because I was better able to see how Christine grew as a writer. At this point, I’m unsure if I’ll pick up her next book outside of potentially using it for blog content. Or just to see what outrageous unexplained magic she decides to throw into that plot.

The biggest thing that I have to think about though is, will Christine end up having the word better in the title of her third book??

And with that I’m signing off. I’ll talk to y’all in my next post, though if you’re interested in connecting with me before then you can find me at the following:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

My Goodreads profile is linked here. You can add me as a friend or follow my reviews over there.

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

A Twisted & Beautiful Folkloric Fantasy Debut: Review of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I swear, this post did not want to be published! I have been working on this for weeks now because every time I’ve saved it as a draft as soon as I come back to it all I get are error messages so I have to start all over again! This time I’m just going to try and get it all done in one sitting, including images and links, so that I can finally post this.

The Wolf and the Woodsman
Image: Cover of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

Reid provided content warnings for her book which will be included at the end of my review

First off, I wanted to thank William Morrow through NetGalley for the e-ARC of this book as well as Danielle at William Morrow for sending me a finished copy!

The Wolf and the Woodsman was everything I hoped for and more. This folkloric fantasy debut from Ava Reid follows Évike, a pagan woman who has been treated as an outcast in her village of “Wolf Girls”. Évike has not only been scorned because of the man who fathered her, but also because she’s the only girl in her village without any magic powers. When the Woodsmen come to take away yet another girl, it’s Évike who gets taken. A sacrifice for the protection of someone else in her village. As the plot unfolded and twisted itself down grim and harsh paths I read with bated breath and finished this in two sittings.

This book was whimsically dark as Reid knit together Jewish mythology and Hungarian history. I’m not Jewish though I ended up picking up on a number of references that were made throughout the book. I really enjoyed seeing how Reid tied everything together. The writing was absolutely beautiful. Rich descriptions of the world woven throughout fantastical stories and Évike’s own stinging inner dialogue. I was so immersed in the story that I didn’t want to drag myself back out until I was finished reading. I’d like to note that the body horror and gore described throughout are not for the faint of heart. The Wolf and the Woodsman is an adult novel and I would heed that warning. If you’re a person who is sensitive to graphic descriptions this might be a book that needs to be passed on. It was all pertinent to the story itself and added to the dark nature. This was a dark story and it was unexpected because I find that many fantasy stories I’ve read tend to lean towards a “happily ever after” ending. And obviously I love those too but I appreciated that this book felt so realistic in terms of characterization and life consequences of horrific events.

The grim fairytale-esque sheen that covered the surface of the story revealed thought provoking horrors once peeled back. A corrupt kingdom, filled with impoverished peasants who stood atop the backs of the pagans and the Yehuli because they believed themselves to be more worthy of an upward climb. An impending war that has caused a turning tide in the kings own men. It was fascinating and terrifying to read it all unfold because I was so invested in Évike and her survival. Over the course of the book, Évike put every ounce into protecting such fragile relationships that developed over the course of the story. As she interacted with her peers and eventually her father I couldn’t help but hope that these characters would hope for the best for Évike just as I was. For her to want to save anyone but herself was heartbreaking because even after years of being treated as less than and fighting for her survival she still revealed a caring nature in these moments.

Now, not only was Évike caring but she was powerful in her own way. The self discovery journey she went on through the course of the book proved to be beneficial in numerous ways. Her power in bringing men to their knees was hands down one of my favorite parts of this book. She intimidated a king but her enemies-to-lovers relationship with Prince Gaspar was perfection. They were never meant to be and yet as their banter and curses turned to something more I couldn’t stop reading. As I reached the end of the novel I couldn’t help but see all the beginnings that could unspool from it.

This was a standout read and will definitely be one of my favorites for the year. Hands down a 5/5 star read! Links to purchase the book for yourself will be included underneath the content warnings.

CONTENT WARNINGS (as provided by the author)
– Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation
– Torture, including whipping
– Self-harm, including self-amputation 
– Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets)
– Antisemitism
– Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
– Physical abuse by parents and parental figures
– Graphic descriptions of vomiting

If you’d like to pick up your own copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman you can find it at any of the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Indiebound (you can find a local indie to purchase through there!)

And as of writing this post, Sierra Elmore has a book box available for preorder for September. You can find that here!

And if you’d like to connect with me elsewhere:
I’m on Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc my email is adventuresandespresso@gmail.com.

You can follow my reviews or add me as a friend on Goodreads here.

And if you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is here.

I’ll talk to y’all in my next post!

This Is a Bit of a Rant Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

I rarely preorder books. Recently I have started to do it more often but I still try to limit myself because I’m always nervous I may not like a book enough to own it. One Last Stop is Casey McQuiston’s, author of Red White & Royal Blue, sophomore novel. This was one of my most anticipated books of 2021 and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it so it was one of the few books that I’ve preordered for this year. When I initially read RWRB I really liked it and while my opinion on it has changed a bit I have reread it four times. So upon hearing the synopsis of OLS I was incredibly excited for a sapphic contemporary novel mixed with a unique sci-fi element. Unfortunately though I found the story to be lackluster and the main twist of the plot was poorly executed.

With that being said this is going to be a bit of a rant review. I’m going to split it into a few different sections to try and keep my thoughts together and I’ll also make a disclaimer now that there will be some spoilers. I will note the sections that contain major spoilers in case you want to skip them!

One Last Stop

Synopsis

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Things I Liked

I’ll start with the things that I liked about the book because I do think that McQuiston shows a lot of promise as an author. I did enjoy OLS enough to finish it and the main reason for that is the colorful cast of characters. The way that McQuiston crafts their side characters is something that I love, it’s one of the things that has brought me back to RWRB and would also bring me back to OLS someday too. I’ll be honest when I say that both books also featured romances between side characters that I was more invested in than the main ones at times.

Another thing that I adore about McQuiston’s books are the friendships that are formed in both. I appreciate these friendships so much because they end up giving me so many warm fuzzy feelings and have me wishing for my own group of friends I could be that close to. I think that McQuiston writes fun stories and I’m a bit unsure of whether or not I’ll be picking up more of their work in the future though I’m just waiting it out at this point.

So now onto some of the things that I didn’t like about the book…

Writing

I’m a big fan of a casual writing style! Sometimes I think it’s fun to pick up books that feel more conversational than wordy and prose filled. I don’t mind swearing in books (usually). With OLS, though, I was honestly thrown off over how much the word “fucking” was used. And I swear A LOT so I’m all for using it as emphasis and frequently do but it genuinely started to get to me the more I read. And I’m aware that this is a very tiny critique but that’s mainly why I put it first. I just think that without this aspect I would have been able to stay immersed in the story instead of taking as long as I did to read it.

Plot

***THIS SECTION WILL CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS***

One of the main things that I think I had an issue with in terms of the plot was the pacing. I went into OLS expecting the overarching plot line of helping Jane get back to the 70’s to be woven throughout. McQuiston writes really fun side scenes and side stories within their books but I think in this story it ended up detracting from the time travel portion. I’m going to be honest, I think that this could have just as easily been written without the light sci-fi and almost everything about the story could have stayed the way it was. It was just a convenient way to make Jane be “unavailable” to August in her “real” world. This also was obviously the only way that August or her mom would have ended up getting closure about August’s uncle.

Now this smaller plot line about August’s missing uncle felt like it should have been given a bigger space within the story. I was immediately intrigued by this once it was introduced into the book and I understood why August didn’t bring it up but it took so long for it to be really mentioned or explained that it felt rushed. In part, I also felt like while the confrontation August had with her mother had spent years being built up it didn’t have the same sort of emotional response in me that I had expected. Jane wasn’t a big part of the narration outside of her small flashbacks but I really wish that McQuiston would have given her a bigger role. I would have adored to read about her time with Augie in Louisiana. And I especially would have appreciated to learn more about Jane’s past.

To speak more on the sci-fi aspect of the plot. Jane and August have a run in on the subway and it was lust at first sight. Okay, I’ll go with it probably being more insta-love but I digress. August makes it her sole purpose/goal to rescue Jane from this time trap. And again, this intrigued me from the minute McQuiston started talking about it. I was pumped! But the plot ended up being boiled down to August romanticizing what she has with Jane and acting in an almost white savior role. There was little to no development of the relationship between Jane and August and it was hard for me to understand the motivation and overall need for the sci-fi. I just felt like there was a lack of insight into why August singlehandedly had to save Jane. It went from meet-cute to 100 and I wasn’t a fan of that.

I also wanted to make a small comment on the sexual aspect of August and Jane’s relationship. I’m on the ace spectrum so I try to avoid commenting on things like this when reading because I know these scenes aren’t written for someone like me in mind. With that being said, you may be wondering, “Isn’t Jane stuck on the subway? How do they have sex if she can’t leave the subway?” They do it on the subway…… And again, this type of sex interests people, I know that, I’ve read a lot of kinky fanfiction (and some romance books) over the years however it made me so uncomfortable that I had to skip these scenes and couldn’t read them. Other people can’t consent to seeing you doing the deed in public spaces so one of the scenes in here really overstepped that boundary in my opinion. Also I’m just thinking of how gross subways are and I want to take a shower on behalf of August and Jane. Alright, I’ll wrap this up now and move on.

Characters/Setting

***THIS SECTION WILL CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS****

As I mentioned in the previous section, August ended up feeling like she was placed in a white savior role. For the most part she felt realistically flawed and I could relate to her a decent amount but when she became so focused on saving Jane that she neglected the rest of her life I got frustrated. It didn’t help that at one point August went to meet with an academic advisor because she was majorly slacking off at school and instead of having to grovel or anything like that she was informed that she was mere credits away from graduating. Like shit if only that’s how it worked for me when I neglected school.

This was a big piece of evidence as to how everything was just incredibly convenient for August. Sure, she had pitfalls here and there but overall she didn’t struggle with anything. And with the lack of development on Jane’s side of the story I was unimpressed. Again, this is why I ended up liking the side characters in this book more than the main ones.

Also, on a slightly different note but still relating to the convenience of everything for August, this whole book romanticized being a young adult as well as the entire city of New York. At the end of everything August starts to formulate an idea of using the skills learned from her mother in trying to find Augie that she would try to pursue something like people finding as a career. I understand that being in your twenties is difficult and trying to decide what you’re going to do with your future can be near impossible (speaking from personal experience and current existential dread) but all of the characters in this book just floated around seemingly without a care in the world for rent, groceries, insurance or anything related to living on your own. It romanticized everything about living in New York without really accounting for reality. I’m linking a Goodreads review from another user here that I think adds a lot more to my thoughts on this.

And finally, a line that deserved the conclusion of my post

This section will contain spoilers

This interaction occurred between Jane and August in Chapter 12. August gets on the subway and finds Jane with a split lip and a ripped shirt, when questioned Jane says:

“Some guy called me some shit I’d rather not repeat,” she finally says. “That old racist-homophobic combo. Always a winner.”

Page 292, One Last Stop

There’s more conversation during which August asks if anyone had called the cops and when Jane begins to get defensive August says:

“I know- it’s, it’s fucked up,” August tells her. She’s thinking about the fire, the things that drove Jane from city to city. “But I promise, most people aren’t like that anymore. If you could go out, you’d see.”

Page 292, One Last Stop

This interaction was almost enough to make me put the book down because it felt so insensitive. Not only was August insensitive to the very real things that Jane had experienced before she was stuck on the subway it felt biased to a white queer experience. Jane watched her friends dying of AIDS. She thought she lost her closest companion, August’s uncle, in a fire that was set in a space that gay men frequented and since we find out by the end of the book that he has died then we know that Jane truly did have reason to grieve for him. The comment was so flippant, so casual, like Jane hadn’t literally just experienced this interaction. Strides have been made for the LGBT+ community but by saying “most people aren’t like that” is a dismissal of the fact that there are people out there who will not hesitate to harm a person in the LGBT+ community.

From the Human Rights Campaign Foundation I’m linking their “Dismantling a Culture of Violence” report. I found it to be a highly informative and heartbreaking read about how anti-transgender stigma has created a culture of violence. I also want to highlight the fact that BIPOC who are in the LGBT+ community are disproportionately targeted. Last year there were 44 trans or gender nonconforming people who were murdered in the US. Half of this number were women of color, a majority Black. This year alone there have been 28 murders of trans or gender nonconforming individuals, almost all of these being BIPOC. On top of this there are numerous states that have introduced or passed anti-LGBT legislature.

I also wanted to add to this that Jane is Chinese. With the current abhorrent racism towards Asians in America this is another reason this scene left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was upsetting to see how August dismissed Jane’s trauma and romanticized the world they lived in.

I felt like it was important to include this section of the post because privileged one off comments like the one August made, the one McQuiston included in the book, only add to the struggles that marginalized people face. It’s important to acknowledge that the white queer experience isn’t universal. And August barely internalized that. After reading this section in OLS I almost put the book down because it frustrated me so much but I wanted to write this post so I ended up finishing it. Before I sign off I just wanted to leave y’all with some suggestions of action steps you can take based off of the things I wrote earlier in this section.

If you live in the United States, I encourage you to contact your representatives about anti-LGBT legislation. I was really nervous about doing this at first but there are a lot of handy scripts out there for both emails and phone calls. Now whenever I see something I want to make a statement on I fire off an email. Google is really helpful for finding your reps and all that jazz but if you want any help feel free to reach out (you can email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com).

Educate other people in your lives. Seriously, this one can be a lot easier than you might think. I understand if you’re not in a place where you are able or safe enough to educate those around you but if you are just talking about issues and how they hurt people can be a big influence. I used to rant about political stuff constantly to my former coworker and on more than one occasion she told me that I had taught her a lot.

Lastly, I know that there are plenty of big name organizations that you can donate to but I wanted to emphasize the importance and benefit of mutual aid. There are so many people that need financial help. People who need to get out of unsafe living situations, trans individuals who need help affording to transition, the list is endless. When I’m on Twitter and have a bit of extra money I try to find people who are asking for help. It may not seem like a lot if you only have a few dollars to spare but it could mean everything to that person seeking help. If you or someone you know has a need for financial help feel free to reach out if you’re comfortable letting me add the information to this post and I will!

With that, I’m going to sign off for the day. I’m really disappointed that this ended up not being the book I was hoping it would be but I’ve got a list of sapphic contemporary books to pick up next so on to the next one! If you’d like to connect with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

On Readerly: @/sideofadventure

My email for review inquiries, etc is adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews here.

And my Ko-fi in case you’re interested in financially supporting the blog.

Grammar, Cosmic Coincidences, and a Different Kind of Hope: Reading Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

To start this post, we need to go back to 8th grade. Middle school. An absolute hellscape of memories some good, a lot bad. One day my best friend at the time started making jokes about a blog post that her language arts teacher had shared with her class for a grammar lesson. I find it really funny looking back now because while I still struggle with grammar and writing it doesn’t compare in the slightest to how atrocious some of my mistakes were back in the day.

The blog post in question was the Alot post from Hyperbole and a Half (laughing at the fact that I had to circumvent autocorrect to even type a lot incorrectly!) This post was (and probably still is) a perfect way to teach a grammar lesson to middle schoolers. It was an instant classic and many of my classmates joked about it for years to come. I’m actually pretty sure we referenced this all the way up to our senior year. Since I wasn’t in the same language arts class as my best friend, I decided to look up the blog when I got home. I think I read every published post that night. It became a favorite of mine and I realize now how deeply Hyperbole and a Half influenced my life.

I’m not sure I remember what my first blog was and I can’t even remember what site I published it on but I know that I was inspired by Hyperbole and a Half to start my own. I know that I posted a lot of angsty poetry on it and am honestly kind of glad I don’t have access to that content, my journals from that time are content enough. This blog was created in 2015 when I was really into lifestyle influencers. I wasn’t able to make YouTube videos so I decided to blog instead. The Tumblr account that I used religiously just wasn’t cutting it for what I wanted to use it for. I kind of fell into a zone of wanting to monetize blogging after seeing other people my age do it and it all went from there. Over the years I’ve realized that I’m not great at blogging, sometimes I consider starting a podcast simply because I have so many big ideas that don’t seem like they’d fit into one blog post. It’s interesting how content evolves over time and what we can choose to do with our platforms.

When Allie’s posts started becoming less frequent I would still check in on her blog. It was a little haven on the internet for me and I was always so grateful for how open she was about her mental health struggles. The blog was the perfect balance of humorous and real. Even when she “disappeared” from the internet I would always wonder how she was doing, couldn’t help but reminisce every time I typed the words “a lot”. Hyperbole and a Half was central to a period of my adolescence and I think I’ll always feel connected to that blog.

In the past few years, I’ve struggled with the idea of a “purpose” and have sunk deeper and deeper into this pit where all I can think about is the meaningless of life. It’s a big change from 19 year old me who cried about taking a Philosophy of Person class because I had to think about mortality. Now I think about it constantly.

I was at a crossroads when this article popped up on my newsfeed. I dropped everything I was doing and read it. By the time I had scrolled to the end I was crying. I ordered Solutions and Other Problems immediately.

Image: Cover of Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

The night that my preorder came in the mail I stayed up too late reading it. I cried a lot but I also laughed… A lot. It might have been one of the most cathartic reading experiences I have ever had. Solutions and Other Problems was raw and real and it was everything I needed in that moment.

It was comforting to read from the perspective of someone who has the same mindset on existence as I do. Too often I get existential and people try to be hopeful. And don’t get me wrong, there are moments when I appreciate it but most of the time, I don’t want to be hopeful. I don’t want motivating stories because it feels like pity. Sometimes it even feels judgmental and I can’t bring myself to think the way that these well meaning individuals want me to think.

Allie took the words out of my brain and wrote them out. She made me feel okay about the way I see the world. I don’t think that everything happens for a reason and I honestly curse the universe quite a bit for having had to endure so many of the things I’ve had to endure. Sometimes I feel trapped because other people tell me that I need to live for me but in the end, I don’t want to do anything because I don’t get the point. The more that I think about the title, “Solutions and Other Problems” I can’t help but love it more and more. Trying to find the solution to life is probably the biggest problem I’ll ever have.

This book is probably going to have divided opinions not only because of how long it took to be published, but also because of the content within. It felt like a pivot point for Brosh and was similar to how it felt like her blog content shifted after her first depression post. I gave this book five stars and am already ready to reread it but I could see that some people might find the overall message to be too negative or something along those lines.

I’m a pessimist at heart but this book gave me a small seed of hope. It reminded me that there are still things worth sticking around for. Just knowing I was here long enough to read more content from Allie made me proud for a moment. It’s the same thing I felt when I realized I got to see more Taylor Swift albums get released. It’s a different kind of hope but it’s worth being here for.

I know this wasn’t much of an actual review but I’ll link my official Goodreads review here once I finally write it. I just wanted to share the cosmic coincidence of finding hope in content that I’ve held close for 10 years now. I’m going to sign off now and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

You can get your own copy of Solutions and Other Problems from the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (where you can find your local indie to shop from)

You can also find me in these places:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

You can add me or follow my reviews on Goodreads here.

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

If you’re interested in supporting the blog my Ko-fi is here.

Group by Christie Tate is a Messy Misrepresentation of Group Therapy

ARC of Group by Christie Tate was provided by NetGalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The refreshingly original debut memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—her psychotherapy group—and in turn finds human connection, and herself.

Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that still plagued her in spite of her achievements?

Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.

So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect.

Group is a deliciously addictive read, and with Christie as our guide—skeptical of her own capacity for connection and intimacy, but hopeful in spite of herself—we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.

Please note that I will be discussing this book in detail with specific examples as well as providing trigger warnings below. I do not recommend reading this book at all but if you’re interested in not being spoiled now is the time to click off the post!

Trigger Warnings: Suicidal ideation, self harm, eating disorders, infidelity, discussion of death of a baby, discussion of death by drowning

I want to preface my review by saying that this book represents the author’s own experiences in regards to mental health and therapy and this is all valid. I’m glad that she was able to get the help that she needed to in order to live a fulfilling life. However, the experiences within this book feel misrepresentative of the typical process of group therapy and there were many instances of unethical practices. I will also say that I am not a therapist nor am I licensed in any way to facilitate group therapy but I have spent my fair share in therapy. Over the years I’ve been in individual therapy, group therapy, inpatient programs, and outpatient programs and while each of these has been wildly different in terms of treatment if I had ever set foot into a setting like the one created by Tate’s therapist Dr. Rosen I would have never gone back after the first meeting.

When I first requested Group for review I was looking forward to reading about another person’s experiences with group therapy. I was interested in seeing how it differed from my own experiences because I don’t know anyone in my personal life who has ever attended group therapy. Since I have also spent most of my life struggling with my mental health I also always enjoy when other people speak candidly about their mental health. I thinks it’s important that people continue to be open about mental health because the stigmas surrounding it run deep.

So Group started off fine, I wasn’t immediately hooked but I had enough intrigue to continue on. The writing itself was difficult at times to keep me entertained and I feel like it could have benefitted from a slightly more casual style. As I read on the more I wanted to put the book down and never pick it up again. I was appalled by what Tate chose to share and was even more appalled with how Dr. Rosen conducted the groups that Tate attended. The amount of red flags left me worrying about the impact that this book could have on people who are hoping for a miracle for their mental health. It made me nervous that someone may end up seeking out unhealthy therapy in order to try and “fix” themselves. A bit that stood out to me at the end of the book was when Tate described herself as a “lifer” amongst Dr. Rosen’s patients. This ended up being the final straw that had me wracking my brain wondering how anyone was getting real help from these groups.

Now you may be wondering why I had such a strong reaction to someone being in therapy for a lifetime and honestly if I hadn’t read this book I would be wondering the same thing! The short of it all is that I felt like Dr. Rosen created a codependency in some of his group members and it seems like Tate would be unable to function without them. And before I go on I want to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with spending a lifetime in therapy. I mean, the further into my own time in therapy I’ve realized that a balance between individual therapy and medication is the best way to care for my emotional well being. When it comes to each group therapy program I’ve been a part of, the goal is to “graduate”. Some have a set amount of time I’ll attend and the others have had more of a general estimate. I’m aware that this may be different from programs elsewhere and also differs from things like AA but I’ve generally found that group therapy is used as a means to learn skills and talk with peers in order to foster healthy relationships and reactions in the wider world. I also know that many people will attend individual therapy for specific things that they are dealing with in their lives and work through these issues with their therapist in order to move forward. Therapy is supposed to help you learn how to function on your own, not become so reliant on a group of people that you can’t make decisions without them.

Initially I really thought that Tate would be discussing her eating disorder in depth and how she uncovered underlying trauma and then learned how to cope and move on in her life. The biggest struggles she had seemed to relate back to her binge eating disorder (her own description, as far as I know she was never formally diagnosed with anything). It took me until I was about 60% of the way through the book when I finally accepted that this was not the case. This entire book was essentially a “woe is me” tale of a privileged woman who just wanted a relationship. Can therapy help you learn how to have healthy, long lasting relationships? For sure! But being in a relationship is not and will never be a magical fix. The fact that Tate’s only goal for therapy was to end up in a relationship felt very weird to me and that Dr. Rosen accepted this as her goal was even more odd. He essentially guaranteed he could get her into a relationship instead of doing something like redirecting her thought process and suggesting goals that would lead her towards having healthy and long lasting relationships.

When it came to the therapy itself, Dr. Rosen seemed to be creating groups that are antithetical to everything I’ve experienced in group therapy. One of his major viewpoints is that “secrets are toxic” which is why this book was filled with personal and intimate details of each of Tate’s fellow group members as well as herself and Dr. Rosen. This also included detailed sexual encounters including some that Tate had with other group members. I felt beyond uncomfortable because even though Tate changed people’s names it all felt like an invasion of privacy. The first time I attended a group therapy program I was really nervous about opening up to the other members. In the end though I was so thankful that I had a group of peers that I could speak candidly to without having to worry about people in my personal life finding out what I was saying. And in listening to the other group members I found myself appreciating that they too trusted us enough to open up. By not speaking about what goes on in group to other people it’s not keeping secrets and it’s not toxic. It helps people build trust and interact with others who may have been through similar events. It’s a different experience than individual therapy in that it allows you to discuss mental health and other life stressors without potentially burdening or worrying people in your personal life. Holding this idea that secrets are “toxic” is really odd to me and the over sharing in the book cemented that in my opinion some secrets are just fine not to share with the world.

Another thing that made me uncomfortable while reading Group were the “prescriptions” that Dr. Rosen would give to group members. Many of these were highly inappropriate such as telling Tate to stay in an unhealthy relationship or telling her boyfriend at the time (also a group member) to perform oral sex on her. Instead of allowing group members to get advice or figure things out on their own, Rosen seemingly manipulated people to do things that may or may not lead to their desired therapy goal. This motivation of his was never explained which really rubbed me the wrong way because so many things that Rosen did were things that therapists should never do. At one point, Tate physically harmed herself during a group session and Rosen simply sat there and let it happen. Afterwards, he put some ointment on her wound and that was the end of that.

So not only did the overall group therapy experience that Tate had make me uncomfortable but I genuinely couldn’t figure out what the message of this book was supposed to be. Tate had numerous reasons to attend therapy and once again I’m glad that she was able to find the help she needed but she seemed completely naive to the benefits of therapy outside of her own experiences. She didn’t seem to learn anything from her time in group other than this magic resolution of her “happily ever after” relationship. Over the course of her book, Tate mentioned three things numerous times: the fact that she was first in her class at law school, her job at a prestigious law firm, and exactly how much she spent each month on therapy. Now mental health doesn’t discriminate and no matter what your life circumstances are you could experience mental health issues. The issue that I took with these three facts was that Tate never acknowledged the privilege that she had that even allowed her to get the health care that she needed. I won’t get into how incredibly expensive the group sessions cost her each month but she was lucky to be able to go at all. She grew up in a two parent household, she was well educated, and there were just so many advantages that she had and I’m disappointed that there was no acknowledgement of that whatsoever. There are far too many people who will never be provided with the mental health care that they so desperately need and I found myself feeling no sympathy over the fact that the chief complaint Tate held over the entire course of this book was that she was unhappily single.

It was very clear to me that this book was a memoir and a singular experience. However, with a title like Group and no pointed disclaimers of this being a memoir I worry that it could potentially lead people to seek out or stick with unhealthy therapy because it worked for Tate. I mean in the end Tate “fixed” her problems by achieving her goal of getting into a permanent relationship. I was so annoyed that there was next to no discussion of the larger arc of Tate’s mental health even though I feel like this should have been the main focus. Instead, Group focused heavily on Tate’s romantic relationships while she also happened to be attending this group therapy that largely didn’t seem like it was helping her. On more than one occasion she threw violent fits during sessions and then *poof* onto the next part. There seemed to be an utter lack of self awareness and instead of therapy helping Tate develop this she just relied on her group members and Dr. Rosen to fix everything for her.

Group was such a disappointment and the only reason I’m glad I read it is so that I can prevent other people from reading it. And as I’m wrapping up writing this I realized I never even touched on the problematic language used throughout the book. Since I did read an ARC and I won’t be seeking out a finished copy I can’t confirm whether or not any of it was changed before publication but if you’re writing about mental health don’t do shit like describe someone neatly making their bed as “borderline OCD”. It’s beyond disappointing that there are still people who aren’t actively working to erase problematic phrases and language from their day to day speech. And with that I think that’s everything I had to say about Group.

Oh, and as a little side note since this doesn’t technically have to do with that book. I found this out when I was perusing other reviews on Goodreads. Tate is none other than the mommy blogger who refused to remove content that involved her daughter after her daughter explicitly asked her not to include her in content anymore. I remember reading the articles when this situation originally occurred and it made me so sad for her daughter.

I’m going to sign off here before I start thinking of other things to rant about. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

Oh Look, Another Dual Timeline Historical Fiction Book: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner Review

Portions of this review do contain spoilers but there will be warnings ahead of those sections if you want to skip them.

Despite how the title might make it sound, I’m a sucker for dual timeline historical fiction books. I enjoy the mystery and intrigue that revolves around the story that plays out in the past because of something another character has found in the present. They’re usually quick reads and I’ll probably continue to pick them up even with the issues that I do tend to have with them.

I find when it comes to these dual timeline books that the main character in the present day timeline is used to give some sort of conclusion to the character(s) from the past. The present day character tends to use this investigation into the past as some sort of distraction from events that are taking place in their own life. I don’t necessarily mind this but at times it can be jarring to be thrown from one perspective to another, especially because it also involves a time jump. When it comes to historical fiction I usually prefer books that take place entirely in the past without needing to time jump in order to learn the fate of the characters.

I wrote a review back in 2019 about the book A Fire Sparkling by Julianne Maclean which is written in a similar way and has more of my thoughts on books like this. Now let’s jump into the review for The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

First off, this cover is GORGEOUS which was a big reason as to why I picked it up. Definitely an impulse buy but the synopsis was intriguing too.

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Besides the murder aspect of this I would also like to add trigger warnings for miscarriage, suicide, sexual assault, vomiting, and blood.

The Lost Apothecary, while containing darker themes, was a light read so as expected I flew through it. Another reason to this was the fact that I didn’t really enjoy the present day chapters that followed Caroline so I kept reading in order to get back to the chapters that followed Eliza and Nella in the past. I’m not a fan of plot lines that center around infidelity and while I understood why the author chose this to be part of Caroline’s story I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like Caroline was an awkward character in the way she was written and I don’t think she was as dynamic as Eliza and Nella were. Though I will admit that I didn’t particularly find any of them to be truly dynamic or unique characters. Nella had such a fascinating backstory and yet she was given a hardened personality that seemed to leave her unable to share her inner thoughts with even herself. I also found myself wanting so much more from Eliza because while I loved her determination she would go back and forth between being so obviously “young” to all of a sudden behaving in a way that contradicted this.

Just a heads up there will be spoilers in this next paragraph so if you’d like to continue with my spoiler free thoughts feel free to skip it!

The more I thought about Eliza the more I wondered how the story may have been written if she was aged up slightly, even just to 15 (she is 12 when the book begins). An aspect of this book was that Eliza gets her first period after her employer’s husband is poisoned and subsequently dies. She thinks that she has been possessed by his ghost and this is why she’s bleeding. It takes a majority of the book before she ever gets an explanation and while it broke my heart to see how scared she was I also felt that this was an odd plot line considering she otherwise acted so much older than she was. It didn’t even seem like just a difference of the times, Eliza was just oddly written. It was as if she needed to be a heroic character who could still be naive and romanticize the world since Nella was such a pessimist.

Despite not loving the present day chapters, the past chapters were really intriguing and I think the fact that the author is a historian played into the enjoyment that I felt when reading those portions of the book. At the end there is a section from the author about the historical aspects of the story. She gave context to some of the choices she made and I really enjoyed this! Whenever I read a historical fiction I tend to enjoy it even more when authors include resources or context because it allows people who are passionate about history to have a starting place to look into the real world inspiration for the book.

In terms of the plot, again I was intrigued from the moment I read the synopsis. However this was a shorter book and I thought that the balance of events was off. Both storylines took forever to develop to some sort of climax and then the ending felt rushed. It was as if the author had been planning on writing a book that was longer but had to fit it into a specific page count and instead of editing the beginning portion, she just cut chunks out of the ending in order to get to the conclusion in time. And as I had mentioned at the beginning of this post the ending of Nella and Eliza’s story completely hinged on what Caroline could discover in her own quest. I don’t want to completely talk down on this because I do find enjoyment out of reading books like this but it often just feels like a way to avoid writing a book that entirely takes place in the past.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for Caroline’s storyline so if you want to continue a spoiler free review skip to the next section!

As I’d mentioned earlier when discussing Caroline as a character I thought she was awkwardly written and I didn’t really enjoy her story. It focused heavily on infidelity and wanting children as well as regrets over life choices. I feel bad for talking down about these types of stories because I know that there’s an audience for them but it’s just not for me. And the more I think about the way her storyline ended the more I realize how weird the timing was. Her husband ingests an essential oil and ends up in the ICU during which time Caroline is accused of trying to murder him because her notes about Nella were discovered. The entire situation felt poorly handled by all parties and in the end Caroline’s husband who was just in the ICU is casually just going to hop on an international flight and leave. SIR???? IS THAT ACTUALLY A GOOD IDEA??? By the end of this whole ordeal Caroline also reveals that she is going to grad school in order to begin to live for herself again. I was just really confused by the timing because as someone who is also going back to school (granted not abroad and I’m just going to be finishing my undergrad) everything seemed so definite and in the end it was. It just felt like no matter what decision Caroline made she wasn’t going to fail in order to give her some sort of happy ending.

Alrighty, now that I’m done with that mini rant I will say that I did overall enjoy The Lost Apothecary. If you’re looking for a quick dual timeline historical fiction book I would definitely recommend giving this a go. However, if you’re not a fan of historical books that do have a larger focus on the life drama of characters instead of the actual historical context and events I would probably pass this book. This is Sarah Penner’s debut novel and I have to say that despite the issues that I did have with her work I will most likely pick up any future books she writes because I’d love to see what else she might come up with.

If you’re interested in picking up The Lost Apothecary you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Indie Bound (for local indie stores) // Bookshop // Target

And with that, I hope you all have a great day and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

Book Review: We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

*** ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for honest review ***

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years it’s that relationships end. Romances, friendships, even acquaintances will fizzle, fade, or sometimes unluckily go out with an explosion.

Click the cover to head to the Goodreads page!

I’m not great with relationships of any kind and when I first read the synopsis for We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding my heart hurt. It follows James and Kat, a best friend duo that met in kindergarten, as their friendship changes (and fizzles) over the course of their senior year of high school.

The pair are personality opposites but they’ve made it work. They’ve navigated life changes and growing up together and it seems like nothing could have broken them apart. The book opens with a chapter from James as she leaves for college and then the story unfolds in alternating chapters and storylines. James narrates her senior year from end to beginning and Kat from beginning to end. If you’ve ever seen the movie or musical The Last Five Years this book has the same sort of format!!

This was an easy five stars for me and I genuinely wish I had this story back in high school. It was extremely cathartic and had me reflecting quite a bit about a friendship that I had back in high school that reminded me a bit of Kat and James. I felt broken at times while reading this but I honestly appreciated being able to read a story from two perspectives because it reminded me that no friendship is one-sided and an ending friendship doesn’t necessarily stem from solely the faults of one person.

As a high schooler, especially a senior, you can feel on top of the world. Your future is bright and everything seems possible. Being a teenager is one of the easiest and hardest things to be because you can have your whole life laid out ahead of you and be none the wiser to all the changes that are going to occur. Growing up is intense and navigating the transition between high school and college can throw many obstacles in one’s path. James is a planner and thought nothing would change her 15 year plan and unexpected events in her family end up throwing her into a new mindset that she’s never had to deal with before. As her life falls apart she turns inward and begins to catastrophize the choices that she’s made and wants to make. In contrast, Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, especially in regards to the people in her own life. She’s hesitant and anxious when it comes to changes but in the end all she wants is the best for anyone.

Despite being inexplicably linked, Kat and James were quite unique. Their approaches to navigating obstacles and changes were not only realistic but helped to illustrate how easy it is to allow differences to get in the way of friendships. Over the course of the book, Kat sees things falling together while James sees things in her life falling apart. The choices and events occurring in each of their lives caused a schism and the pair grew apart as neither girl truly acknowledged that they were both changing. Growing up is different for everyone and without realizing it, you can find yourself growing quickly apart from those “best friends for life”.

Kat and James are a bit of personality opposites, similar enough to make it work but when outside circumstances begin to come in between them it begins to cause a schism that ultimately changes their relationship entirely. Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, using this to compete with anxiety about changes she experiences. James, on the other hand, experiences unexpected changes and ends up catastrophizing the events which leads to even more unexpected changes. As a teenager it’s easy to wish the best for life and to think that you have everything figured out. Being a senior can give you that invincible high on life feeling and having to accept the open endedness of the future is a struggle. It doesn’t help that high schoolers are immature, even those seniors that think they have it all figured out! When you begin to get caught up in your own issues, you can lose sight of what’s going on around you, often to the point of neglecting things you shouldn’t. I could see how people might look at Kat and James and see two immature girls and a very mismatched pair but friendship when you’re young is as easy as spending all your time together. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of effort if you’re lucky enough to go to the same school or live nearby. But being mismatched is what ended up leading to issues and that’s something that happens in many high school friendships.

Having a friendship end at any age is hard but when you’re in high school when things change with a “best friend for life” it can be absolutely heartbreaking. One of my favorite things about We Used to Be Friends was how open ended so many aspects of it were. Reminiscent of life itself it drove home for me the fact that there are no guarantees and there is always a chance for things to change. We want happy endings, we want things to turn out perfect, we want all of our plans to work out but that’s not something that we’re promised. This was a touching and realistic novel about growing up. It navigates those relationship changes and allows the reader to reflect on the choices that each character made. Friendships are a two way street and when you accumulate so many years with someone it’s easy to assume that nothing will ever get in the way of many more years. We might not all get the chance to reconcile or have the ability to make different choices. To put it frankly, losing friends SUCKS and this book illustrated an almost grieving process between a best friend duo. This is one of my new favorites and an easy five star rating at that. A highly cathartic read for anyone who has found themselves in a changing friendship I couldn’t recommend this more!

Spoiler-Free Review and Spoiler Filled Rave: White Ivy by Susie Yang

*** This post will contain spoilers for White Ivy, readers will be warned at the end of the spoiler free section***

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!

Click the cover to be taken to the Goodreads page!

White Ivy is a spectacular debut novel from Susie Yang following Ivy Lin, a young Chinese girl growing up in the United States as she does whatever it takes to find status in a world in which she feels she never quite fits into. It’s a narrative of an adolescent wrestling with her identity and I was immediately struck by how engrossing this book was.

I grew up reading books that were usually outside of my age range and as soon as I started reading White Ivy it reminded me of some of the adult books I had picked up over my late elementary and middle school years. The writing fit the time period encapsulated in the book perfectly. I think the writing style was one of my main draws for this because it took me back to the early 2000’s and completely sucked me in.

It’s hit or miss how I end up feeling about novels with main characters like Ivy. She’s conniving and selfish and I continuously cycled between hating her and having a smidgen of hope for her. There were moments where I related to her and moments I pitied her and even more where I was in absolute disbelief of who Ivy was becoming as a person. The other characters in this book both infuriated and intrigued me and I was amazed at how easily Ivy molded herself to fit into the situations she was placed into. As her past and present begin to overlap and intermingle the emotional arc I went through had me reading as quickly as I could. Ivy was so filled with disdain for her past and her own family that made drastic choices to fulfill goals that she felt she had to reach. The inner wrestling she had to do made me want to reach through the book pages and shake her.

The plot was slow moving but as I read this in one sitting I felt so many emotions. It burned to read and while I tried to predict where the story arc was going multiple times when I finally did flip to the last page I was speechless. Each of the characters so clearly had their own motivations that even after finishing this book I can’t help but imagine what else might have been revealed if other characters had their own perspectives. Ivy was so biased and so consumed with her own need for success that her neglect towards pieces of her life outside of her romantic relationship was painful. I wanted so much more for Ivy but her ultimate decisions led to a shocking ending that I still can’t stop thinking about. This book was so different from any thriller I’ve read in a long time and while it wasn’t a flashy shocking book, it was uniquely shocking it it’s own way.

If you’re looking for a book that encapsulates a troubled girl who just wants success and in turn will do anything she can to reach her goals, I highly recommend this.

SPOILERS INCLUDED STARTING NOW, EXIT POST IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THOSE 🙂

Okay, wow. This book!!! Like I had mentioned earlier the plot was slow going. I’m not good with literary terms so I don’t know if she’d be considered an unreliable narrator but she was so indecisive that I have to believe that in the end her mind was reeling.

As Ivy developed her relationship with Gideon I was so surprised by how the past came back into her life with her childhood friend. When they started up their affair I honestly was not surprised in the slightest. The more I thought about the way Ivy was living her life, the more I saw the comparison between the path that she took versus the one that her mother took. They both married the “safe” option after the untimely deaths of their more spicy flings (that was the worst way to describe this but I can’t think of anything else to say right now).

Ivy worked so hard to fit this “perfect” version of herself that she began to curate after coming home from China. The years passed by and yet she couldn’t move on from her childhood. The constant disdain for her family was exactly what led to her marriage and future which she resigned herself to after realizing that Gideon was gay. The murder part of the plot was not quite as shocking as it could have been, I knew that Ivy was going to do whatever it took to make sure Gideon didn’t find out about her affair. The realization about Gideon though actually made me gasp.

This book was so good at layering both the issues surrounding being out of place growing up but also the conniving nature of someone who will do anything to be successful. It was an amazing debut and I look forward to reading more by Yang!

Followers by Megan Angelo: An Intriguing Novel on the Over-Trusting Nature We Have With the Internet (Spoilers)

Well that title was a mouthful, wasn’t it? I didn’t really know what else I wanted to title it. This post is going to be part review and part discussion so I kind of just word vomited what I thought was fitting.

Seeing as this is a blog post, on the good ole internet I guess I’ll start off with this question: How safe do you feel using the internet?

In recent years we’ve had increasing jokes about the “FBI guys” in our cameras, we’ve had plenty of conspiracy theories about tech (ALA Shane Dawson and many others), and Black Mirror has sprung plenty of discussions about the future of tech and the world.

Ever since my freshman year of college when I took a class called Media Literacy I’ve been somewhat skeptical of tech. But am I overly cautious? In short, no. In fact I think I could do a lot better with how I use technology. But I do things like cover my cameras, and I’ve slowly but surely deleted accounts of mine and limited what I do on the internet. At the same time though I still overshare. I have a TikTok account where I crack niche jokes about mental health and rant about my customers at work. I walk a fine line with my balance but as far as I’m concerned I’m fine with what I do on the internet.

Followers is a book that takes a look at this relationship that people have with social media and the internet. It’s intriguing and I think it had the potential to be very poignant and relevant but I didn’t love it.

Followers

Synopsis

An electrifying story of two ambitious friends, the dark choices they make and the stunning moment that changes the world as we know it forever

Orla Cadden is a budding novelist stuck in a dead-end job, writing clickbait about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Then Orla meets Floss―a striving wannabe A-lister―who comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they dream about. So what if Orla and Floss’s methods are a little shady and sometimes people get hurt? Their legions of followers can’t be wrong.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity―twelve million loyal followers―Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is based on a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.

Rating

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Review/Discussion

Followers reminded me of the celebrity centered books that I used to read as a teen. The peek into a seemingly glamorous life that so many people crave but this book took a modern spin with adding in the reliance on technology. I can see where the author was coming from, wanting to write a hard-hitting moralistic novel about how we trust the internet with so much and how it could eventually come back to bite us but it wasn’t overly impressive. As a debut novel, I thought that it had showed a lot of promise and if Angelo publishes something else and it sounded interesting enough I would most likely give it a chance.

As someone who is already skeptical about the internet this didn’t read as very electrifying nor did any of the events truly shock me. This was marketed as sci-fi but if I’m being honest, there wasn’t much about it that felt unrealistic. Sure there was technology in the future sections of the book that doesn’t exist but this book mostly centered about personal endeavors and tech critique instead of focusing on the technology itself.

I wasn’t a fan of either of the main characters. Orla and Marlow were both incredibly annoying in their own ways and I thought they were so wishy-washy and unremarkable that I was very quickly bored throughout. My main motivation to finish reading this book was to find out about the cataclysmic event that took place that caused such a strong before and after in the plot. If I’m being honest the event was somewhat unremarkable. Since I’ve grown up with the internet, I’ve done my fair share of oversharing, I’ve done my fair share of dumb things but so has most other people my age. The “current day” portion of the book took place in 2015 and 2016 and to read about what ended up taking place, this event known as the “Spill” I found myself rolling my eyes at how people reacted. From the description and the lead-up, it was obvious that the Spill caused a bunch of people to lose their lives thanks to good ole technology. What I wasn’t expecting was that these people were losing their lives to suicide. The Spill happened because some hackers, in an act of cyber terrorism, shut down technology and then turned on the citizens of the world by sharing their deepest darkest secrets that were on the internet with everyone.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think some of the things that I’ve done on the internet would be pretty humiliating if they got out but even if they got sent to everyone I’ve ever known I don’t think I’d ever kill myself over those things. And especially considering that the internet was down and barely salvageable in the aftermath of this I doubt anyone could use this information against anyone. The bullying could only happen in person, yes relationships could be ruined but if every single person was having their worst shared about them with absolutely everyone, why care? Maybe living the event would be different, or maybe if I was older than I am I would feel different but I’ve grown up with people oversharing. Hell, people share everything online now, people make tasteless jokes and there are hundreds of people making bank off of selling their nudes. So maybe I wasn’t the target audience for this book because I was bored! I didn’t care that all of these people had their lives destroyed by the internet. I do think that people 100% rely too heavily on the internet but I also don’t think that this book is as timely as one might think.

AAAAND now I feel bad for saying that I thought it was unrealistic that people took their lives for having their darkest shared to everyone… I swear I’m not trying to be a horrid person I just personally feel like a lot of people, especially my peers, would not feel the life ending need for these things to come out. I mean back in 2016 I was in college and was dating my first boyfriend. I think the worst that could be put out about me was the smutty fan fiction that I read but nowadays people are open about any and all smut they read, hell there’s even a read-a-thon specifically for reading smutty books.

The internet is a vast place. It is both a dark and light space and I think a lot of people could use some breaks from it from time to time. I think that Followers was a book that posed some interesting questions about influencer culture and the power that the internet holds but overall I was bored with it. This book was thought provoking and I think there is an audience out there for it but it just wasn’t the perfect fit for me.