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.

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!

A Memoir For a Quarter Life Crisis: Reviewing Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

I’m always thankful for books that manage to find their way to me at the perfect time. I’ve been an avid reader since I first learned and the universe never seems to fail me when I need a story to find its way to me. At 24, I’ve spent most of my life shifting between crisis mode and terrifying periods of time where things feel okay which obviously means that everything is about to fall apart. Right now I’m battling with another terrifying period of time because I’m taking major steps forward but am waiting for the little bad things to take over my life once more.

Living with and learning to cope with the effects of trauma is overwhelming. It takes a lot of work and oftentimes it can make you feel completely hopeless. When your life gets turned upside down and you spend your entire existence simply finding a way to survive to see another day by the time you’re back to a point where you could even attempt to find “normalcy” it may feel impossible. Between Two Kingdoms is a heart wrenching look into this exact type of journey.

At 22, Suleika Jaouad’s world turned upside down after being diagnosed with leukemia. Over the years she used her writing to cope with her battle with cancer as well as her battle to find a way to understand where her life had taken her when she went into remission and no longer has to spend all of her time focusing on survival. The memoir that she crafted about her journey was not only beautifully written but also heartbreakingly honest and relatable. Though our experiences with trauma are quite different I felt like Suleika had pulled things from my own thoughts and journals as she relayed her own.

Suleika has a powerful voice and it was clear to me that she poured her emotions into the pages of Between Two Kingdoms. Trauma is a beast and reading about how she fell apart and slowly began putting herself back together was incredibly relatable. The inspiration for the title comes from how the world seemed to be split between the kingdom of the “sick” and the kingdom of the “well”. Despite ending up in remission, Suleika struggled with making her way back to the kingdom of the well which is what ultimately sent her on her road trip to try and heal.

She was marooned between these two kingdoms because she was grieving both the life she would never live as well as the people she lost along the way. While it was heartbreaking to see her become aware of how her illness effected everyone in her life I appreciated the self awareness throughout the latter portion of the book. When we are suffering it’s hard to understand that our illnesses be they physical or mental have consequences. Personally I’m still trying to cope with how my struggles over the years have changed every aspect of my life.

Overall I couldn’t recommend this memoir more. Through a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of healing Suleika gave readers a message of hope. We currently exist in a world where too many people have experienced trauma, grief, and illness. Especially now as we all still navigate what has happened with COVID I think this book could be a benefit to many. Now more than ever it’s important to realize that we are not suffering alone. Our lives have changed and if you’re still in a period of just making sure you survive another day know I’m proud of you for fighting.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy of Between Two Kingdoms you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Or find a local indie shop at IndieBound

Other places you can find me:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

Add me on Goodreads here

Email for review requests: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

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.

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!

Graphic Novel Review: Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo

*This post may contain spoilers*

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC of this graphic novel. Eat, and Love Yourself is out today for purchase 🙂

Eat, and Love Yourself

Synopsis:

A story about Mindy, a woman living with an eating disorder who has to learn how to love herself again.

In pursuit of the perfect body, Mindy buys the low-fat diet products and the glossy magazines which promise the secret to losing weight. One night, while perusing the aisles of the neighborhood convenience store for a midnight snack, she finds a new product. A chocolate bar called “Eat and Love Yourself”. On a whim, Mindy buys the curious candy, not knowing that with every piece of chocolate she eats, she will be brought back to a specific moment of her past — helping her to look at herself honestly, learn to love her body the way it is, and accepting love. Perhaps, she will even realize that her long lost high school best friend, Elliot, was more than just a friend…

Rating:

Untitled design-3

Review:

TW: Depression, Bulimia, Body Dysmorphia, Eating Disorders

I was intrigued by this graphic novel from the get go. I stumbled across it on NetGalley and wanted to read it right away and while I absolutely loved the artwork, the story itself fell somewhat flat.

Body image and eating disorders and anything that falls in that realm is incredibly nuanced and complex and I think that one aspect of this story that missed the mark was the length. I think that anyone would say that 160 pages would be difficult to tell a complete story in, especially one that contains the topics that this one does and I feel as if this could have benefitted from more content. The synopsis (which I didn’t read until after I had finished reading it) tells the story entirely. While normally I wouldn’t mind, as it does a great job of summing up the story, it made me realize that I really felt like the story was too short. There wasn’t enough explanation, inner thought, or conclusion. I ended my time reading only wanting more, but not in terms of a sequel, just more from what I was given. The ending was abrupt and everything else really only breached the surface of the topic at hand.

From the story that we were given I feel wishy washy in terms of my opinion. Again, I loved the artwork but because nothing related to the plot was fleshed out I was left with more questions than answers. I loved the arc of self acceptance and was overall pleased with the story in general but I constantly felt like I was reading the highlights or a sneak peek of this graphic novel rather than an almost finished product. I know that this book was about self love but I couldn’t help but wonder where the interpersonal relationships were, why the characters interacted the way that they did, why certain conversations led to others. The flashback scenes only provided so much context.

I think if the author was going for a broad, more universally understandable story about a woman’s journey to self love she hit that mark. But this story held so much potential that just wasn’t there. It has the important messages of looking back at oneself and finding contentment and self love in the midst of disordered eating and thoughts but it was all surface level. As someone who has spent much of their life struggling with self image and disordered eating I loved the memories that Mindy was given that allowed her to step back and look at how she ended up in the spot that she was in. The book did open up the line of self reflection which I know is something that a lot of people struggle with.

This is the type of book to spark conversations and again, I cannot praise the artwork more, and if you’re looking for a graphic novel that ties in body positivity and relearning how to love yourself in the midst of personal struggles I would recommend it.

 

Middle Grade Monday: The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

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I have a Middle Grade Monday post ready for next week about a few books with spooky storylines and ghosts but I felt that there was no way that I could group this book into that post so it’s getting one of it’s own. Today I’ll be discussing and reviewing The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills.

After losing her mother unexpectedly, Shelly begins to hoard ghosts. A gift that has been passed down through generations of women in her family, Shelly has the ability to see ghosts, catch them, and help them move on. When she realizes that her mother has not come back as a ghost, she can’t let the other ghosts go.

Rooted in a Cree worldview, Shelly and her grandmother use their long hair to catch ghosts and then help to guide them onward to whatever comes after death. I thought that The Ghost Collector was a really deep story of a young, grieving girl who has to learn how to let go. It was so interesting to see how different ghosts could be, anywhere from the old, the young, animals, happy, sad, angry… The list goes on.

It was heartbreaking to see what Shelley was going through, just wanting to see her mom one more time. I think this was a unique and beautiful story about death, grief, and learning to let go. It is so important to share stories like this with young readers, to give them a more broad perspective of the topic of death, dying, and more. I really enjoyed reading a “ghost story” that wasn’t scary. I feel like what is often the case is that ghosts are made out to be malevolent and while those stories are definitely fun, it’s good to see stories where ghosts are just existing too.

In terms of reviewing this book, I gave it three stars. I would highly recommend it to anyone but I personally felt that parts of the story were underdeveloped. The origins of a few characters felt unexplained as did the backstory as to why Shelley and her grandmother were able to see ghosts and catch them in their hair. I would have loved more explanation and a bit of world building in that regard… I did try to do some internet research on the topic of ghosts and Cree beliefs but came up with nothing! Regardless of these qualms that I had, I thought this book was spectacular and have definitely thought about this story a lot since originally reading it.

If you are interested in a book that handles grief well and provides a new view on ghosts and death, this might be the book you’re looking for! Definitely worth checking out.

**I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

 

 

Review: Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn

Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn is all about grief and healing. Telling the story of a girl named Olivia, three years after the death of her younger brother. A new girl named Kara Hallas moves in across the street with her grandma and mother and Olivia is immediately drawn to them.

While hanging out with Kara, Olivia begins to pull herself out of the hole that her brother’s death left her in. The two of them form an unlikely bond while writing letters to death row inmates and Olivia tries to learn who exactly the Hallas family is.

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I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. It’s all about grief and healing and it felt so personal to look into the lives of the people within this book. At times I felt like it was too much, like I was reading about the lives of real people and I felt almost bad reading it. Although it was really hard to read I ended up reading it all in one sitting while I was doing some work at the library a few weeks ago.

The prose within this was beautiful and I think that Morgyn did a fantastic job writing her first novel. I thought that the different portrayals of grief added a lot of depth and I appreciated that Olivia and her parents all dealt with the loss of her brother in vastly different ways.

The actual Resurrection Girls subplot in which Olivia and Kara wrote letters to death row inmates was very minor, at least in my opinion. I thought it was interesting but it didn’t lend itself to the plot as much as the descriptions of this book make it out to be. I think in general this book is more about healing and relationships than anything else. There is a bit of a romance subplot as well and I thought it was okay. I loved the overall arc of the book and while I wasn’t so invested in the subplots I did enjoy them for the most part.

In terms of characters, Olivia is the only one that felt fully fleshed out. Every once in a while we got into the depths of the other characters but throughout the whole story Olivia is the sole focus. I appreciated the depth we got from her parents towards the end, it felt right, but I would have loved to know more about Kara and Prescott. Prescott had so much potential to be a really great character and in the end, he lacked depth. I talk more about what I wanted from Kara in my spoilery section later in the post.

Due to the dark nature of this book I’m including content warnings here, and then the next section contains spoilers so if you want to skip them, scroll down to the next picture.

 

 

Content warnings for: death of a child, suicide, overdose, addiction, serial killers, death

This next section contains spoilers:

So this book, I assume, is considered magical realism but I honestly think that the whole subplot of the Hallas family having some sort of “curse” could have been done away with… Or this book could’ve been 50-100 pages longer in order to fully develop what was going on with them. I felt that the ending was extremely rushed and it didn’t really add anything to the story. Kara and her family could have just as easily been a normal family with how little I learned about who they really were. It was easy to imply some of the gaps in the story but I wanted more from that storyline. That was really my main issue with the book.

I am also a tad uncomfortable with the part of this book in which Olivia overdosed. Not saying that this was bad, but I will say it felt unrealistic. Like from what I remember they didn’t even place a psychiatric hold on her? They just let her go home with her mom… The same mom that she got these pills she overdosed on from? I’m probably just being nitpicky here but this is an area where I have a ton of personal knowledge and it felt really brushed over and reduced to something really simple. Definitely not saying it was bad, just that this also could have been expanded on and written differently.

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Resurrection Girls was incredibly dark, hypnotic, moving, and deep. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it. I ended up giving it a rating of 4/5 stars and am looking forward to whatever Ava Morgyn comes up with next.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find links to the book here:

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository

Book Review: Filter This by Sophie White

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to be reviewing my first ARC from my whole list of September releases.

The book in question is Filter This by Sophie White and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Ali Jones is hell-bent on achieving her #lifegoals: 10,000 Instagram followers and a win at the upcoming Glossie Influencer Awards. So when she inadvertently leads people to believe she is sporting a baby bump and immediately gains thousands of followers, she realises that the Mummy Influencer wave could be her ticket to Insta-success, even if off-screen it feels like her life is falling apart with what’s happening to her beloved dad.

But then Tinder Sam, Ali’s one-night-stand, resurfaces and seems determined to take his new role as baby daddy seriously. And falling for Sam is definitely not part of Ali’s plan.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s biggest influencer (and Ali’s idol) Shelly Divine has it all … at least on paper. But beneath the immaculately curated feed, cracks are appearing. Shelly harbours a secret from her followers and, more importantly, her husband – but who will be the first to discover what she’s been hiding?

As the Glossies approach, what will it take for the women realise what’s truly important before they lose what matters most?

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So when I requested this I knew what the plot was going into it… But like I must have really not been paying that much attention because honestly if I had realized that this whole thing revolved around a faked pregnancy I probably would have passed on it. I feel very conflicted with my rating on this solely because I cannot understand how anyone could possibly be okay with faking a pregnancy for social media clout but I’ll go more into detail with that later in my review.

In the end, I’ve settled on 3/5 stars.

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I guess I’ll preface the whole review by saying that I in no way support the plot that the author put together. The faked pregnancy is a really bad take on faking something for social media, I think the worst part was the fact that the main character, Ali, actually let her one night stand believe that he had knocked her up. That is so incredibly manipulative and gross and I hated that part of this book more than I can put into words.  FAKING A PREGNANCY ISN’T CUTE. LYING TO THE MAN THAT THINKS HE KNOCKED YOU UP IS MANIPULATIVE AS HELL.

In other terms of things that I didn’t like about this plot:

  • Ali’s drinking problem. There are so many pieces of media in which heavy drinking is portrayed as much less of a problem than it is. Binge drinking is a really toxic behavior and it shouldn’t be played off as a typical young person thing in the way that it is.
  • This book isn’t going to be timeless. It’s full of modern pop culture references and does nothing to mask that fact. I know that social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but I feel like it’s hard for all of these books that focus in so much on what is going on *right now* to be relevant in a few years time.
  • There were many chances to go in depth about losing a parent early due to illness and also to postpartum depression and yet NEITHER of these plot points were ever discussed beyond surface level. Both Ali and Shelley (the character that has the secondary viewpoint of the book) had the opportunity to go on big sprawling character developing arcs and yet I really don’t think either changed by the end of the book.
  • And with that there’s supposed to be a sequel. In which, obviously, Ali and Shelley are most likely going to try and redeem themselves. I just feel like that’s an excuse to leave this book underdeveloped and lacking in substance. None of the main characters meant anything to me and in fact, I really didn’t find myself invested in Ali or Shelley as people either. Very flat and surface level for the entire book.

Now the things that I liked about this book were:

  • It was funny. Like I snorted about some of the things that happened. It was outrageous some of the things the women in this book do for a simple “like”.
  • If you really think about it, this book portrays an outrageous story about women who do outrageous things in order to maintain clout on the internet. I feel like a book like this would be one that could be dissected and compared to real life in order to show just how far people will go to be popular. I find social media to be so toxic at times and I feel like if you’re reading this book in the right mindset then it illustrates exactly that. Like this book was messy… I mean in the first few chapters Ali literally put together a moldy bowl of oats in order to have a perfect breakfast shot and then promptly ate a cheesy croissant instead. I just know there are people out there that do this kind of stuff and it makes my stomach churn at the thought of needing to cultivate such a perfect life.

So is this the next great book? Oh by no means. But if you’re looking for something quick and funny to read, this could be up your alley. If you’d like to purchase a copy of your own you can get one at this link.

 

 

Review: 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

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I’m going to start off by saying that I am sad. Sad because of how good this book could have been… And I feel like that is just the entire theme of my reading this year. I swear I say this for at least one book every month: IT HAD THE POTENTIAL AND THEY SHOULD HAVE WORKED IT OUT A LOT LONGER BEFORE PUBLISHING IT.

So I got an ARC of this book from NetGalley and was super excited to read it. I mean look at that cover, one of the prettiest covers I’ve seen in a while. It started off really good but in the end I had to rate it 2/5 stars.

This book is about a girl named Tessa who got into a car accident with her grandma which resulted in her being temporarily blind for can you guess? 100 days.

Tessa is a poetry blogger and so in an attempt to help her feel a little bit more normal again, her grandparents try to run an ad in the newspaper to find someone who can help her type the poems and publish them onto her blog.

In comes Weston, an amputee. He’s decided that this is the perfect opportunity to be treated like a completely normal person for the first time since he lost his legs. He asks Tessa’s grandparents to not tell her what has happened to him and together they work together as Tessa slowly recovers from the accident.

I’ll start off with the things that I did enjoy about the book:

The story was very sweet at times. I appreciated how close Tessa was with her grandparents and that she had a close group of internet friends that she found through her blogging. I also really liked Weston’s family aspect and how close he was to his brothers.

The writing was really pleasant to read and it was so easy to read that I flew through multiple chapters at a time when I actually had a chance to sit down and read this. I also liked that it was a pretty straightforward story with really no dilly dallying around the plot. It was short and got right through it all.

Also these are very small issues but if you’re looking for a book about blogging, this isn’t it. They basically talk about Tessa’s blog a total of three times. And it’s an extreme case of insta love.

And now… We get to the really big issues I had.

Both Tessa and Weston had extremely traumatic things happen to them. Tessa was in an accident that caused her to lose her vision and Weston had to have both of his legs amputated after getting an infection. And they were both left to just deal with the aftermath of that by themselves… I mean yes, they had their families but they never went to therapy, they never talked about therapy, it just didn’t happen.

When something traumatic happens your entire brain chemistry can change. The mental consequences of events like these are horrifying and I’m absolutely appalled that you could clearly see that both of these characters were suffering with PTSD like symptoms and yet were not ever treated like it was something that should be taken care of or evaluated. I mean Tessa had the chance of never being able to see again and they just decided “okay she can just learn how to deal with that if she doesn’t get her vision back”.

I mean, what would have happened if she didn’t get her vision back (which also I found that her getting her vision back immediately on Day 100 was so trite and predictable, really didn’t like that). If she had been permanently blinded she would have lost all hope that she had at her chance of recovery. That would have been devastated and her already fragile mental health would have been destroyed. I just think that the entire aspect of mental health was poorly written in order to have this incredibly preachy underlying message about how we all need to suck it up and get over our issues.

Here’s more on that, first with a quote:

“Everyone’s always treating me like I need help- and, sometimes, it’s hard to resist giving in. It’s hard to resist accepting what the world says about you… That you’ve got a disadvantage, a flaw, a problem. Because these days we’re told that it’s okay to let our problems control us. It’s okay to be the victim. It’s okay… because you have every right to be miserable.” I shook my head slowly, sweeping the room with my gaze.

“But I want to tell you that it’s not okay. It’s not okay to let your problem stop you from doing anything you want to do. It’s not okay to be your problem… because you’re a person”

I mean like the line on the cover says… “When life knocks you down… Get up” it just breaks me knowing how many people out there want you to feel like you are not allowed to feel the way that you feel. No, you can’t live every single day of your life miserable but you can’t go around acting like everything is peachy keen, sometimes you are the victim. Sometimes you are completely broken down. Sometimes you feel like giving up. And you know what? I’m here telling you that that is okay. We can’t possibly have everything together all the time.

Sometimes, our handicaps, our hurts, our abuses… Sometimes they win. And no those problems are not who we are but they are a part of us and we can’t ignore them in order to make everyone else around us think better of us. Sometimes we get knocked down and we can’t get back up again for a while. And I really, really don’t appreciate how this book preaches to the fact that we shouldn’t feel bad for what is wrong with us. I’m sorry but I will never be fully strong. I will never fully win. And I am incredibly angry that this book is trying to tell me that I am pathetic, yes it makes me feel pathetic, for feeling the way that I do.

There’s another line very early on in the book that says something along the lines of “no one ever sees the light by being told that someone else is dealing with something darker” and THAT is what I wanted to see more of. I have been told time and time again in my life that there are people out there that have it worse than me and that I’m not allowed to feel the way that I do because of that. I don’t know if I’m just being overly sensitive but it really hurt me to have Weston talk the way that he did despite never doing anything for himself to get help about his mental health other than deciding that he needed to essentially “man up” and just do whatever he wanted no matter what anyone else thought.

I just don’t understand how this author can go from writing a beautiful line like that to preaching that we aren’t allowed to be miserable about what is wrong with us. Especially because right after that quote Weston basically plays the victim saying that he can’t possibly be with Tessa because he’s an amputee. It just made no sense to me. I mean if Weston doesn’t want people to treat him like his handicap then he can’t act like that when that finally comes up.

I just think the story overall was so immature and absolutely poorly told in both cases of disability. I really wish that I hadn’t read this book because I know I’m going to get angry every single time I think about it.

I think that this book puts out a really entitled message and I’m really disappointed. This is not a book that I would recommend. I really wish that this book had been different.

I also wanted to share a link to another review that touched on some things that I didn’t talk about here. You can find that here.

If you are interested in reading it yourself, you can pick up a copy at this affiliate link