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.

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.

Please Stop It With the Toxic Romances: A You Deserve Each Other Rant Review

***This post will contain spoilers for the book You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle***

Trying to gather my thoughts for this post is proving to be very difficult. I have six pages of notes that I want to pull from on top of other points that have popped up the longer I’ve been away from my initial reading experience. I read You Deserve Each Other this past fall and I still get angry every time I think about it or see it mentioned.

At the core, You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle is a toxic mess. It is hyped as an “enemies-to-lovers” rom-com story about two people who have fallen out of love and enter into a prank war. I think I’m also majorly in the minority with my views. This book currently has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads and a slew of rave reviews.

The synopsis really doesn’t even begin to describe the inner workings of this story. When I first started seeing people talk about the book it sounded like it might be about a couple with cold feet, nervous to go through with the lifetime commitment of marriage but neither wants to admit it so they try to pull away from each other. I was ready for the “pranks” that were supposed to ensue, ready for some complex and heavy conversations about relationships, ready for a candid look at a “real” relationship. But instead I was sorely disappointed and left questioning why so many toxic traits are applauded in hyped up romance novels.

One of the major flaws in YDEO is the fact that while being a story about two people, there’s only one perspective and unfortunately for the reader, that’s the inner thoughts of Naomi. Naomi is a highly flawed individual and outright toxic, her views are heavily laced with casual sexism and not only did she change herself in order to fit into the relationship, she also never communicated. If the author had intended for Naomi to be an unlikeable character who shows growth over the course of the story I think I would have enjoyed the story slightly more but in the end I don’t think that’s what the author had intended. Throughout the whole book I desperately wanted to be able to hear from Nicholas because when he actually was given the opportunity to speak his mind I loved it. I really didn’t think that any of the characters in the book felt developed enough for me to really understand who they were. I was hoping to learn more but the limited perspective that Naomi gave us kept that from ever happening.

In my opinion, YDEO is not an enemies-to-lover story. Naomi entered into a relationship with Nicholas and instead of communicating about the issues that she had and fostering growth, she changed herself and accepted a stagnant and mediocre partnership in which she felt insecure and eventually threatened. The pair rushed into the relationship and instead of, oh I don’t know, GOING TO THERAPY they eventually started this petty “prank” war in order to force someone to forfeit the relationship. I genuinely think that this would have had potential if it was written as a fake dating story and if it also brought in the perspective of Nicholas. I could totally see Nicholas and Naomi pretending to be getting married in some sort of scheme against Nicholas’ parents. The Rose family was absolutely deplorable and this clip from John Mulaney sums up my opinion about how I feel in regards to family and relationships.

I’m really tired of picking up books that are marketed as romantic and then they end up just glorifying toxic relationships and toxic traits. Naomi had such a black and white way of thinking that she often took her reactions to an extreme. At one point, Nicholas sent her a plant and instead of taking a moment to Google it or even simply ask him what was up with the plant Naomi decided that he absolutely had to be trying to murder her with a poisonous plant. She got so caught up in needing to dislike Nicholas that it took over her life. I don’t think that it was inherently bad that Naomi was so stuck in her current position but her stubbornness ended up leading to increasingly frustrating situations for her to end up in.

I’ll admit that there were some parts of the book that I didn’t hate which is why I ended up rating it two stars instead of one. In the end though I found YDEO to be yet another adult romance that glorifies toxicity in order to develop a plot. I felt like the characters were underdeveloped and the story itself was incredibly disappointing. I wrote a post quite a while ago about lack of communication within enemies to lovers books and after reading this book I think I need to avoid adult romances with this plot line for a while. I might need to step away from adult romance as a whole for now because I truly can’t understand how many toxic traits are played up as favored tropes. I don’t think it’s necessary to use these in order to create a story, there are plenty of healthy romances that could be entertaining to read. This is a big reason why I dislike the typical “third act breakup” that so many romances include. Conflict happens but oftentimes the extreme reactions could easily be avoided and it’s not that I find it unrealistic but a lot of times it’s just not healthy.

As is a very common opinion of mine, You Deserve Each Other had potential to be a much better book than it ended up being. I got caught up in the hype and was misled by the synopsis that was provided. It was a disappointing read and incredibly frustrating and it’s not something I would recommend picking up.

Well, love that reviewing again started off with a good old rant review! I just knew I still wanted to get this one posted so I figured it was worth it to finally get written up. I’ll talk to you all again soon with another 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!

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.

 

Review: Docile by K.M. Szpara

*This post may contain spoilers*

Docile

Synopsis:

There is no consent under capitalism

Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power, a challenging tour de force that at turns seduces and startles.

To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your children’s future.

Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.

Rating:

I have decided to forgo rating this book because I don’t feel comfortable assigning a point system to my feelings regarding this story. More on this in my review.

Review:

CW: Abuse (physical, sexual, mental, emotional), rape, drug use, suicide attempt, suicidal ideation

Docile started out strong, I found the plot interesting, I found the characters to be compelling, and overall I was incredibly interested in seeing where this story took us. I finished reading this a little over a week ago and knew I wanted to write a review but realized I needed time to properly record my thoughts about this novel.

This book was well written and hard to put down but I think the way that it skewed towards trying to be some sexual dystopian story really took away from what it is at the core. This story is about slavery.

The following quote is lifted from a Goodreads review about a Tweet posted sometime last year describing Docile. If I’m able to locate the tweet itself I will insert that here but as of now, this is what I have.

“Dramatic Trillionaire Content
BDSM & then some more BDSM & then a lot more BDSM
Hurt/comfort & hurt/no comfort
Cinnamon roll of steel
The most scandalous kink: love
Courtroom drama, bedroom drama, Preakness drama
Debt & Decadence”

I have also seen now, numerous people describe it as “gay 50 shades of grey” and genuinely all I have to say is *what the actual fuck did these people read in comparison to what I read*. This is not some kinky romantic BDSM lovey book. This is disturbing, it is literally about slavery. It literally says in the description that THERE IS NO CONSENT UNDER CAPITALISM. This book is about rape, it is about abuse of power, it is about a dystopian capitalist future, it is fucked up. I think that there’s a really big disconnect between the content and readers, well not only that but a huge disconnect between content and marketing. I for one went into this book expecting something far different than what I was presented. From the get go I was incredibly disturbed by what I was reading and in the end was let down by an utter lack of critique of capitalist culture and disregard for the historical impact of slavery on the United States.

One of the main characters, Elisha was broken from a very early stage and completely lost his agency and I think that this ended up leading to most of the issues that I had. There may be two viewpoints that this story is told from but because Elisha is unable to think for himself within a short portion of the book and thus the whole novel is skewed to show the trillionaire lifestyle as more positive than it is. In the end, you can see the psychological damage that has happened to Elisha but the author tries to create a happy ending in which it implies that he will eventually go back to his abuser, Alex, because Elisha has somehow magically overcome the damage that has happened to him. In that same vein, Elisha’s mother is magically cured by a drug that was barely tested, I’m assuming, in order to once again try to give Alex some form of humanity to make him more likable.

Disclaimer: I do think that Alex did show a bit of character growth from the opening of this book to the end but I also think that it was a bit too convenient that he so quickly realized the error of his entire lifestyle solely because he was “in love” with Elisha. Yes, his entire life was dismantled because he realized that Dociles are also people but I genuinely have no sympathy for him.

Back to the characters, I find it unfortunate that I ended up thinking so many of them to be flat. There were numerous plot points that took me by surprise that involved certain characters but I felt like we were just supposed to take this information and go with it. The relationships between any characters except for Elisha and Alex were boring and it pained me to see neither of them narrate even a slightly broader backstory to either of their family’s or friend groups. Elisha’s family treated him poorly after he came back to visit but yet we have no understanding as to why they think what he’s done is awful. We know that Elisha’s mother had an adverse and long term reaction to Dociline but Elisha didn’t take it and if Elisha hadn’t left, his sister would have been the one to sell herself into this debt slave system so it makes no sense to me that Elisha’s father would have such an extreme reaction to what Elisha did. Not only did he sell off his entire family’s debt, they were also getting a monthly stipend which should have made things at least slightly better for them so the reaction that Elisha’s father had seemed outlandish. From the very brief interactions and descriptions of Elisha’s sister she seemed to be written as knowledgeable and headstrong and it wouldn’t make sense for her to fall prey to an idealistic world as long as she was able to keep off Dociline and away from the debt slave system.

I also found the world in this book to be incredibly underdeveloped and I would have appreciated more backstory as to how this debt system came about, how the world functions outside of the trillionaires and honestly even just how the trillionaires functioned as well. It was all quickly glossed over that this master/slave system was created to dissolve debt and that the center of it all was this drug (Dociline) but the “whys” were just *not there*. From what was mentioned, this system is not used worldwide, it seems that it wasn’t even used across the entirety of the United States. So this makes me wonder how the rest of the world handles debt and the treatment of those who don’t have money. We saw very small glimpses into the development of Dociline through Alex’s work but I’m still unsure why it was developed in the first place, why it needs new versions and why there isn’t more of an uproar in the outside communities because there’s absolutely no way that Elisha’s mother was the only person to have had a non life term that ended in an adverse reaction. I also had hoped to see more of a critique of capitalist culture as this book is very eerie in terms of the future of the United States but we’re all just lead to believe that everyone just accepts the debt and accepts this slave system. There’s an undercover resistance group but they don’t do anything to try and put forth revolts, nothing to try and undermine the system, they do what they can but I was expecting a full blown revolution and this didn’t give me even a crumb of that.

Before I sign off, I want to leave you with some reviews that I think are very well written that speak far more in depth about some of the issues that I had that I didn’t know how to speak on:

A review that goes in depth about the slave/master aspects, AKA talking about how this is slavefic

This review says everything I wanted to say and more. The quote below is from this review and I couldn’t agree with that statement more.

If a white author uses slavery as a focal point of their book’s plot, a plot that revolves around dismantling capitalism and consent in AMERICA, there needs to be a serious interrogation of like…context, history, trauma on the bodies of BIPOC. It was like slavery and racism never existed in Docile and that continues to bother me! It’s bothersome to have two white narrators as the lenses through which we see the horrors of slavery, because UH…all of these things happened to BIPOC!

Lastly, I wanted to share this review but not review that really tackles race within Docile

PLEASE, if anything, go read the above linked post because this says everything I could have wanted said about this book.

I have never read anything related to slavefic. I’m not a fan of relationships where there is a nonconsensual abuse of power. But I am always interested in seeing where people go wrong with the way that they handle issues of race because these issues will always be prevalent and they will always be important. Docile was an interesting book, I’ll give it that, but I think in terms of everything else it has a long way to go before being a book that should be praised the way it has been. I appreciate that there are people out there who are much better than me at raising critiques and questions because I knew as uncomfortable as I was when I was done reading this book, I could never adequately describe what I needed to say. I think that Docile was poorly and incorrectly marketed and it kind of disgusts me that people would praise this for the sexual nature.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have decided against rating this book and would like to warn anyone that does want to read this to go into it with these critiques in mind. Or to read critiques afterwards because there’s a lot left unsaid within the novel.

Take care everyone, and enjoy your weekends.

 

 

Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This post may contain spoilers…

My Dark Vanessa

Synopsis:

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood.

Rating:

Untitled design-5

Review:

After completing this book, I was so numb I forgot how to cry. I crawled under my blankets in my bed and stared out the window as I watched the sky grow dark. To say this book was powerful is an understatement, at least in my opinion. I knew that it would be triggering, I knew it would be painful, and it was, incredibly so, but in the end I have nothing to say but praise for this novel.

As I mentioned, this is triggering and if you’ve read the synopsis you could probably garner that as well. The entire story stems from an incredibly abusive sexual relationship that has been created between main character Vanessa and her teacher Mr. Strane. When it comes to my own personal triggers, I’m not usually effected strongly by things that I read, my triggers tend to come from real life scenarios instead but this book hit me so hard in some portions that I had to take hours long breaks in order to feel fine enough to begin reading again. So if you are sensitive, I would highly suggest steering clear of this book. It is strong and it is dark and I just wanted to caution those of you that might be looking for something in depth with the trigger warnings.

This story was utterly haunting and a complete masterpiece that will follow me for years to come. Russell has written a complex and dark story that follows main character Vanessa as she navigates the lifelong consequences of an abusive manipulative sexual relationship with her former teacher. It is powerful and does so well at going into the lasting psychological damage that can be done to a person that has been placed in this situation.

The novel is broken into sections from the past, set in 2000 when Vanessa is in high school and then in 2017 when Vanessa is an adult. There are also a few chapters that take place while Vanessa is in college in 2007. It is intriguing to see how the story unfolds between these time periods and I think that the nonlinear chapter layout only helps to illustrate just how strongly the abuse that Vanessa endured burrows itself into her entire psyche.

I’ve seen a few reviews in which people have a critique over the story being repetitive and I agree, it is, but that’s exactly how it needed to be written to illustrate what was going on. Vanessa had her entire life taken from her because of Mr. Strane. He changed her memories, changed her behavior, he dug himself into every corner of her life and completely changed her. This is a story that happens to many. Abuse is repetitive. That’s exactly how abusers maintain their control. The repetitive nature is exactly why this story is so important. It’s not a one time offense, it’s not an obvious catastrophic “event”, it’s years of psychological manipulation and gas lighting and coercion. It’s seeing Vanessa’s entire life fall short in front of her eyes as she realizes that everything she has ever experienced is nothing like she had once imagined it to be.

The complexities of Vanessa’s own thoughts are hard to delve into, to see herself so strongly defend her former teacher, to so strongly believe what she was taught to believe. It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating. And I can only hope that this story will get into the hands of people who need it. That as years go on, more people will find strength in their stories both fiction and not.

As a final thought, I have also seen people express disappointment at the ending and I can see where people could imagine this story taking a different direction than where it ends up. But I applaud Russell for how she wrote the ending. People can find power in simplicity, in finding the strength to start to mend from their broken pasts. Healing and change isn’t instantaneous, it is not the social media posts, the protests, the yelling and the crying, the complete 180’s in lifestyle. It can be this, but healing can be quiet. It can be healing relationships with those that you lost while you were trapped, it can be finding companionship in a new pet, or a new person. It is therapy and medication and spending weeks upon weeks asking yourself “what would my life look like if I had chosen a different path… If I hadn’t made this choice.” Healing is different for every single person that has gone through abuse or trauma. I mean the book illustrates that very clearly. Compare how Vanessa has lived her life compared to Taylor, the girl who publicly accuses Strane. Life is lived differently by everyone and I felt like the ending showed just a sliver of hope for Vanessa and that’s exactly what I needed to see.

Have hope. Find strength. Learn and live.

Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

As I have spent many months starting and not finishing books I finally picked one up that I read all the way through. Ever since I read A Fire Sparkling last year I have been super intrigued by spy stories. So when I was perusing the book section at Target a while back and I found The Alice Network by Kate Quinn I was so excited to read a story involving female spies once again.

The Alice Network

Synopsis:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the “queen of spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

I ended up rating this 2/5 stars and I have to say that I feel quite bamboozled after reading this. I definitely went into the book expecting a great historical fiction but ended up leaving it feeling like I had read a women’s fiction novel that was masquerading as historical fiction. If I wasn’t so picky when it comes to historical fiction there’s a good chance that I would have enjoyed this more but it really did not live up to expectations.

I will say that I am definitely in the minority with my rating though. Overall it seems like people really enjoy this book and I can understand why. It’s emotional and does flow and keep the reader engaged and for people who don’t want heavy deeply rooted historical novels I would recommend.

Overall the plot is what kept me intrigued enough to keep reading. There was enough there that I wanted to learn about that I continued on even after I found myself disliking the characters. I wanted to see what the outcome was to Charlie’s cousin Rose and I wanted to see how the two stories from the two wars tied together. The story itself was quite repetitive and I felt like there were many chapters that didn’t add anything to the overall plot. I feel like it could have been tied up nicely with 100-200 fewer pages.

The thing that really kept me from enjoying this book more was the characters themselves. I really think you could have taken these two women from this story and put them into any other story with a similar plot and you could have gotten the same outcome. Of the two, I think that Eve was the stronger character. Unfortunately that’s really not saying much. It was unique to read about how she used her stutter to her advantage while working as a spy but I felt like this was a trait that was just handed to her to make her seem unique solely because of the way that Charlie was written. Had this story only been told from Eve’s point of view I might think differently.

When it came to Charlie as a character I couldn’t stand her. She was annoying and used her thinking as a “math major” as her only way to voicing her inner thoughts. Now the math major this was interesting but it could have been mentioned and never brought about again but it was constantly brought up. And all her inner thoughts were framed as equations. It was incredibly annoying and I felt like it did nothing for the plot nor Charlie as a character other than give her a way to stand apart from Eve. This is why I felt like the stutter was just given to Eve because other than those I really felt like the way the characters were written was indistinguishable. I knew who was talking in each section because of the plot but they themselves did not stand out to me. I felt like most of the other characters also were just thrown in to fit specific roles and were pretty flat.

I really don’t care to speak on how Charlie went about speaking about and handling her “Little Problem” as she dubbed her pregnancy but from the very beginning it outraged me how every other sentence she was calling herself a “whore” or “slut” because of the predicament that she had ended up in. No, the times were not kind to young, unmarried pregnant girls but there was no justification for the harshness and repetitiveness of this.

Overall the story tied up nicely and while I wasn’t a fan of the romance, it wasn’t necessarily forced but it played into a “pretty” ending so I understand why the author included it. This is another reason why I felt like it was a women’s fiction novel masquerading as historical fiction. The romance came out of left field (in my opinion) and I couldn’t help but sigh every time it progressed. It never felt quite right but in order to get some sort of happy ending I guess there had to be some romance, right?

I was really hoping for an intense and beautifully intertwined story about lost family and spies and in turn I got a boring romance with some spy subplot thrown in to line the edges. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, probably wouldn’t recommend this.

Now I am definitely interested to pick up The Huntress by the same author to see if I end up seeing the same things happen in that book because I know a few people that I have similar reading tastes to really enjoyed that one so I’m intrigued!

If you’ve read this book what did you think of it? And if you know of any books about female spies during World War II please send those recommendations my way!

Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Woah, y’all. I finally finished a book!! It’s been like an entire month and I still have no reading motivation but I did it!! Also my last class of the semester ends in just a few days so fingers crossed I’ll get some reading motivation back once I have a month where I don’t have homework deadlines looming in the background!

So, what book did I read? Well if you didn’t pay attention to the title of this post it was The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

The Luminous Dead

Here’s the synopsis:

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

Caves are one of my biggest fears, the darkness and sickening sense of claustrophobia that come with them send chills down my spine with just a thought. My mom and aunt can’t go a family gathering without talking about the time I said I’d be fine going past the point of no return in a cave tour and then ended up having a breakdown. (Sidenote: I was like 7 at the time and I got my sweatshirt hood caught on a railing so I thought someone was grabbing me, like YOU go through a spooky cave and think someone is grabbing you and come out of the experience unscathed!!!!) So anyways, when I saw this book I knew that if I wanted a horror book that could genuinely terrify me, well this is it.

The writing in this was so good, there was more than one scene in which I was left with goosebumps and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up because I was so spooked. This definitely played into my own fears and I found myself questioning every single thing I read which, to me, adds so much to the horror aspect. I think that if I would have had the attention span to read this in one sitting, I would have, but it ended up taking me about a month and a half to finish this which made it a little bit jarring each time I picked it up again. Despite the gaps between reading, once I did get back into reading it was easy to immerse myself back in the story. I feel like horror is one genre where if I can’t be fully immersed then I’m not going to fully enjoy it so I am happy to report that this is quite an immersive story.

With a cast of two characters I was really interested to see how this would play out and the way the relationship between Gyre and Em would develop from the beginning to the end. My emotions were all over the place and I’m not going to lie when I say that I would greatly enjoy some further addition to this story. There was definitely a conclusion but I feel like there is so much of this world left to explore that I would be down for any sort of epilogue that the author would like to give us. This aspect of the story, with Gyre and Em, was so complex and frustrating and yet I could see so fully the motivations of each character and I loved that. Each was so fully developed and the balance between heartbreaking, tender moments and sheer terror and stress and anger was so well done.

I feel like this book would appeal to those who aren’t normally fans of horror too. It’s thrilling and shocking and left me feeling like I should check over my own shoulder but for horror, I felt it was pretty tame. There isn’t anything overly gory and I feel like it’s more of a psychological horror that just burns nice and slowly until it gets you right at the end.

In the end, I rated it 4 stars because there were parts of this that left me feeling a bit dry. I highly recommend picking this up and I look forward to reading whatever Caitlin Starling comes up with next!

You can pick up your own copy of The Luminous Dead at these links:

Amazon (Affiliate Link) // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository