Review- Understanding the Alacran

Understanding the Alacran by Jonathan LaPoma

Genre: Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 422
Publisher: Almendro Arts
Publication Date: August 23, 2017

3/5 stars

UnderstandAlacran_FrntCvr_3.13.17“I think that, maybe, you get too close to things that are ugly because you want to make them beautiful. I see that you are suffering. But you have a gift. I don’t think you realize how special you are.” 

After seeing the darker side of teaching in the US, Will moves to Mexico to escape what could turn into a drug problem. Though he has a limited amount of savings that quickly dwindles, he manages to have some good times there. Most of Will’s days are filled with excessive drinking, partying, flirting with girls, and more drinking. He sees a pattern with the girls he gets involved with—they all leave him after a few days of fun. In a time of darkness, Will meets a woman who changes the way he views himself and the world.

-I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review-

The first thing that I want to mention is that I really, really disliked the main character, Will. This is not completely a bad thing, because it means Jonathan LaPoma wrote him as a very developed and multifaceted character. In the first few chapters, Will is meh, for me. He is just a young man trying to run away from a dark lifestyle that almost consumed him. As the story goes, his true colors of misogyny come out. He continuously treats women badly, hooks up with them, and then thinks horrible things about them once they dump him. He’s in this thought pattern of “woe is me, women are monsters and won’t give me a chance”, even though he has many preconceptions of different women before he meets them. I mean, this guy is super unlikeable. As I said, this means that he was written well and is a dimensional character.

I think the most important part about Understanding the Alacran is that it illustrates the ugliness of alcoholism. Will is obviously an alcoholic. He binge drinks almost every single night. There is a scene when he’s traveling with a woman who really wants him to stop drinking for a little while because they’re riding a bus with strangers. Will basically laughs at her and drinks excessively the whole trip. In addition, he also spends all his traveling money on beer and forces his angry companion to pay for his bus ticket. Blowing all of one’s money on alcohol and not caring how it affects other people is a sign of a drinking problem. There are also multiple times when he tells himself that he will not drink as much on certain nights. Without fail, Will always breaks his promises and gets blackout drunk. Not keeping promises that one sets for oneself is another sign of alcoholism. Describing traits of a drinking problem without trivializing it is important for education. I’m glad Jonathan LaPoma wrote about alcoholism in a responsible way and put this work out there for the public to learn from.

One thing that I didn’t like about Understanding the Alacran was the pace of the story. I remember at page 255, I was still wondering when I would get to the point of the book. Most of the book was just describing a man’s life without a big picture or purpose. The first 53% (I remember checking the percentage on GoodReads) really dragged on and I considered putting the work down completely. I’m really glad I didn’t, but the temptation was there. I wish the book had been 2/3 the length and left out some of the superfluous details of drunk nights and parties.

I have mostly good things to say about Understanding the Alacran, but the slow first half of the book bumped my rating down to a 3/5 stars. This book comes out in August, so be on the lookout for it! I recommend it to people who want to read about the reality of alcoholism. I want to thank Jonathan LaPoma for sending a copy of his work in exchange for an honest review.

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Review- Nothing is Strange

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell

4/5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 144
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication date: December 31, 2015

25099252A man called Dunce who is bald with a pointed head, a couple who wishes that their genitals would fall off, and a clone who gets locked up in a shed, are all different types of people who make appearances in Nothing is Strange. The 20 short stories exist in their own fantastical lands that each have their own special laws of physics. What happens when right arms are nonexistent or the act of crying is never heard of? These things are just normal occurrences in Mike Russell’s writings.

Earlier this year, I was gifted a copy of Mike Russell’s other book, Strange Medicine. It was the first short collection in a long time that I actually enjoyed. I went into Nothing is Strange with high expectations and I was not disappointed. Thank you to the Strange Books team forsending me this title!

Mike Russell has a brain similar to Douglas Adams’. His stories make almost no sense at all, which actually makes them sort of make sense. He begins each short story in a world with at least one strange concept and then builds off of that with seemingly random events and characters. Reading his work is almost like riding a roller coaster, except you can’t see and don’t know where all the curves and drops are. Although, I don’t like roller coasters, but I liked Nothing is Strange.

My favorite thing about these short stories is that most of them don’t make any sense until the last paragraph or last sentence. Or in some cases, the stories don’t make any sense and the last sentence makes even less sense. For example, “Lesley Visits the Barber” ends with “thus beginning the universe”. While reading the story, I had no idea where I would end up, but the beginning of the universe was not it. I haven’t read a book that blindsided me so many times since finishing the “Dirk Gently” series a few years ago. That’s truly saying something about Mike Russell’s writing technique.

I also want to comment on the story length, as I think it says a lot. The stories range from 3 to 9 pages. That is not very much room to develop a made-up world and characters. The fact that Mike Russell can give enough detail and context for a reader to imagine the setting of each story is amazing. While reading Nothing is Strange, I never felt confused due to the short length of the book.

It’s clear to me that it takes quite a bit of talent to successfully write a collection of short stories such as Nothing is Strange. I’m so honored that Strange Books sent me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. It was such an enjoyable read for me, as I love science fiction. If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams, you’ll love this book.

Review- Charlotte and Daisy

Charlotte and Daisy by Amanda Rotach Lamkin

4/5 stars

Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Line by Lion Publications
Publication date: August 19th, 2015
Page count: 448

51YFXSPYupL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Charlotte has lived her life crippled by severe depression for too long. After multiple hospitalizations, she decides to apply for a procedure that would alter the way her mind functions. To Charlotte’s surprise, the doctors choose her to be their patient, the operation is done, and her brain is reconstructed. Suddenly, Charlotte’s life is turned around and she becomes interested in things that never appealed to her before, such as relationships and a career path. The only thing that could hinder her development is a malfunction in her programming, but her new life is worth the risk.

Amanda Rotach Lamkin does an amazing job depicting the realities of depression and how scary the illness can be. Charlotte has spent long periods of time in treatment centers, experienced bouts of the inability to get out of bed, and been prescribed many, many medications. These are all things that happen to real people who suffer from depression. It’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t tip toe around the ‘unattractive’ symptoms of mental illnesses. It was also nice to see that, even after Charlotte gets her operation done, she is not 100% ‘cured’ of her illnesses. She still has times when her brain reverts back to things like catastrophic or black and white thinking patterns. Even with the brain surgery done, Charlotte still has to manage stress and triggers. Mental illnesses are always a work in progress, you cannot just ‘get better’ and be relieved of all symptoms forever, even in Charlotte’s case.

I really liked Charlotte’s boyfriend, Aidian, as well. He is the perfect example of how a loved one of someone with depression should act. Aidian is always there for Charlotte, good day or bad, and loves her unconditionally. I think that Amanda Rotach Lamkin did an excellent job writing the scene in which Charlotte has flashbacks while her and Aidian are being intimate. Flashbacks are a very real experience for people with PTSD and sex can be triggering. The way Aidian reacts to Charlotte’s flashbacks is very raw and it is easy to tell that he deeply cares about her, even though he doesn’t completely understand what is happening. Aidian truly is a good guy and the way he was written was perfect.

Actually, I want to dedicate a paragraph to a discussion about the flashback scene. Charlotte closes her eyes, experiences a flashback of being forced into sex when she was younger, and then runs away from Aidian and locks herself in the bathroom. Charlotte’s whirlwind of emotions of fear, confusion, and shame are all too real for people that suffer from PTSD and trauma related illnesses. Her body reacts in a way that she doesn’t understand and she feels ashamed of it. She is so ashamed that she doesn’t even want to explain what happened to Aidian, basically leaving him in the dark and unsure of what the problem was. This scene really proved to me that Amdan Rotach Lamkin is a responsible author who does her research on the characters she writes about.

Charlotte and Daisy was an excellent start to my BookCon haul. I wanted to read a new book about characters with mental illnesses for a while, so I’m really happy right now. I admire the work that Amanda Rotach Lamkin puts into her writing and character development; she wrote about depression and PTSD in a very responsible and educational way. In addition, this book is such a great homage to Flowers for Algernon. If you’re looking for a good diverse book, this is it.

Review- Cottonmouths (And Update!)

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for being a bit distant over the past week or so. I went on vacation for a week (apartment hunting!) and then attended BOOKCON! Last weekend was one of the best times of my entire life. I spoke with a lot of authors and publishers, some indie and some not, and connected with so many wonderful people. Everyone I talked to was very kind and we bonded over our shared love of diverse books. I can’t wait to read and review all the books I got from the convention! Stay tuned!

Now, for the review.

Cottonmouths: A Novel by Kelly J. Ford

 2.5/5 stars

Binding: Hardcover
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: June 6th, 2017
Page count: 286

51TkKyf-iOL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Emily Skinner, newly dropped out of college, is now back in her hometown in Arkansas. She’s living in her parents’ house, surrounded by gossip and judgment from her mom. To top it all off, Emily’s old crush, Jody, is back in town with her baby. Although Emily knows she’s trouble, she can’t stay away from Jody. After getting kicked out of her parents’ house over a dispute about her sexuality, Jody offers Emily a job as a babysitter and invites her to stay in her spare bedroom. Emily has always dreamed that maybe someday Jody could love her, especially considering the hints she’s giving lately. Soon, Emily realizes the mess that she’s walked into and, more important, realizes that she can’t escape it.

I’m always on the lookout for upcoming lesbian fiction. I constantly watch and track new releases on Goodreads and BookRiot. I hadn’t picked up a lesbian mystery in a while, so my gut told me to start Cottonmouths. It isn’t my favorite book of June, but it is certainly interesting. If you’re not into F/F storylines, do not fear, because this book doesn’t really revolve around Jody’s sexuality, it’s more of a side topic.

I’m trying to pinpoint why this book wasn’t a 5 star rating for me. It has a lot of components that I usually love, like queer themes, so I’m a bit confused. I’ve done a lot of thinking and realized that Cottonmouths made me really, really uncomfortable. I’m generally not good with books that make me feel unnerved, creeped out, or otherwise squirmy. Some books are just too much for me– too scary, too gory, too cringeworthy, you name it. I’m not sure what this book was too much of, but something left me feeling unsettled. I’m not someone who enjoys uncomfortable books, but this book is perfect for someone who is able and likes to stomach them.

Something that I did like about Cottonmouths was how much it reminded me of Gillian Flynn’s writing style. It’s most comparable to Sharp Objects, in my opinion. There is less blood, but it has the same concept of a protagonist who the reader slowly beings to like less and less as the book goes on. In the beginning, Jody is someone who you can really feel sorry for, since she just dropped out of college and is struggling to find a job. As the chapters go by, Jody becomes less relatable and more unlikeable. This is something that makes me admire an author, because it’s not easy to do well. I think Emily J. Ford did a nice job transitioning Emily from a sweet girl into a dangerous woman in love with the wrong person.

Another great thing about Cottonmouths is the character depth. Emily and Jody both have so much going on inside them. Neither of them is all good or all bad, which can make it difficult for the reader to determine who is the one they should be “rooting for”. Kelly J. Ford does an excellent job making some things obvious (Emily is in love with Jody) but keeping a few key things secret (but, does Jody love Emily back?). I really have a hard time with books with no redeemable characters, so this was a downside for me, but I’m sure it’s an upside for some people.

I really wish I had been able to stomach Cottonmouths a bit more. The characters were very well developed and Kelly J. Ford excelled at making all her major characters very dislikable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right pick for me, for personal preference. I’d recommend this to someone who wants a good mystery that leaves them feeling uncomfortable and angry with the main characters.