Review- Get It Together, Delilah!

Get It Together, Delilah! by Erin Gough

51aXj4JnGAL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Page Count: 336 pages
Star rating: 3.5/5 stars

Delilah has a lot of responsibilities for just a high school student. Her dad is away, so she’s stuck managing The Flywheel, his coffee shop. With that commitment, on top of relentless bullying from homophobes at school, Delilah decides to leave academics to work at The Flywheel full time. On a positive note, this gives her more opportunities to not-so-randomly run into her long-time crush, Rosa. Delilah daydreams of Rosa confessing her undying love for her, but she’s aware that this probably will never happen. With big coffee shop competition down the road, Delilah struggles to balance The Flywheel, her gigantic crush on a girl who may not ever like her back, and her school friends who pester her to come back to school.

I want to start out by mentioning the title of this book. Before it was released outside of Australia, this book was named The Flywheel. I, personally, think this was a much better name. The Flywheel is the most important location in the novel, so that was a very fitting title. The title Get It Together, Delilah! confused me a bit.

My favorite part about this book was watching Delilah come to accept that not every queer person can easily come out of the closet like she did. She gets frustrated with some of the other characters in the book who are scared or unable to come out to their families and friends. I’ve seen this frustration in people that I know, personally. Sometimes, LGBT folks who have open-minded loved ones don’t understand why others, in scarier situations, can’t openly call themselves gay. Not everyone is lucky enough to be close to people who are accepting of queer folks, and this is an unfortunately reality for many LGBT people, especially youth. Getting to see Delilah grow into someone who is sensitive to those in rougher situations was very comforting. I love character growth like that!

I actually found myself laughing at one point in the book. I don’t know why I found this so comical, maybe because it’s relatable for queer people, but when Delilah was drunkenly ‘experimenting’ with her male friend, I laughed out loud. It was funny seeing them try to make it work, but in the end they just made a joke of it and decided it could never happen. This is something pretty common in the gay community, but I’m sure this scene is funny to basically anyone.

The only thing that disappointed me about Get It Together, Delilah! was the plot depth. I don’t get a bigger picture kind of feeling after finishing this book. It doesn’t really have a meaning to the reader once they turn the final page. It’s just…over. I wish this work affected me in some way, but it didn’t.

Overall, I liked Get It Together, Delilah!. I read a lot of LGBT fiction, and this wasn’t my favorite, but it was still a good choice for me. It’s fairly short, so it made for a quick read. I’m very glad I stopped by the Chronicle Books booth at BookCon this year and picked it up!

Review- 10 Things I Can See From Here

Hey all! I’m sorry for my absence from WordPress. Life got in the way, you know? A sick cat, work, and general life changes all struck me in the past 2 weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be getting my reading back on track in the next few days. I’m excited for this next review, because I believe it’s an important YA book for youth today. Thanks for reading!

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

“Don’t look down. Look around. Tell me ten things that you can see from here.”

31019571Genre: YA fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: Feburuary 28, 2017
Publisher: Knopf Books
Page count: 320

Star rating: 3.5/5 

Maeve struggles with extreme, debilitating anxiety. She has hundreds of facts about death rates stored in her brain, and they pop up out of nowhere. For example, when riding the train, she constantly thinks about how many people die on trains per year. Maeve is often told to ‘think positively’ or ‘keep her chin up’ when the subject of her anxiety is brought up. This is very irritating and it feels like people who don’t have an anxiety disorder just don’t get it. Despite this, Maeve meets a girl who can see past her anxieties and coach her through panic attacks. Navigating through a new relationship has its ups and downs, but this girl is certainly worth it.

This review is going to be challenging for me. The beginning of 10 Things I can See From Here really turned me off. I almost set the book down after the first 100 pages. After that, I started enjoying the book and, by the end of it, I was so glad that I didn’t put it down. If I forget about the first half of the book, this was one of my favorite reads of the year. I’m going to split this review up by first half and second half of the book.

~~~~First Half~~~~

I’m totally for writing about mental illnesses in literature, especially young adult fiction. I think it’s really important for representation and education for people of all ages. That being said, I think the way Maeve’s anxiety disorder was written was not the best. I have two reasons why I think it could have been written better.

  • Reading about Maeve’s anxiety gave ME anxiety. In almost every change of scenery, Maeve worries about many different catastrophic scenarios in which freak accidents happen. It wasn’t that I was anxious that these same horrible deaths would happen to me; just reading about someone having so much anxiety made me feel that way too. The thing is, I don’t usually have such a visceral experience when I read books with anxious characters. To me, this means that Maeve’s anxiety was not written in a way that is beneficial to people who struggle with anxiety. I would have liked to see a novel about a protagonist with anxiety that is better for readers with anxiety to read.
  • In addition to the fact that Maeve’s anxiety disorder was not written well for readers with anxiety, I also don’t think it was written well for people without anxiety. Maeve’s constant spew of death rates and facts about dying was almost annoying. I think people who don’t experience severe anxiety would stay away from this book, as they would be irritated. One of the points of writing about mental illnesses is to educate the general population. But, in order to educate, people must want to read these books. I think there is definitely a way to make books about mental illnesses interesting to people who have never experienced symptoms. Unfortunately, this book didn’t do it as well as I hoped.

The first half of 10 Things I can See From Here mostly dealt with Maeve’s anxiety. I couldn’t get into it, for the two reasons I listed above. The book truly got much, much better in the second half. Here’s why:

~~~~Second half~~~~

“Being queer was also about not being into boys. Just as it was about attraction, it was also about the absence of attraction, like white space…Girls shimmered as if all the light shone on them and not on the boys at all. Boys were hardly there, just shadows and background noise.”

Maeve’s sexuality becomes a big part of this book in the second half. I absolutely loved how this was written. Maeve truly loves herself and doesn’t judge who her body loves. Maeve meets Salix and their romance is written like any heterosexual YA love. 10 Things I Can See From Here doesn’t rely on any lesbian stereotypes, which is a huge deal for YA. Maeve and Salix’s relationship develops very organically and is so refreshing to read. This made the book wonderful.

In addition, there is a scene in which Maeve becomes annoyed with Salix acting as if she ‘gets’ anxiety, despite not having an anxiety disorder. Maeve is hurt that Salix doesn’t understand. Salix later explains that she does experience anxiety, as most people do, but not to the degree that Maeve does. Using the skills that Salix learned from her own anxiety, she coaches Maeve through an attack by telling her to name 10 things she can see around her. This is a real skill that therapists tell their patients, as a mindfulness and grounding technique. This shows readers that people who don’t have certain disorders can still understand and can definitely still help those who suffer from them, which is an important lesson.

Also, I loved how Maeve’s father and his sobriety were written. Addicts relapse, this is something that many addicts and their family know. Maeve’s dad relapses and essentially hits rock bottom, as that’s what often happens when addicts relapse after long-term sobriety. Reading about how her father picks himself back up and goes to AA meetings every day is a healthy representation of what recovery looks like. It’s nice that a positive light was shone on a twelve-step program in a YA novel.

There were many parts that I didn’t like about 10 Things I Can See From Here, but there were more things that I did like about this book. Maeve’s anxiety was not written well, but the parts that I did like were done in such a great way that it made the book, overall, very enjoyable. I applaud Carrie Mac for writing a young, lesbian relationship in a manner that makes her queer audience feel safe and happy. In addition, I applaud her for writing about addiction and AA in a respectful manner. Despite the rocky beginning, I liked this book a lot.

 

Review- Rosie Colored Glasses (ARC)

Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson

cover112238-mediumGenre: Adult fiction
Format: ARC paperback (thank you Harlequin!)
Publication date: February 20, 2018
Publisher: MIRA
Page count: 329 (keep in mind that this is an uncorrected proof)
Star rating: 5/5

Wow! I loved this book. I’m so grateful that Harlequin gave me an ARC at BookCon. This is easily my favorite read of the summer, so far. There are a few content warnings I’d like to give, but some of them will spoil the plot. The big one that I’ll mention is that this book talks about addiction in great depth. I’m really looking forward to this review, so please read on!

Even though she was stoned.
Even though she promised herself she wouldn’t do this.
Even though she wished none of this was happening.
Rosie drove to Rex’s house to pick up her children.”

Willow is just a fifth grader trying to navigate through her marshmallow cereal, a little brother with a lisp, and her parent’s divorce. Besides a few accidents, including one on the playground with her classmates, Willow is doing a pretty great job keeping herself together, especially with the strict rules at her dad’s house. Rosie, her mom, is the more fun parent. Rosie lets Willow and her brother eat ice cream late at night and put on makeup and costumes before watching a movie. Things are going particularly well for Willow, Rosie even visits her at recess, but then something in her mom changes. Willow wants her fun, care-free, loudly loving Rosie back, but she’s afraid that mom is gone forever.

This book is told in the different perspectives of Willow’s family members. I was blown away by the narrations from Willow and Rosie because they are so raw. Seriously, I felt like I was looking into their souls. Willow is so full a fear and just wants love. She wants love from everyone, especially her father, Rex, who she does not get any love from. She craves that father-daughter love so badly that it hinders her relationship with Rex. What she doesn’t know is that Rex wants that love too, but shuts himself out. This is a beautiful (that somehow feels like the right word to use here) dilemma that taps into deep concepts of love in family dynamics. I’m taken aback by how much Willow’s need for affection and comfort touched me.

I want to go back to the quotation that I inserted above the synopsis of this title. One thing that many addicts use to distinguish themselves from recreational substance users is the fact that they cross boundaries they lay out for themselves. For example, someone may tell themself that they will drink no more than twice a week; and they will stick to that rule. On the other hand, someone who struggles with substance abuse will break rules that they set for themself, as the disease makes it impossible for them to stop. A lot of people don’t understand this aspect of addiction. Although it encourages self-blaming thinking, it is not uncommon for people to think “why can’t addicts just choose to stop taking their drug of choice?” I’m really glad that Rosie Colored Glasses included this passage about Rosie breaking the boundaries she sets for herself and what she will not do while on drugs.

In addition to the quotation I inserted into the beginning of this novel, I want to point out one more:

“Vicodin welcomed Rosie’s affinity for her high. Vicodin coiled around Rosie and squeezed her so tight she was unable to move. Unable to parent. Unable to do much of anything at all. Except lie there alone and breathe.
Until she couldn’t even do that.”

I don’t really have much to say about this quotation, because I know what I write will not do it justice. I’d just like my readers to reflect on what this is trying to say about substance abuse and how much drugs can both bring someone up and push them back down.

I’m so excited for this book to hit bookstore shelves in February. This was the realest, most raw book I’ve read in 2017, so far. Willow’s crippling desire to be loved is something I’ll never forget. Rosie’s growing dependence on opiates and how it affects everyone in her family will stay with me, as well. I’m ready to name Rosie Colored Glasses to every adult who asks me for book recommendations. Brianna Wolfson did an amazing job with this book. Thank you to Harlequin for kindly giving me a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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.

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.

Review- I Must Have You

I Must Have You by JoAnna Novak

33253060._UY400_SS400_3/5 stars

Elliot is 13 years old and has suffered from anorexia for a long time. The illness has consumed her so much that she is now a diet coach for other girls at her school. Of course, her dieting techniques are all based on eating disorder thought processes and the girls are getting trained in unhealthy behaviors. Elliot’s best friend, Lisa, who she has very deep feelings for, recently got out of an inpatient hospital program for eating disorders and wants nothing to do with her anymore. On top of that, Elliot’s mom suffers from bulimia, herself. Elliot wants Lisa back, she wants her mom to be happy, and she wants ‘her girls’ to succeed in weight loss.

Eating disorders are not written about very often in literature and, when they are, it’s usually in young adult books. I Must Have You is definitely an adult book, with very adult content, so I was really excited to pick up this book. The way eating disorders were presented was great, so I’m going to start my review with that.

Elliot very clearly has extremely distorted thoughts involving food and body image. She spends her lunch making copies of her dieting magazine, which she hands out as motivation to her ‘clients’. JoAnna Novak’s way of portraying Elliot’s illness is so detailed that she includes a scene where Elliot is looking at photos of emaciated people in the library stacks for inspiration. JoAnna Novak also consistently includes descriptions of the tiny exercises that Elliot performs while doing every day activities, like working her calves as the microwave warms her low calorie meal. Almost everything Elliot says has something to do with food, exercising, dieting tips, or her friend Lisa.

Lisa, on the other hand, is trying so hard to get Elliot’s ‘tips’ out of her brain. She has just gotten out of inpatient hospitalization and is constantly battling with eating disorder behaviors in her brain. Many times, she identifies when she is thinking in an unhealthy thought pattern and switches her brain into recovery mode. Novak did an amazing job researching what happens to adolescents after they are discharged from programs like that. It is common for individuals to be set up with therapists who do exactly that, teach them how to change their unhealthy thoughts into healthy ones.

The way eating disorders were written about in I Must Have You was brilliant, but the writing was lacking. In the first few pages of the book, I had to go back and read passages multiple times because I couldn’t figure out who was who. The book was introducing so many new characters in the same 4 paragraphs and it was really confusing. I actually had to look at some reviews on GoodReads, which explained all the friendships and families, to get all the characters straight. Unfortunately, the writing still continued to jump around all over the place as the book went on. I found myself confused by the erratic sentences more times than I would have liked.

Lastly, I wish the ending wrapped up with a major takeaway. Conclusions are so important in literature, especially when a book is about a stigmatized topic, like mental illness. JoAnna Novak could have blown her readers away with the final pages showing that eating disorders are illnesses that need to be properly treated and recognized as such. Imagine, a book that features 3 main characters with eating disorders, and it wraps up with a message about the severity and validity of their illnesses. I’m not quite sure what my dream ending for this book is, but I know I’m not satisfied with what I read.

I Must Have You was just okay. I usually don’t write full reviews for books that I didn’t really like, but I’m making an exception because the themes of this book are so important. I’m really impressed with the research JoAnna Novak put into the minds and habits of her characters, but I’m disappointed with her writing style and conclusion. I hope to soon see adult books that feature protagonists with mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, make their way to the bestseller list.