Review- Sodom Road Exit

Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn

514ml4X1etL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: May 2018
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Page count: 404
Star Rating: 4/5

Starla is disappointed that she has to move back in with her mom after dropping out of college. Originally from the small town of Crystal Beach, she’s been living in the city of Toronto while slowly falling more and more into debt. Upon coming back home, she begins working as the night shift manager of a campground and RV park, The Point. One would imagine that this job might entail some pickup around the grounds and a little downtime, but Starla’s experience is much more extraordinary. From the very first day, strange things start happening at The Point. The ghost of a girl who died in Crystal Beach takes special interest in Starla and begins communicating with her inside her head. As Starla becomes closer to the residents of the campground, the ghost’s pull on her gets tighter. The strangely sexual bond that the two have may end up hurting Starla in a way that her new friends can’t understand or see.

I’m so excited that Arsenal Pulp Press agreed to send me an ARC of this title. Ever since I discovered they were releasing a lesbian, ghost novel, I’ve wanted to get my hands on it. I’ve read a few lesbian mystery-ish books that ended up being too predictable or too much like fan fiction, but Sodom Road Exit is not like those at all.

Starla is queer and mentally ill and her struggles are very realistically written. I think the way that Amber Dawn portrays her symptoms of PTSD and general suicidal ideation is accurate, which is a great feat because these illnesses can be hard to describe. I especially liked learning about Starla’s way of coping with triggers and stressors—spelling out words to calm herself down and distract her brain. This is a real technique taught in therapy and seeing it in literature was pretty cool. I found the way that Amber Dawn imagined that a ghost would affect someone with these illnesses interesting as well. PTSD and irregular moods can be difficult to manage on their own; putting sexual chemistry with a ghost on top of them certainly wouldn’t help!

One of my favorite things about Sodom Road Exit is the ending (and not because I’m glad it’s over). It is neither too happy nor too unsatisfying. The ability to wrap things in a way that’s believable and concluding is one that I admire in authors. I really appreciated the character evolution that Starla and her friends at The Point went through. It’s weird that a supernatural/lesbian mystery made me feel so good after finishing it, but I guess that’s Amber Dawn’s special talent.

Lastly, I want to comment on how Sodom Road Exit dealt with one of its character’s wavering sobriety. Hal, someone residing at The Point, struggles with alcoholism. Starla notices that Hal’s drinking is interfering with him properly treating his wife and son, so she works to get him set up with a twelve step program. The way that AA is discussed in this book is really positive and educational. Sometimes addiction and alcoholism are displayed in such a negative light in works of fiction, which is not helpful for reducing the stigma around the disease. Amber Dawn did an excellent job writing about alcoholism in a respectful way.

Overall, I loved Sodom Road Exit. As someone who enjoys reading books with supernatural elements and books with queer characters, I knew I was going to like this book from the very beginning. It definitely met and exceeded my expectations. I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Arsenal Pulp Press for sending me this title in exchange for an honest review. I know I’m going to be thinking about Starla’s story for a while. I’m excited to read more Arsenal Pulp Press books in the future!

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Review- I Hate Everyone But You

Hi, everyone! I’m sorry it’s been a little over a week since my last post. I came down with a bad cold and was bed ridden for a couple days. I couldn’t even read! It was so frustrating. Hopefully, I can catch back up on my reading goal and power through a few books in the remainder of January. Thanks for sticking with me!

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

51HmRkrR+4L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Page count 352
Star rating: 2.5/5

Ava and Gen are best friends who go their separate ways for their freshman year of college. They still communicate constantly via text and email, and the book is written in these electronic formats. The 2 girls couldn’t be anymore different and sometimes these differences cause small fights. Long distance friendship is hard, but Ava and Gen have a chance to make it work. As Gen experiments with drugs and girls, Ava battles social anxiety and her first college parties. Maybe, their differences can actually make their unique friendship thrive.

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t like this book. It is a quick read, yet it took me almost a week to finish it, because I kept putting it off. I wanted to like it (or love it) so badly! I’ve had such bad luck with young adult books with LGBTQ themes lately…I need a redemption soon!

The main reason that I didn’t enjoy I Hate Everyone But You is because it relied WAY too much on tropes and clichés. Ava is the classic ‘good’ girl who has never been to a party before and Gen is the classic bisexual girl who experiments with girls and drugs. I have been both these people—I am a queer girl who struggles with many forms of anxiety and mental health issues—and it is absolutely not this cut and dry. I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Ava or Gen said something too stereotypical, which happened more than a few times. Queerness and social anxiety have so much more to them than this book talk about, which I’m sure the authors know. As someone who knows what it’s like to spend time figuring out her own sexuality, I had high hopes for Gen’s character. Unfortunately, she was stuck with too many of the ‘bad’ girl clichés and became cringey.

Among all the negative things I’ve said about this title, there were a couple of good lessons hidden in the book. Ava continuously says non-politically correct statements, which Gen, annoyed, corrects. The way that Gen educates Ava about LGBTQ issues is very well articulated and inclusive to all demographics included under the queer umbrella. I’ve had some of these key conversations with friends and family members (who, like Ava, only meant well), and the way that Gen explains queer struggles is very on-point.

I was extremely excited for this book and was, ultimately, let down. More than anything, I’m just sad that this title fell flat because it features both a girl who comes to terms with her sexuality AND a girl who faces her mental illnesses. If the two authors of this title ever released another book, I would love to read it because there is a lot of room for growth to fix these things and make a powerful novel. I’m sorry that I had to post another negative review on here, but I felt inclined to share my thoughts on I Hate Everyone But You because of how pumped I was for this book and how well the themes of the title fit my blog.

Review- Where Women Are Kings

Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Other Press
Page count: 256
Star rating: 5/5

“She felt fiercely protective of him, with his slight frame and huge eyes. She realized that she loved him already, within days, that she’d kill anyone who hurt him.”

7 year old Elijah is looking for an adoptive family. In his short life, he’s been moved around quite a bit, as a result of being hard to work with and violent at some times. Finally, Elijah has found a couple who wants to permanently adopt him. Nikki and Obi make it their mission to provide the best home for Elijah as possible. Slowly, Elijah’s family history comes to light as his biological mother writes letters addressed to him. As more is learned about his birth and experiences as a baby, perhaps Elijah’s actions can be better understood. Nikki and Obi will no doubt try their best, and hopefully that’s enough for Elijah to prosper.

This is the first book in a long time that I finished in less than 24 hours. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Books don’t usually make me cry, but Where Women Are Kings made me cry TWICE. Christie Watson really knows how to play with your heart. This was an all around amazing title. I wish I could give it more than 5 stars.

Where Women Are Kings has a unique format. It’s written in 2 styles. About half of it is in the view of Elijah or his parents. The other half is in a letter format from Elijah’s birth mother. I loved slowly figuring out Elijah’s story and piecing together why he might act out or behave the way he does. Elijah is so delicate and innocent; I wanted to fight for him because he has such a big heart, despite invisible struggles he faces every day. Obi and Nikki care about him so much and it was heartwarming to see their love for him grow and grow. The character development was so beautiful in this book.

I initially picked up Where Women Are Kings because reviews say it touches on racism and mental illness. Both of these themes were very prevalent in the book, so I was not let down. Elijah is Nigerian and Nikki is white. I enjoyed reading the racial and cultural sensitivity that Elijah’s case workers, therapist, and adoptive family give him. A white mother adopting a child of color is something that is so rare in literature, at least in books that I’ve read. It was refreshing to read a title that talked about the thought that goes into adopting child with different colored skin as oneself. In addition, the way Christie Watson wrote about serious mental illnesses was respectful and factual. I don’t want to give away too much, so that’s all I’ll say.

I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Other Press for sending me a copy of this title for review. I’ve officially added this book to my ‘favorites’ shelf on Goodreads, which says a lot. I’m extremely thankful that such a wonderful and moving book found its way to me. I honestly want to give out copies of Where Women Are Kings to my friends for the holidays. I finished this book about 2 weeks ago and I’m still continuously blown away.

Review- Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

25695640Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Page count: 304 pages
Star rating: 4/5 stars 

“When she started crying, I wished the bats had been real. That the creepy little bastards had eaten me in the chemistry lab and I’d never had to see the way my mom looked at me in that moment: like I was crazy.”

Adam has visions of people who are not real. He is able to keep these characters to himself, until he has an incident in school involving flying bats. After that, Adam is diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to a new school, where he doesn’t know anyone. Adam begins making friends at his fancy, religious high school and relies on his medication to keep new classmates from knowing about his mental illness. Then, Adam meets Maya. He knows that he should tell Maya about his diagnosis, but he just can’t do it. As long as he keeps taking his medication, he shouldn’t have to tell anyone. Right?

Words on Bathroom Walls was a great book, especially for young adults, about mental illness. This is the first YA book that I’ve read about schizophrenia and I’m surprised by how much I liked it. I don’t know enough about schizophrenia, specifically, to say if Adam’s experience is an accurate representation of the illness, so I won’t make comments about that. Despite this, I do know a lot about mental health, in general, so I will talk about that. Perhaps, another reviewer with a background in schizophrenia can analyze the accuracy of Adam’s symptoms and behaviors.

Words on Bathroom Walls is an example of literature that talks about mental illness in a respectful and educational way. Although Adam has people that support and love him, there are many characters who do not understand what he’s going through. Writing about the ways to NOT treat someone with a mental illness is very educational for readers. For example, Adam had friends at his old school who totally ditched him after he had the courage to tell them about his struggles. They gave no explanation; they just completely stopped answering his phone calls. This, obviously, is the wrong way to treat a friend with an invisible illness. Adam feels horrible that something he has no control over made all of his friends leave without a goodbye. I sense this book is a great thing for young people to read, as 20% of youth in the US are affected by a mental disorder in their lifetime. This shows friends how to treat people they care about and it shows people with mental illnesses how others should treat them. Education is important, people!

There was one scene in the book that made me cold down to my bones. Actually, it was just two sentences. Adam’s grandmother (his step dad’s mother) says these glorious lines:

“Where is he going to live when the baby is born?… If you’re going to endanger the life of my grandchild-“

Boom. That’s it. That’s how so many people, even some I know, see mental illness. There’s a major disconnect with a large percentage of adults who truly believe that mental health is this huge, scary monster that is out to personally get them. Mental illness does not make someone a bad person. That person is not inherently bad because of something they do not control. These sentences from Adam’s grandmother really, really shook me.

I think this is a very important book for young adults, as I’m pleased with the way Julia Walton wrote about schizophrenia and its proper treatment. Words on Bathroom Walls seems like a great book to have in high school libraries so it’s accessible to students looking to learn more about mental health. I’m very glad I came across this book! Thank you, to the author, for writing about a mental illness in a way that does not trivialize peoples’ experiences.

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- 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- 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.