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Before We Were Yours Review

Before We Were Yours Book Review

If you were to ask me what one of my favorite books was, I would immediately say Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I read this book about a year ago, and I loved it the moment I read the first page. It is historical fiction at its best; it creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual historical event. I re-read it (technically I listened to the audiobook) for book club, and I didn’t realize that this was possible, but I loved it even more.

Before We Were Yours has two separate stories that eventually come together. The main story involves a 12-year-old girl named Rill and her four siblings, who live on a shanty boat with their parents in 1939 Memphis. When their parents leave for the hospital one stormy night, the children are taken away to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Having been put in charge that night, Rill fights to keep her siblings together. The other story revolves around Avery Stafford – a federal prosecutor who comes from a privileged family in present day Aiken, South Carolina. As she helps her senator father with his health crisis, an encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing care facility leads her to a journey through her family’s hidden history.

When I said that the best historical fiction creates an emotionally gripping story based on an actual event, I really mean it. The actual event in this case was Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. For over two decades until 1950, Tann and her cohorts kidnapped poor children, and sold them to wealthy families across the country, even to Joan Crawford and June Allyson. It is sadly estimated that some 500 children died due to disease, poor care, and possibly abuse while in the society’s hands. (https://nypost.com/2017/06/17/this-woman-stole-children-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich/). Many of them were molested as well.

I had no idea that this event even occurred, and to think that this happened to children of all ages AND that Tann managed to get away with it frightens me all the more. That fear translated into sympathy for Rill and her siblings in their quest to not only make it out alive, but also to tell their stories while still in the orphanage. Even when she had no choice but to obey, I understood because for Rill, that meant survival. This is why Rill’s story gripped me to the bone more than Avery’s story even though I have nothing against the latter.

It was the audiobook that made my read the second time around all the more enjoyable. Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber put on some great vocal performances. Rankin – a well-known audiobook narrator and creator of the popular web short Jane Austin’s Fight Club – plays Avery, and she voices her in a professional east coast manner with hints of a Southern accent. This is highly appropriate since Avery lives in the east coast, but grew up in South Carolina. I extremely respect this particular detail that Rankin made to Avery’s character. Taber is also a well-known audiobook narrator, and she has appeared in television shows like Jane the Virgin and Star Wars: Clone Wars as well as gaming franchises like Final Fantasy. In my opinion, Taber is the standout.She voices Rill as a southern 12-year-old girl, who is perfectly fine with living by the river, yet it never gets too juvenile, especially when Rill experiences several traumatic episodes at the orphanage. There is also a sense of maturity in Rill that Taber also provides with such honesty. In addition, Taber shines when voicing Georgia Tann, who could be sweet and manipulative to not only the children, but also to the wealthy families. It is through Taber’s vocal performance of Tann that I could imagine an evil smile draping across her face when she said many of her lines.

If you have not read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate yet, do so as soon as possible. The story and the horrific events that it is based on are why many people have praised the novel. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I will continue to enjoy it forevermore.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Thirty-Four

Hi Everyone!

It’s been awhile since the last chapter, but I have a whole new slate of book to show you that I’ve been reading for about a month now!

There’s no time to lose! Let’s begin!

No-Mod: Book 1 of the Mute-Cat Chronicles by Derek Porterfield is about a human and the techno-religious city of Aberthene. In that place, every one is augmented by biomedical modifications. As a result, they are part-human and part-machine. The church rules the state and controls everything. Addeleigh Simmons cleans out suicide booths during the day and goes to classes and studies at night. She’s working towards obtaining those modifications since she’s only human, which makes her an outcast. Her existence is upended when an armed group of Red Guards storms her dormitory, and she escapes from the third floor window with her cat Bruce. This begins a journey that will expand her world.

I’ve haven’t read much science fiction, so I don’t know how widely used the techno-religious environment is in that genre. Nevertheless, I think it’s a unique atmosphere. While it’s nothing new to have stories about religion controlling every aspect of life, I think this book presents that concept in a distinct way, especially how religion encourages people to augment the body parts that God had created. It almost feels that they do this to be closer to that deity.

Addeleigh (or Addie for short) is a typical outcast. Her life is miserable because she can’t afford to have any biomedical modifications, and that’s her quest. She does have some witty dialogue with some men who perform surgery on her when she breaks her leg after she jumped from her third-story window. We’ll see how much more character development she gets.

While the main story is about Addie and her pursuit to live a better life, the book splits between her exploits and that of a gang trying to find out who their boss is. The group is consisted of what one expect like the leader; the dumb, but tough one; the smart one; and the female. Even though I’m rooting for all of them, I’d like for them and Addie to interact at some point.

Also, I find it interesting that the book stops a third of the way in to explain the origins of the person who created the religion that currently controls Aberthene. Nonetheless, it was definitely necessary since they are the clear antagonist in the story.

Overall, No-Mod is good so far, and I look forward to finishing it soon. I hope to read the second book in the series Godless at some point too.

Now, let’s move on to another journey of a lifetime.

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith is another modern retelling of Peter Pan. Instead of focusing on the boy who never grew up, it tells the story of Native American Lily and English Wendy. Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. However, their parents plan to spend the summer apart, which puts the family as well as Lily and Wendy’s relationship into limbo. One night, a boy comes through the window and intends to take them away along with their brother Michael from their home to a place called Neverland. Will Lily and Wendy find a way to get back to the family they love?

This is the third novel that I’ve read from Cynthia Leitich Smith, and it’s the first one that I’ve read since starting this series. I like it so far. It emphasizes an aspect of the Peter Pan story that is easily the most problematic: the depiction of the indigenous people. In the original story by J.M. Barrie and in subsequent adaptations, they play a limited role with Peter saving Tiger Lily from Captain Hook and peace scene afterwards (which sometimes results in a racist song). Then, they disappear from the rest of the plot. Sisters of the Neversea effectively brings that aspect to the forefront not only with including multiple native children from various tribes on Neverland, but also with Lily being indigenous herself (she is from the Muscogee Creek Nation).

The portrayal of Peter Pan in here is not much different from the one in Darling Girl. However, since this is a juvenile/YA novel, it makes him to just to be controlling and insensitive to both girls and indigenous people. Both Lily and Wendy express concern over this, and yet, under his “spell,” they fly away to Neverland.

Speaking of flying, I like how the book expresses that logic and its byproducts. Along with thinking happy thoughts, the more pixie dust one is given, the more one’s personality gets magnified. So if one is naturally prideful, they get even more so when they get sprinkled with that magic. In this way, whoever gets the dust doesn’t feel like themselves when they fly, hence the reason why Peter Pan is able to convince many to join him in Neverland.

The only thing that I have nitpick is how the narrator goes “You may be wondering…” or “If only they knew…” on various occasions. I don’t know if that’s from the original novel, but I roll my eyes over those parts because it feels condescending. But then again, I’m older than the intended audience, so I don’t know how they would react to that.

Nevertheless, I still like it, and I can’t wait to see if Lily, Wendy, and Michael are able to get back home.

Let’s soar from a familiar tale to a more unknown one.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction tale about the real life stinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff – a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. It was sunk on January 30, 1945 by a Soviet submarine, and more than 9,000 people lost their lives. The book itself tells the stories of four fictionalized people on the ship – Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; Emilia, a delicate, but brave Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy; and Alfred, a Nazi servant with delusions of grandeur who works on the Gustloff decks.

First off, I never knew about this sinking prior to reading this YA novel, but now, it makes me want to learn more. It apparently had the largest loss of life resulting of the sinking of a single vessel in maritime history.

As for the story, it goes into different perspectives constantly, which, in other circumstances, would make me connect less to the characters. This is much the case in the movie Dunkirk. Unlike that film, Sepetys does put all (or at least most of the people) in the same location, so one gets to read how each of them feels about the same situation. This is especially true when Joana tries to save Ingrid – her blind friend – from drowning, despite putting herself in more danger according to Florian.

Another aspect that I like about the book is how it acknowledges both Nazi and Russian discriminations against Polish people and the language barrier. Although Emilia has blond hair and blue eyes, she’s still in danger if she ever speaks Polish. At the same time, she was violated by a Russian soldier. When Joana, Florian, and the rest of her group get on the ship, they tell the officers that Emilia is Latvian to avoid any detections. In addition, whenever she speaks to other characters, they note that she speaks in broken German, so it’s hard for them to understand her at times.

Alfred is clearly the most antagonistic of the speakers, but I wouldn’t call him the antagonist right now. So far, he hasn’t done anything besides writing letters to his girlfriend, boasting about his “good deeds,” taking orders from the higher-ups, spewing out sexist stuff and Nazi propaganda, and trying to hit on Joana. We’ll see how this unfolds.

So far, I’m at the point where they are boarding the Gustloff, so I’m curious to see how Sepetys handles the sinking.

I’m listening to the audiobook now, and it’s really good. I love how each of the 4 main characters sound distinct in their own ways. Jorjeana Marie, according to her website, is an award-winning television writer and actress. She has done both in Mickey Mouse FunHouse. In addition, she has recorded several audiobooks like the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Marie voices Joana as determined to help others to heal the guilt that she feels for not doing enough.

Will Damron takes on the role of Florian. He has recorded lots of audiobooks like Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, and he is even an author himself since he published The Tercentennial Baron (the first in The Bellirolt Chronicles series) in 2018. Damron sounds a little older for a character who’s supposed to be in his late teens/early twenties, but then again, I don’t know a whole lot about Florian himself. We’ll see how I feel at the end of the book. Nevertheless, Damron sounds great whenever Florian is frustrated and secretive and can play up the character’s softer side well.

Cassandra Morris is Emilia. Morris is a voice actress whose roles include Alice and then Yubel in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX as well as Suguha Kirigaya/Leafa in Sword Art Online. She too has narrated lots of audiobooks including A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Morris gives Emilia strength in her character, while maintaining her vulnerability and delicateness.

Finally, Michael Crouch voices Alfred. He too is a voice actor whose credits include characters in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and has recorded several audiobooks that span many genres like Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll and The Proving Trail by Louis L’Amour. I’m not surprised that Crouch has done work in animes because his voice definitely suits an antagonist putting on the airs (like Alfred does in the book). I couldn’t have imagined Alfred’s voice as anything other.

At last, but not least, a book that I’ve been giving a lot of attention to as of late.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand tells the tale of Howard Roark, the extremely uncompromising young architect; of Dominique Francon, an exquisitely beautiful woman who marries his worst enemy despite loving Howard passionately; and of the society who tries to bring him down. This novel sowed the seeds of Rand’s famous Objectivism philosophy and presented the idea that man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress.

For those who want to know how I feel about Objectivism, I don’t think this is right place to express my thoughts on it. However, I certainly have some, so expect them when I do my full-on review of the novel.

I’m about 260 pages in, so whoever betted on me giving up prior has already lost.

For the content itself, it definitely would’ve benefited from an editor. It seems like every character, no matter how important they are to the story, have a speech of some sorts that goes on and on. Granted, there are times where the detailed descriptions are tolerated. For example, since architecture is an integral part of the novel, Rand describes almost every characteristic of the buildings that are mentioned. Also, Rand didn’t like her work being reduced, especially when it came to the 1949 movie adaptation.

Speaking of that film, I’ll be talking about that with Zita Short on her The 300 Passions Podcast, so stay tuned for the movie review and that episode!

Going back to the book, if there’s one thing I like so far, it’s Dominique. I like how cold, distant, and witty she is, and how she uses that to shield her deep love of various things, including Howard, to prevent them from ruining her.

We have now come to the end of the thirty-fourth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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The Suspect Book Review

I’ve enjoyed and poked fun at the Kate Water series by Fiona Barton for the last few years. When I heard that there was a new title in the series creatively called The Suspect, I knew I had to read it in order to continue the story. So, how does it hold up against the other titles? Well, I liked it, but it’s not my favorite in the series.

The Suspect is the third installment of the Kate Waters series. After two teenagers disappear during their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrown into the international spotlight. As a reporter, Kate Waters tries to get to the story first. As she digs into it more, she thinks of her son who’s been traveling for the last two years. All will soon discover that no matter how far away they are, danger can lie closer to home than one might think.

Those who’ve followed this website long enough will be familiar with the running gag of me making fun of Fiona Barton’s titles to her novel. This is no exception as this one is the most basic. However, the more I read it, the clearer it is of who the suspect is, so I’ll give credit to her for making the title personal as well as more specific than I initially thought.

Like the previous novel, Kate is front and center of this plot and reports the case with gusto, but there’s something extra. She’s now entangled in that story as her son Jake is considered a suspect in the case. Having this development makes her more flawed as a character. For example, when one of the other reporters tells her of Jake’s school records and how he dropped out of the university, Kate is livid and is in full denial because she never would think that he would do something like that. But once that reporter provides full evidence, that’s when she realizes that maybe she doesn’t know her son as well as she thinks she does. In addition, even though it makes sense from a maternal standpoint, Kate does something very drastic at the end that makes me question her ethics and doubt if I can ever look at her the same way ever again.

Additionally, there’s a mix of old and new characters. For the former, Detective Bob Sparkes is back. He hasn’t really been present since The Widow. Sadly, he’s not been given a whole lot to do besides assist in the investigation and worry over his wife who’s going through chemotherapy. I’m not sure if the subplot with his wife was all that necessary since it doesn’t really tie into overall themes of the story. As for the new characters, we have Alex – one of the missing teenagers – and her mom Lesley. I really like Alex. She wants almost everything to go according to plan and be safe in the best way possible while vacationing. However, her travel partner Rosie flushes that down the toilet. She spends a good chunk of her time partying, drinking, and sleeping with any guy that lays eyes on her. This reasonably bothers Alex as she wants to spend time going to various places and not staying at the hostel they’re at. Her segments were the most interesting because I wanted to see what led up to their deaths and how she felt about everything around her. 

Lesley, on the other hand, was just another worried mom. The difference between her and Angela from The Child was that the former wants to be brave in face of what was happening and even advocates for the perpetrator to be tried in Thailand for the crimes committed. Oh and before I forget, Rosie’s parents are awful. Her dad is a philanderer, and her mom is reasonably angry at him for that, However, she also gets mad at the slightest things like not being informed of some development before her now ex-husband. That sort of got on my nerves. These characters are a bit of a let down compared to the ones in The Child.

Barton employs a similar structure to her other titles with slight changes. First, it’s not a child that’s missing, but it’s two teenagers in Thailand. It’s a great touch that readers get to see Alex’s perspective beyond the Facebook posts. Second, the novel contains a multiple-narrator structure, and it’s used in a similar way to that of The Child. It also helps to display similar emotions that Kate and Lesley feel about their children and how they didn’t really know them as well as they should have.

Third and last, I’ve also mentioned how predictable Barton’s work has been in the past in terms of endings, and this novel is no different. It gets revealed too early. However, there was one that caught me absolutely off guard. I won’t spoil it, but it made the book more enjoyable and engaging as well as slightly less predictable. I kept going back and forth between two characters of which one murdered Alex and Rosie and burned down the hostel. Maybe Barton has been reading some Lisa Gardner in her downtime.

Another thing that I was surprised that Barton didn’t do was have the perspective of the horrible male character who committed the crime. I guess that even she realized the limit of using that gimmick. Plus, eliminating that aspect actually makes the book a little more unpredictable as it made me less sure of who the culprit was.

As mentioned earlier, I listened to the audiobook recently, and overall, I couldn’t really get into it. I don’t know what it was. It was an interesting story, yet the voices didn’t really come alive in the way the previous audiobooks in the series did. Susan Duerden – an actress who’s best known for playing Carole Littleton on Lost and has recorded many books on tape – plays Waters. Mandy Williams previously narrated as her, so I’m confused as to why the role was recast. She did a great job portraying her with determination and empathy in The Widow and The Child, whereas Duerden feels a little more tired, but maybe that’s to signify how much Kate has aged. I really don’t know.

When I wrote about the audiobook in the “What Am I Reading” series, I made a mistake. I mentioned that Fiona Hardingham voiced Alex, while Katharine Lee McEwan voiced Leslie. It’s supposed to be Hardingham voicing the latter, and McEwan voicing the former.

Katharine Lee McEwan is back and takes on the role of Alex. I like how she strikes a balance between a juvenile and a mature voice for a teenager who plans so much in advance, and yet everything goes wrong the moment she and her friend land in Thailand. I mentioned in The Child review that she sounded too young to play Angela – the grieving mom, so I’m glad she got a role more appropriate to her vocal tone. McEwan was definitely the strongest narrator out of this group.

Fiona Hardingham plays Lesley. She had previously acted in roles such as a News Anchor in Godzilla: King of the Monsters and an Arrival Video Narrator in Pokemon Detective Pikachu as well as narrated several other audiobooks. She’s fine. That’s it.

Another actor who’s back is Nicholas Guy Smith, and he voices Detective Bob Sparkes. It’s nice to hear Smith inject frustration and sadness into Sparkes. I just love hearing Smith’s voice even if it’s not reaching its full potential. If one is going to read it, I would suggest getting the physical copy or an ebook as opposed to the audiobook.

Overall, The Suspect by Fiona Barton is a fine book that has its pros and cons. I like The Child more, but this title did some things differently from the two. And, that’s pretty commendable. I would recommend this title to those who like Fiona Barton, international missing cases, and mysteries with an emphasis on the reporting/journalism side of things. As far as I know, there are no new titles in that series, but Barton published a new book called Local Gone Missing in last week! I look forward to reading it. At least that title is more unique.

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Literary Travel – Milwaukee* Edition

*Ok, my literary travel was technically in East Troy, Wisconsin, but it’s still part of Metro Milkwaukee.

Hi Everyone!!

My husband and I went on vacation last month to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a couple of reasons. He wanted to go to Road America in Elkhart Lake to drive the latest cars, while I wanted to see a relative who lived in a village called East Troy – a 35-minute drive from the heart of the Cream City.

While I was chilling in East Troy, I wanted to check out the bookstore they have in the downtown village square as well as the local library. My relative and I checked them out on my last day in the area. All of the photos used were ones that I took.

First up is InkLinks Books!

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, InkLink Books is an independent book store that opened in 2017 inside a restored historic brick building. The bookshop contains wooden floors, black-painted wood bookshelves, tall round windows, and upscale lighting. Owner Kayleen Rohrer and her family did the restoration work on the place itself.

The aesthetics that stood out the most were the fireplace and the murals of four Goddesses of Wisdom from Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and Hindu mythology.

In that same article, Rohrer mentioned that books evoke a feeling, as she claimed, “The objects make you feel a certain way. Your feelings lead to your thoughts…Thoughts lead to your behavior, that leads to who you become.”

This explains the homely nature of InkLinks. The store certainly made me want to curl up by the fireplace and read a good book. Another aspect that invoke the cozy-like atmosphere was the music. The bookshop played a lot of classical music – a good choice I may add, to encourage people to focus on what they want to read. One of selections was called “Inferno Violin” – a piece that I recognized as the music for the YouTube channel Musical Hell (check out her stuff, it’s great!).

Of course, I can’t go without mentioning some of the more quirkier decor like a sliding ladder, a green rabbit statue, and leftover Christmas items.

The bookshop offers a variety of items. These include books in various genres, that cover almost every topic imaginable, and for all ages. They also have puzzles, gift wrap paper, cards, candles, and glasses.

It consists of two levels. The lower one contains adult fiction, young adult novels, and juvenile titles. The upper one, which only takes a few steps to get to, primarily consists of adult nonfiction ones.

While InkLinks is a small store, it was easy to walk around. Everything was spaced out just enough, so customers like me could navigate it without accidentally bumping into books or another person (sorry Arcadian Books & Prints).

While there, I bought the juvenile graphic novel The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnett. It looks very silly, and I like me some silly books. I can’t wait to read it!

All in all, InLinks Books is a bookstore that evokes the homely environment perfectly. Everyone knows everyone there, and I even got to know some of the regulars. It’ll make customers want to snuggle up on the couch by the fireplace and read a book with classical music playing in the background. Along with their website, you can find them on Facebook and Instagram!

And now, the second and last spot of the trip: the East Troy Lions Public Library!

The East Troy Lions Public Library is about 10 minutes from the downtown village square. It’s located in a building that was once owned by the local Lions Club – a humanitarian organization. In the past, it housed a youth center. The Lions Club later donated the building to the village, and the village turned it into a library.

According to the staff, it’s not much of a browsing library since it’s a small building. This explains why there were only a few chairs that people can sit in. A lot of patrons like to primarily place holds and pick up them up. It has a neat system for doing that. The workers at the front desk place covers of new books on the back wall to show patrons what’s new every month.

The library offers the things one expects to have for patrons to borrow like books, DVDs, music CDs, audiobooks, video games, magazines, and newspapers.

They also have their Summer Reading program going on now, and they got some cool prizes!

Tami Bartoli – the director – also took me down to show me the lower level, where they shelve the extra library books and DVDs as well as items they’re looking to discard. They keep them along the walls and in an extra room by the doors. It’s a roomy space, where they have meetings and storytimes at. In addition, it’s sparsely decorated with various paintings from the Picturing America series.

I also want to point out that they have a physical card catalog!

Every library has something that allows people to give back to the library. This is no different from the East Troy Lions Public Library, as they include a basket, which people can put their Piggly Wiggly receipts in. One percent of their grocery bills goes to the library. That’s a neat idea! It helps that it’s located next to the doors to the library’s main level.

Overall, the East Troy Lions Public Library is a nice and small library that allows patrons to get what they want with ease. It may not be in the most stunning building, but it gets the job done. I was able to maneuver through the library with no problems, and everything was labeled clearly. Along with their website, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter!

And that concludes of the second installment of “Literary Travel!” I hope all of you had a fun time on this trip. There will be another one possibly coming later on this year!

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Turn of Mind Book Review

There have been plenty of books that I read that have an unreliable narrator. But in those cases, even though they may not always realize the consequences of their actions, those protagonists are mostly sound of mind. Lately, I read Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, whose protagonist has dementia and progresses into the latter stages. I don’t think I’ve encountered a voice like that in literature, but it’s worth it as long as one is patient.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante is about Dr. Jennifer White – a retired orthopedic surgeon struggling with dementia and who’s accused of killing her best friend. When her friend Amanda is found dead with four of her fingers surgically removed, Dr. White is a prime suspect. But she doesn’t know whether she committed the crime. She and Amanda were life-long friends as well as each other’s most formidable adversary. As the investigations progress and White’s relationship with her caretaker and two grown children intensify, a question remains: is her shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

One of the first things that I noticed was how disorienting the tone is. This is not a bad thing because the protagonist is experiencing dementia. Disorientation is one of the symptoms, and LaPlante captures this beautifully, especially when readers are introduced to Dr. White’s son Mark. She constantly misremembers his name, and by the time he leaves, she only sees him as a stranger. Viewing this story through Dr. White’s eyes is an ingenious idea. The only other book that I think does this is Still Alice (dang it, that’s the second time I mentioned this novel on this website, and I still haven’t read it yet), but the titular character has the early onset of this disease. Dr. White, on the other hand, is in the more advanced stages of dementia, thus losing more of a grip on reality. She can be loving at one moment and irritable and disowning her children in another. Again, LaPlante captures this authentic tone beautifully.

Apart from disease, Dr. White is a very interesting character. She is a very intelligent person who can come off as cold and egotistical, but loving at the same time. Even with dementia, she still insists on being called Dr. White while others address her like a child with names like Jen and Jenny.

Now, one is probably thinking: what you do think of the murder mystery aspect of this novel? It’s another part that makes the book stand out among others in the neurological fiction genre. While others in that category tends to focus on the consequences of having a certain disease and how it affects family, Turn of Mind adds in the murder to focus on how the disease alters that situation. I will admit that this mystery made me pay more attention to the novel because some of Dr. White’s regular ramblings can digress pretty quickly and get irritating as a result. The murder basically forces the book to have a plot, so things can actually happen. There’s a twist that kind of shocked me regarding the murder. One will have to read the book to find that out.

For those who don’t have relatives who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s best to be attentive and patient with this book. There were times, in which I zoned out while listening to this novel and when I started paying attention again, the book was in a different place than before. It doesn’t follow the linear structure of most novels, so it’s good to pay attention as much as possible.

Jean Reed Bahle – an actress and co-founder of the Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids in Grand Rapids, MI – narrates the book. She brings a Glenn Close-like energy as Dr. White, which I liked very much. There weren’t many vocal distinctions amongst the male characters, but there were some with the female characters. For example, Bahle voices Amanda with a sophistication and assertive flair that can be sinister at times (think Jane Fonda in Monster-In-Law). Another thing that made the listen interesting was that at the end of every disc, piano music would fadely play out while Bahle was still reading the book. This possibly represents how memory fades in and out with someone with Alzheimer’s. Luckily, at the start of the next disc, the passages that ended the previous one are repeated.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante may not be a book for everyone, yet its authentic voice makes it worth the read. I would recommend this novel for those who like neurological fiction and who want a little more stakes in their murder mysteries. If one chooses to read it, please be patient because the novel can go all over the place.

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99 Books* Ranked From Worst to Best

*I know that some are movie adaptations, but that’s besides the point.

I can’t believe that I’m now approaching my 100th book review. I’ve encountered so many titles that I don’t think that I would’ve read on my own. In addition, these reviews have also allowed me to interact with various authors. Thank you to all who took the time to read the reviews and to share them with others!

To celebrate this, I will rate each of the 99 books that I have reviewed on this site. These are based on the rates that I gave them on Goodreads.com, but some have changed since their initial postings.

Here is the chart that I used to rate^ them:

* = Bad

** = Meh

*** = Decent

**** = Good

***** = Great

^Note: The books within each rating are only in alphabetical order.

Now, let’s begin!

*

**

***

****

*****

And there you have it! Let me what you think via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email!

For my upcoming book review, let’s just say that it’ll thrill you with a unique perspective!

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Thirty-Three

Hi Everybody,

I hope May is going well for all of you! It has for me! I’ve been reading a lot this month, and I managed to finish some books recently. As of now, I’m still reading Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, and I started a new one that I would like to show you today!

Content warning: this review contains brief discussions on sexual acts.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller is about a woman who has to choose between the life she’s had and the one she wants to live. It’s a nice July morning, and Elle, a 50-year-old mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace” – the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: she had sex with her dear childhood friend Jonas for the first time behind their spouses’ backs the night before. Now, over the next 24 hours, Elle has to decide between the life she has made with her beloved husband Peter, and the life she always imagined that she would have with Jonas if it weren’t for a tragic event that changed their lives forever.

I’m nearly halfway through the book, and I like it. Elle gives me Laura-Dern vibes. I’m not fully sure why, but maybe it’s in the snarky, but insecure manner that she presents herself. It’s a nice character study so far. It contains plenty of flashbacks to show all of the events that influenced the decision that Elle is supposed to make in the present day. It also pads out the pages because if one takes away said flashbacks, not much happens in the novel in general. This is not a bad thing as plenty of character studies (even the good ones) tend to do this. It all depends on how strong the main characters are, and so far, Elle and her family are compelling.

In addition, the book has given me a roller coaster of emotions. For starters, Elle’s mom revealed early in the books that she used to give blow jobs to her first step-father when she was young. When Elle’s grandmother walked in on them in the act, she slaps her daughter instead of her then husband. This rightfully made me angry. Then, about a chapter later, when Elle is describing her mother’s personality, she calls her an ass and like Margaret Dumont – an actress best known for her work with the Marx Brothers. Those who’ve read my reviews in the past will know how much I love that comedy team. Cowley Heller had me at Margaret Dumont.

Nan McNamara narrates the audiobook. She is an actress who has appeared on screen in television shows like Switched at Birth and Criminal Minds. She has also recorded several audiobooks for fiction titles like A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante as well as nonfiction ones like Antitrust by Amy Klobuchar and This is Your Brain on Birth Control by Sarah Hill. McNamara does a very good job so far. Part of what I said about how Elle gives off Laura-Dern vibes is because of how the narrator sounds when she portraying the character, which is extremely suitable. I also enjoyed how McNamara voices Elle’s mom as a very refined and smug. In addition, she does the kid voices well except for Elle’s oldest son Jack, for he’s supposed to be a teenager, and he still sounds like he’s 10.

We have now come to the end of the thirty-third chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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Darling Girl: A Novel of Peter Pan Book Review

Full disclosure: I was given an ARC of this book by NetGallery in exchange for an honest review.

Growing up, I loved watching the animated Disney version of Peter Pan. I enjoyed seeing how he defeats Captain Hook. Also, he could fly! Since then, I realized that there are many ways to reinterpret the text. In fact, there have been plenty of retellings like the ABC TV show Once Upon a Time that explore both popular and obscure aspects of the famed story. Some soar even further like today’s subject Darling Girl: A Novel of Peter Pan by Liz Michalski, and it does so with flying colors.

Darling Girl: A Novel of Peter Pan is a dark and modern reimagining of the beloved story, which involves a woman who has to confront Peter Pan in order to save her daughter. Holly Darling – the granddaughter of Wendy (yes, that Wendy) – runs a successful skincare business. Her son, Jack, is happy and healthy, and she has moved on from the tragedy of her past. Everything seems to be going good until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly 10 years, has vanished from the estate where she’s been tucked away. Holly knows who did this: Peter Pan, who is not only real, but also more dangerous than anyone expects. Eden’s disappearance is bad for many reasons. Eden has a rare condition that makes her age rapidly (the irony of Peter being her father is not lost), which makes her blood all the more valuable. Holly has kept this a secret from Eden’s half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the essential role she plays in his life. She has no one to turn to. That is except her mother Jane, the only other person who knows that the story of the boy who never grew up is more than real, yet she refuses to accept that he’s anything but a hero. Desperate, Holly enlists a notorious ex-soldier named Christopher Cooke in hopes of rescuing Eden before it’s too late, or she may lose both kids.

There are many things that I love about this book. One of those things is how the characters in the original story are interpreted. Captain Hook is now Christopher Cooke, who is an ex-soldier-turned private investigator probably going through PTSD and has his own methods for getting the answers. He reminded me of Once Upon a Time’s portrayal of Captain Hook, just more vengeful. The Lost Boys are boys who are involved with drugs and disappear one by one. Neverland is “a place of shadows and shades,” which has rejected Peter Pan (p. 251).

Tinker Bell is now Tink, a fairy who’s trying to get herself free from Peter Pan’s abuse. 

And of course, we do have to talk about the boy who never grew up. Several modern retellings depict him as a, for a lack of a better word, an asshole. This even includes the upcoming movie Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, where they have an overweight middle-aged man who’s supposed to be a clone of Peter Pan as the main antagonist (this has its own implications derived from the sad history of the actor who voiced Peter Pan in the Disney version). Of course, a good chunk of these go no farther than saying, “Look! We made Peter Pan into a bad guy!”

In Darling Girl’s case, Michalski gives Peter a more menacing portrayal. He’s controlling of others, so he can get what he wants. Tink refuses to go by the name Tinker Bell because that’s the name that Peter gave her. In addition, he’s predatory. He’ll prey on anybody who happens to be lonely. Holly was that way after losing her other son Isaac and her husband Robert in a car crash, and Jack was recovering in the hospital. Peter came by, or should I say let himself in without getting consent from Holly, and Eden was the result. It’s also revealed that he sells drugs to teenage boys in the seedier parts of London. In other words, Peter Pan is powerful and dangerous. To top it all off, Peter has grown up, but that doesn’t mean he’s mature. He still wants to feel his youth again. In order to do that, he has to have Eden’s blood.

The most unique part of the book is how it explores one of the most overlooked aspects of the story – motherhood. After all, the original tale involved Peter taking Wendy to Neverland, so she could be a mother figure to the Lost Boys. In this novel, Holly is a scientist and business woman who tries to control basically every part of her life. Various reviewers didn’t like her at first for that reason, but a lot of them eventually warmed up to her. For me, even though I didn’t agree with all of her actions, I understood where she came from, especially with her traumatic backstory. There were several parts, where I even yelled, “Just tell them about Eden already!”

Holly tries to do everything for her children, and yet, she learns like any other mother that one needs to let them fly in order to explore their own sense of self. Personally, if there was a film version of this, I’d like to see Cate Blanchett play Holly. I think she would do a great job.

Moreover, I have to commend the book for its pacing. It soars through like someone sprinkled with pixie dust at times, and I wanted to know what was going to happen next, especially when Holly tries to search for Eden in London. At the same time, it slows down for serious moments when it needs to. This is particularly true when Holly and her mother Jane share their experiences with Peter and how he impacted them.

Furthermore, I love how the book gives little nods to the original story. It mentions stuff like green and silver colors and wings. My favorite was the red feather that was left in Eden’s room in the cottage the night she disappeared. They weren’t in your face per se, yet one could pick them up pretty quickly while moving along with the story.

While the novel is a part of the fantasy genre, those elements are sprinkled in contemporary London. This makes it easier for those who are hard-core fantasy readers, but want to get into that category.

I had certain questions about the story. Some of these were how Neverland works, especially now that not even Peter Pan can get back, and how the disease that Eden has progressed. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are explored more in a sequel. 

If I had one nitpick, it would be that I wish Holly was at the final battle against Peter in the clock tower. At the same time, she did so much to protect others that maybe her letting go of the reins was necessary.

Overall, Darling Girl: A Novel of Peter Pan by Liz Michalski is a wonderful retelling of the classic tale. It dives deep into a part of the story not explored by other authors. It helps that the protagonist is a flawed individual, but readers are allowed to understand why she does the things she has to do. The reinterpretations, pacing, and nodes to the original book are also well executed. I would recommend it to those who love Peter Pan in any of its incarnations, dark fantasy novels like Once Upon a River by Diane Setterflied, books that explore motherhood beyond the surface, and retellings of classic stories in general. I loved Darling Girl so much that I’m going to read another Peter Pan reimagining soon. I wonder if that one will deal with another problematic aspect of the tale – the portrayal of the Indigenous people.  

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Thirty-Two

Hi Everyone,

May is finally here! What are you looking forward to this month? For me, I’m excited for the nicer (and more consistent) weather and to go on vacation to Milwaukee later on! Yes, I’ll be visiting some bookstores there.

In addition, I’m ecstatic to show you the books that I’m reading and writing reviews for this month. This includes the graphic novel that I started reading recently.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier is a memoir of the author’s relationship with her sister. When Raina was little, she couldn’t wait to have a sibling. But once her sister Amara comes into the picture, things don’t get off to a great start. Amara is cute, yet she is grouchy, throws temper tantrums at times, and prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn’t improve much over the years, but when a baby brother arrives and later, when something feels off with their parents, they realize that they must figure out how to get along. This story evolves over a three-week period during a road trip from San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado.

This is apparently the second in the “Smile” series, which are based on Telgemeier’s own life while growing up. The first in that series is Smile. Reading Sisters has made me want to read Smile at some point because the former is fantastic!

I’m halfway through the graphic novel, and I love the story. The relationship between Raina and Amara feels 100% real with all of its up and downs. To be fair, I may be biased in this since I had a similar one with my older sister when we were growing up. Though the book is told through Raina’s perspective, it shows both sides of the coin when it comes to her and Amara getting along. When they were younger, Raina offered to do stuff together with Amara like drawing and dancing to music, the latter just flat out refused. At the same time, once Amara becomes interested in drawing animals and going to the zoo, Raina doesn’t seem to care as much.

The other strong point of this graphic novel is Telgemeier’s illustrations. It goes into flashbacks frequently, and this is represented through the sepia tone that’s on those particular pages. I also enjoyed seeing the facial expressions on various characters. It often relies on big emotions because it’s told from the viewpoint of a preteen. For example, when Raina asks Amara what she’s drawing, the latter gives the biggest glare I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. It helps that the word “glare” is present on that panel for those who have trouble reading facial expressions.

This is my first Telgemeier title, and I can see why she is a leading name in the world of juvenile graphic novels. I can’t wait to continue reading Sisters!

We have now come to the end of the thirty-second chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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Maus Book Review

Content Warning: This review discusses nudity as well as depictions of violence, genocide, and suicide.

On January 10, 2022, the McMinn County School Board voted unanimously to remove Maus – a 1986 graphic novel by Art Spiegelman – from its 8th grade curriculum. Their main concerns were the profanity, brief nudity, and depictions of violence and suicide. Since that decision was made public, there has been international attention, most of that was outrage. A lot of the people who were against the removal argue that the graphic novel is most accessible way to teach the Holocaust in its most frank form to students, while those who are for claim that it wasn’t age appropriate for 8th graders. On a personal level, the two books in this series – Maus I and II – have intrigued me for years. Now that I’ve read both, I can definitely say that even though I understand the school board members’ concerns, Maus as a whole need to be read across the country.

Maus recounts the horrors that the author’s father faced during the Holocaust and how he survived with the Jews protrayed as mice and the Nazis as menacing cats. It also weaves in the story of a fraught relationship between the two men and the legacy of generational trauma. 

As I mentioned earlier, I do have personal interest in Maus. When I was in my historiography class in my senior year of college, my professor – the awesome Mrs. Bethany Kilcrease – discussed how certain events in history have been framed to a wider audience. An example she used was indeed Maus to frame Holocaust as a cat and mouse game. While it was controversial for its depictions of Jew people as mice and Nazis as cats, the graphic novel has received alot of acclaim since then, and it has been considered a great example how to depict that horrific event without sugarcoating it. It was even awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. It’s the only graphic novel to get that accolade so far. At the time that I found out about it, it seemed odd to me about portraying certain races as animals, but once I discovered this quote from Hitler himself: “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human,” it made a lot of sense. Depicting the Jewish people as animals makes it devastatingly clear how the Nazis and other Germans saw the them and how race played a huge role in identity. In addition, Polish people are depicted as pigs, while the Americans are dogs. These illustrate where they stood in the cat-and-mouse game.

A lot of Holocaust stories tend to emphasize the suffering of the Jewish people during that horrific part of history. While his parents Vladek and Anja experienced hardships during that time, Spiegelman primarily focuses on what they did to survive. In Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, he shows how his parents tried to evade capture by the Nazis. They do this by hiding in various places like cellars of those who were willing to take them in and Vladek getting various jobs that allowed him to forge important connections. 

In Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, Spiegelman displays what Vladek did to survive Auschwitz. For example, Vladek helps a Polish officer learn English because the latter knew that the Americans would come, so he figured knowing that language would aid him in the long run. The author doesn’t hold back when showing the horrors done at that concentration camp with every possible opportunity. The black and white images show hung dead mice and even them being burned alive. It’s definitely not for someone who is easily triggered by content like that.

In addition, in one section of Maus II, the author is shown wearing a mouse mask at a desk that’s on top of a bunch of dead mice. Other reviewers have pointed out the symbolism, but it’s worth repeating that it’s a great depiction of one man’s burden to tell the tales of those who vanished in the Holocaust and how being Jewish doesn’t entirely define one’s identity.

Another aspect that I’ve enjoyed both in Maus I and II is that Vladek is portrayed as a flawed individual. He constantly tries to save money in extreme ways and gets into constant arguments with his son about various things. Also, he barks at Art when the latter and Art’s wife Francoise pick up a black dog (uh, I mean man) from the side of the road. Vladek feared that he would steal their groceries. His racism against black people is definitely seen as hypocritical given the persecution he faced as a Jewish person in 1930s and 1940s Europe. In addition, in Maus I, when Art wants to find Anja’s journal to see what she went through during the Holocaust, Vladek refuses to give him a clear answer. It isn’t until the end of the first book that it’s revealed that the latter burned it because he didn’t want to be reminded of her presence. Art calls him a murderer.

To balance all of this darkness out, Spiegelman also infuses plenty of humor. All of this comes naturally (and I would assume based on real life). For example, in Maus II, Vladek wants to return some cereal that’s nearly empty, so he could get a refund and buy more groceries. I know some frugal people in my life, but that’s taking it to a whole new level.

Now, let’s get to the bottom of why I decided to read Maus in the year of 2022. I’m sure many readers have heard about the news of its removal from an 8th grade curriculum by the McMinn County School Board and why. After reading the graphic novel and the meeting minutes, I’ve come to these conclusions:

  1. Many books contain mild swear words like “god damn.” Teachers can easily omit that part while reading certain sections out loud.
  2. The brief nudity that a lot of the members objected to occurs when Anja’s body is discovered in Art’s comic about how he dealt with her suicide in Maus I. It depicts her torso and breasts with nipples along with mentions of razor blade cuts. It’s only in 1 panel. On the other hand, I noticed that there were more panels that showed mouse penises in Maus II during the scenes in Auschwitz even though the latter body part is shown with less detail. It definitely made me raise my eyebrows because reading through the minutes of that meeting, no one ever mentioned the penises. Some may call this sexist. 
  3. Violence and suicide were some of the sad halmarks of the Holocaust. To express discomfort with that means that one will have a hard time learning about that gruesome time in history and teaching it to others later on. While it’s possible to left some details out depending on how young the students are, no one should completely omit those aspects of the Holocaust. In fact, in middle school, I was assigned a book called Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples. That novel took place in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early 2000s. Its main character – an Afghan girl named Najmah – finds herself alone in the beginning of the book when her father and older brother are conscripted by the Taliban and her mother and newborn brother are killed in an air raid. I specifically remember reading the descriptions of how Najmah views the body of her baby brother. Although the violence depicted in Under the Persimmon Tree is not as graphic as it is in Maus, it’s still a presence in both books. As far as I know, no parent complained about us 7th graders reading it. One can never eliminate those horrific elements of any war-related story. People including children need to be ready to hear them.
  4. Spiegelman never intended for his graphic novel to be read by kids. This is why he was fine with the removal at first. Yet, he found their reasonings to be “deeply troubling” because those elements that the board were uncomfortable with were “crucial to telling his family’s story in a believable way”

Overall, Maus by Art Spiegelman is brutally honest story of how his parents survived the Holocaust and how that affected him. Its black and white images provide stark ways to depict many elements of the story. The visual of the Jewish people as mice and the Germans as cats remains iconic to this very day. At the same time, there’s plenty of humor in it to balance out the horror. I would recommend this to those who like graphic novels and want more non sugarcoated tales about the Holocaust. I’ll even recommend it for 8th graders and up as long as they know exactly what they’re getting into. Stories like these need to be told as authentically as possible.

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What Am I Reading – Chapter Thirty-One

Hi Everyone!

I hope all of you had a great Easter. Despite being in quarantine (stupid Covid!), I sure did! I finished watching The Crown and did my annual viewing of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. On top of all that, I started a new book that I would love to show you all today.

Sarah’s Still Life by Matthew Kopf is about one woman’s determination to turn her life around. Sarah Hall wasn’t exactly dealt the best hand in the thing called life. With an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother, Sarah had a lot of trials and tribulations. At age 30, Sarah’s stuck in a monotonous routine of working at a tea shop and going to school. She’s afraid that she won’t be able to pursue her dreams at all. That is until the worldly, charismatic Michael Kensington returns to town and reignites a flame that she thought she put out a long time ago. Could Michael be the one to change everything for her and put her life into motion?

I’m enjoying this novel so far. I like the main and supporting characters. All of them are inviting and draw me into the world of the book, even if they feel like stock characters in a Hallmark movie (in a good way). They have their defining traits, especially the regulars at the tea shop.

I really liked Sarah from the moment I was first introduced to her as a character. She’s intelligent, witty, and willing to experiment with different flavors. She’s also frustrated with her stilted life and wants to get it moving without putting other people’s needs first as much. Sarah reminds me of the titular character from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine without being a hermit and socially awkward (for the most part). Both define themselves by their traumas and are held back by their parents in various ways. Eleanor had a bit more of a personality than Sarah does, but since I’m only a third of the way through, that might change.

In addition, while I like Michael due to his charm and worldliness, I hope he’s not there to simply rescue Sarah. I’ve read and watched plenty of stuff, in which the fair prince saves the damsel in distress, and I would like to move on from that. It seems like the book might do that with its subversions of certain romance tropes. For example, when Loretta – Sarah’s boss at the tea shop – and Sarah discuss the latter’s past relationship, the former mentions that “a kind of a handsome, stud of a man might walk through that door” (p. 12).

Soon after, an older man walks through the door to the tea shop, and he’s clearly not her type. Michael appears a bit later. We’ll see where this book takes me.

We have now come to the end of the thirty-first chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

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