• Lists,  mental health,  Top Ten Tuesday,  Writing

    Top Ten Tuesday: Mental Health Awareness

    May is Mental Health Awareness month – a cause near and dear to my heart. So for Top Ten Tuesday, I have a list of ten books that highlight mental health, the need for it, or one that takes steps forward in removing the stigmas of mental illness and/or asking for professional help.

    1. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – This book highlights grief, loss, the stigmas of suicide and tackles all of it in an unconventional wellness retreat setting. While I definitely do not recommend a wellness retreat with a crazy director, the messages were not lost in the story.
    2. There There by Tommy Orange – One of my favorite books this year, this book highlights addiction, mental health, suicide, and the overwhelming need for better mental healthcare in the Native American community. It’s a must-read.
    3. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – This is a beautifully written young adult book that addresses severe depression, the aftermath of suicide, grieving, and healing. I have read this book twice.
    4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – The definitive guide on how not to pick a psychiatrist. This is not a book to read while actively dealing with depression. But on the other side, it is one of the more accurate depictions of what it’s really like to struggle with severe depression and loss.
    5. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – This book takes on the stigmas of having a transgender child and highlights the importance of family and community support. This story can make you a better person.
    6. Stitches by Anne Lamott – Anne is one of my favorite writers. I read this book during an enormous season of change in my life. She addresses change, loss, and grief with both humor and candor. It’s a short book and I recommend it often to those in the midst of change.
    7. Normal People by Sally Rooney – I finished this book in a few sittings earlier this month. It tackles abuse, loss, suicide, depression, and asking for help through therapy and medication. I found this story to be very raw, honest, and helpful in addressing the stigmas around asking for help and what can happen when help is not received.
    8. Dry. by Augusten Burroughs – One of my favorite memoirs. Too often I feel that addiction is left out of the mental health discussion. There is an overwhelming need for understanding and education around what addiction is and how to support a loved one dealing with addiction.
    9. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – While this book will raise some eyebrows when reading it in public, it highlights the need for community, loss, grief, and the power of telling your story.
    10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Despite the public uproar over throwing away your house, this book and method really did change our lives. I have become a big believer in less physical clutter = less mental clutter.
  • Book Reviews

    Blog Tour: The Scent Keeper

    Welcome to the blog tour of The Scent Keeper!

    About the Book:
    Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives. 
    Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them.  As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
    Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.
    Buy Links:
    Excerpt:
    I don’t remember arriving on the island myself; I was too young. I only remember living there. I remember the paths that wandered through those watchful trees, the odor of the dirt beneath our feet, as dark and complicated as fairy tales. I remember our one-room cabin, the big chair by the woodstove, and our collection of stories and science books. I remember the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father’s beard as he read to me at night, and the ghostly aroma of the runaway’s pipe tobacco, an olfactory reminder that had sunk into the walls and never quite disappeared. I remember the way the rain seemed to talk to the roof as I fell asleep, and how the fire would snap and tell it to be quiet.
    The Scent Keeper – Bauermeister
    Review:
    4/5
    As someone who has always tied memories to scents, I was immediately captured by the descriptive writing of this book.
    Broken into three parts, this coming of age story wove scent into the plotline but it didn’t overpower the characters – a concern of mine when I started the book.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the magical elements of part one. It was easy to imagine living on the island as a girl and I appreciated the way that Emmeline’s father did his best to make her childhood rich and imaginative, even on a remote island.
    Part two began the coming of age story as Emmeline is thrust into the real world. With such strong writing, I got a Where the Crawdads Sing vibe – which I loved as that was one of my favorite books last year.
    Part three was the only part I struggled a bit with but I’ll let the individual readers decide that for themselves. The end felt somewhat rushed but because the writing was so well done and the strong character development, I didn’t have an issue drawing my own conclusions.
    All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with where this book took me. Putting scents into words is not an easy thing to do and that alone makes this book a unique experience. Even as I opened the package containing this book, I swear there was a scent other than a new book scent. Probably just my imagination but if not, then well played by the publisher and their marketing group.
    I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this book and participate in this blog tour!
    If you enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing, The Hazel Wood, or The Rules of MagicThe Scent Keeper is definitely a book worth adding to your To-Be-Read list.
    About the Author:
    Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
  • Book Reviews

    Saturday’s Child: a book review

    Monday’s child is fair of face,
    Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
    Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
    Thursday’s child has far to go,
    Friday’s child is loving and giving,
    Saturday’s child must work for a living,
    But the child that’s born on the Sabbath day,
    Is fair and wise and good and gay.

    Author: Unknown

    Saturday’s Child by Deborah Burns

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    In this beautifully written memoir, the author paints a vivid picture of her mother Dorothy and a supporting cast of family members who frequently took center stage in raising Deborah.

    Dorothy was glamorous, beautiful, and captured the attention of family, friends and strangers alike. But unfortunately, she was not your typical mother and relinquished most of the day to day motherly tasks to Deborah’s aunts, Lily and Lena.

    Deborah’s father, from a large Italian family, married Dorothy who, unbeknownst to him, was significantly younger. He had big dreams and was an aspiring songwriter but with a far from conventional spouse or marriage, he spent a lot of time moving from one deal to the next.

    Deborah spent much of her time with her mother seeking her approval and love that always seemed just out of reach. This struggle was a big piece of her memoir and Deborah did a wonderful job of untangling years of family history, secrets, and truths in a seamless telling that spanned multiple generations.

    Full disclosure: I do not read a lot of memoirs. For me, often there isn’t a good rhythm and I end up feeling like I am voyeuristically reading someone’s journal. 

    That was not the case here. Burns was able to tell her story in such a way that it read like a well-written novel with fascinating characters. She successfully captured each person’s personality through her eyes first as a child, then as a teen, adult, and finally as a mother herself.

    Some characters, like her aunts, I grew to love. I developed a soft spot for her father. Her mother – my feelings were mixed as a complicated mother/daughter relationship unfolded.

    My other issue with memoirs: most of the family members are portrayed in a terrible light. And that’s not to say that there aren’t terrible family members in families because we all have them in our lives.

    But Deborah found a way in both the book and in her own life to honor her mother but still use her painful experiences to succeed in her career, her marriage, and as a mother.

    I finished this book with a deep admiration for Deborah and for me, that is a sign of an excellent memoir.

    This well-written book will make you laugh, cry, and even gasp with surprise – there’s a ransom demand at one point. Seriously.

    I read it in a few sittings and enjoyed every moment. And now the Audible version has been released! It is narrated by Deborah and listening to the sample makes me want to download it and listen again. There is something so powerful hearing an author read the words they wrote.

    So to celebrate, being the huge fan of audiobooks myself, I’m giving away a free Audible download of Saturday’s Child over on Instagram. Click here to enter! This giveaway closes on May 5th at 11:59 pm CST.

     

     

     

  • Book Reviews

    Blog Tour: The East End

    Welcome to The East End blog tour!

    THE EAST END

    Author: Jason Allen

    ISBN: 9780778308393

    Publication Date: 5/7/19

    Publisher: Park Row Books

     

    Buy Links:

    Harlequin

    Amazon

    Barnes & Noble

    Books-A-Million

    Powell’s

     

    Book Summary:

    THE EAST END opens with Corey Halpern, a Hamptons local from a broken home who breaks into mansions at night for kicks. He likes the rush and admittedly, the escapism. One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate where he and his mother work. Under the cover of darkness, their boss Leo Sheffield — billionaire CEO, patriarch, and owner of the vast lakeside manor — arrives unexpectedly with his lover, Henry. After a shocking poolside accident leaves Henry dead, everything depends on Leo burying the truth. But unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened and there are other eyes in the shadows.

    Hordes of family and guests are coming to the estate the next morning, including Leo’s surly wife, all expecting a lavish vacation weekend of poolside drinks, evening parties, and fireworks filling the sky. No one can know there’s a dead man in the woods, and there is no one Leo can turn to. With his very life on the line, everything will come down to a split-second decision. For all of the main players—Leo, Gina, and Corey alike—time is ticking down, and the world they’ve known is set to explode.

    Told through multiple points of view, THE EAST END highlights the socio-economic divide in the Hamptons, but also how the basic human need for connection and trust can transcend class differences. Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina, and Leo approach a common breaking point. THE EAST END is a propulsive read, rich with character and atmosphere, and marks the emergence of a talented new voice in fiction.

     

    Excerpt review:

    In the Hamptons, we’re invaded every summer. The mansions belong to the invaders, and aren’t actual homes—not as far as the locals are concerned. For one thing, they’re empty most of the year.

    I received an excerpt for this blog tour and after reading just a few pages, this book was immediately added to my summer to-be-read list.

    The premise is intriguing as it’s always been interesting to me what local residents think when their hometown is transformed from their home into a seasonal destination of the wealthy. And given the author’s background, I would imagine he has some great insight into what happens in the Hamptons – in season and in the off season.

    I’m looking forward to reading The East End this summer – if I can wait that long – by the pool!

     

    Author Bio: Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A MEDITATION ON FIRE. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.

     

    Social Links:

    Author Website

    Twitter: @EathanJason

    Facebook: @jasonallenauthor

    Goodreads

     

     

  • Book Reviews,  Writing

    Trust Exercise: a book review

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️.5/5

    met·a·fic·tion
    /ˈmedəˌfikSH(ə)n/
    noun
    noun: metafiction; plural noun: metafictions; noun: meta-fiction; plural noun: meta-fictions
    1. fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (especially naturalism) and traditional narrative techniques.
    2. “the followers of Borges had retreated into airless metafiction”

    I am a huge fan of metafiction and stream of conscious writing interspersed throughout a novel. Kurt Vonnegut is one of the masters of this writing technique and Susan Choi, the author of this book, is well on her way with Trust Exercise.

    Why start with a definition of metafiction? Because after reading many reviews it was clear that the readers didn’t have the patience to watch it unfold or wanted a conventional novel format.

    But if a reader goes into this with open eyes, I believe your experience will be quite different than when reading the tired, multi-POV format of a plot where each chapter is named for the character speaking at that particular moment.

    The story begins in the 1980’s at a highly competitive school for the arts. This setting drew me in immediately as a child of the 80’s and a current theatre parent of a high school daughter in a very competitive program.

    I saw her and her friends in the characters. I saw bits of her directors in the teachers in the book – but only glimmers as her directors are tough at times but never inappropriate in using their power and authority as teachers.

    That was not the case in this book and the reoccurring theme was the power that adults held over impressionable young teens and the abuse of that power.

    This was also my reasoning for the 4.5 ✂️‘s rating because there was an ick factor reading and watching the students do what the felt they needed to do to get ahead.

    Sarah, David, and their fellow classmates are under the instruction of their charismatic director, Mr. Kingsley. He pushes every boundary, every envelope, and the students arrive at their individual breaking points during the first third of the book.

    It isn’t until the second 1/3 that the curtain is pulled back and the reader learns that what happened isn’t completely true yet not completely false either.

    Without providing spoilers, here is where the reader has to stick with it as the metafictional elements are revealed and secrets begin to come to light. This is also where the stream of consciousness style of writing begins. You may find yourself flipping back a few pages to confirm what you just read but it was worth it for me.

    The final 1/3 shifts once again and the true secrets are revealed – the driving force behind each fictional account.

    While this was a challenging read, I enjoyed it immensely. The plot twists and the technique to execute the shifts were unorthodox and surprising. There were a few times where I found myself wondering where the book was going but I’m glad I stuck with it to the end.

    Who would enjoy this book? Kurt Vonnegut fans for sure. But also Virginia Woolf readers and in current times, readers who enjoy Helen Oyeyemi and her unique stream of consciousness writing style.

    It’s clear to me why the author, Susan Choi, has won multiple awards for her writing as well as being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This will not be my last Susan Choi novel.

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