Holiday Words & Sips

It seems as though this year sprinted from start to close. So much has happened over the past 12 months, and I am beyond grateful for where I find myself in life during this holiday season.

I haven’t had as much time to read as I would have hoped (but isn’t that always the case?). But for this post – as a holiday special, if you will – I decided to share some of the books that I’ve been reading over the past month, and the drinks that I have paired with them. Note: I am still in the process of reading the books listed below, so my opinion may change as I read further.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
My Thoughts: The writing is incredibly beautiful and although the sorrows shared are poignant, the language makes them feel a little less harsh. Even if you don’t typically indulge in YA fiction, I would highly recommend this novel just for enjoyment as an art form.
One Word Description: haunting.
Drink Pairing: Twinings Herbal Unwind (chamomile & green apple), served hot with honey to taste.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated to be 5/5.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My Thoughts: In my mind, characterization is Doerr’s main strong point, at least thus far. I love all things WWII, and seeing how the two main characters are coming to life thanks to Doerr’s word magic makes this book a treat to read. The pacing is a little slow at times, which is a downside, but it’s more of a “cozy” slow pace than it is a “oh my gosh when will we get anywhere in this story” kind of slow.
One Word Description: Engaging.
Drink Pairing: Leinenkugel’s Pomegranate Shandy.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 4/5.

Christmas In London by Anita Hughes
My Thoughts: I’m trying really hard to let myself just be engaged in the story, but I am getting somewhat frustrated with some quirks in Hughes’ writing style. Since it is a romance, there are plenty of times where characters kiss; however, the kisses are always described in terms of how they taste. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, not every kiss tastes like something specific like “champagne and berries” (direct quote). Also, characters never just run into each other; it’s always something like “Louisa sees a young woman coming toward her in a plaid Burberry coat and recognizes Kate” (not a direct quote). Like… does it really take someone that long to recognize another person that they are very familiar with? NO, it does not! So please stop. I do love all of the imagery though. Describing scenes and food is definitely one of Hughes’ strong points.
One Word Description: I don’t just have one word, I have two. Infuriating & entertaining.
Drink Pairing: Tazo peppermint hot chocolate.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 3/5.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
My Thoughts: I really am enjoying this book. I’m not typically one who reads a lot of humor, but over the past year I’ve discovered that I enjoy humor as long as I read it in small doses. Schumer’s book is no exception. If I read too much of it at one time, the humor does grate on me, but in small doses I love it.
One Word Description: Relatable.
Drink Pairing: Mike’s (Hard) Mango Lemonade.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 4/5.


This Is Where It Ends – Marieke Nijkamp

Many thanks to SOURCEBOOKS Fire, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

3.5/5 stars

This is the first book of this nature that I’ve read – a YA novel that deals with a school shooting, told by 4 different POVs over the course of only 54 minutes. It was interesting, and I enjoyed it to a degree, but I never really felt a deep connection with any of the characters.

* Autumn – She was the character I felt the closest to. The dancer. She wanted to escape Opportunity, Alabama, and had been accepted to Juilliard for ballet. The sections of the book that involved her seemed to be the most emotionally laden, because of her abusive father and how he discouraged her dancing once her mother died…

* Sylv – Autumn’s girlfriend (but this was kept a secret until the shooting occurred, due to worries about what people would think – including Sylv’s family, who had very traditional values. And again, this takes place in Alabama, which is Bible Belt territory). I didn’t really ever feel connected to Sylv – it was clear that she cared for Autumn, but aside from that I found her to be a fairly forgettable character.

* Tomas – Sylv’s brother. Not forgettable at all, due to the fact that (view spoiler)

* Claire – the only one of the four who was not in the school when the shooting began. The one who went to get help. Yet she also was not terribly memorable nor did I feel any sort of emotional connection from her.

Perhaps that was intentional – the lack of emotional connection to the characters. Because of the horrific nature of the shooting, the disengagement might serve a purpose… because if it were too real, too emotionally-laden, then the readers might… oh, I don’t know. I’m really just bullshitting here.

And Ty. It was never really clear why he went on the rampage. He felt like no one was there for him… he was bullied and then dropped out of school, but it wasn’t clear what he was bullied about, since he seemed to be fairly popular when he was at school. He and Claire had dated for a time. I… really don’t understand. I mean, from what was shared in the book, the bullying had been fairly bad, but the point of it (him being awkward, a social outcast, a geek – any “reason” that kids bully other kids) was not really ever stated clearly. Then again, kids don’t always need a reason for bullying others…

Also, Sylv stated near the end of the book that Ty had hurt her in some way. It was alluding – I think? maybe? – to sexual assault (I’m thinking this due to a few other passages earlier in the book) but I don’t know and this was also never made clear.

Overall, it was the lack of emotional connection and lack of clarity about several key points that knocked this book down from a 4/5 or higher to a 3.5/5. It was interesting enough but the blurb pretty much tells the story… there wasn’t really anything hidden or any surprises throughout the book.

Surviving Haley – Brenda Baker

Thanks to Pelican Book Group, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

2/5 stars.

Well, there’s a list of pros and cons about this book. And although I zoomed through this, I have a feeling that the list of “things I hated” is going to be a lot longer than “things I liked/loved.”

The things I liked/loved
* The fact that this book dealt with (or attempted to deal with) the difficult topics of grief/loss and how blame gets “passed around.”
* The fact that the disordered eating portrayed in the book was overeating, rather than undereating. That’s pretty rare, at least in my experience, regarding protagonists with eating disorders (or disordered eating).
* The fact that the school psychologist, who was the person that really ended up helping Protagonist, was cool and off-beat. 🙂

The things I disliked/hated
* Mean Girl was introduced, it was exposed that she had bulimia, but there was NO follow-up to that, and then suddenly, magically Mean Girl and her posse are being kind to Protagonist?
* Insta-insta-love. Jonah’s “God thing” was so humiliating, although he himself was and is adorable, and then BOOM…. all of a sudden after he shares that he’s not perfect, Protagonist loves him and he loves her, and they tell each other that…?
* Therapist (school psychologist) – who seemed REALLY cool, I loved that part – told Protagonist to friend her on Facebook “so they could chat”?? VERY SKETCHY ETHICS, YO. That’s not how therapy works…
* Introduction of Jazz and soccer and then again, surprise!!… NO FOLLOW-THROUGH. Granted, this is not a major part of the story, but I wanted to hear more about it!!
* Eli. Random guy who has a face full of pimples and ragged clothes, who is never anything but nice to Protagonist (and to whom Protagonist, who is herself an outcast, is mean and dismissive), is found by Protagonist in the art room cutting after having seen her and Jonah kissing…? and there is NO FOLLOW-THROUGH, once again.
* When the family moves to the new area, it’s only been TWO MONTHS since Haley died? How is that remotely logical?!! Two months after a child dies… I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure no family that I’ve ever met would be “put together” enough to move from Minnesota to Nebraska and have jobs lined up, etc. TWO MONTHS. Not two years. Not even a year. MERELY SIXTY (yes, 60) DAYS, and the family is up and moving. NOT REALISTIC.
* Mom goes into rehab, once she magically realizes that her drinking has become dangerous… bada-bada-BOOM… and once again, NO FOLLOW-THROUGH. And one month (ish?) into rehab, surprise honey, the family is going on a cruise BECAUSE WHY NOT?!

I guess a lot of magic happens in this book, because so many things just magically get better.

It’s really irritating.

That being said, I can’t totally say this book isn’t worth reading. Baker has done a pretty amazing job of introducing overeating and the obsession regarding using food to soothe. It’s not something you see much, if at all, in YA, and I think it needs to be talked about/written about more because it is a problem, just as much as anorexic and bulimic behaviors.

Also, I liked the honesty of how parents (and people in general) can blame specific people (in this case, Protagonist) for the death of a loved one… Seeing how this was dealt with in the novel was interesting. Although again, I don’t buy how Mom and Protagonist “made up.”

I’ll also admit that this book yanked me in. It was very interesting and despite all of the things I disliked, it was what could be called “compulsively readable.” I am interested to see what else Ms. Baker comes out with, because I do think that there is talent there… there was just too much shoved into this book for it to completely work. But that’s a common error for debut novels, at least from what I’ve seen.

The Dead House – Dawn Kurtagich.

Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!!


Okay, so this book has a really interesting premise. I loved the execution — via transcripts of video footage, excerpts from diaries, transcripts of police interviews, transcripts of therapy sessions. It’s something that is not often done in the books I tend to read, but it’s a style that I’ve always loved.

So that made me really love Kurtagich’s style.

But seriously… cramming all that she did into one novel? It lost plausibility (and yes, there are elements in other books that involve the paranormal/supernatural that keep it at least plausible in some sense). Does Kaitlyn have dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder)? Is she “actually insane”? Does she have a psychotic disorder? OR… IS SHE POSSESSED BY A DEMONIC ENTITY?

I don’t know why I keep running into books like this where mental health aspects are pulled into the story but the research that the author did is wildly inaccurate. Granted, this is the stuff I deal with in my career, so there’s that extra “level” of knowledge there that your average Joe wouldn’t have, but still.

My problems with this book:

* DID is not a personality disorder. Yes, it was called “multiple personality disorder” but the actual reason that the name was changed from MPD to dissociative identity disorder is because it’s not a personality disorder. Personality disorders as defined in the DSM cannot be treated with medication; are not a result of trauma; and are life-long. You don’t outgrow personality disorders, and you don’t really “heal” from them either. Some of the personality disorders that are more commonly cited are narcissistic personality disorder (where people only care about themselves and don’t give a shit about changing because they’re AWESOME already, it’s everyone else that sucks) and borderline personality disorder (and I know people with this, and the best they can do is become self-aware and work on changing their behaviors — but that is not going to ever mean that BPD goes “into remission” — it just means that they can cope better with the issues that BPD throws at them).

So yes, the fact that the name was changed from MPD to DID is because this is a disorder that is on the dissociative spectrum, IS a result of trauma, and CAN be treated (although not cured, and medications don’t work for dissociative disorders). And with DID, unlike personality disorders, there are very different alternate personalities (i.e., someone who has DID may be physically a female and be chronologically 30 years old… but there may be alters who are 3 year old boys and 50 year old women and 15 year old girls and 20 year old guys, and if the 3 year old alter is out, the woman who is chronologically 30 will be acting like a 3 year old and won’t be faking it).

TL;DR: the reason I bring this up is because Kurtagich confused DID with being a personality disorder. And that pissed me off.

* DID is not psychosis. I’m actually not sure if psychotic delusions can exist at the same time as DID. I think so… but I did read somewhere that DID and schizophrenia can’t be diagnosed in the same person, that they’re mutually exclusive. So while there could be bouts of psychosis, it’s not going to be an actual diagnosis for someone with DID.

* The fact that DID was mixed up with “oh hey is Kait/Carly possessed by a demonic force?” People — and we’re talking professionals here, who are therapists or psychologists or psychiatrists — already have a hard time accepting DID as a valid diagnosis. And I daresay that many (if not most) churches would denounce someone who has DID as being possessed, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. So the fact that this was something that was never really answered in the book irritates me because it further invalidates the fact that DID is a very real diagnosis.

* We never really learned what Carly/Kait’s trauma was (since significant trauma — generally abuse of some type — causes DID). There was like, one sentence at the very end of the book that brought up the question of her having gone through sexual and physical abuse when she lived with her biological parents… but… that was it.

* WAY too much stuff thrown in there. There’s a ton of information about a “branch” of Scottish witchcraft, referred to in the book as Mala, but in googling it, there is absolutely nothing about that being an actual branch of witchcraft. If you’re going to throw in some culturally-bound witchcraft, at least make it real, or recognizable as something else, or… ugh. I don’t know. The fact that it’s not real irritates me, but I don’t really know how to articulate why.

There’s probably way more that I didn’t like, but I’m just going to leave this as it is for now. I did enjoy this book and I’m definitely not going to say no to reading another book by Kurtagich, but for the love of God, authors, learn to do your damn research!! I can’t stress this enough. Because if you just do shittily passable research, even on what you feel is an obscure topic, there’s going to be someone out there who knows a hell of a lot more about that topic than you. And for me — nothing irritates me more than poorly done research — especially when the book sounds like it has a lot of promise.

That being said, I give Kurtagich a 5/5 in terms of imagination and creating an interesting world, and a 5/5 regarding the execution of the story. I did feel as though the characters were fairly flat, but not terribly so — so a 3/5 for that. And the creepiness factor, well, for me that was about a 4/5 — I hate horror stories but at the same time I love Gothic creepiness and this was kind of halfway between, trying to be both, and it was a weird combination.

Am glad I read this, but am also glad I finished it. I think that two separate books could’ve been written from all of the ideas crammed into this book, which made reading it kind of exhausting because so much stuff was being thrown at the reader.

Also? I’m SO GLAD that Dr Lansing (Kait/Carly’s psychologist) lost her license and that we as readers found this out in the body of the book. I HATED THAT WOMAN. Ugh. If she were my therapist I’d have punched her. (Especially when she told Carly/Kait that when they integrate [which is something that used to be pushed as “the ONLY solution” for people with DID], one of them would die, when in reality, integration just means that alters blend together and you kinda get the best of both. This is already a terrifying enough prospect to someone who has lived almost his/her entire life being a multiple, and there is already such a huge sense of loss, that therapists do not need — and indeed, should NOT — agree that integration = alters dying.)

*climbs off soapbox*

The Lost Girl – R.L. Stine

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press/St. Martin’s Griffin, via NetGalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

3/5 stars.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I DNF’d this — not because the story wasn’t interesting, not because the writing was terrible, but because I don’t do horror — and I didn’t realize this when I requested the book from NetGalley.

I wasn’t really sure what to rate this, because my personal feelings about horror definitely impact my rating. My inclination was to give 1/5 stars due to my discomfort while reading parts of this book that were graphic and gruesome, but at the same time, the writing style is good and the plot hooked me immediately. So I bumped it up to a 3/5 star rating because there’s nothing wrong with the book except that I shouldn’t have requested it since I don’t like horror, but I thought maybe I could handle YA horror better than adult horror… nope.  This mistake will not be made in the future, since I always feel bad when I request an ARC to read but — for whatever reason — can’t get through it.

But I’ll admit, I was (and still am) excited about the plotline. I love parallel narratives, I love the idea of figuring out a decades-old secret… but I won’t be finishing this (sadly) because I don’t want to feed my nightmares with vivid descriptions of, well, horrifying things.

(I never read any R.L. Stine books before — the Goosebumps series was huge when I was growing up but I never read them because I didn’t like horror then. When I requested The Lost Girl, I figured that now I’m older, I could probably handle what’s labeled as YA horror. Nope. Nope nope nope. I don’t need any more fodder for my already vivid and awful nightmares.)

So if you’re someone like me, who doesn’t generally read horror and knows that novels in that genre will be “too much,” don’t make the mistake I did and see if YA horror is doable. But if you like horror, I’d say why not? give this a try

Awake – Natasha Preston.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review!


Okay. So this book has a couple of major plot holes.

The biggest one is that the plot hinges on the fact that Scarlett doesn’t remember any of her life prior to age four. Um, okay. Who does…? I mean, seriously. I’m a really bad example because I don’t remember probably 95% of my life prior to age 19 or so, and most of what I do remember happened age 16 and up… but before then? Not enough to piece together a timeline of my childhood. But even a “normal” person doesn’t remember life prior to age four. Really. What is there to remember? Potty training?…

So to remedy this, I read the book pretending the entire time that Scarlett didn’t remember life prior to age 8 or 10, since that’s much more reasonable.

Another problem is that Scarlett’s age doesn’t stay the same. At the beginning of the book, she’s 16. Then halfway through the book, she’s fourteen (well, it doesn’t say that explicitly but she refers to the loss of memory as having happened 10 years ago — so 4+10=14, yes?). Then at about 80% she is referred to as being 15 years old (actually references her age — no making the reader do the math). So… what age is she?!

And yet another problem is that of Evelyn, Scarlett’s sister. There was never ANY clarity about whether Evelyn was older or younger than Scarlett. Apparently she was born as a “replacement” for Scarlett, but not in the sense that that would normally be meant. No, when she was [an undisclosed age], she was turned loose into the woods surrounding the cult’s commune, because apparently in their warped minds, her “disappearing” would somehow bring about Scarlett’s return. Scarlett refers to Evie as her older sister once, though, and another time she calls her her younger sister… and I’m just like, she has to be younger than you, BUT if she is younger than you, and you were kidnapped from the cult on your 4th birthday, before you were sacrificed, then how was she born to replace you if you knew her??!….

Alright, now the pros.

1) The insta-love that many of the other reviewers complained about was… well, dumb. But the thing is, I know how a young teen girl thinks, ’cause I was that age once. (Presumably. Lol.) And I know that if you’re the type of girl who wants to get married, well, a crush instantly turns into “he’s the guy I’m gonna marry” whether or not the guy in question even knows you exist. Noah did know that Scarlett existed and there was mutual attraction and both of them were thinking that they were gonna get married. The speed of that seemed a bit off… but then again, they’re teenagers, and Noah was not brought up like a “typical” guy in this day and age — he had no exposure to pop culture, and I am assuming probably no exposure to rape culture or multigenerational disrespect for women/girls (that women/girls are there to be used, basically). So it’s entirely possible for someone brought up in a religious cult to view attraction to one girl as leading to marriage. Not saying it’s common, but it is at least possible.

2) One of the things that pulled me in and kept me reading (for awhile anyway), was trying to figure out if Noah was a good guy or a bad guy. And when I found out that initially he was a bad guy, I had to keep reading. I’m glad that he did end up changing, though, although I would’ve preferred it had he and Scarlett not stayed together, because even though he rescued her, it just seems a bit cliche that she would forgive him so completely. Yes, he was brainwashed, but… but… still.

3) I think that if the plot holes were fixed, this would be an interesting and captivating look at brainwashing, how it works, and to what extent it works. Human sacrifice? Yes. I’ve met people who have escaped from religious cults, similar to Eternal Light, and those cults did participate in human sacrifice and other gruesome, graphic, horrific things that are locked in my brain and probably won’t ever be shared. (And since I know there’s a lot of doubt about cults like that existing, and a lot of belief placed in “False Memory Syndrome” — the people of which I speak had absolutely no reason to make this shit up. And the details that were given were in no way something that someone could just… make up.)

So yeah. There were a lot of problems with this particular book, but I see that Preston’s other books have much better ratings, so I am not going to say that I’m never going to read another book of hers again. And yes, while this book was a struggle to get through at times, it did keep me interested enough to want to finish it. I think had I DNF’d at 15-20% like a lot of other reviewers, I would’ve felt as though I were abandoning Scarlett and Noah and their story. (I know that sounds silly, but… well, yeah.)

Goose – Dawn O’Porter.

2.5/5 stars

Thanks to ABRAMS Kids, Amulet Books, and NetGalley for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book and I didn’t really get along that well. However, before I get into that part of the review, I wanted to say that even though I’m not giving Goose an excellent rating, it did keep me entertained in that I wanted to find out what happened next. Also, although I could somewhat tell what the climactic portion was going to involve, the actual severity of what occurred took me by surprise — which is a good thing.

I had three main problems with Goose.

First: This entire book is full of telling, rather than showing. The first half of the book I kept hoping that it would change the further I went, but no luck.

Second: Although the problems encountered by Flo and Renee are likely enough (I guess?) to actually happen in the real world, I hated the preachiness and heavy-handed use of “life lessons.” For example:

“…I’m beginning to learn that being an adult is hard work and full of tough decisions, and that you don’t always make the right ones. The most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes, and make up for them as best as you can when you get the chance.” – Renee (91%).

And here’s another example of preachiness (as well as stereotyping, which I’ll get to in point number 3):

I swallow the urge to ask her not to use words like “slut” in church, but I’m sure God will forgive her loose tongue considering the circumstances.” – Flo (89%).

Third: Stereotyping. Flo starts attending church about halfway through the book and what Flo says and does (as well as how Renee responds) is very stereotypical. Flo gets involved with some other Christian teens/young adults from her church, which are basically fanatical, almost cult-like. One of the Christian guys has a rock band, and Flo is blown away by the concept of there being Christian rock bands!!11!!. Umm… okay? This was supposed to take place in 1997… and there have been Christian rock bands since the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s Christian rock music was really taking off. Anyway, tangent. I don’t know — as a Christian myself, it’s hard for me to be objective about this — but take the above quote (where Flo doesn’t like Renee using words like “slut” in church). Flo objects to that, yet she wants to get laid ASAP and doesn’t want to wait for marriage (and thinks that those who do are crazy)? I… don’t understand the logic. But then again, that might be my own personal bias getting in the way.

However, all of my complaints aside, I noticed that this is the second in a series, and that the first book seemed to be much better liked than this one. I may pick up the first book, and keep Dawn O’Porter on my radar for other books, since there was enough in this book that I liked to make me be willing to give her books another chance