This weekend I did something truly and fantastically nerdy. I participated in the #24in48 Readathon and read (in some format) for 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday. I loved it! My eyes were very, very tired by the end. Here are some mini reviews of the books that I read/listened to.
Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
(audiobook narrated by Steve West and Alex McKenna)
This young adult adventure novel was tons of fun and packed with action! Set on another planet, this story centers on two teens—one a promising student/self-appointed archaeologist and one a scavenger sent to the planet to steal the treasures of past civilizations (in other words, alien tech). When both of their original plans fall through and they end up on the same side of a sticky situation, they team up to go after a special temple that is lesser known but—according to the amateur archaeologist—more important in value. Many complications ensue, including lots of alien booby traps and “testing” of the worthy to receive their inheritance. VERDICT: This book is a fun ride, but I wasn’t quite as impressed with this series as I was with the authors’ BROKEN STARS trilogy, which I absolutely LOVED. There were some pacing issues and the romance was a little too instantaneous, but I still enjoyed the book a lot. I give it four out of five stars for a clever plot, solid characters, and that special Indiana Jones spark. The narration by Steve West and Alex McKenna is excellent.
Ms. Marvel, Volume 1 by G. Willow Wilson, Illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jacob Wyatt
Volume 1 of the new Ms. Marvel, “No Normal,” collects issues 1-5. This is not the first superhero comic to feature a Muslim character, but I think it’s the first headliner. I was curious to see what it was about and how the author would handle religion within a superhero world as I haven’t seen that done before. This comic features Kamala Khan, an ordinary girl from Jersey City, who is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts after emerging from a strange fog on her way home one night. At first, she chooses to hide her identity and change her appearance to what she thinks superheroes should look like: blonde and leggy. But when a friend is in peril, she jumps in without her disguise and must make a choice: Will she continue to fight evil with another’s face or be brave enough to be herself? VERDICT: I enjoyed this collection, but I probably won’t pick up the rest of the issues. I was curious as to how she would feel as a Muslim with superpowers, and this volume didn’t really explore that at all. Still, the art and, particularly, the illustrator’s use of color really brings this story to life.
Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
This is a very complicated book to explain but I’ll do my best! This is set in a world similar to our own, but for the fact that other creatures, in addition to humans, inhabit it. There are subspecies of humans and there are creatures that are not human at all taking on the physical attributes of humans and walking among us. This story follows Aphra, a person of the deep. In 1928, her town (all people of the deep) was rounded up and put in internment camps. Interestingly, once most of her kin and community died, the Japanese join her and her brother in the camp. She are her brother, the only survivors of their kind, are finally released at the same time as the Japanese (1946). This is the tale of the friendships and family she builds, the magical community she forges, and her pursuit of her people’s books and legacy. VERDICT: With a library at its center, strong weather magic, and a self-declared “ugly” heroine who is a member of a subspecies of humanity, this unique book will appeal to fans of well-written genre fiction that’s a little dense but ultimately rewarding. I found it highly original and would not hesitate to recommend. *Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an early copy of this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book is available now.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
(narrated by Rachel McAdams)
This is one of my favorite classics of children’s literature, and I couldn’t resist the chance to listen to this audible version read by actress Rachel McAdams. I last read the book in sixth grade, and I was just as delighted this time as I was then. I had forgotten how much dialogue is in this book, and McAdams’ girlish voice really shines in those sections. I also enjoyed discovering how faithful my favorite movie version (with Megan Follows as Anne) is to the book. Now I may have to rewatch it in the near future! Fellow Anne “with an E,” you will always hold a place in my heart and on my shelf. (I own a physical copy as well. How could I not?)
The Young Queens: A Three Dark Crowns Novella by Kendare Blake
The first thing to be said about this novella is not to read it before you read Three Dark Crowns (click here to read my review). It spoils one of the major twists that is best discovered organically. This novella offers backstory that is referenced in Three Dark Crowns, but is more valuable for the insights into the lives of the secondary characters, in my opinion. Queen Mirabella was the most interesting as a child, and I enjoyed seeing how her “growing up” played out. This is a must-read for completists and big fans, but could probably have been skipped by the casual fan like me.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
This is one of the best works of modern children’s literature I have read in the last twenty years. It is simply brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that I cannot possibly do it justice in a mini review. Look for a full post featuring this title coming later this week!
That’s all for now! And my, that’s quite enough.
Oh, how I love Deanna Raybourn’s mystery-solving pair Veronica and Stoker! I am a fan of historical mysteries, and this series is one of my absolute favorites. Books one and two, A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking, are absolutely delightful! There are so many things to admire in this series. Raybourn’s tone is playful, irreverent, and deliciously English in the old-fashioned sense. Still, she incorporates modern ideals and themes into the Victorian-set VERONICA SPEEDWELL series. Here’s a summary of the third book, A Treacherous Curse, from Goodreads:
As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.
But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .
As the summary indicates, Veronica Speedwell is a counter-cultural character—an adventurous lepidopterist with an unconventional perspective on love and romance. Her partnership and close friendship with Stoker, a sort of pirate-esque taxidermist in the extreme sense (read: elephants not cats), defies cultural mores and is as down-to-earth as it gets. Their developing relationship is one of the best parts of these books. There’s the inevitable “will they” question, but Raybourn really focuses on the friendship and how they come to understand each other. I appreciate a slow burn, myself, so I love the way she handles the relationship.
This book had the added benefit of an Egyptology connection, which is a subject that has always fascinated me. I took a community education class on Egyptology as a kid, and it made a huge impact on me. My ears immediately perk up at the word. I find the whole culture and subject fascinating!
I’m not going to say too much about the plot apart from the description above, because it would spoil the first two books. So, without further ado, my VERDICT: I loved this book! It is exactly what I want in a good historical mystery. With hints of humor, impropriety, and scandal, this is a great page-turner that I read in just two sittings.
READALIKE: I recommend this series to those who enjoyed Lauren Willig’s PINK CARNATION series, because of the powerhouse female heroine, light tone, intrigue, and bits of espionage.
***My thanks to Netgalley and to Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.***
Overall, this year of reading was a mixed bag. I read 84 books. Some of them were great. Some of them were good. Some of them were truly terrible. In the end, it was actually pretty easy to select these top seven reads from 2017. Here are my picks—click on the title for a link to buy the book!
Following an independent storyline in an alternate universe from the movie, this is an excellent origin story featuring a teenaged Diana. The Amazonian princess risks exile by rescuing a mortal—only to discover that the mortal is a warbringer, a descendant of Helen Troy with the supernatural power to destroy the world. This is a marvelous tale of adventure, female friendship, girl power, mythology, and just the teeniest bit of romance. I listened to the audiobook, and it’s fantastic.
This book felt like warm comfort food or getting comfy under a blanket with a mug of hot tea. I still remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Knutson, recommending the LITTLE HOUSE books to me on the stairwell of Washington Elementary School, because reading these novels was one of my most formative reading experiences. I shared a room with my younger sister while growing up, and my mom read the entire series aloud to us. As a family of four girls, we went to the Laura Ingalls Wilder play; we stayed in a sod house; we visited the Minnesota landmarks. I am a huge fan girl. So when I heard that a new and authorized LITTLE HOUSE book was coming out in 2017, I was ecstatic—and I was not disappointed! As it is written from Ma’s (aka Caroline’s) perspective, this book offers a more realistic picture of life on the frontier than the children’s books. It is heartwarming but also deeply human. How would it feel to have a husband you love dearly who is always wanting to move on to the next place when you might be just as happy to stay? What can you find for your little girls to do that won’t drive you crazy while you try and get something done? There are some truly touching scenes between Caroline and Charles as well as some beautiful snapshots of motherhood.
What a delight! Originally published in 1970, this slim volume of real letters exchanged between Helen Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York, and a London used book dealer are an homage to the world of books and letters. Funny, irreverent, and showing humanity at its most generous, this book is more wonderful than words can express. At only 95 pages, I read this book in a single sitting and it was undoubtedly my most pleasant reading experience of the year.
And . . . another tiny book about books. I can’t help myself. In this novella, Queen Elizabeth II discovers a voracious appetite for the written word in the later years of her life. On a stroll with one of her hounds, which escapes its tether, she learns that a traveling library visits Buckingham Palace every week. It’s only polite, she feels, to borrow a book once she comes face-to-face with the librarian and a young kitchen boy perusing the shelves. Soon enough, the queen can’t stop reading for pleasure—something she’s never done before. She’s always read books, of course. But reading for enjoyment is a new concept. This begins a passionate affair with literature that leads to a surprising revelation at the end. I won’t tell!
An intense but ultimately rewarding read. “When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family” (from Goodreads). Excellently written, this a tale that will grab you and not let go. Set in the American South and exposing the harsh cruelties of slavery, this novel is not for the faint of heart but is so worth the effort. I think part of the reason I found it to be such a difficult (in the best sense) read is that I listened to it on audio. There was no escaping or skimming over the reality of injustice, and perhaps that’s a good thing. I was very satisfied with the ending, although there is a sequel that I haven’t read yet called Glory Over Everything.
This is a beautifully written, tangled-twisty mess of a feminism, deception, and shame. WOW. The Lie Tree is starkly true at particular moments, and there are many wonderful quotes within. I was riveted by the way this YA novel portrayed the way a lie takes on a life of its own and the power that even the smallest fib can wield over our lives and the lives of those around us. Read more about the book and what I thought here.
You and everyone you know should read this book, especially if they happen to love books. This is a beautiful journey of two people growing closer, of a mother and her son, of a lifelong love of literature, of what a well-lived life looks like, and of what a good death truly means. It is emotional and incredibly inspiring. I savored every carefully crafted word.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done a traditional book review, but I’m back and ready to report on what I’m reading and what you should be reading, too! You can expect to see a more balanced output of posts on lifestyle, literature, and faith coming from me this fall. I’m starting mid-month, but September is the other January – so here we go!
And now . . . the review. I would like to thank the publisher, Orbit Books, for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was so excited to be approved as this book is SO in my wheelhouse. A historical family saga about witches? Yes, please. Give me all the access.
Here’s the copy from Goodreads:
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.
From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
Sounds great, right? I have been hesitant to write this review because, honestly, A Secret History of Witches theoretically rang all my bells but failed to live up to my expectations. This was a so-so read for me. I’m not sorry I read it. However, it’s not going to be a book that I recommend. The writing is solid. It’s the story and character development that is problematic.
Although I typically love family sagas, this one is composed of stories that are too similar. The five women all have the same struggles and basic journey, so it felt like I was reading the same story again and again. Also, their stories felt incomplete. Each character’s journey was cut off just when it was getting interesting to make way for the next character. In order to fulfill my expectations, this book would have had to have been significantly longer.
Another issue I had is that the women are so unlikable! The majority are selfish, vain, ungrateful things. I just couldn’t handle it. I appreciate that this book featured a cast of independent women. I like to see that in my fiction. But in this case, it wasn’t a positive representation, which is unfortunate.
I would have loved to have seen the author delve deeper into the historical time periods, and explore how this factored in to change things for each individual character more, as the blurb implies. I thought this plot aspect was underdeveloped in the actual book.
Another reader might really enjoy this book. It’s well-written in a technical sense and has a beautiful cover to draw the reader in. It just wasn’t for me.
When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel . That’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.
Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to the mysterous Oliver Ward. Formerly a world-famous magician and now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, Oliver can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene.
With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…
Overall, I found this a fun, fast read and a satisfying mystery/romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very enjoyable, with some gasp-worthy moments and a hero that I fell for. Oliver is handsome, in control, and has a very interesting backstory. He also has a disabled leg, and I’m always here for a non-cookie-cutter romantic hero. Most importantly, he’s a gentleman, not an alpha male.
The mystery—I should say, mysteries—were intriguing and kept me turning the pages. The Girl Who Knew Too Much has a lot of deaths in it, but Quick’s storytelling never gets too dark. I give the romance a moderate heat rating of 3/5 stars, with just one heated scene containing an explicit reference that soon fades to black.
I read this in two sittings and was completely content. Readers who are willing to go along for the ride will love it! Having read and liked ‘Til Death Do Us Part, I got exactly what I was expecting.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Wicked City! The novel features two narratives connected by the New York City building in which they take place—one is set in the 1920s, one in the 1990s. The stories each had their own flavor and individual aspects that I loved. The characters are true to life, the setting is vividly rendered, and both timelines are equally engaging. I breezed through this novel in a single sitting! I thought the romance could have used a little more building up but really liked the book overall. The folks at William Morrow wrote up an excellent blurb for this book, and as a copywriter I can appreciate a job well done. Here’s their teaser:
New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.
Thank you, William Morrow, for providing me with an ARC of this book!
This is such a sweet romance! Mary Balogh shines in this tale of family, self-worth, and the love we choose to accept. Centered on an orphanage in Bath, England, Someone to Hold features two protagonists who live with the social stigma of being illegitimate. After a terrible first impression, the two become reluctant friends and eventually—spoiler alert!—fall in love. I particularly enjoyed the many facets of the female protagonist, Camille. She has far more depth than your average romance heroine! I also found her current situation and Joel’s long-term experience growing up as an orphan to be a fascinating and thought-provoking contrast. Note: This is technically book two in the Westcott series, but I didn’t read book one and felt no confusion.
Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery. . . .
Thanks to Berkley Books for giving me access to an ARC via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
A Veronica Speedwell Mystery
This was simply delightful!
*witty banter to the max
*Victorian murder mystery
*art colony + Hellfire Club + opium den
*will they or won’t they?
*I don’t even care, I love them just as they are!
Who are they? The grouchiest, most eccentric and outlandish pair of natural-scientist-amateur-investigators in London. Do look them up!
(But be sure to start with the first Veronica Speedwell Mystery, A Curious Beginning. Read my review here.)
Wow. This collection from masterful essayist Annie Dillard was beautiful, crisp, and very inspiring to me as a writer. The prose, the metaphors, the way she describes things—nature, especially—is absolutely breathtaking. If you are at all interested in exposing yourself to a whole new level of literary talent, this book of essays is your introduction to a pro.
If you haven’t read THE LUNAR CHRONICLES by Marissa Meyer, check out my previous Series Starter blog post to see why it’s worth reading!
written by Marissa Meyer and illustrated by Doug Holgate
Today I’m recommending the graphic novel, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1, which follows up this series and the short story collection Stars Above. Wires and Nerve wasn’t as good as getting another novel for me—but only because I’m not a huge graphic novel person. It was great seeing all my favorite characters again, especially because we got so much more of Iko!
The artwork was fantastic, and I thought the color scheme was perfect for the story. The cool shades of blue are so fitting for the Lunar world. Of course, the characters weren’t quite as I imagined but were wonderfully drawn. I hadn’t realized at first that this was just the first volume of an ongoing series, but I’ll gladly continue reading them. This is a must-read for all Marissa Meyer fans.
Hardcover, 240 pages | Published January 31, 2017
Source: Netgalley – Thank you, Bloomsbury USA! I received a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Release Day: TODAY! March 7, 2017
I could not wait to get my hands on The Song Rising and was lucky enough to get an early copy. I absolutely LOVED the first two novels in this series, The Bone Season and The Mime Order.
Here’s a summary of the first book in the series with no spoilers:
Set in a future England with a fantasy twist, the series follows “dreamwalker” Paige Mahoney, but her abilities are a dangerous secret. It is not legal to practice clairvoyance in Scion-controlled London. It is not even legal to be clairvoyant. The powerful “mime lord” Jaxon Hall employs her, but even he can’t protect her when she is attacked, kidnapped, and transported to the secret slave city of Oxford. There she learns the terrible truth about the forces behind Scion: an otherworldly race known as the Rephaim.
Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.
As this is the third book in the series, the rest of this post has spoilers.
You have been warned.
Let’s talk about The Song Rising.
It was fine. I know—that’s not what I was expecting to say either. I probably would have classified it as good (3/5) if I hadn’t had such high expectations after books one and two. However, I committed to the review on Netgalley, and it was good enough that I’m planning to continue reading the series. Overall, I give it 2.5/5 stars, which is my “it was fine” equivalent. As a result, this is going to be a more critical review than what I usually post. The qualifier that I will state here, for the record, is that my criteria for this author is higher than usual because I expect more from her. The first two books in this series are two of my favorites, so perhaps I’m being overly harsh. But I know what this author is capable of, so I know she can do better!
Following a bloody battle against foes on every side, Paige Mahoney has risen to the dangerous position of Underqueen, ruling over London’s criminal population. But, having turned her back on Jaxon Hall and with vengeful enemies still at large, the task of stabilizing the fractured underworld has never seemed so challenging. Little does Paige know that her reign may be cut short by the introduction of Senshield, a deadly technology that spells doom for the clairvoyant community and the world as they know it. . . . . (read the rest on Goodreads)
I’ve acknowledged already how much I was looking forward to returning to the world that Samantha Shannon has created and finding out what happens next. However, since she took an extra year to write this book, I admit I expected more. I read this as a galley, but it was immediately apparent that this book is significantly shorter than the other two. Length is not necessarily an issue if the narrative is tight, but The Song Rising also had pacing issues. I was completely immersed in the first two novels in this series, both of which I was unable to put down. This one I didn’t feel as drawn to continue.
That being said, there were still glimpses of the Samantha Shannon we’ve seen before. There are some gripping action-adventure scenes in The Song Rising. These were the bits that kept me turning pages. You want to know what did not? The relationship between Paige and Arcturus. EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE MY FAVORITE PART! Why, you ask? Because their relationship was so static that it barely existed. (Insert dramatic sigh here of disappointment here.)
I found Paige so annoying in this book, and I really liked her before! Her struggle to be a leader may have been more realistic than in a lot of fiction, but it made it hard to root for her as a character. Her inability to see herself as a leader also felt unconvincing, as she’s proven herself several times over at this point. Then, she suddenly accepts her position and goes in way too strong and it’s kind of a shock. Arcturus is unquestionably my favorite character and there is still so much we don’t know about him. I liked learning a little more about his history in this book. It just needed more Arcturus in general. We also learned more about some secondary characters, which I enjoyed. I found Cutthroat especially fascinating! There were other parts that I liked, but it was the less pleasing stuff that stuck with me. I do feel for Samantha. The pressure on her must have been huge. Unfortunately, this one just didn’t do it for me. But I’m not giving up on her yet!
The Song Rising ended with a promising set up for the next book.
Questions to Ponder:
What is the best thing that could happen at this point, now that the world is being taken over by Scion? Is there even a solution?
Where are all the regular non-extremist people? I feel like there is room for a broader resistance beyond those directly affected by Oxford. There have to be some people out there who aren’t buying all this Scion crap, right?
Predictions for future books, anyone?
Hello, readers! I’m trying something new today. I didn’t finish any books this past week! So instead of a review, I’m sharing a list of some anticipated future reads. I hope you find something that sounds intriguing.
Recently Added to My To-Be-Read List:
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
Published: February 28, 2017 by Viking
Source: Publishers Weekly listing
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale comes a new novel about an obsessive bibliophile’s quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail. SOLD!
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29
Published: April 29, 2014 by WaterBrook
Source: Fan of the author
Western North Carolina, 1787 ~ To escape a threatening stepfather and an unwanted marriage, Tamsen Littlejohn enlists the aid of Jesse Bird, a frontiersman she barely knows, to spirit her away from Morganton, North Carolina, west beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Trouble pursues, as the two men intent on seeing her recovered prove relentless in their hunt. . . . Gaining the freedom she longs for will mean running yet again, to the most unlikely refuge imaginable—the Cherokees, a people balanced on the knife edge of war.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.08
Published: October 21, 2008 by Atheneum
Source: Heard wonderful things about this book and the author
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight . . . for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.05
Published: May 3, 2016 by Atria Books
From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.
Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.00
To-Be-Published: April 18, 2017 by Rodale Books
Source: Saw it on Goodreads
From New York Times bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps Kelly Williams Brown comes a funny, charming guide to modern civility in these—yes, we’ll say it—rather uncivil times.
Throughout the book, she provides tips on how to deal with the people and circumstances that challenge even the most socially graceful among us, advice on how to practice graciousness in everyday life, and thoughtful discussions on being kind to those around you without ever losing your sense of self.
Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.24
Published: April 5, 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: Listening to The Kitchen House now and loving it! I heard about that book through a trusted bookish friend.
From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.
Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
This book touched me on a deeply personal level, and I had to process it for a little while before writing about it. Anna Lyndsey’s amazing memoir is about her experience of a rare and unexplained physical condition that leaves her unable to be in the presence of light—not just sunlight, but soft lamps, LED screens, everything. She can’t even go to a doctor’s office. At first, I couldn’t imagine what this would be like, but her memoir describes her feelings and practical limitations with incredible detail. I was blown away by both the writing and Lyndsey’s keen insights into chronic illness and depression. This receives 5/5 stars from me!
One of the main reasons to recommend this memoir is Lyndsey’s ability to speak about her completely life-altering struggle with such eloquence, such candor, and such vulnerability. As someone who lives with chronic illness, I had many moments of, “Yes—that’s exactly what that feels like!” while reading this book. However, this is not to say that this book is all inspirational “a-ha” moments. There’s plenty of emotional turmoil here, too, and she doesn’t shy away from sharing those thoughts. Her struggle is real every step of the way—and real again after every setback.
“I am the prisoner only of my skin. Would I could claw that traitorous membrane from my bones.”
When Lyndsey’s skin comes into contact with light at the height of her illness, it literally blisters, and she is in excruciating pain for days. But thankfully she is not alone in her isolation. She has a boyfriend/eventual husband who loves her deeply and walks with her through everything. It is very touching and heartening to witness through words. For most of the time frame covered in this book, Lyndsey spends her days in a completely darkened room with cloth stuffed into the crevices of every window and door. Yet her and her husband still manage to have a meaningful relationship, despite the obstacles and depression her situation entails. This is pretty phenomenal in and of itself.
I found this memoir inspiring even though it contains so much darkness because of the magnitude of Anna’s condition and the way she handles it with strength and grace, particularly as a non-Christian. How does one endure such pain—such isolation—without the belief in the promise of eternal life or in the God who loves you just as you are? At one point, Lyndsey contemplates suicide and decides against it. I cannot imagine living life—particularly her difficult life—without the hope of the Lord, but I really admire Lyndsey for her endurance, her humor, and her choice to live the best life possible day by day.
Upon experiencing a period of remission, Lyndsey writes, “My heart is filled with gratitude and relief. Gratitude that I have been granted another chance. Relief that my worst fear, the fear of permanence, has yet again been proved unfounded.” This is the quintessential fear for so many with chronic illness—the inability to think beyond this moment, the belief that things will not get better. I love that she addressed this outright. It is such a silent, hushed thing—but it is a very real and important thing to talk about, too. I think she expressed it beautifully.
From her sense of self-loss due to periods of isolation to her humorous recitation of the ABCs of chronic illness, I strongly identify with Anna Lyndsey and various aspects of her experience. We are, as another famous Anne once said, “kindred spirits,” I think. Like me, Lyndsey is a booklover. She spends a great deal of her time listening to audiobooks. She speaks very positively about literature, saying, “I can, in my darkness, live so many different lives.” These brief forays into her literary life and the playful “Games to Play in the Dark” sections are the lightest parts of the book. Most of the games have something to do with words. These brief, engaging sections successfully break up the narrative; it was an excellent choice made by Lyndsey.
I was saddened to learn that Lyndsey’s illness continues in its intensity as of the writing of this book. But that is, alas, the nature of chronic ailments. I’ll leave you with the same hopeful words she closes her memoir with:
“Joy lurks in every mundane thing—just waiting to be found. Love is impervious to reason, and words are wonderful.”