BOOK REVIEW | Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

5/5 stars

She leaned forward and peered at the rosebush – why, there was another bud coming right behind that bloom!

Oh, Olive, where to begin? I adored this book from the first page to the last. The quote above is the simplest and most meaningful way of summing up this book – life just goes on. You live, have experiences, create human connections, and you die. And then another bud follows your bloom. This is a book about reflection – the messiness of life, the stuff in the middle.

Olive is back in this follow up to its predecessor, Olive Kitteridge. Please note that you do not have to have read the first installment to enjoy this book, but it’s a fantastic return to this character if you have. Told in Strout’s signature style, this is a series of short stories about the people and places of the fictional town of Crosby, Maine. Each story is about or ultimately connects with Olive – even the stories that she doesn’t appear in reveal connections by the end.

Olive is as cynical as ever, speaking her mind in the most hilarious and inappropriate ways. She says what everyone thinks, but would never dare to say out loud. Time passes as the stories roll on, reflections on life and human connections being the bond that ties them all together. This was a particularly poignant time in my life to read Olive – I have 3 young kids, one of them being a baby. Olive’s reflections on motherhood and her marriage reminded me that the the chaos, busyness, and work that comes with raising 3 boys and maintaining a partnership is, in fact, the stuff of life.

I loved Olive, especially as she became elderly. I loved how she processed her age, her losses, her loneliness, her relationships with her son and late husbands – all with her cantankerous flair. I don’t think we’ll be hearing from Olive again, but this was the perfect way to say goodbye.

BOOK REVIEW | Correspondents by Tim Murphy

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5/5 stars

When I heard Tim Murphy’s new book would about the war in Iraq and largely set in the Middle East, I had reservations. This is far from my area of expertise, and I was worried that I may not be able to fully engage with the story. I need’t fear though as Murphy is a fantastic storyteller and much like his first book, Christodora, he educates the reader while keeping raw human stories at the forefront. Murphy writes characters you get deeply invested in.

Correspondents spans multiple generations, though much of it surrounds Rita and Nabil. Rita, half Lebanese and half Irish, grows up in a loving home in Boston. She’s bright and ambitious and, after graduating from Harvard, secures a job working as a correspondent for The American Standard. She is soon stationed in Baghdad right after the US led invasion in 2003 and assigned to work with Nabil, an Iraqi translator who will go on assignment with her as she engages with locals.

Rita is so fiercely dedicated to reporting factually and with integrity, she occasionally appears to be desensitized to the evils of war happening right in front of her. In a vulnerable moment she lets down her guard, ultimately putting her career at risk. Nabil, while grateful for the work, is enduring a silent battle of his own. Through their shared experience of war the two develop a deep bond, only to be separated by tragic circumstances. Rita and Nabil will both experience horrific violence, injustice, pain, and suffering.

Murphy tackles many topics in this book: American interference in foreign policy, immigration, mental health, lgbtq+ rights in the Middle East, radicalization, gun violence, racism, and more. Regardless of these where you fall on the political spectrum, this is a valuable read for anyone searching for humanity in an extremely polarizing time.

Another amazing book from Tim Murphy – I can only hope he’s working on #3!

BOOK REVIEW | Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

5/5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with this advanced copy. Miracle Creek is available now.

Miracle Creek is being touted as a courtroom drama, but to label it as such is doing this book a huge disservice. This story is layered, deep, and incredibly smart. Angie Kim blew this book out of the water; it’s hard to believe it’s her debut novel. The promise of a gripping court story is appealing, but the nuanced, complex characters will keep readers engaged.

The story revolves the “Miracle Submarine”, a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) tank run by Pak in the town of Miracle Creek. HBOT is said to help improve symptoms in children with autism, and the allure of this unique treatment proves hope for many parents. Elizabeth and her son Henry are among those who come for regular treatments, or “dives”.

During a routine dive, a fire breaks out resulting in an explosion. The outcome is tragic, sparking an investigation into how the fire started. It becomes quickly apparent that this was arson, but who would set a fire to an oxygenated structure knowing that kids are inside? Would the exhausted, overworked parent of an autistic child commit such an atrocious crime? Or perhaps Pak, the owner of the Miracle Submarine, in an insurance fraud scandal?

Interposed between snapshots of the trial, are beautifully fleshed out stories. We learn about Pak, his wife Young, and daughter Mary, and the challenges they face after immigrating from Seoul, Korea. Mary struggles the most with this significant change, as any teenager would. We gain insight into Elizabeth’s life and struggles as a mother to an autistic child, and the lengths she goes to to help him with his symptoms. From meticulously planned out meals, to a variety of therapies, Elizabeth’s world revolves around Henry and his care. She’s exhausted, but any parent can relate to her story – to want to give your child every possibly opportunity to thrive.

Kim delivers family drama, intrigue, and poignant insights with Miracle Creek. This was a fantastic read for me, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a moving story to get lost in.

BOOK REVIEW | Pet Sematary by Stephen King

5/5 stars

This may be my favorite Stephen King book to date – a book that King himself describes as too much, the one time he feels he crossed a line. I have a lot of King left to read, but I can understand why this one stands out for many super fans.

Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and kids Ellie and Gage move to a quiet neighborhood in rural Maine. Louis immediately warms to the elderly couple that lives across the street, even describing Jud as the father he should have had. It’s an idyllic picture, but Jud warns the Creeds to be mindful of the commercial trucks that frequently speed through the area, suggesting they keep their pet cat close. Jud takes the family on a tour of the forested areas near the house, and they come upon a graveyard where kids burry their pets after they die – the pet sematary. The burial ground is believed to have some sort of power and when tragedy occurs, Louis will soon discover this to be true.

Reading this book as a mom to young boys was no easy task – I knew what was coming, yet dreaded it with every flip of the page. King takes every parent’s greatest fear, the loss of a child, and weaves it into a tale so dark and disturbing, yet utterly compelling. This is a great story, as well as a great scary story. Louis’ transformation into a father obsessed is a huge part of what drives the last third of the book – will he really go as far as the plot suggests? Jud had warned him, after all: sometimes dead is better. Horror readers won’t be disappointed either – there’s plenty of truly frightening moments within its pages. It takes a lot to scare me, but I had to take pause on more than one occasion.

This is a book that almost didn’t get published, but I’m certainly glad it did. It’s difficult to read, but horror that you can relate to is arguably the best kind. I finally get to watch the original movie, and look forward to the remake in 2019!

BOOK REVIEW | Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

5/5 stars

Finally, my first Megan Abbott! I loved this book and may or may not have purchased a few other Abbot books while reading this. I’d heard that Abbott writes women perfectly, and I absolutely loved her treatment of the two central characters in this story. If you’re a fan of Abbott, let me know what I should read next!

Diane and Kit bond through academics and athletics while in high school, each pushing the other to excel. Both have an aptitude for science, rising to the top of their class. Diane is mysterious, never revealing too much about herself, but it’s clear that her home life has something to be desired. Her mother is beautiful and elegant, but leaves her to live with her father. On one fateful day, Diane makes a critical choice and ultimately discloses a dark secret to Kit. Burdened with knowledge she wishes she didn’t have, Kit looks forward to a future after high school, a future without Diane.

Fast forward years later, and Kit is working in a prestigious lab under the guidance of renowned scientist, Dr. Severin. When the opportunity to be a part of a ground breaking research project arises, Kit is desperate to be selected for the team. The study is in PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – an affliction that causes women to suffer in extreme, and even violent, ways during their cycles. Abbott weaves a tale of blood, hysteria, and the stereotypes women face as a result of their biology. Diane, a rising scientist in her own right, is recruited by Dr. Severin, thus reuniting the old friends.

Written in alternating timelines, Abbot is able to build to a denouement that isn’t necessarily shocking, but completely satisfying, though tragic. Diane is troubled and complex, yet somehow sympathetic. With perfect pacing and tension, this was a home run for me.

BOOK REVIEW | Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

5/5 stars

I prayed forgiveness…for God to pluck me out like a coal from the fire… But Brothers, Sisters: What if that’s the wrong prayer? What if the right prayer is ‘Let me burn, only walk beside me in the flames’?.

Wow, that was intense. I’m not generally interested in books about religion, but Fire Sermon flipped the genre on its head, challenging the confines that keep devout followers trapped in unhappy circumstances.

Maggie, raised Christian, is married, contently. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who are getting older and heading off into ventures of their own. Her husband, Thomas, is kind and attentive, though admittedly atheist. Maggie reaches out to James, a poet she admires, and the pair soon begin conversing regularly. Before long, Maggie and James are in the throws of a passionate, illicit affair. James provides Maggie with what she didn’t know she was missing; he encourages her to write and share her own poetry, and offers spiritually and intellectually satisfying theological debate. Though devoted to Thomas, Maggie struggles with her desires, and what she will lose if she continues in her affair with James.

You will watch the fire consume everything you care about. You will be left with ash – the proper and only end of any burning.

This book is as much about spirituality and monogamy as it is about the nature of female desire. In less capable hands, I don’t think this story would have been so effecting, but Jamie Quatro is a phenomenal writer. Her prose is haunting and poetic, resulting in a book that asks complex questions without surmising a moral standpoint.

BOOK REVIEW | I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

5/5 stars

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total wuss when it comes to true crime. Give me the most grotesque, horrific, depraved fiction and I’ll be just fine, but as soon as a story is true, I’m out. I really struggle with the type of crime detailed in this book – I know it happens, I just have a hard time with the details. Pegged as part memoir, part obsession, and highly literary, I knew I’d be picking I’ll Be Gone in the Dark up. Within the first few pages I was completely gripped, and the story didn’t let up once.

Michelle McNamara had always been compelled to true crime, sort of an armchair detective. She journaled her thoughts and findings on her blog, True Crime Diary,  and it wasn’t long before she became obsessed with unveiling a serial rapist and murderer that she penned as the Golden State Killer. She spent countless hours analyzing every victim’s story, reading through case files, and agonizing over the gruesome details of the crimes. As lead detective Paul Holes mentions in the book,  she was able to place herself comfortably among the professionals, earning their trust and essentially becoming a part of the investigation team.

This book isn’t easy to take – this monster’s crimes were absolutely horrific. He fed off the fear and torture of his victims, even terrorizing some with chilling phone calls years after his attack. In reading this I became uneasy, and extremely weary of anyone I would see walking by my house. It instilled a certain paranoia in me that I am still trying to shake. McNamara’s writing, however, almost made this story read like fiction. This isn’t a great true crime book, it’s just a great book. She writes with a passion and fluidity that reads like silk. Sections of this book were pieced together posthumously from McNamara’s notes, and it’s clear that she moved everyone she worked with on this case.

The GSK’s crimes began before the dawn of DNA profiling, but it’s just that that will take him down years later. He was apprehended in April of this year, 2018. McNamara passed away in April 2016, just 2 short years before his capture. How I would have loved to hear her response to this massive feat; I feel like she’d have something damn good to say.