BOOK REVIEW | Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

3/5 stars

*I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Release date: March 17, 2020.

If you know the horrifying true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee, then you know the basic premise of Darling Rose Gold. This one swerves from the original story a little and gives us a twist towards the end, but it felt like Wrobel heard the Gypsy Rose story and just fictionalized it. She does give a nod to some of her sources in her Acknowledgements, but I think this book would be a better read for those who aren’t familiar with its origins.

Rose Gold suffered at the hands of her mother, Patty, for most of her childhood. Patty, who herself was physically abused as a child, made Rose Gold sick by poisoning her for years as a result of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP). She shaved Rose Gold’s head for sympathy, and spent countless hours at medical appointments under the guise of helping her ailing daughter. The community rallied around this sick child, showering Patty in sympathy. Years later, Patty has been released from prison and is reunited with Rose Gold.

This book was ok. It’s a page-turner, a quick and easy read, and yes, it’s entertaining. The writing is mediocre – I’m starting to find it hard to overlook similes that make no sense (can someone tell me what on earth a “pop tart bed” is???), and the use of overly colloquial language such as “f’ed up”. I didn’t expect this to be literary by any means, so maybe I’m just too pretentious a reader to enjoy a book simply for entertainment’s sake.

With all that said, this book is easy to read and hard to put down. I wish Wrobel went deeper into the psychology and trauma of MSBP. This is a fightingly disturbing cycle of abuse that leaves children severely traumatized. While I felt compelled to finish the book, I found it just ok. I’m in the minority here, as most reviews for this book are excellent. So, if you’re looking for a twisted, fast-paced thriller that isn’t a typical domestic drama, this could be worth picking up.

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 | The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

4/5 stars

Colson Whitehead shines a light on the dark recesses of American history with The Nickel Boys. Inspired by the haunting true story of the Arthur G. Dozier reform school for boys, Whitehead’s fictional account is as important as it is disturbing. Operating out of Marianna, a small town in the panhandle, black boys were routinely beaten, raped, and killed by staff. As of 2011, at least 80 bodies were found in a mass gravesite on the school grounds.

The story revolves around Elwood, a young boy, coming of age and beginning to engage with the civil rights movement. He’s a good kid; works at a convenience store, idolizes Martin Luther King Jr., and is starting to find his way in the world. Elwood is planning to go to college when he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is ultimately sent to reform school, The Nickel Academy. Elwood quickly discovers the atrocities occurring behind the walls, himself falling victim to brutal beatings.

The story is told in a uniquely non-linear format, which works well with Whitehead’s story. It’s not until the epilogue that everything comes full circle, and the reality of what you’ve read sets in. So often the dark parts of the past are “razed, cleared and neatly erased from history”, and I’m grateful to Whitehead for taking this on and bringing attention to the boys lost and forever changed at Dozier school.

BOOK REVIEW | Find Me by Andre Aciman

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4/5 stars

I approached Find Me with moderate expectations; I’ve read a few books by Aciman so I knew that his writing would be as lush and beautiful as always, but had trepidations as a follow up to Call My By Your Name. As expected, the prose is beautiful and fulfilling, but those looking for a continuation of Elio and Oliver’s story may be left wanting more.

The first and longest section of the book follows Elio’s father, Samuel. A chance meeting with a much younger woman on a train evolves quickly into a passionate romance. I enjoyed following up with Samuel, he’s a critical part of CMBYN, and it’s nice hearing more from his perspective. The older man, younger woman trope is a little tired, but Aciman is such an amazing writer that it’s easy to forgive this stereotype. However, I chuckled during a couple over the top intimate moments; in CMBYN the intensity of young romance allows for ridiculous declarations of love and obsession – it’s not as natural when it comes to an older couple.

Next we catch up with Elio, now living in Paris and working as a pianist. Elio develops a relationship with older man who attended one of his performances. Though their relationship is going well, he’s reminded of the empty space in his life that is Oliver. Oliver’s section reveals a lifetime of regret. He’s lived well, and attempts to fill the void in his life with different partners, but knows he has to find Elio again.

In a fourth, very short, final section we see Elio and Oliver reunited. This epilogue of sorts is lovely, and I think what all fans of the first book waited patiently for. Part of me wishes this was longer, and that Aciman left more space for their story. However, there’s a sense of completeness to it as well: I feel satisfied with how it ended.

I’m a huge fan of CMBYN – it was profoundly moving and I didn’t expect this book to replicate that, as very few books can so affecting. This was a great reading experience in and of itself. If you’ve read Aciman you’ll know that he has an ability to tap into desire like no one else, and Find Me is no exception.

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!