BOOK REVIEW | Starlight by Richard Wagamese

4/5 stars

It’s not in our imagined wholeness that we become art, it’s in the celebration of our cracks.
-Richard Wagamese

Starlight may be the first incomplete, posthumous, story that I’ve read. Richard Wagamese passed away before completing his first draft of Starlight, but with his estate’s blessing, this story came to be published. It’s a follow up to Medicine Walk, a story that is on my bookshelf but I have yet to read.

Franklin Starlight is grieving the loss of the man who raised him, living a quiet life on his farm with his friend and farmhand, Roth. Starlight also happens to be a talented photographer, his respectful approach to wildlife giving him the unique ability to capture animals in intimate moments.

Meanwhile, a story of survival and escape is taking place: Emmy, a woman in an abusive relationship, manages to escape with her daughter and the pair set out on the run. With no money and no plan, the only goal is to create distance between themselves and Emmy’s abuser. When Emmy finds herself in trouble, a unique suggestion from a social worker brings Starlight and Emmy together. As Emmy enters life on the farm, a tender relationship with Starlight develops. Wile the threat of Emmy’s abuser tracking them down looms, the connection between Emmy and Starlight is a powerful force and one can only root for their happiness and safety.

This story reads like a first draft, but that’s exactly what it is: some grammatical cleanup was done, and some very light editing. I enjoyed reading something is such pure form, and can envision what Wagamese’s final vision may have been. I commend the way that the ending of this story was handled – it cuts off abruptly, ending where Wagamese had. I appreciate that no attempt to finish the story was made but found significant value in the insights regarding how the story may have ended, provided by those close to Wagamese. This is ultimately a story of recovery from trauma and the power of human connection.

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BOOK REVIEW | Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

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4.5/5 stars

Release Date: March 14, 2017

*I received a digital advanced review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

From the publisher:
The author of Still Missing targets her readership with a novel that hits all the notes they come to expect from her—and ratchets up the stakes even more. Lindsey Nash has left an abusive relationship and her ex-husband was sent to jail. She has started over with a new life, her own business, and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties. There is no way he can ever find her and her daughter again. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded. Even her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he is a different person and doesn’t want to do her any harm. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead even closer to home than she thought?

My thoughts:
Chevy Stevens took my breath away more than once with her upcoming book, Never Let You Go. Focused around a physically abusive and controlling relationship, Stevens places the reader directly in the center of the storm. Reading an abusive relationship was intense, and I felt my heart pounding during most of part one. I have never been in this situation, but Stevens opened my eyes to just how terrifying it is for the victim of abuse, and how it can feel impossible to get out of the relationship. In this book, Lindsey Nash knows she must take a bold risk to remove her and her daughter, Sophie, from the grip that her husband, Andrew, has over their lives.

Lindsey and Andrew meet at a young age and fell deeply in love. They married and settled into their new home together, enjoying the early days of their romance. As Lindsey learns more about Andrew, she decides to surprise him with a thoughtful Christmas present – she knows he is going to be so touched. As it turns out, the gift triggered painful parts of his past, which revealed a rage that she didn’t see coming. Lindsey feels terrible, but works to repair the damage. Over time, she notices that Andrew’s drinking is increasing, and he becomes more verbally abusive and controlling. She slowly dissolves her friendships and hopes for a career, her world centering around Andrew. Sophie is born and years later the situation has escalated – Lindsey has no freedom and Andrew’s drinking is out of control. She has to escape this to protect Sophie and take back her life, but how? The events that follow lead to Andrew’s arrest, and a chance for Lindsey to start over.

Fast forward eleven years: Lindsey has built a new life for herself and Sophie is now 17 years old. Lindsey makes her living cleaning houses, and has worked hard to develop her business. Sophie is a talented artist, though, like many teenagers, a little lost. Sophie longs for a relationship with her father, the missing piece in her life. Lindsey has been dating, and has two reliable men in her life – Marcus, a great friend who teaches self-defense at her support group, and Greg, her boyfriend. Lindey’s world is shaken when she discovers that Andrew has been released from prison, but she feels confident that he will not be able to find her and Sophie. When strange events begin to occur, Lindsey is convinced that Andrew is back and looking for revenge. Her home is invaded, both her dog and boyfriend are attacked – she knows this is Andrew’s work, but with no tangible evidence, the police can’t do much to protect her.

This story is told in multiple timelines and is narrated from both Sophie and Lindsey’s perspectives. I have read a ton of books lately that feature this narrative style, and this one really stands out. I loved hearing Sophie’s take on the situation, and Stevens wrote a teenager so well! This book isn’t extremely violent, but the emotional toll it takes, especially in part one, is so heavy. I was so horrified and disgusted by Andrew’s actions, but more than that I was terrified for Lindsey and sad for Sophie. This book was so close to being a 5 star read for me! I had to dock it a little due to two shortcomings: the first is the story behind Sophie’s boyfriend, Jared. He is a major player in the story, and there are some questions about him that are left unanswered. I am still thinking about this kid – I want to know more! The second reason is that I didn’t love the final thoughts regarding Andrew. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling the story! That said, this is one of the best psychological thrillers I have read in a while – it’s fast-paced, completely gripping, and had me at the edge of my seat.

BOOK REVIEW | Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My thoughts:
She was suddenly filled with the passionate desire to share everything, to hold nothing back. Fuck dignity.

This quote from the final page pretty much sums up this book – I felt like screaming those final two words so many times throughout. I went into Big Little Lies knowing very little about the plot, just that this is a well-loved book, and I was looking for something to break up some of the dark content I have been reading lately.  This book, however, is a slap in the face.

The story revolves around many women, but the focus is on the interconnections between Madeline, Jane, and Celeste. Initially, this reads as a witty take on modern day motherhood, and the judgments that we place on others. We have the yoga mom, the hot-mess mom, the put together mom, and so on – stereotypes and facades that we assign to others with as a way to justify our own choices.  As we begin to learn more about Celeste and Jane the story opens in breadth, leaving the reader with boundless questions. Moriarty pulls you so eloquently into her world, that you become deeply invested before you’re aware of it.

Without spoiling anything, I must say that Celeste was the character I felt most deeply invested in. Her “little lies”, were ultimately the biggest, and I wanted nothing more for her to find her voice early on – I wanted to send strength to her through the pages.

Marriage was about compromise. “Honey, if you really like that girlie, antique look, I’ll get you the real thing…That is just a cheap, tacky rip-off.”  When he said things like that, she heard “You’re cheap and tacky”. She would take her time setting up this place with cheap, tacky thing that she liked.

Jane often broke my heart, her self-loathing ran so deep:

Intellectually, I know I’m not ugly, I’m perfectly acceptable. But I feel ugly, because one man said it was so, and that made it so.

I highlighted a ton of quotes and moments while reading this book, and I would love to share more but they would reveal too much. This book was a total surprise to me – I went into it thinking I would enjoy it, but not at all expecting to love it as much as I did. Moriarty wraps this story up so perfectly, I couldn’t have asked for more. I am looking forward to digging into another of Moriarty’s books soon!