May and June Book Reviews
I got a ton of free books recently, in part because I was added to IndieView's list of reviewers, and because of sites like Netgalley and Voracious Readers Only.
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My favorites this month:
Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan 5/5 stars
I liked Hot Dog Girl but loved this book. It’s clear that Dugan has grown and matured as an author which is awesome to see. This book would appeal to fans of Becky Albertalli and/or John Green. It powerfully addresses anxiety, suicidal ideation, complex trauma (ie parental emotional abuse) and LGBTQ issues with compelling characters and page-turning tension.
I’ve read a LOT of mental health fiction and this is a rare gem that hits all the right notes. The themes pushed deeper into addressing codependency as well as the tough feelings stemming from bisexuality - especially feeling as though having a partner invalidates sexuality in one direction or another.
Complex trauma, especially emotional abuse, is so, so under-discussed despite its prevalence and impact.
Dugan beautifully manages to find an ending that is satisfying and positive, without reinforcing “love heals all” mentalities nor condoning codependency/taking care of someone whose mental illness puts them in a place of not being ready for a relationship. Too often mental illness is either an excuse to get away with toxic behavior, or a reason a person doesn’t deserve support/relationships at all. The line between these is real and important.
The odes to Romeo and Juliet were clever and well-done. Sprinkled in comic books, cello, skateboarding and critiques of corporate publishers made the characters well-rounded and the world vibrant.
Running in Silence by Rachael Steil 5/5 stars
Eating disorder Memoir that reads like fiction
**Bonus: Rachael runs an organization that promotes eating disorder awareness, especially in athletics.
Wow. I read this book (in a day) over a week ago and I’m still thinking about it.
As an eating disorder researcher and clinician-in-training I’ve read a LOT about EDs and I can confidently say this is the best account that I’ve read.
Rachael manages to find an impressive balance between self-reflection, rawness, and relatability. I often struggle to read memoirs that often feel like inside jokes- profound to those who have been there but not to others. In the best way, Rachael’s book reads like fiction. The glimpse into her thoughts and emotions offer understanding, compassion, and relatability.
I loved the questions at the end of each chapter. Those who don’t want to use them can skip them, but those who choose to will really benefit. Even better, these questions are not only helpful for those in the recovery process but also individuals with no lived experience trying to understand EDs better (friends, family, coaches, etc).
I loved how Rachael touched on a number of really crucial topics not often breached — EDs in athletics, binging while recovering from restriction, diets as an excuse for eating habits, and EDs coming from a need for control and performance rather than just food.
If you are in the ED field, know someone struggling, or are in recovery, you need to read this book.
Others (I received copies in exchange for honest reviews):
Broken Like Me by Kaitie Howie (a young author!) 4/5 stars
I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
The writing of this book is amazing. The emotion is raw and I loved the style (I personally appreciate parentheses and such, although I understand not everyone does). This is even more impressive given that Kaitie is a younger author. Definitely a heavy book touching on heavy themes, so be aware of the trigger warnings.
I wished there was more tension at the beginning. I think the flashbacks definitely help with this, but it would have been even stronger if the main characters had clearer needs/desires during the present tense.
All-in-all, Kaitie has a promising career as an author, and I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an emotional story.
The Last Review by Lucas Pogrzebny 4.5/5 stars
I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
This book has a strong voice and a wonderfully unique format that somehow reads both like a novel and a script, which is satisfying given the film plot. The tension is strong and the mystery compelling.
This is a great book to savor and read piece-by-piece, as it is more of a literary mystery than a quickly-devoured thriller.
The writing itself is well-done and the descriptions are vivid without being overbearing.
Everyone We Never Met by James Kelly 4/5 stars
Contemporary, some mystery
The writing of this book is strong, even more so for an indie debut. I received a copy for an honest review. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing (especially the descriptions, the clear and immediate characterization, the balance of showing vs telling that most authors get wrong in their first many books).
The premise is intriguing, especially the exploration of memory's role in self-perception, accepting our humanity (or lack thereof), and what makes for a fulfilling life.
My Father's Son by Robert Plotkin 3.5/5 stars
Contemporary, some mystery
This book has compelling characters and plenty of tension. Cole particularly feels complex from the beginning. The descriptions were vivid, although I wished the dialogue was stronger (ie less on-the-nose, more incorporation of the vivid description to convey body language and character interaction). While the premise of death-bed-confessions and long-lost-parents could border on cliche, the author gives it a spin that allows for the suspense to remain. All-in-all, I think Plotkin has skill as an author and I look forward to seeing how his writing develops.
My least favorite (DNF):
I couldn’t get into this book even though I tried multiple times. I liked Krystal Sutherlands previous books but the style of this one didn’t resonate with me.
The characters were unlikeble, which would be ok but they were also not compelling to me. The tension fell flat for a number of reasons— I didn’t care about the success of the newspaper, I didn’t think Grace and Henry were good together so I didn’t care about their relationship, and I did kind of care about what had happened to Grace but not enough to keep reading.