Book Review

Monthly Wrap Up & Empties: September 2018

Monthly Wrap Up & Empties: September 2018 | Writing Between Pauses

Originally, I planned to do an Inspiration Sunday post for Blogtober today. But then I realized I had September empties to discuss and it felt more important to do this post. Well, maybe important isn’t the right word… rather, it just seemed to fit better!

September was a big month for us: we were super busy with back to school, Forrest’s birthday, and lots of stuff. And that trend isn’t letting up in October. I have Blogtober, of course, and my birthday on the 20th. Forrest and I are on a mommy-son trip this weekend (I’m writing this in advance, don’t worry!). Next weekend, we have Danny’s parents visiting. Then the last weekend of October will be our Halloween weekend. Then suddenly it will be November. Whew!

I have a lot to talk about for this wrap up, so let’s get started!

Empties: Everything I Used Up

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1. OGX Coconut Miracle Oil Shampoo: I reviewed this shampoo here. I love this shampoo and it’s my current favorite. Of all the shampoos I’ve used, it’s the only one that really soothes my scalp and leaves my hair feeling nice. At this point, that’s all I ask!

2. Love Beauty & Planet Murumuru Butter & Rose Magic Masque: I used this mask to help repair my hair after a disastrous PR shampoo I received. (I’m not even reviewing it, it’s that bad!) But I loved this mask! It smells lightly of roses and was so thick and lovely. It immediately helped my damaged, dry hair. You can buy it here.

3. Bliss Drench & Quench Moisturizer: I reviewed this moisturizer here. It’s not my favorite moisturizer ever, but it wasn’t awful. It was mostly just very expensive! This little tub lasted about 6 weeks and cost $20. It’s not a repurchase, that’s for sure.

4. Rosehips Oil: I recently added rosehips oil to my routine to help my dehydrated skin. As you probably know, I sing the praises of jojoba oil for removing makeup and helping improve my skin. However, jojoba as a moisturizer can give me a lot of texture. So I added rosehips oil as a sealant after my moisturizer to help my skin absorb a bit more. It has helped a lot, but I don’t love this one; I suspect the orange oil it’s mixed with hasn’t been helping my skin much!

5. Coty Flawless Complexion Tinted SPF Moisturizer: I discussed this SPF moisturizer in my Ipsy bag review here. I love this SPF, which sucks because it was such a teeny tiny tube! But it is absolutely lovely, hasn’t made me break out, and wears great under make up.

What I’ve Been Up To

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Yes, that is the very rarely featured Remus. If you didn’t know (and most probably don’t), I have a beloved chocolate lab named Remus (as in Remus Lupin, the greatest werewolf). Despite playing second fiddle to Forrest, Remus remains my biggest baby. I don’t have any reason for this photo other than I took it while I was doing product photos for my Ipsy bag in September, Remus looked cute, and I can’t resist his big, golden eyes.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few things I enjoyed from September here for your enjoyment!

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: I impulsively borrowed this book from the library because the jacket contained the words “Highgate Cemetery” and “Victorian.” For whatever reason, when I started it, I thought it would be set in Victorian times. It is absolutely not; it’s set in the early 2000s, which leads to some truly hilarious ensembles worn by the main characters (remember white denim skirts!?). That being said, I still really enjoyed it. Highly recommend! How’s that for a tiny review?

2. Dr. Death: I started listening to this podcast after it was recommended on My Favorite Murder. This was a tough podcast for me to get into, because as I’ve written before, my grandfather was paralyzed by a neck surgery. The center of this podcast is a neurosurgeon who performs bad, irresponsible, and devastating neck and spinal surgeries; he paralyzes multiple people and kills a few. That being said, I really enjoyed it.

3. Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams: I have been waiting for this book on digital hold from the library for weeks and finally, I got it! I was so excited to read it. It’s set on a fictional island off the coast of New York where wealthy families summer for years on end. It was so good and kept me captivated the entire time.

4. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson: Another book I had waited for weeks on hold! I keep doing this thing where I put holds on books, they take ages, and by the time I get them, I’m not “in the mood” to read them. I had to force myself to read Truly Devious about 4 days before it was due and I am SO glad I did! It was excellent and I found myself so disappointed that the sequel isn’t out yet. If you like mysteries and murder podcasts (which play a surprisingly pivotal role!), you’ll love this book.


Oh yes, Fall is finally here! Gosh, it feels like time goes by so fast! I hope you’re having a great October and you’ve been loving all the cozy Blogtober content around lately.

Book Review: A Book That Takes Its Time

Book Review: A Book That Takes Its Time | Writing Between Pauses

Do you ever impulse buy something that turns out to be done of the best decisions you ever made? 

That's about how I feel about this book: A Book That Takes Its Time, by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst. I bought this on impulse at Target in late March; it was on sale, it looked pretty, and I was intrigued by the mini notebook that the book opened to automatically. (They know how to sucker me in, honestly.) It was only when I got home that I realized this was more than a fun journaling book; it was a book dedicated to helping people learn mindfulness in a way that is creative and helps ease anxiety. 

Take time to breathe. Take time to create. Take time to reflect, take time to let go. A book that’s unique in the way it mixes reading and doing, A Book That Takes Its Time is like a mindfulness retreat between two covers.

Created in partnership with Flow, the groundbreaking international magazine that celebrates creativity, beautiful illustration, a love of paper, and life’s little pleasures, A Book That Takes Its Time mixes articles, inspiring quotes, and what the editors call “goodies”—bound-in cards, mini-journals, stickers, posters, blank papers for collaging, and more—giving it a distinctly handcrafted, collectible feeling.

Read about the benefits of not multitasking, then turn to “The Joy of One Thing at a Time Notebook” tucked into the pages. After a short piece on the power of slowing down, fill in the designed notecards for a Beautiful Moments jar. Make a personal timeline. Learn the art of hand-lettering. Dig into your Beginner’s Mind. Embrace the art of quitting. Take the writing cure. And always smile. Move slowly and with intention through A Book That Takes Its Time, and discover that sweet place where life can be both thoughtful and playful.

I've been pretty open about my mental health here on my blog (although there are certain things I am hesitant to share and I still wonder if my mental health story would be more full if I shared them--but c'est la vie, right now, I'm not sure if I want them as part of my public history). I've shared about my postpartum depression. I've shared the habits I've started to help reduce my anxiety, as well as tips to reduce stress. I've written about how staying creative helps me be a better mom. I've talked on Instagram about how I struggle with boredom (I get bored very easily, but with a toddler to manage, it's hard to actually dedicate myself to projects), as well as perfectionism and imposter syndrome. I feel like I always need to be busy in order to feel productive--and when I'm not productive, I turn to destructive behaviors, like stress eating and napping throughout the day, which only compounds my feelings of boredom and disappointment in myself. 

Millennial Culture

At the center of A Book That Takes Its Time is the idea that it is ok to slow down; it is ok to not be working every waking hour, even though it has been drilled into us (especially us millennials) that being productive matters more than anything else. That being busy is a competition and if you admit to not being busy, you have somehow failed. 

Each chapter walks you through a specific part of learning to be more mindful about the world around you. About letting yourself just sit in silence for a little while, instead of scrolling through your phone while watching TV. About learning to name the plants and animals you see outside your home, so you can more fully connect to the natural world. About learning hobbies, like lettering and collaging, that give you time to disconnect from the digital world and unwind. 

Mindfulness

Learning mindfulness, especially for someone like me who finds themselves thinking of 100 things every second of the day, can be a real challenge. But also at the heart of A Book That Takes Its Time is the idea that once you allow yourself to really relax and be mindful, you actually get more done in the time that you're working. That thought is somewhat revolutionary to me: I tend to think of work as a glass to fill up, that can never overflow. But if you're constantly overflowing, you never really fill the glass. 

I really enjoyed working on all the chapters and activities in this book. It has helped me to relax and really unwind in the evening (instead of lying in the bathtub pretending to relax, but really listening to a marketing podcast and answering emails at the same time). There are some activities I have skipped--like lettering, which is very labor intensive and sparks some feelings of perfectionism for me--but I've otherwise enjoyed just about everything, from learning the names of plants and animals to working on a 30-day writing journal. It has helped me to get back into bullet journaling and feeling passionate about art journaling in the evening. And as a bonus, I have gotten more done since then. 

I don't want to make a grand statement like, this book totally helped my anxiety! That's just not true. I'm still anxious most days. I still struggle with boredom during the day with Forrest and I've yet to find a good solution for that. However, I found reading this book very relaxing and gave me some methods to deal with my feelings of guilt surrounding being busy and working, as well as dealing with my anxiety.

If you're interested, this is a great book for those wanting to learn about being mindful, especially if you're a bit high strung (like me). You can find it on Amazon here

My Top 5 Books of 2017 (So Far)

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We're almost halfway through 2017. Considering I've shared a few book reviews recently instead of, you know, my normal content, I thought I'd share my favorite books of 2017 so far. 

I've been trying to get lots of reading in during the evenings. I've been working out regularly and to fill those long 45 minutes on the stair stepper, I find reading to be the thing that takes my mind away. So without further ado, here are my top 5 books I've read in 2017 so far.  Also, here's to being almost exactly 50% through my 2017 goal! 

1. The Lauras, by Sara Taylor. 

This is just a lovely book. If you're looking for a book with a diverse main character, an enigmatic, interesting, multifaceted mother, and a fun road trip based plot... this really is the one for you. I loved this book intensely and was just thinking of rereading it. 

2. The Night She Died, by Dorothy Simpson

When I first started reading this book, I felt very eye-rolly about it. I didn't think I would like it, but I was totally wrong. It's brilliant. It's just a fun mystery! I like that it seems realistic to police investigations. And of course, being set in the 1970s, it's quite fun. You can read my review on Goodreads here

3. If the Creek Don't Rise, by Leah Weiss

Another beautiful book. I love books set in Appalachia; I think it is both an underserved population and also an underrepresented part of the United States in literature. It has a diverse population, which we don't necessarily see in this book, but nothing is perfect, right? This book is beautiful to read. Pure and simple, it's just a beautiful book. 

4. The Fall of Lisa Bellow, by Susan Perabo 

Another gorgeous book. I've been very into crime-based novels the past few months (replacing my Scottish romance obsession in the winter) and this one is no exception. It's a book that is written in such a way that is so peculiar, but also so interesting; also, it's 100% how a 13-year-old girl would react to trauma. I do wish the ending was better, but the writing really makes up for it. 

5. No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens, by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico

This is my only read nerd moment. This book feels so esoteric because, while City Gardens is famous (TONS of bands have played there), ultimately this book is the recollection of, like, friends about being friends at a place they all went to as late teenagers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It's in New Jersey; I know none of these people; I have never even been to New Jersey. And yet, I read this book because music culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s in New Jersey is a weird little fascination of mine. Anyway, it's a great book, if you like oral historical accounts of music (just like in Please Kill Me, that ultimate punk book). 

Book Review: A Merciful Death, by Kendra Elliot

merciful death book review

Another day, another book review. This one is much better than the last one (Camino Beach is honestly my worst read of 2017 so far).

The book this time is A Merciful Death by Kendra Elliot. It's available via Kindle Unlimited if you want to read it on a budget! 

Here's the blurb: 

FBI special agent Mercy Kilpatrick has been waiting her whole life for disaster to strike. A prepper since childhood, Mercy grew up living off the land—and off the grid—in rural Eagle’s Nest, Oregon. Until a shocking tragedy tore her family apart and forced her to leave home. Now a predator known as the cave man is targeting the survivalists in her hometown, murdering them in their homes, stealing huge numbers of weapons, and creating federal suspicion of a possible domestic terrorism event. But the crime scene details are eerily familiar to an unsolved mystery from Mercy’s past.

Sent by the FBI to assist local law enforcement, Mercy returns to Eagle’s Nest to face the family who shunned her while maintaining the facade of a law-abiding citizen. There, she meets police chief Truman Daly, whose uncle was the cave man’s latest victim. He sees the survivalist side of her that she desperately tries to hide, but if she lets him get close enough to learn her secret, she might not survive the fallout…

This book easily falls into the category of being one of the better FBI/procedural books I've read. Often times, you have to suspend disbelief at every step (especially when FBI agents end up solving their own cases or things like that) and, again, FBI agents would never be assigned to a case related to their own family. 

A lot of the reason I enjoyed this book is because it's set just outside Bend, Oregon. Hey, hello, I'm an Oregonian. I live in a small town not unlike Eagle's Nest. I know tons of people like those described in the book. 

Preppers. 

I know a TON of preppers and people who describe themselves as freemen. So on that level, I was really into this book. It does a good job of walking the line between calling preppers crazy (they're not, they just have super specific beliefs and ways of living) and being realistic in terms of what prepping is really about (dedicating your life to something hazy that may never happen). 

I really liked Mercy as a character. Although, there were a few odd moments in regards to food that I'm not 100% sure about. In restaurants, Mercy only orders salads. With no cheese. Is she a vegan? Preppers (and Mercy, spoiler alert, is a secret prepper still) definitely don't fall into the category of vegan, that's for sure; it's not sustainable lifestyle energy wise in the prepping community. She doesn't get dinner the first night in the hotel and instead eats celery, almond butter, and jerky out of a backpack. Is... Mercy ok? Does she have an eating disorder? Or is this an attempt, by the author, to suggest that Mercy is a delicate little lady flower who could not POSSIBLY eat a big, manly burger? Gasp! What would the menfolks think if an FBI agent ate PROTEIN? I started to get a little annoyed by it, because the lines were so stark: Mercy gets salads and apples and celery; the men get burgers and beer and casseroles.

A lot of Mercy's storyline centers around the treatment of women in the prepping community, so WHY would Mercy still be buying the idea that there are foods men eat and foods women eat? And if that's not the case, why doesn't Mercy order a burger or even just a sandwich once and a while? Maybe she just likes salads, but I'm sorry, no one likes eating warm celery, almond butter, and JERKY in a hotel room by themselves. NOBODY. Don't lie to me. It's just a strange characterization and I cannot see where it fits in within the story, especially given Mercy's other traits of preparedness, doggedness, and focus on physical strength and health. Anyone knows that eating a salad with just salsa, tortilla chips, and olives is not a well-rounded meal; there is no protein in that meal. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the plot. For the first time in a long time, the reveal of the "bad guy" felt like an actual surprise. I didn't guess it 1/4 of the way through like usual. I can't wait for the second in the series to come out on June 6. 

Book Review: Camino Beach, by Amanda Callendrier

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It's been a minute since I've posted a book review, but I think I'll be posting more in the future. You can always follow my colorful reviews on Goodreads here. Let's get started! 

This book is Camino Beach, by Amanda Callendrier. It's a debut novel and here's a teaser description: 

In this poignant debut loaded with humor, heartbreak, and Southern charm, old friends road-trip their way to solving a mystery and righting a long-ago wrong.

I was attracted purely because of this description, because I love Southern novels; I love road trip stories; and I love mysteries. 

Friends, this book was absolutely none of those things. Note: this review does contain spoilers to the entire nonexistent plot of this book. 

The setting was absolutely nonexistent. If you removed the specific town name, you could plop this novel down in any setting and it would be exactly the same, minus Myrtle Beach. And spoiler alert, they spend approximately 12 hours in Myrtle Beach in one of the most useless and rambling plot lines ever. 

Most importantly, do you want to read a book full of absolutely repulsive characters who have absolutely no conscience or self-awareness? This is the book for you then. 

TRIGGER WARNING: This book contains the sexual abuse of a teenager by a teacher. It is treated like said teenager "cheating" on his girlfriend. It never acknowledges that he was sexually abused by a teacher in a position of power. This is abhorrent. It happens near the end of the book; if it had been "revealed" earlier, I would have put it on my "do not finish" list. I just want to warn you. I didn't like the book before this was revealed, but it made me absolutely sick that I'd obligated myself to review it. 

In 1997, Sarah and Kristen were just two absolutely awful teenage girls in some vague Southern Town. They graduated high school, went on to college, graduated, and went onto equally disappointing lives: Sarah is divorced, lives in an apartment above the bookstore she owns, and routinely treats her next door neighbor/former classmate/best friend, Jack, like absolutely crap; on the opposite end of the spectrum, Kristen is a tiny, blonde former gymnast who married a big ol' slob named Chris (yes, they are both named Kris/Chris) and has three anonymous children that she never talks about except to complain about them. She works some kind of job, but otherwise, buys Jimmy Choos, lives in a McMansion, and drives a Rover. 

In high school, there was a third friend, Roxanne, the only likable one in the bunch. Roxanne was impulsive, self-destructive, and, most of all, fun. However, she disappeared before they graduated and while they did call local boarding schools after her mom (their gym teacher, inexplicably) told them she was sent to boarding school, they didn't do much to find her. 

Except when their 20 year high school reunion rolls around. 

Kristen decides it's time to bite the bullet and find Roxanne. Sarah, our primary narrator, is nervous because she did something "awful" that she is sure is the cause of Roxanne's disappearance. They go on a saga to buy an El Camino because Roxanne owned one. This takes up approximately 1/3 of the book. They buy an El Camino named Elvira. 

Jack decides to join them for the trip to Myrtle Beach, after Kristen's private investigator turns up an address for Roxanne there. We are treated to multiple unpleasant scenes were Sarah is an absolute nightmare of a human to her ex-husband. 

Ok, slight diversion from going over the plot: Sarah got divorced because... reasons? It's never fully explained, which is fine, but she treats her ex like absolute garbage. Why? Because Sarah is a garbage person. There, I said it. Take this character and throw her away; she is a self-centered, obnoxious, mean, vile human being. There is nothing redeemable about Sarah as a character. I do not understand why she has friends or why she received this characterization. She sucks. She divorced her husband because he was slightly resistant to her taking out a loan to buy a bookstore. Listen, do you know how much of a struggle it is to own an independent bookstore? It is NOT easy. I love bookstores and I'd be hesitant too! But this book apparently takes place in an alternate reality where people go to bookstores all the time. Her ex-husband is a professor, a fact that they make fun of every time he is mentioned. That's right, he's the only person in the book who uses his brain and they treat him like dirt. Cool. 

They head for Myrtle Beach. Along the way, they stop in Sarah's college down and Kristen, another garbage person, destroys a college students senior project. Seriously. 

They get to Myrtle Beach and find a hotel that is $60 a night, but also has a bar beside the pool. There are so many awful, useless parts to this book, but the road trip to Myrtle Beach (the only road trip) only takes up about 5 chapters, tops, and is super pointless. 

The next morning, they surprise drop into Roxanne's address. Surprise, it's not Roxanne. It's her mom, Mrs. Wilder, their mean gym teacher. She has no idea where Roxanne is. Cool! They leave, meet Jack's college roommate Bert for margaritas, get drunk in a Mexican restaurant, and then they all get into a massive fight. 

Then, they go home. There is no plot.

This is the part of the novel where I stopped caring. It was so anticlimactic. They literally just go home. Kristen gets a bug in her butt to go check school records; they do and guess what? The school has all their school records. Listen, a records room with your "official record" is a thing that literally doesn't exist. But whatever, in alternate reality where garbage people are allowed to flourish, it's real. It's so exhausting to have this scene. As if there is some giant room in every public school where they keep every piece of banal information about every kid that ever stepped in the building. 

Anyway, they end up finding a sticky note on the back of Roxanne's file with the number of a school that's in, you guessed it, Sarah's college town. They do no research and go. They find Roxanne. She's perfectly normal, living in a nice little house with her daughter, also named Sarah. She is pleasant and happy, but she's not the Roxanne they know. 

Ok, let's back up a minute: throughout all these scenes, we get treated to scenes from high school Sarah. HS Sarah is somehow 400x worse than present day Sarah; she is boring, mean, and absolutely obsessed with herself. So, the entire novel I thought the bad thing she did to Roxanne would be huge: she ratted out Roxanne about drugs or she actually murdered her or SOMETHING. No. Here's what she did: she signed a statement saying that Roxanne had been cheating off her homework to avoid getting her scholarship taken away. 

I'm sorry, but that's not awful. That's barely even bad. That's literally what every teenager would do if they were caught to be helping their friend cheat. Roxanne had been cheating off Sarah; Sarah admitted it; and...?

Anyway, in their meeting with Roxanne, it turns out that's NOT why Roxanne left school. She left because her mom had been messing around with Roxanne's boyfriend. So the principal helped her transfer schools and leave. Cool for Roxanne. She met her current husband, got pregnant, got married. She chilled. Never once does anyone say, "Holy crap, your mom sexually abused a student?" No, they act like her boyfriend Mark cheated on her. These. People. Are. Garbage. 

So, after all that time, the bad thing Sarah did didn't even matter. It's not even part of the story. The only person who cares about it is Sarah because she's obsessed with herself. 

Kristen and Sarah then leave.

Because Sarah is obsessed with her stupid self, she goes to visit the former principal to ask WHY he made her sign that statement. I'm not sure why. It's pretty obvious. They were busting Roxanne, rightfully, for cheating. The principal basically says he just did it to make a point and that it's ok that she signed it because all teenagers do selfish stuff. No kidding, the principal, even though we're supposed to see him as some kind of delusional mean guy, is the only intelligent character in this book; he looks Sarah dead in the face and is like, "people usually grow out of being so selfish, but whatever, you seem like a piece of work." 

Sarah feels enlightened and goes to Kristen's house. Kristen had spent tons of time complaining about her husband; however, when Sarah brings up this past conversation in relation to her talk with the principal, Kristen acts like Sarah is accusing her of something. Listen, Kristen, I know you're a few slices short of a whole pie, but follow along. Kristen ends up getting a new shower head and is suddenly in a better mood, proving that she's an absolutely repulsive, stupid character and Sarah isn't much better. 

So Sarah leaves, feeling pretty low. She calls Bert to ask him to go to the reunion with her and he says no, because Jack made it clear he likes Sarah. Jack is a pushover and while he is pretty obnoxious, he deserves better than Sarah, a woman who literally never thinks of anyone but herself. 

So Sarah goes to the reunion with Jack and proceeds to get drunk within, like, 5 minutes. Then Mark, Roxanne's high school boyfriend who was sexually abused by a teacher, comes up and asks about Roxanne. Sarah, who is awful, acts belligerent and causes a scene; then Jack punches a man who was sexually abused as a teenager by a teacher and they act like he's a hero. Wow, I'm so glad I read this book. 

Kristen and Roxanne then bust into the reunion, dressed to the nines. They all go outside and make the real Camino Beach and get even more drunk in the back of it. It turns out, Roxanne did name her daughter after Sarah (WHY) and apparently had watched Sarah a few times while she was at college because she literally lived in the same town. This is proof that Sarah is totally self-absorbed; Roxanne had been in this sandwich place once while Sarah was there and SARAH DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE. 

Eventually, Jack confesses that, actually, he really likes Sarah. They kiss. It's totally inexplicable why Jack likes her because, again, Sarah is an absolute garbage can of a human being. 

If you want to read a book about the most self-absorbed awful people in the entire universe, go ahead. Read it. I have no idea why it was written. A bunch of boring, mean white women going on an adventure to find the friend they treated like crap 20 years ago. Nothing redeemable. Nothing to learn. Awful people not getting their comeuppance.

Book Review: "If the Creek Don't Rise" by Leah Weiss

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Also, warning, this review DOES contain spoilers. 

Start to finish, this book was beautifully written. Leah Weiss deserves credit for weaving a beautifully told tale that captivates readers, allowing them to appreciate and sympathize with the people of Appalachia. 

However, there were a few parts of the novel that just felt a little... unnecessary. At the end of the copy I received, the story is framed as being about Sadie. And while that does feel true, there is a significant portion of the novel dedicated to Kate Shaw (the teacher), Eli (the preacher), and Prudence (Eli's sister who tries to get rid of Kate). This storyline, revolving around Eli falling in love with Kate, a woman who is in a relationship with another woman named Rachel, and Prudence using a letter from Rachel to try and get Kate run out of town. This story is never returned to; instead, Kate is roped back into Sadie's story when she loses the baby. That's fine and good... but what happens to Kate? What does Prudence do? Does Eli find out about Kate?

This is an entire plot line that is introduced, followed, and then promptly abandoned in favor of Sadie's much less interesting story. No offense, Sadie. On another note, we also get some amazing parts from Sadie's grandmother, but then, we also never hear from her again. It's disappointing to meet these great characters and then have them promptly abandoned.  

The end of the novel just felt too tidy. We get a story about Roy and Billy disposing of Darlene's body. Darlene is a sex worker in town who Roy falls in love with and starts paying attention to instead of beating Sadie, which is nice. However, he discovers that when he runs out of money, Darlene immediately starts seeing other men (because he apparently struggles with the concept of what a sex worker does and thought Darlene was in love with him), so he kills her. We then jump to Sadie deciding to finally kill Roy. She makes some hemlock poison, mixes it with Roy's moonshine, and then... it turns out Billy shoots Roy while they're hunting. Ok. Cool. That's...? Simple. It's just too tidy. The rest of the novel felt messy: Kate and the preacher, Kate and Rachel back home, the medicine woman, the violence of the entire area... and then, in the end, Sadie gets the job done for her by Billy. 

She then tells Billy to take Roy's moonshine, obviously with the intent to kill him. Again, that's cool, but it's just a little too easy, isn't it? Someone does the work for her, she then offs that person to make sure no one ever finds out (and also to prevent herself from having to fall in with Billy as, I don't know, a favor in return for killing Roy?), and the novel just ends. 

We don't find out about Kate and Rachel; we don't find out about Prudence and what she does; we don't find out about Eli. We never see Marris or Gladys again, or Birdie, or anyone else. These characters just disappear at the end of the novel and we're expected to believe that the story was only about Sadie all along. No, the story was about ALL of them, so all of the storylines need to be wrapped up. 

It's frustrating to get to the end of a novel that truly had me enraptured... only to find the last page is the last page and not everything is done. Sadie got her ending, but what about everyone else? What about the family that Sadie went to see in the store, whose son had been injured in a mine? What happened to him? There are so many pieces of information we are given that are never followed up on and from a reader's standpoint, that's just sloppy storytelling. 

The book is beautifully written, truly. The story was enchanting. But I feel in the end, Weiss perhaps lost steam and decided to end with Sadie. Which is her choice, ultimately, but it doesn't feel like the right one. I also suspect that a fair amount of editing whittled down the story and perhaps created the thread, via Eli, Prudence, and Kate, needed to get back to Sadie. It just feels abrupt for the reader though. Again, all that being said, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading and would read again. 


Book Review: All the Dead Girls, by Rita Herron

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley. You can read my disclosure policy here. As a warning, this review does contain significant spoilers. 

Uuuuuuuuugh, where do I start with this book?

As I posted on Instagram recently, I... wanted to like it. I feel like it had a lot of good things going for it. Unfortunately, it suffered from a few flaws. But a few, I mean quite a few. By quite a few, I mean, ok, a lot. I'm trying to be nice here. 

Here's a brief synopsis: Beth, formerly JJ, was abducted, alongside her best friend, Sunny, 15 years before. In the small town of Graveyard Falls, after a tornado devastates the the area, a massive graveyard full of the bodies of adolescent girls is discovered. Beth, now an FBI agent, teams up with her former high school crush-turned-sheriff (Ian, who ditched her the night she was abducted and whose stepfather was arrested for her abduction and Sunny's disappearance) to investigate the crime. 

Firstly, we are introduced to FAR too many characters throughout the book. The point of view switches too many times. First we have JJ, then Beth, who is JJ, then Ian, then Prissy, then the murderer, then the Reverend, then Vanessa. It's. Just. Too. Many. It's back and forth, back and forth. I'm a firm believer in keeping point of view as simple as possible to avoid tense confusion. (I'm terrible with tense in the first place in my own writer. Don't confuse me while I'm reading too!) 

I think my biggest issue with all this is the way that plot moves forward. Too much happens, but none of it makes sense or is logical. We as readers as asked to suspend disbelief too many times. Within any novel, you are suspending disbelief because novels don't necessarily represent reality, but rather an artistic representation of the world. But sometimes, it's just too much.  

Firstly, Beth would not be allowed to work on a case where a girl she was kidnapped with was found. This is her case. She is investigating a serial killer that targeted her specifically. I mean, that's really the biggest suspension of disbelief: the FBI would never allow a victim to work on the case as in the capacity of an agent. There is just no way for her to remain partial regarding the case. The same goes for the main male character, Ian, whose father was arrested for Beth's abduction when they were teenagers. Guess what? He's working the case too! Two people who would never be allowed to work on a case in reality are solving it as partners. That makes absolutely no sense. The FBI would never compromise themselves or a case this way. These storylines don't stand up on shows like Bones or Criminal Minds, let alone in novels. 

So, that's a shaky, rough start. One funny part at the beginning was when the "boneyard" (groan) is found. At least a dozen girls buried in a remote patch of woods. Ian, when gazing out over this field, notes that one skeleton is less deteriorated than the others. Throughout the novels, these are referred to as bones, suggesting that all of bodies have decomposed; however, they also talk about a girl who was murdered like a few weeks before. There is no way she would have been completely skeletonized at that point. Then I realized it: Rita Herron is uncomfortable writing about the actual appearance of these bodies, so she just refers to them as skeletons and the skeletons decomposing. It's so bizarre. 

I also took serious issue with the introduction of Prissy: we sympathize with her, we see the unsub return to her again and again and again throughout the novel, we hope for her survival... and then she's just dead. And then, it switches and it's Vanessa! Listen, Herron, a word of advice, one writer to another: if you introduce a character like this, in jeopardy, the reader is attached. It is a bad idea to 1) kill that character, but also 2) kill that character and then have the unsub abduct ANOTHER character right after. Like, c'mon. I feel like it was only done to add time, but I feel like so much could have been cut (the constant spoon-feeding of how "broken" and "victimized" Beth was... please, gag me, the mushy romance that was just super gross at times, Ian's worries about his mom which only bother him when the book needs a little filler) to actually save Prissy and keep that tension. We spend too much time at Prissy's house, learning about her, following her, and then she's just gone... and so is the tension of the book. It falls flat on its face before the story is even resolved. 

Ok, so, everyone take a seat. It's time to talk about Cocoa. The minute Cocoa was introduced (alongside her restaurant Cocoa's Cafe), I thought, "she better not be black." Guess what, guys? This book is not only operating on the assumption that the FBI would ever let a kidnapping victim investigate her own case, but it's also racist. Fun! 

Hey, Rita Herron, FYI: This is racist as all hell. DO NOT compare a person of color's skin to food in your novel. And then, do not name your only POC character after that color! GOOD GOD. And then the constant, "Cocoa is the heart of this community! She takes care of everybody! She gives away food!" And yet all the kids in town are racist as hell towards her granddaughter? 

Don't play that game, Rita Herron. The town you created is racist as hell and Cocoa would not be running a successful restaurant. If the kids are being racist to the granddaughter, it's because the parents are racist and while they might go to Cocoa's Cafe, they sure as hell wouldn't treat Cocoa much better. (God, I hate typing the name Cocoa.) I have trouble putting into words how inappropriate the character of Cocoa (and by extension, Cocoa's husband Deon and the granddaughter Vanessa) are, but if I'm offended and weirded out by these characters, I cannot imagine how a POC actually reading this book would react. This is the most problematic part of this book and it's because it feels so gross and so racist. 

Ok, we've covered the blatant racism. Now, let's talk about how everything is spoon-fed to us. 

Over and over again, Beth mulls (and mulls and mulls) over how victimized she is. How she experienced amnesia. How she needs to just remember. She just tells us these things. We aren't ever shown these things. Occasionally, Beth blanks out and freaks out over something, like the Deathscape game or a picture. This is not only super unprofessional, but it makes me think: How would Beth EVER pass the FBI psych test? (Hint: she probably wouldn't. Sorry, Beth/JJ/whatever.) It's all so blatantly spoon-fed to us and as a reader, it feels like pandering. I don't want Beth to tell me over and over that she's been victimized, but she's ok, but she's scared, but she's fine, really, but she's freaking out at a blood donation van. Like, ok, maybe just show me these things and let me draw the conclusion on my own? As a reader? Which is the job of the reader? 

The same goes for everything with Ian. We are spoon-fed everything about Ian, but my only takeaway regarding Ian is that he is super inappropriate with his female coworkers and he needs to calm down. Dude, don't be nasty. We're supposed to feel bad for him because his (step)father was arrested for Beth's abduction, but all the evidence pointed to his stepfather and I can't actually find any point where Ian shows genuine emotion for his stepfather. We're just told he does, but that's not the same as actually seeing. As every creative writing teacher has ever said ever: show, don't tell, stupid.  

Let's talk about how terrible at his job Ian is. In the first 25% of the book, right after Ian knows to look for someone obsessed with religious symbols and lives in the remote mountains around town, Cocoa herself tells him that a guy who lives in the mountains (ding) is painting religious paintings (ding) for an auction for the town. IAN, GET THAT GUY'S NAME. Cocoa just did at least 50% of your job. Why are you so bad at your job?? Multiple people mention this guy to Ian and he just ignores it. But when I first read it, I was like, "it was that guy." Guess what? It's not. But they DO arrest that guy near the end of the book. We could have literally skipped half of this terrible novel if Ian would just listen to the poor woman. 

Also, I refuse to believe that there are THIS MANY DUDES in a tiny town with only one restaurant obsessed with punishing 14-year-old girls, bloodletting, and religious symbology. It's another suspension of disbelief because, prior to this novel, two separate serial killers were found in this small town. So in this novel alone they arrest the actual serial killer plus a guy who was punishing girls and performing exorcisms with bloodletting plus a guy who paints religious symbology in blood. That's just too much in one small town. The serial killer aspect is fine, but the larger narrative of this religious cult that is obsessed with punishing 14-year-old girls for being "sinners" requires me to believe that men are just absolute scum and feminism teaches me otherwise. No thank you.  

Another big glaring FBI issue: when the director tells Beth she's off the case and she disobeys him. He says she's too close to the case (which he would have never allowed her onto in the first place, but whatever) and tells her she's on a break. She doesn't and Ian doesn't care. She would be fired immediately. ASAP. The FBI don't give a hoot. Also, when she shoots the coach? Yeah, her gun would IMMEDIATELY be confiscated as evidence, no exceptions. The director wouldn't "let her keep it because she needs to protect herself." No. It's evidence. She shot someone! This isn't how investigations work! She had also been kicked off the case at that point, so technically she's a rogue agent who just shot a civilian. She would be in handcuffs. I can't. It's so unrealistic. 

When I originally wrote my review on Goodreads, I forgot to include the dumbest part: at the end of the novel, Ian tracks Beth down in Knoxville (so... ugh, romantic?) and proposes. They've been friends for about 2 weeks at this point. Beth shot his dad. And he proposes? Ok, sure, that's how romantic relationships work. It's so gross. It feels like Beth is just like, "ok, I'm healed now! I went through some stuff and wasn't ok, but now I'm ok because I have a man!" And I just... I would like Beth to go to therapy and really think about if she likes Ian or not. Because Ian's gross. 

There's so much more I could talk about. I wanted to like this novel because the serial killer aspect is so good and the crime is actually really convincing. I like Beth as a character when we aren't being spoonifed every single aspect of her personality. There are just so many issues that detract from what sounds like a good prompt. I wish it was better. But it's not. 

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Is it Bad to Write Bad Reviews?

I'm a very active Goodreads reviewer. (You can add me on Goodreads here.) Since I read a good number of NetGalley books, and some of those books are categorically Not So Great, I end up writing a fair number of bad or so-so reviews. Sometimes, I get replies that my review is too harsh (as if holding authors and editors to standards of grammar and cohesive plots is "too harsh", but ok) or a "doozy." 

I read a lot of romance novels. And I'd say about 75% of published romance novels are categorically "bad." They might be "so bad they're good" or that kind of guilty pleasure bad. But they're still bad, in terms of plot and characterization. That's what I review for: is the plot cohesive? Are the characters well-rounded? Are their actions believable within their universe and personality? No? Then, you have work to do. 

There are a pretty high number of Goodreads users who start reviews with something like, "If I don't like a book, I don't finish it or review it." So basically, they only review the books they like. That's fine, but how does that help other readers decide if a book is worth their time? How does it help bring attention to something a newer author needs to work on? How does it help people find diverse books? Here's the thing: it doesn't. 

It's not possible to like everything. And that's ok. 

I love reading! I even love reading terrible books (really). But if I start a book with all 5-star reviews and realize halfway through it feels like it was written all in one sitting with absolutely no editing work or attempt at cohesiveness, well, I'm gonna be a little disappointed. And I'll start to question my sanity. What are those 5-star reviewers seeing that I'm not? It leads to me feeling a little, well, confused. Then I remember: so many people just don't write bad reviews. They don't want to do it. 

I totally understand. When you're reviewing a book, you're reviewing someone's work. Even if it is bad, it's something they worked hard on. But that being said, no one can improve if they aren't told how to. They can't change things if they don't know they need to, if they don't know that it isn't working. As a writer who really struggles to share my work publicly, it can be stressful to ask for feedback on something that feels so personal--but you need feedback to grow. Even professional author's need readers feedback to see what works and what doesn't. 

Readers also need that feedback to make better decisions about what books they want to read. 

So, is it bad to write bad reviews? Is it mean? Should I stop doing it? No, absolutely not. Writing critical reviews of books isn't a personal attack on an author; it's a necessary part of interacting in the literary world. We have to be critical some times to effect change and improve literature.