‘Beautiful Things: A Memoir’ Review

This will be a somewhat lengthy review. Because there’s no other way to do this memoir justice. If at all.

I remember it clearly. Barack Obama is running for the Presidency in 2008 and a journalist corners him. He’s asked to comment on Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, who has just disclosed that she will soon become a teenage mom. Despite the nastiness and cruel attacks from Palin, Obama doesn’t bite. He shakes his head, says he won’t be judging anyone, and wishes them the best. Then he reminds the journalist his mother was a teenage mom. End of story. Let’s move on. Don’t try that again.

Oh, how different things are today. The treatment of Hunter Biden, a private citizen, by political opponents of his father is something that truly captures how low the MAGA movement is willing to go to stay in power. To ridicule those as if we don’t all have skeletons. I seem to recall that GWB was addicted to cocaine. Nixon was an alcoholic. Cheney shot someone. And they were public servants. Hunter Biden is not. Before reading this book, I knew little about Hunter Biden except for the fact that Trump and his cronies were literally stalking him and/or using him as a punch line to distract from the embarrassing amount of corruption they themselves perpetuate. Trump was also attempting to get dirt on Biden from Ukraine in an effort to destroy a formidable opponent he knew was widely respected, Joe Biden. Not only did the Ukraine mess lead to Trump’s second impeachment (Ass.), but it continues to perpetuate conspiracy theories about Biden’s business interests that are just not true (looking at you, Fox News and Qanon).

What’s even worse is that during the time the Trump family and their rabid supporters harassed Biden by repeatedly asking ‘Where’s Hunter?”, he was struggling through some of the most debilitating days of his drug addiction. Imagine having a stomach flu and someone decides to eat sushi and anchovies in front of you with little consideration for your well-being or your gag reflex. That’s what this was. Salt on a wound. I remember being worried about Hunter Biden. This man I’d never met, and will never meet. Then I got angry and started to mouth off online in his defense.

Captured on film: Mad Laney defending Hunter Biden

Yep. I was pissed. Because is this what we do now? We take a vulnerable person and drag them publicly through the mud, knowing the harm it could cause? We all know how stigma makes addiction and disease worse. Drug addiction will always be taboo or even mocked but you still expect better from the highest office in the land. Then Joe Biden won the election. And Hunter wrote a book. And I needed to read it. Because dude survived the hunt.

I devoured this beautifully written memoir in a day. At the core of his message of love, acceptance, and perseverance is Hunter’s brother, Beau, who died far too young yet made an impact as deep as a moon crater. Hunter’s adoration of Beau and his deep connection to their father, now our President (thank heavens) sort of took my breath away. Is that what family is? I’ve never known it, but damnit if there isn’t something more beautiful. I loved reading about his childhood as a politician’s son, his demerits in school (lol), and his tireless work for people struggling after natural disasters all while he himself silently drowned in self-destruction and self-doubt.

Before I delve further, I think it’s necessary for me to point out that I read this from the perspective of someone who also never got to experience the love of a biological mother and has had my own share of loss. I also looked at it through the lens of my day job as a Probation Officer. I’ve been that person to drive a withdrawing probationer to detox, or paid for their dinner, or fight with their insurance company. Yeah, “those people”. The people struggling through drug court. The mother who drove drunk with her children in the car. The guy who beat his girlfriend up with a bat when he was fucked up on PCP and now hates himself. Or the Wall Street bro who has to stand in line at the methadone clinic first thing in the morning so he can get through the rest of day. None are bad people. Not one. They do bad things. But they aren’t bad. And neither is Hunter Biden. I guarantee you too will find a connection. Whether it’s Biden’s middle class childhood, his grief at losing his mother and infant sister, his determination to make it on his own without the help of his father, becoming a father himself, his failed relationships, or his whirlwind romance with his wife Melissa. It’s life. And it’s messy, confusing, awesome, and complex. While the stories may be different, the feelings are the same.

Biden’s account of his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine is not for the faint of heart. If you’re uncomfortable, good. That’s the point. And my God, does our boy have a tolerance to somehow survive week-long binges. There were several points where I asked myself how he was still alive or not in prison. And I say this as someone who has found people dead following an overdose, and put people in prison. Despite living an affluent lifestyle, none of that matters when your addiction leads you to the seedy, unforgiving underbelly, which it did for him and will for anyone who goes down that path. And if you are thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie I hate, you aren’t too far off from what Biden’s life was like. Unlike other memoirs I’ve read on drug addiction, this really gets into the nitty gritty of crack cocaine use. How insidious it is. How chaotic it makes you, as you stay awake for two days straight. The time, money, and self-respect you waste looking for that next high. The wash, rinse, then repeat lifestyle that both confuses, exhausts, and aggravates the ones you love. How you try to hide your use, followed by the inevitable case of the fuck-its. And through it all, you remember that regardless of love, support, money, or the completion of the most expensive treatment programs, sobriety cannot and will not be achieved unless you find it within you to ferociously fight Spartan 300 style and say enough is enough. I’m worth more. I’m conquering this. And even after you’ve kicked it down a well, it takes work to prevent it from climbing back up.

At several points in the book Biden talks about his brother’s welcoming blue eyes and how that drew people to him. I got the sense that he doesn’t see that exact same feature in himself. Yes, the shades of blue differ slightly but the kindness and absence of judgment gazing out at us still reigns supreme. He could have used this memoir and his platform to drag Trump, Trump’s children, the media, and especially the Republican Party for enabling it all. But like his dad, he doesn’t. And that is a sign of pureness of heart and maturity that many connected to politics lack. Drug addiction, poor decisions, sleeping with prostitutes, and bad divorces don’t determine how good we are inside. And my sense, even though he’s now sober, is that he is still coming to terms with the decisions he’s made. Of course, that’s natural. All the while, he’s still his father’s son and his brother’s brother. And his current path of recovery and telling a story that needs to be told is more important and will touch more lives than he’ll ever be able to fathom. So go ahead, MAGA. Try to hunt him down. No one has put Hunter Biden through more pain and heartache than Hunter Biden.

Warning: This memoir could possibly trigger you if you are currently struggling or in recovery. So, take breaks if you need to stop and remember the beautiful things. After all, you can’t truly appreciate all the world’s beauty unless you’ve witnessed the ugly.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Available on Audible, narrated by Hunter Biden.

‘Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre’ review and dream cast

Girl, you in danger.

Man, do I love a good Sasquatch massacre story to lift my spirits during a deadly pandemic. I’m being serious, by the way. This was so freaky I felt better about the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. Leave it to Max Brooks to remind me how good we’ve got it, even when we’ve got it bad.

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre is just what it sounds like. A firsthand account courtesy of a recovered journal written by Kate Holland who, along with her slacker husband and a few other families staying in a sustainable community named Greenloop, get stranded near Mt. Rainier after it erupts. Unfamiliar with how to survive without the basics we take for granted, the group quickly begins to struggle and butt heads. As they wait to be rescued, they begin to come to terms with their plight and characters either learn to heroically adapt and step up to the plate, or sadly, deteriorate. To make matters worse, a family of violent Sasquatch misplaced by the eruption are looking for their next meal, and discover the Greenloop clan. First, there is disbelief among the characters that Bigfoot exists, followed by a gruesome fight for survival between man and savage monster that was so well written you could taste the blood. In true Brooks fashion, he does his research and keeps it interesting by scattering chapters throughout the book by supporting characters. Included is a journalist researching the massacre, grieving family members, and a forest ranger trying to piece together and/or reflect on what happened after the fact. He also includes interviews about primate behavior from Jane Goodall and eerily appropriate excerpts fromThe Wilderness Hunter by Teddy Roosevelt. 

I loved the creativity and no-shits-given-if-you’re-offended approach behind this book. The combination of several nightmare situations made for a horrifying, yet entertaining, recipe: 

1 volcano eruption + a few Sasquatch + a splash of humor+ about a dozen city people unprepared for nature’s wrath = Devolution. And that pesky but beautiful drive for human survival, while interweaving those difficult decisions necessary to ensure the well-being of the many trumps the needs of one is never lost within these pages. 

Warning: I do not recommend the audiobook, which is a shame because the voice cast is excellent save one person: Judy Greer. And Judy Greer is the main character so you can’t exactly escape her. She’s whiney, loud and shrill for much of the book. The panic is understandable given the subject matter, but it just didn’t work. It makes for a very difficult listen, which has resulted in low ratings for the novel on both Goodreads and Audible. Some people returned it, or couldn’t finish it. Which sucks, of course, because this was good. You will enjoy it more if you read it paperback or by ebook. Going through this in your own voice and at your own pace will be worth it. Trust me. 

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast: 

Max Brooks, Narrator: Donald Glover 

Kate Holland: Taissa Farmiga 

Dan Holland: Wil Wheaton

Mostar: 100% Irene Bedard

Sr. Ranger Josephine Schell: Rosario Dawson

Frank McCay, Jr.: Nathan Fillion

‘Who is Maud Dixon?’ Review and Dream Cast.

Answer: I don’t care.

The above represents my reaction to Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews.

Think of the know-it-all in your life you just want to get away from. The overly critical person who has a comment for everything because they think they are better, but are jealous underneath the facade. And even if they don’t have anything to add, they feel the need to disagree just to disagree or play devil’s advocate? The annoying person that gives a sarcastic “okay” when they are really judging you but don’t want to say the quiet part out loud? While the title of this asks about Maud Dixon, it’s really a book about an insufferable snot named Florence Margaret Darrow. A character you are supposed to be rooting for but instead meets the criteria for what I described above. 

The plot in a nutshell: Florence is a wannabe writer (who can’t write anything worthwhile) living in NYC (of course) and hates her overly critical MAGA mother. She works a dead end job at a publishing house and lives in a shoebox apartment. After being a freak and stalking her boss’s family, she gets fired. Then, seemingly, out of the blue, she gets a job offer to work as a personal assistant for an author that goes by the pseudonym Maud Dixon, a mysterious woman living in the sticks who has caused waves with her first book named Mississippi Foxtrot. Thrilled at first to be working with a prolific author, Florence soon realizes the real Maud Dixon is an eccentric, erratic, and verbally abusive Southern woman who she both fears and emulates. She also becomes only one of two people who actually knows who Maud Dixon is, which becomes dangerous for a host of reasons. What follows is a series of events (all of them far-fetched and full of unnecessary detail that could have cut this book in half had it been edited out) that reveals the cost of uncovering the truth about someone you thought was your hero, while discovering own decisions about who you want to be and how low you are willing to go to get there. This story also takes forever to get to the point. When it finally does, you find that the “twist” wasn’t all that creative, because you saw it coming. I also didn’t care enough about any character to be excited. Gone Girl, this is not. 

The only reason I gave this two stars is because I managed to finish it. And I only finished it because I paid for it. The book got so much positive press that I thought there would be something special within its pages. But no, it’s about terrible women who do terrible things to each other. It’s about sinking so low to get over or gain material wealth, that you lose sight of who you are. I have no problem with horrible, villianous characters. In fact, I’m drawn to them due to their complexity. That’s why I know this was bad. If you are going to give us a false protagonist, do it right. Because if you don’t, the result will be what would happen if a poop and vomit emoji had a baby. 

2/5 stars: ⭐️⭐️

Cast:

If Hollywood must make a movie based on another bad book, here’s the cast I’d pick who might salvage it: 

Florence Darrow: Elle Fanning 

Maud Dixon: Reese Witherspoon

‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ Review & Dream Cast

Ay dios mio.

Perhaps I am too biased to be able to give a fair review of the novelThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. But I’ve never been one to back down, so here we go. 

Beginning in what we now call the “classic Hollywood era”, the story is about Evelyn Hugo, a blonde bombshell famous for her big boobs, her controversial film roles, and yes, having seven husbands. Fast forward to present day: After several decades of relative obscurity, Evelyn decides to give an interview about her life to a nobody magazine writer, Monique, and only to Monique, under false pretenses. And so, we learn about the life of Evelyn Hugo…and how it connects to a very confused Monique who interviews her as she comes to terms with the changes in her own life.

The reason I struggled with this review is that I couldn’t help but take it personally. First, I amthat Spanish girl with no mother and an absent father that Evelyn Herrera (changed to Hugo) started off as (and btw, we still say Spanish in parts of NYC, its not “Latino Harlem”, lol). I’m also mixed, like Monique. So I got it, and saw and felt what life was like for both of them because I actually live it. You never forget the sting of being asked “what are you?”. (Spoiler alert: I’m human).

I think my problem was more with Evelyn (which just so happens to be my aunt’s name). Yes, she wanted to be famous just to be famous (Kardashianesque), and did anything she could to get there. It wasn’t for the art, or the work, or even the fans. She just wanted the attention and glory. And before I’m patronized, I get that that’s part of Hollywood culture. I’m well aware of the industry, how cutthroat and at times, disgusting, it is towards women. While I think it’s twisted into a narrative that gives the reader the sense that Evelyn is the one in control her path to success, I had a hard time believing or accepting that. After all, she dyes her hair blonde, changes her name, and gets rid of her New York accent. And while I can completely understand that (because I have done the exact same thing), it’s far from feeling you have power and more like saying “ok, I know I won’t be accepted otherwise and I need a fucking job so I can eat ”. Obviously, my path differs completely from that of a person whose only goals seemed to be fame and an Oscar win. I refused to show my body off, or give sex to someone I knew would get me ahead. I could have. But I didn’t. I still could. And I don’t. And while I don’t take issue with “doing what you have to do”, I’m not going to pretend that women like Evelyn who use people to get ahead make life easier for the rest of us who try to survive the dead end jobs, long hours, sacrifice, and constant rejection. And it’s also dangerous for the women and men who don’t use sex because their perpetrators can just say “see, we all do it”. No. We don’t. 

What is abundantly clear is that we aren’t supposed to like everything about Evelyn. Despite the title, the book isn’t really about her seven husbands. Far from it. In fact, her relationships with men show how strong and determined she is. For example, you see her surviving spousal abuse and recovering from a terrible man’s determination to ruin her. I understood why Evelyn goes ahead with the marriages, but still hated the message it sent. Not because she went through with it but because it hurt others. Especially when you see the impact her unwavering ability to go from man to man has on the person who is her true love.

The author makes her point by channeling the reader’s confusion through Monique, whose personal feelings about Evelyn yo-yo from disdain to adoration to hate. She wanted us to feel that unease with Evelyn, too. Reid gives us a complex lead character, so that the reader is left not really knowing how to take her, which was, of course, the point. Because all of us are shades of gray. Evelyn doesn’t want to cover up with the fakeness of Hollywood anymore, especially when she has suffered very real loss that no movie can sugarcoat. But it’s too late. For her and for us. Because the reader won’t forget that she lived a life of lies to get material wealth at any cost. And like most rich people, they fixate on staying rich, even if they lose who they are in the process. Making it worse: her condescending attitude and self-perceived authority over Monique, and her tone of “I’m teaching you a lesson, don’t be ungrateful” made my stomach turn. Because Evelyn’s not a nice person. And Hollywood isn’t to blame for making her that way. She chose to be.

My next issue is that I just don’t like reading books about the entertainment industry. And that distaste and boredom has nothing to do with this novel or its author. But I went ahead with this read anyway because it was so highly rated. While I think it is important to show the impact having to hide who you truly are has on people who have to keep up a facade to please a studio or employer, it doesn’t interest me through the lens of a fake industry where the cruelty of the clique is not only the norm, it’s encouraged. Where the same people are famous and get nominated for the same awards over and over and we have no choice but to hear about it. Even in the book, Evelyn must do things because she isn’t part of the “in” crowd. She isn’t there because of nepotism, or because she had money and could spend years signing up for acting classes instead of actually work. The problem is..this happens to women still and in every industry. And most of us don’t act the way Evelyn chose to. Evelyn continued to be horrible after getting fame. So, it’s no excuse. And worst of all, Evelyn does not rise above any of it. If you are looking for that kind of hero, get a GPS to find your way out because it doesn’t exist here. 

Do I think you should read this? Yes. I do. I know this review may have seemed harsh, but like I said… I have my reasons and I’m cognizant of all of them. I think the enduring love story within its pages is worthy of an audience. And it’s important, because denying its existence is a pain that is still prevalent today. We can’t keep fooling ourselves by thinking a hashtag, some “woke” tweets, and/or marches will actually change things. We still have much work to do.

I wont give anything away about Evelyn’s true love. After all, it was the only thing authentic about her.

Rating: 3/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast: 🎥

Young Evelyn Hugo: Ana De Armas

Evelyn Hugo (age 70): Rita Moreno

Celia St. James: Kiernan Shipka

Celia St. James (40’s >): Amy Adams

Monique: Zazie Beetz

Monique’s mom: Geena Davis

Harry Cameron: Luke Evans

Don Adler: Nicholas Hoult

‘The Lost Apothecary’ Review and Dream Cast

Spoilers ahead.

Nature is magic.

Life can suck. We hurt ourselves and each other. We get sick, or we lose others to sickness. We lose our parents, or our children, or both. There is poverty, hunger, homelessness. It’s all so much, this world. So, it’s no wonder that we often look for a little magic. And when we don’t find it, we are disappointed. And that disappointment makes us angry, cynical, or worse.

The Lost Apothecary, written by Sarah Penner, reminds us that we do have glimmers of enchantment at our very fingertips on this place we call home, the third rock from the sun. We just need to look for it, and when found, use it wisely. And thus, nature is magic. 

This dark story ping pongs back and forth between 1791 and present day. Circa 1791, we meet Nella, a weathered and lonely apothecary who helps women poison their cheating or abusive husbands. She will help a woman, but never hurt a woman. Her poisons are only for men. And it’s all done on the down low, which has given her quite the reputation. Women leave a written message and leave it in a hidden spot on Bear Alley in London, and this mysterious apothecary, an evil tooth fairy if you will, fulfills their requests. She does this by giving the women elixirs she’s made by using different ingredients found in nature (bugs, herbs, spices, plants, etc). We learn that Nella, who I call the pharmaceutical barn witch, has had her own share of betrayal and loss, and this leads her to use her talents for evil. And she puts her concoctions either in food, or in a vial with a bear imprinted upon it. Her methods are awesome to read about, because who knew this and that, and a pinch of that, could kill you?

One day, Nella meets twelve-year-old Eliza, the youngest client she has ever had. And she’s immediately unsure of whether she can follow through with an order that involves a child. Eliza, a curious preteen who displays her innocence through fantastical beliefs, is enthralled by the lonely Nella, and a friendship emerges that changes both their lives. Eliza is an interesting character. She is more afraid of what she can’t see. But she’ll watch a man die, look around, and be like, “yo, you wanna go eat some lunch?”. Nella, ever the realist, reminds Eliza that there is no magic in this harsh world, while Eliza serves as a reminder to Nella that anything is possible.

Jump ahead to present day. We meet Caroline. A 34-year-old American woman who has just learned of her husband’s infidelity. She goes to London on what should have been their ten year anniversary trip. Instead of celebrating this milestone, her love of history is rekindled. While in London, Caroline finds a strange bottle with a bear imprinted upon it. And so begins an adventure to find the origins of the bottle, and the mysterious, nameless, apothecary she’s learned helped to murder trifling men two hundred years ago. Through Caroline’s search, she finds herself, and recognizes the importance of doing what makes her feel fulfilled as opposed to what others expect from her.

Overall, I liked the connection between 1791 and present day. The impact that men had on all three female characters can’t be overstated. Being a woman is hard, no matter the time period. Perhaps the author was making the point that men can be shit and this is what drove the characters to do what they did. I didn’t really buy it, though. Even though I despised the men, I never found myself saying ‘“good” when they were gone. Call me crazy but I’d rather they suffer? While I never have an issue with vigilante justice, I didn’t find myself pulling for the demise of these men, and thought surely we are better at revenge than this. Nella’s methods were clever, but hardly honorable. And it wasn’t lost on me that the women in 1791 used poisoned to try to get the life they wanted, while the Caroline’s husband, James, poisons himself in the present to try to get what he wanted. And in both instances, the separation of two centuries does not give anyone what they sought.

One thing that bothered me: Caroline’s cavalier behavior when she doesn’t know if she’s pregnant or not. I say this as a woman who has miscarried. While I’m probably just being sensitive, it hurt me to hear her drinking two glasses of wine, coffee, and putting off the pregnancy test when she knew it was a possibility. And bringing it up to the reader as she’s doing it. It was odd to read, especially when you see the impact such a loss had on Nella. When you feel robbed of a life that could have been, you don’t want to hear about someone else being reckless. Even if it is a work of fiction. 

Rating: 3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast 🎥 🎞 :

Nella: Judy Dench

Eliza: Julia Butters

Caroline: Anna Kendrick

James: Dave Franco

‘The Minders’ Review and Dream Cast

Guard it with your life.

What do we do when hackers get so proficient they are able to breach even the most secure networks? No computer is safe, no firewall is strong enough, and storing the data in a brick and mortar is no longer a viable option? What can the government do when nothing seems to work, and lives are at risk if we don’t find a way to protect sensitive information? How would you feel if the only way to truly encrypt and hide information was by implanting a chip containing all that information into a person’s brain

The brilliant mind of John Marrs gives us such a conundrum in The Minders. You can always count on Marrs to give us a suspenseful, unique science fiction story, with “no he didn’t” twists that will make your jaw drop. To really understand how stressed the UK government has to be in order to go so far as to put a chip in someone’s brain, you have to remember we are in the futuristic tech-driven world Marrs has created for us. The place where we can find our soulmate through a DNA match (The One), and there are driverless cars (The Passengers). I think in order to truly appreciate the havoc that follows a hack in the Marrs universe, you should read his previous works. The Minders is strong as a standalone, but the desperation of the people paid to keep us safe is the key to making this plot a feasible possibility. Plus, it’s just plain fun to see the connections to the other books.

The story in a nutshell: Five seemingly normal people are selected and trained for a secret operation that involves, you know, brain surgery. All agree to get chips containing all the country’s classified information implanted into their noggins because the reward after five years of service is a better quality of life. They’ll be rewarded with money, security, and most important of all, peace of mind. They get to choose where they live, so long as its in the UK. But they have to let everything go that was in their life beforehand, and be sure not to disclose what they are holding onto to anyone they meet. What follows is the impact of having this heavy responsibility on each of the five characters, and how it drives their decision making. We also see the consequences this mission has on their relationships, their self-esteem, and their mental and physical acuity. To complicate matters, the evil hacking collective has caught onto the government’s game and starts tracking and targeting these top secret individuals.

This novel made me question if I would ever do something like this, and I think it will for you, too. Most of the characters were stuck in an unhappy rut in their previous lives. They desperately wanted a change, so they decide to be lab rats and participate in something insane that leads to a more fulfilling existence, or so they think. The character that really spoke to me was Sinead, who leaves an abusive marriage and does a complete 180 after passing the selection process. I enjoyed seeing her develop into a strong character, and I thought it was meaningful for Marrs to give her a storyline that showed how her former life as an abuse victim shapes her actions in her new one. Because pain and trauma go with us wherever we end up in life. Humans aren’t robots. We aren’t supposed to serve as hard drives for other people’s lives. We carry enough.

Warning: This is a violent one. More so than any other Marrs book I’ve read. You won’t like all the characters, or what they do to themselves and others. But that’s the point. When sensitive data involves a human carrier, destroying and/or protecting such information (depending on what side you are on) will involve physical confrontations, and a lot of blood. 

If you’ve never read John Marrs, and you like Black Mirror, what are you waiting for? Because I have news for you, Marrs is better.

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast:

Edward Karczewski: Andrew Lincoln

Flick: Elisabeth Moss

Charlie: Martin Freeman

Sinead: Nicola Coughlan 

Emilia:  Felicity Jones 

Bruno: Paul Anderson

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” review and dream cast

Forgettable, that’s what you are.

Spoilers ahead.

How ironic that a story about a woman that no one remembers is one of the most unforgettable books I’ve ever read. This was brilliant. I devoured this months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it. And that says a lot, because unlike an elephant, my memory is not long. What did I eat this morning? No idea.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is the story of a young French woman from a small town who, in a moment of desperation, makes a deal with a dark, demonic force in exchange for immortality. What follows is an epic tale, beginning in the year 1714, of what happens when you don’t listen to the town bruja and decide to make a deal with a handsome dark god who just so happens to look like the man of your dreams. 

Yes, Addie gets eternal life, and the chance to experience the world and all it has to offer outside of the simple town she came from, but it comes with a cruel catch. No one remembers her. The minute someone leaves the room, turns their back, or falls asleep, they will forget Addie LaRue. Even her family forgets her. And this causes a lot of problems for our dear Addie, who must struggle to survive this way for centuries because no one trusts or cares about her. She learns to adapt, but it takes pain, sacrifice, and, often times, her self-respect. 

Her demonic captor, Luc, visits her annually on the day she made the pact. And you soon realize that he (or “it”), is in love with Addie. Luc is manipulative, and even abusive at times. He uses tactics our worst boyfriend would use, such as ghosting her, or making her feel that only he can make her feel worthy. Nevertheless, Addie refuses to get out of the agreement (which she can do by giving him her soul), which angers Luc so he makes her pay in other ways. He has an underhanded but effective way of tormenting her, and is clever as hell by staying one step ahead of even you, the reader. Luc loves being the only one that remembers Addie, and his need for power and control over her plays out through the course of the book. And with that, Schwab has given us a ferocious literary villain who I can only describe as a cross between Lord Voldemort and Nurse Ratched. Oh, and the way he says “done”; gives me chills.

Between 1714 to present day, we take a ride with the immortal Addie through history and the world’s ever changing trends, fashions, and scientific discoveries. Schwab did her research, and it shows because you will feel like you are really in whatever time period and/or part of the Earth Addie is surviving through. You’re also reminded that our world has changed so much, in such a short period of time. But you’re also reminded of the constants: the second class role of women (Would Addie have been treated so poorly if she was a man? Spoiler alert: Nope), our overreliance on money, and our society’s need to always revert back to the worst in us, which we see through wars and disease. Nevertheless, I loved seeing the world through Addie’s eyes, and her incredulity at the things we take for granted. 

In present day, Addie now lives in New York City. As a New Yorker, I really felt the loneliness Addie experiences. Yes, the city is packed full of people, but you are still very much alone if you can’t make meaningful connections. And those friendships are harder to gain than you might think. I also appreciated Schwab’s mention of there always being something new to find in New York, because how very true it is. And if you’re going to live forever, you might as well be in the biggest, most culturally diverse place in the world.

In New York, Addie meets the endearing Henry Strauss. Henry is a bookstore clerk who, to her shock, actually remembers her after he catches her trying to return a book he saw her steal. Henry is the only one to remember her since the curse began, and she eventually develops a relationship with him. We learn why Henry is the only one who won’t forget her, while she’s the only one who can truly see him for who he is. And finally, Addie meets a man who is her equal. From there, Addie finds she must choose between her mortality and that of the one she loves.

I’ll leave it at that. I’ve given enough away. One thing: I noticed there are readers who dragged this novel because of the way it ends. I thought it concluded in keeping with the lesson of the story, which is that what you wish for won’t always lead to the happiness you think it will. No, Addie didn’t get everything she wanted. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that finishes her story on her terms by having the upper hand, while selflessly giving what’s most precious to her to the person she loves. For some reason, the ending reminded me of Saving Private Ryan, when a dying Tom Hanks tells a young Matt Damon to “earn it”. How powerful it is to put others before yourself.

I loved that Addie does make her mark (hint: all seven of them), even though she can never come to enjoy the impact. She’s there in our books, our art, and most importantly: in the life of Henry, who, like many of us, struggle to measure up to the expectations of others. Sometimes the people who impact us the most, are the ones that never ask, or receive, the credit.

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Casting:

Addie LaRue: Phoebe Dynevor

Luc: Henry Cavill

Henry Strauss: Logan Lerman – no question about this one. 

Bea: Elarica Johnson

Robbie: Troye Sivan

Esthere: Helena Bonham Carter

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

What an excellent work of historical fiction Kim Michele Richardson has gifted us. If you ever want to see the impact a government program can have on the lives of people who need it most,The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is one such example. FDR’s New Deal funded the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, a group of dedicated women who delivered books to patrons hit hard by The Great Depression.

This novel follows one such librarian, 19-year-old Cussy Mary Carter, who rides her ornery, but protective, mule named Junia through Troublesome Creek to deliver books to residents who are isolated, starving, and have little access to literature. Cussy’s love of books and thirst for knowledge is spread to the people to serves, and it’s exciting to read others appreciate what we often take for granted. How easy it is for us to get a book now? We don’t even have to leave the house. Imagine traveling half a day, or more, so that others can have what we now have at our fingertips. 

Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner desperate to have her married off. This has been unsuccessful because our girl Cussy is blue. Not “sad” blue. Her skin is literally blue. Her father is, too. All because of a rare genetic condition. The result is insidious discrimination and violence from those who consider her, along with anyone not white, an abomination and unworthy of companionship. The result is Cussy doing what she can to change and, like all of us, she learns the hard way to embrace what we were given.

Although the traveling work is arduous, it gives Cussy great pleasure, and a sense of purpose, especially having been shunned by society. And having the story told from her perspective gives us the insight needed to understand her generosity despite having been so relentlessly beaten and bullied by others. We meet many of her patrons who call her Bluet. Often, they are grateful for the service she provides. Others are suspicious of anything secular and not as inviting. There are some parts of the book that made me hate people, only to be followed by interactions that really speak to how wonderful the human condition is when we accept the differences of a neighbor. There were also heartbreaking scenes within the pages of Troublesome, and while it was sometimes hard to take, it made the book that much more special because this is life. And sometimes life sucks. 

Richardson is excellent at intertwining the narrative of Cussy’s travels in Kentucky with her medical condition so that you find you’ve received a history and science lesson all at once…minus the boredom.

I adored Cussy. There were times she would do something so unexpected, selfless, and kind, despite having been treated so poorly for so long, that it took my breath away. She’s a heroine, and very much a woman in the finest sense. Enduring hardship while always remembering that there are others who have it worse. Along with her journeys through rugged Kentucky terrain, we also travel along in Cussy’s quest for friendship, love, and acceptance. And what a ride it was. 

Richardson, you made this cold-hearted Yankee cry.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream Cast (all born in Kentucky, coz why not?)

Cussy Mary Carter: Ciara Bravo 

Elijah “Pa” Carter: George Clooney 

Jackson Lovett: Josh Hutcherson

Charlie Frazier: Michael Shannon

Vester Frazier: Johnny Depp

Doc: William Mapother

Queenie: Telma Hopkins

My Dark Vanessa Review and Dream Cast

A fiery red headed teenager is victimized by an adult male she idolizes. We’ve heard it all before. We’ve seen it in the news. We’ve read Lolita. So, what sets My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell, apart?

The answer: Timing. The novel goes back to the late 90s, when Vanessa meets her abuser and favorite teacher Jacob Strane, to the now; meaning after the #metoo movement changed the way we talk about sexual harassment and rape culture forever. What we have in Vanessa is someone who does not see herself as a victim, but a willing participant who consented to years of rape, manipulation, and abuse. This consent is not possible for any child, which our protagonist is unable to accept well into her adult years. The impact of this abuse has led to derailed dreams, difficultly with relationships, and drug use. How different Vanessa’s life would have been had she had the support of her parents, those teachers who knew something was off and did nothing, and yes, US? Even today, we see old footage and are outraged by the abusive treatment of women of pop 90s culture such as Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, and Lindsay Lohan. And Vanessa was no different. We just didn’t see it, or want to. Easier to humiliate, ignore, look the other way, right?

Adult Vanessa is made to feel even worse by other victims of Strane and journalists pushing for a story and don’t understand why she won’t come forward. And this is an important piece. Because every time someone tells a victim they are brave and strong, and they are, we must also be cognizant of the terrified, silent victim who isn’t coming forward and has been made to feel they are the very opposite of those speaking out.

My Dark Vanessa is not an easy read. Nor should it be. And we need to talk about it, however uncomfortable it may make us. Because guess what? The abuse we don’t want to talk about? It happened yesterday. And it happened again today. And it’ll happen tomorrow. The signs are everywhere. 

I saw this listed as a “romance” novel. No. Honey, this is horror. 

Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Dream Casting:

Adult Vanessa: Jessica Chastain 

Jacob Strane: Jon Hamm 

Young Vanessa: Millie Bobby Brown

Henry Plough: Idris Elba