To All the Books I Loved Before: The Cat Who series

Next up in the love letter series is the entirety of the The Cat Who series by Lillian Jackson Braun. A series of mystery novels, the books follow James Mackintosh Qwilleran (Qwill) as he solves murders and other mysteries with the help of his two siamese cats, KoKo and Yum Yum.

The premise sounds absolutely ridiculous, but I was obsessed. I discovered the books quite unexpectedly at my public library, and I flew through them. Our library had almost every book in the series, and I read every single one. They even caused me to branch out to other mystery series based around cats (Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series). For an author project in middle school, I reached out to Ms. Braun through her publisher. They were kind enough to send a letter and a brand new book (at the time). It was very exciting for 12 year old me. And I basically had the best project in the whole class, so…

The Cat Who series essentially introduced me to the world of adult mysteries, and I fell in love with Qwill, his cats, and their adventures. Qwill is a middle aged gentleman with a rather incredible past. In the books, he lives in Moose County, a place “400 miles north of everywhere”, has inherited a fortune, and lives in a converted apple barn just outside of his small town. He even has a relationship with the local librarian, but refuses to re-marry (another fun back story). KoKo appears to have rather special abilities that somehow help Qwill solve the mystery each time. Yum Yum doesn’t really have much by way of detective skills, but she’s a sweet and affectionate mate for KoKo, and cuddle companion for Qwill. It honestly had all the trappings a pre-teen girl with no friends and a lot of free time to read could want.

Ms. Braun wrote 29 of the books before she passed, and every single one is a winner. All of them can stand alone or be read continuously, not unlike the queen of mysteries, Agatha Christie. Braun’s creativity and originality was a huge draw for me, but the cats really sealed the deal. Who doesn’t enjoy cats just being cats, and somehow managing to solve murders in the process? Obviously, KoKo and Yum Yum were based on the author’s own cats, which just makes the books even sweeter.

So thank you Lillian for letting me live in Moose County and the apple barn for awhile with Qwill and KoKo, and letting me come along on searches and adventures to find the answer to who killed the gardener.


You can read the first installment of To All the Books I Loved Before here.

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From Dark to Light

Thank you to Pink Umbrella Publishing for sending me the sweetest little fall book, From Dark to Light by Isabella Murphy.

IMG_2521From Dark to Light follows a little pumpkin, Pumpker, as he grows from a tiny little seed to a big pumpkin in the pumpkin patch. Pumpker dreams of being picked by a loving family and carved with a funny face, so he too can sit on their lawn like the other pumpkins.

Pumpker grows alongside his two sisters, Plumpalicious and Plumpilina, who are not always the nicest to him (but he loves them anyway). All three grow from seeds and are picked by a happy little girl and her parents. They go home with the family and become jack-o-lantarns, just like Pumpker always wanted.

It’s a lovely little book for children, and perfect for this season. I’d definitely recommend this for a day filled with pumpkin patches and pumpkin carving. Maybe burn a pumpkin candle and sip a pumpkin spiced latte while you’re at it. You can never have enough pumpkin themed things in autumn (my boyfriend would disagree, but what does he know?).

The neatest thing is that From Dark to Light was penned by Ms. Isabella Murphy, who is TWELVE. She’s quite the creative middle schooler, and she has given us a wonderful children’s story. I look forward to her future writings, she’s clearly going places!

If you’re interested in the book, you can purchase it here. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to World of Children, a global non-profit that is focused on children’s education and health. I definitely look forward to sharing this book with the children in my life.

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

IMG_2404I made a fantastic decision when I chose The Power as my October Book of the Month choice. Holy moly.

If you haven’t heard of this book, then let me quickly catch you up to date. Naomi Alderman has penned what some are calling the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ of the decade. Where Margaret Atwood took the patriarchy and turned it into a dystopia, Alderman has taken the gender power dynamic and turned it on it’s head. It was released in the UK awhile back, and is now available here in the US, and it’s taking the country by storm.

In The Power, Alderman creates an alternate universe in which the young women of the world discover they have the power to create electricity with their own bodies. They can cause pain, devastation, and death with a single thought. Overnight the most powerful men in the world are toppled, and in their place the beaten and oppressed women rise. But can women create a feminist utopia? Or are there those amongst us who fall prey to power as easily as the men they destroyed?

First off, I adored this book. It was extremely well written and was socially relevant in all the best ways. Alderman manages to sneak several different social commentaries into the story in such a subtle manner. If you catch them, they’re fantastic little additions. The story provides us with a real opportunity to address the ever changing face of feminism. In today’s world, we’re working towards a more progressive feminism that embraces all women (cis, trans, black, white), and we see that reflected in the beginning of the book. Women across the world work together to rise up, they embrace their femininity across borders, a lá the Women’s March. I’ll admit the first portion of the book was giving me all kinds of female empowerment vibes. I caught myself whispering “Yeah!”, and “Men can suck it!” a few times (sometimes you just get really caught up in the narrative).

You’re riding an empowerment high, and then Alderman hits you in the face with the downfall of first wave feminism. What if not all women can control their power? What if your power is inconsistent and weak? What if your power is taken from you? What if a man possesses the power? What if this ideal is more than was bargained for? Suddenly you have a very realistic look at today’s challenges, just set in an alternate universe. Men become terrorists trying to take down the women in power, who in turn are abusing their power. Women who cannot control their power are mocked. The men who possess the power are shunned and laughed at. Is this ideal world run by women a true utopia, or is it simply a mirror of the world before?

It’s an intriguing take on if women ran the world, would it embody the kind, nurturing, and gentler qualities women possess? Or does absolute power corrupt absolutely? I know, this review is giving a lot of questions, but the book left me with a lot of questions, I’m just passing them along. Alderman’s twist at the end is the final point that women are humans too, and will eventually fall into disgrace the way men in power have.

The only thing keeping this book from being a five star read is that it inevitably falls a little flat at times. Some chapters tend to lull, and the ending leaves the reader wanting. The characters are all unique and intense: an abuse victim, a member of an organized crime family, a politician trying to balance motherhood and career success, and my personal favorite, a young male journalist who becomes a neutral observer of the everything that occurs. Their intertwining story lines are the lens through which Alderman tells the story. The downside is merely the little rough spots in between. The lulls are not enough to make you drop the book, and certainly do not keep you from enjoying the story, they’re just simply there. If anything, you hope to skim through them quickly to get back to the meat of the store.

Overall, it’s fairly well written and gives us such a unique story concept and social commentary. It might demand a re-read eventually, once I have wrapped my head around it all. I must put a disclaimer that men should not be put off by reading this. It really is a great work of fiction, and is not a feminist ‘how to’ book. I gave it four stars with note that it was really close to a full five stars.

To all the books I loved before: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Annie Spence just released a book titled “Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks”, and it’s a collection of love letters and break up notes to books in her life. I loved the idea, and decided to channel it for this. To all the books I loved before is simply a brief love letter to my favorite books. The sweet books that I enjoyed through childhood, adolescence, and my sometimes uncomfortable adulthood. Let’s begin, shall we?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I picked this up for the very first time the summer before eighth grade. To put that into perspective, my original copy of the book is a teenager now. If you’ve never read it, it’s a lovely and very relatable coming of age story set in early 20th century Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The story follows Francie Nolan from birth to her late teenage years as she discovers the world around her, navigates love and life, and faces immeasurable heartbreak and struggle.

I had no expectations about this book when thirteen year old me picked it up. It was simply something I had to read for my Battle of the Books team. And then I ended up crying when I finished it, so…jokes on me, Betty Smith. Good work. My copy is worn from use, yellowed and dog-earred, well loved, and placed

Francie is my literary heroine, my favorite above any other. Smith weaves a beautiful multi-generational tale of the dysfunction of families, and the reality of our parents turning from heroes to human as we grow. Francie’s unending love for her father and struggles with her mother were so relatable to me as I got older. The quintessential coming of age story, we watch as Francie sees the larger than life parts of her childhood become small and almost insignificant.

One of my favorite passages is during Francie’s time at her job clipping newspaper articles for readers. War is declared, and Francie attempts to take in all of the details surrounding the moment she hears the news. The hope is that she can recall everything down to the lipstick she was wearing and the grain of her desk, so that one day when she is old she can go back to that moment. Existing in that one moment was so significant to me. To take a moment and give it depth, to make it so brilliant you can summon it and relive it all again. Dear, sweet Francie, how badly I wanted to be like you.

This book was truly the story I needed at 12, and 18. It put so many things into focus, and in some ways prepared me for growing up. I can say that at 26, re-reading it is a lot like driving by your childhood home; it’s familiar and strange all at the same time. You remember how it felt at the time, but you have trouble calling it all back in the moment. I’m now well past the age Francie was at the end of the book, but she still teaches me many things about growing older.

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

Review: Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

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Do you have those guilty reads that you just can’t get enough of, but really don’t want to admit you read? Mine will always be YA fantasy and contemporary romance. Love and Gelato is a super cute example of the latter.

I initially had no idea what this book was about. I bought it on a whim, since it seemed to be fairly popular, and I’m so glad I did. The story follows Lina, a teenage girl staying in Italy with the father she’s never met. Her mother has just died, and her final wish was for Lina to go and experience Florence like she did. It’s a sweet little story with love, beautiful scenery, and a little intrigue to keep the story going. Lina meets cute boys, explores Italy, and discovers a lot about her mother’s past that she never knew. I love stories where you just KNOW everything is going to turn out alright. You’re not always sure how, but you know it will.

The only thing that threw me for a loop was just the dates. The book is set in 2017, and Lina’s mom had her in her early twenties. Lina’s 16/17, meaning she was born in 2001. It was blowing my mind that I now read books where the character wasn’t born in the 90’s or before. The downside of reading YA fiction as you age is that it tends to make you feel A LOT older then you are.

I adore YA romance because it’s always a star struck girl with a huge crush on some wonderful person. Who doesn’t love looking back fondly on their first crushes before heartbreak was a thing? When you could just sit in math class and stare longingly at cute, shaggy haired boys and doodle their names in your notebook. Ah, young, often unreciprocated love.

This book is also a wonderful little love letter to Florence and gelato. The descriptions are lovely, and make you want to hop a plane to the Tuscan countryside asap. Or gorge yourself on gelato. Either one.

I gave this five stars, because it wasn’t lacking and didn’t leave me disappointed. It gave me everything it initially offered: a slightly predictable but fast paced mystery, young love that gives you little flutters, and just an overall great story that doesn’t leave youwanting.

I’m really looking forward to Welch’s next book which is set in the same universe as L&G. I believe the main character in the next book is Lina’s best friend who we’re introduced to throughout L&G. It should be good, I know I’ll snag it when it’s released with minimum guilt.

Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSeveral people recommended this book to me, so I put it at the top of my “To Be Read” list. It’s a fairly quick read, and while it was a nice combo of fantasy and fiction, I’m sorry to say it wasn’t my favorite. It gets four stars from me, because it was a quirky inventive story, just maybe not the best out there. I also referred to this book as Mr. PREnumbra’s for the last three months, which probably reflects how I felt about this book and it’s priority. It was good, not great.

Clay Jannon is a web designer in San Francisco who finds himself lacking a job. He takes a part time, third shift gig at a 24 hour bookstore run by none other than Mr. Penumbra. Clay starts to realize that the bookstore is more than just a bookstore, and his favorite author is more than just an author. We’re taken on a wild trip across the country as Clay discovers just what the bookstore is hiding, and who Mr. Penumbra actually is.

It’s a great combination of wit, adventure, and imagination, but the writing is subpar and the characters lack decent depth. It starts off nice, simple even. A guy down on his luck finds an odd job at an even odder place. We get introduced to a weird book cult searching for answers. And then the story veers off into DaVinci Code land and never recovers. The thing about fantasy is that to make it good, you have to have the reader going “oh wow” at everything abnormal and unrealistic. Bad fantasy makes the reader go “that is impossible”. Sloan is great at descriptions, there are some absolute great passages in this book. He’s just good at making me believe all these fantastical things are actually happening to Clay and Mr. Penumbra. Also, I don’t know why creating imaginary book series is so hard for authors, but I have yet to read a fiction book that incorporated a “popular fantasy series” that didn’t just sound like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter with a different name. Is it really that hard to invent something that isn’t just  LoTR with a different hat on?

I wanted to love this book, because so many other people did, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It never pulled me in the way I assumed it would. And there were so many unrealistic elements that made me pull back from the story. It was hard to stay involved and eager when in the back of my head all I could think was “righttttttt…”. Sloan utilizes Google a lot, and includes a number of ideas about Google that I personally find hard to believe. I just really doubt Google would devote the entirety of it’s search power to a weird side project of one of it’s employees. There’s also no international database of items owned by museums, just in case you thought otherwise. No special international computer system that notifies curators that they’re getting duped by a dealer. There are museums who don’t even know everything that’s in their own collection, let alone the rest of the world.

It was one of those stories where everything just miraculously falls into place every time. Clay needs to find this specific item that has eluded the society for hundreds of years? He just happens to know the person to ask? One quick computer search and car ride and he finds what he’s looking for? It was like Sloan had this awesome National Treasure-like story in his head, but didn’t have enough creativity to turn it into more than 300 pages.

I’m being mean, it’s not a bad book, it just lacked a lot for me. Especially considering how much fantasy and adventure I read. I’d probably recommend this to someone who just wants a fun read that doesn’t require a lot of thought, a bubble bath/vacation read if you will. So four stars for a cool idea and wonderful descriptions, loss of a star because it just never really lived up to it’s potential.

Wait, did I mention the book cover glows in the dark? It gets a “cool book concept” star for that one. And just like the points on Who’s Line Is It Anyway, those stars are made up and don’t actually matter. Sorry, Sloan.

 

Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

IMG_2232I was drawn to this book probably for the same reasons most people were, it’s cover was gorgeous. And pretty books have to be read and owned. I gave it four stars, three for a decent story and one for good writing. It’s not the most solid of stories, but it’s still a nice read if you’re willing to put in the time.

After the death of her husband, Cora Seaborne decides to up and leave London to find fulfillment in the country. Her neurotic son, companion/maid, and doctor admirer all follow her on the adventure. Cora is introduced to the local vicar, Will Ransome, and they begin a hunt to find and expose the so-called Essex Serpent. She with her trust in science, he with his faith in the almighty. They agree on absolutely nothing, and some how end up falling for each other.

It’s not a terrible concept, but it has some pacing issues. A lot of slow moving parts, sudden climactic scenes, and then we’re back to slow. almost instantaneously. The oddest thing is how is seems fairly realistic and straight forward, and then we get almost non-sensical symbolism. A lot of it. Will’s wife and her blue obsession, Francis’ need to collect small items and his inability to function normally, the serpent itself. All of that is thrown in with a love story that’s just so-so. But you never get more in-depth, never explore those symbols. Never truly see the superstition clashing with the religion (the apparent friction Cora and Will allude to ever so slightly).

The book is marketed as a dramatic love story of epic proportions, but you wouldn’t even know Cora and Will were falling for each other except for the handful of words exchanged in a few letters. Honestly, the best part of the book is the jumping between characters and the parallel story lines. But they’re not even the main part of the book! They’re just their to give depth and width to Cora and Will, but they end up being the saving grace for an otherwise bland plot. If this had been marketed as a historical fiction piece following people in different parts of life during the scare of the Essex Serpent, I wouldn’t be nearly as disappointed.

I’ve been let down by a number of historical fiction books in the past, because the author has a tendency to play up a certain part to get you interested, and then they fail to build on that story. It’s like they’re nervous that a historical event can’t stand on its own and needs help. They end up butchering the story to make it appear interesting. Number one example: Radio Girls. History IS interesting, and when you lack confidence in your own story, it shows. The book is set in Victorian England, but other than the brief blurb on the back of the book stating that, and a few allusions to Victorian era politics, you wouldn’t even know. The beauty of the Victorian era is that is have VERY distinct aspects, and Perry doesn’t even use that to her advantage.

All in all, it’s a poor story. I tossed a fourth start it’s way simply because Perry’s writing is enjoyable. Her story writing may be so-so, but her writing voice is lyrical and the one lovely thing about this book. It’s wonderfully descriptive (almost too much); we get beautiful expressions of the Black Water Estuary and Aldwinter, and a lot of descriptions of clay for some reason. Perry has talent, this book just didn’t live up to it’s hype. So four stars in all, and I’ll keep an eye out for her future writings. Hopefully they stand more resolute than the serpent did.

Anxiety and Reading

I never know how to start a discussion on mental health. Do you jump right in? Talk about your personal experience with it? Explain the scientific intricacies?

I know this is fairly out of the norm for my blog, I usually focus on reviews, but the last few weeks have left me thinking about how books and my brain have been working together. I also finally got around to listening to Anne Bogel’s episode of What Should I Read Next that included a guest who struggled from anxiety, and found solace in books. Hello, my brethren!

I have General Anxiety Disorder, I was diagnosed while seeing a therapist during my last year of undergrad. It should have been apparent after the eight million red flags that popped up starting about 8 years ago. A lot of things were apparent long before I acknowledged them. C’est la vie. It manifested itself as performance anxiety, and eventually turned into a full fledged monster that crept into various parts of my life.

Anxiety for me is essentially a fear of the unknown multiplied times 100 (it effects everyone differently). Because of this, my mind thrives on control and rituals, the ability to ensure the outcome. When I lose control or my routine changes, I become unsettled. It results in anything from chronic upset stomach to a full anxiety attack. Something as simple as taking a different route to work can be unsettling. What if it takes me longer then it normally does? What if something I didn’t plan for obstructs my path and I’m late? I leave the house at the exact time everyday, and it’s usually plenty of time to arrive to my destination. On the days I work at 2pm, I leave at 1:32pm. If I leave at 1:35, I power walk in an effort to make up the lost 3 minutes. The irony is that I live three blocks from work, and arrive with plenty of time to spare. I could theoretically leave at 1:45 and be fine. But I don’t. I can’t. As soon as the clock hits 1:33, I panic. I once made Cody continue his conversation to me via text, because I needed to leave and he was still talking as I was walking out the door. I refused to wait and hear him finish, because the thought of leaving late made me tense up.

The compulsions and the feelings of dread are very real. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve laid awake at night thinking that maybe we didn’t lock the door before we went to bed. And it’s not just a “eh I probably forgot, let me just go double check”, it’s a “YOU NEED TO LOCK THE DOOR. CODY PROBABLY DID IT WHEN HE GOT HOME, BUT MAYBE HE DIDN’T. YOU NEED TO GO CHECK IMMEDIATELY. THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT SOMEONE DECIDES TO BREAK INTO YOUR HOUSE AND YOU LEFT THE DOOR WIDE OPEN FOR THEM. GO CHECK. RIGHT NOW. LOCK THE INNER DOOR TOO. CHECK THE BACKDOOR. WHAT IF THEY BREAK IN AND TRY TO KILL YOU AND CODY? THEY COULD HAVE GUNS. YOU DIDN’T LOCK THE DOOR.”

And it all sounds so ridiculous.  But it’s there, and it’s awful.

I have compulsions but also an inability to focus. I organize and plan everything, but I can’t even focus on a ‘To Do’ list. The moment I start one task, I begin to worry about the other tasks, and I jump around from one to the other (see: how I clean my house). Deviation from my plan causes me anxiety in turn, so there’s no real escape. Anxiety can be absolutely debilitating. And since we’re being very real here, I cry A LOT and I haven’t driven a car in…years (car rides on highways and interstates is a HUGE trigger for me). That’s what anxiety does. There are whole days where the thought of leaving my house is terrifying.

But you know what isn’t terrifying? Books. Ever constant and consistent books. The beauty of literature is that it doesn’t change, it has a routine. No matter how many times I read Harry Potter, he’s always going to defeat Voldemort (spoiler alert). Books are a very real, very tangible form of comfort and solace. I often hear from other readers that they love bringing a book with them wherever they go. You never know when you’ll be stuck somewhere with nothing to do. I bring books everywhere because I can hide between the pages in an overwhelming situation. The first few times I took the city bus, I pretended to read. My mind was on fifteen other things: how to pull the cord, what if I miss my stop, what time will I arrive, what time do I need to catch the bus home…but holding a book and acting as if I wasn’t bothered kept me grounded enough to calmly get through the ride and get off at my stop. Sometimes looking calm on the outside is enough to get me through.

Another thing I have is a designated reading time each day. No matter what else happens all day, I require myself to read for at least thirty minutes before I go to bed. It not only creates a routine, but it offers my mind a chance to relax and focus only on the book. If the book isn’t that great, my mind can start to wander. But if the book is one I’m heavily invested in, it becomes the equivalent of a hot bubble bath for my brain. With occasional bouts of insomnia and tension, reading before bed is a great way to ease into sleep.

The hardest thing is when I encounter a book that makes me anxious. Thankfully they are few and far between. Fierce Kingdom is a great example. Public shootings are one of those triggers that sits in the back of my mind and festers. Once again, since we’re being real here: I have a very hard time in public places with large crowds. The shooting in Aurora, Colorado sparked a huge fear I didn’t know I had. I’m embarrassed to say that I still have a very difficult time relaxing in a movie theater. I’ve spent entire movies tensed up and checking the exits repeatedly, watching every person who walks into the theater (I don’t go to midnight premieres anymore, we only go to matinees where crowds are small). I picked up Fierce Kingdom without realizing it was about a shooting. I struggled to read the book. I don’t watch shows or movies centered around public shootings and terrorist attacks, so trying to read a book about the same topic was crippling. And it saddens me because I know that wasn’t the author’s intention. She just wanted to write a thriller about a topical subject.

In high school and college, I set out to read the BBC’s top 100 classic novels. I can only assume I tortured myself to give myself a pat on the back for reading more classic novels then other people. Now’adays, I read only what I want to read. I read fantasy and science fiction, and I avoid boring run of the mill contemporary fiction (and thrillers about shootings). Reading is one of the few comforts in my life, so why would I force myself to read things I don’t like or that makes me anxious? Life is too short to not read what you want to. If you DNF a book, you DNF it. That book just wasn’t for you. Your mental health is important, and some times combatting it just means giving yourself that thirty minutes before bed with a book you’d theoretically feel guilty reading (but you shouldn’t, because you should read what you want).

I’m not one to be giving advice (because I’m usually the one needing it), but please remember, you gotta do you. Read your books, take your time, do yo thang. This has turned into a long rambling jumble of words, so I leave you with this: just be real, be honest, be okay with having bad days and do not be okay with reading bad books. You’re gonna get overwhelmed, you’re going to want to hide, and that is a’okay. Just make sure to come out eventually and help yourself, even if that means reading the YA fantasy novels written for 12 year olds and you’re 26. We all struggle with mental health, even if you’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s important, and you have to do you, cope how you need to cope, and find ways to make it better.

And with that, we return to our regularly scheduled book reviews.

 

 

Review: Orfeo by Richard Powers

img_2214Lovers of beautiful music rejoice! This is the book you’ve wanted but could never find. Richard Powers’ Orfeo is a love letter to classical music. It’s the only way I can describe this beautifully written, engaging book.

Powers introduces us to Peter Els, a composer and amateur scientist who’s homemade science lab has sparked the interest of Homeland Security. The story jumps between present day where Els’ is on run from the law, and his past as we see how his life was shaped by music and the people he met.

My favorite part of this novel is how Powers describes music and classical works. I’ve found with many ‘music’ themed books, that the author doesn’t have a very deep knowledge of musical terms and techniques. You end up with subpar writing and a lot of inconsistencies. I equate these types of books to this lovely photo of a man trying to use a violin bow on an electric guitar (with the worst bow hold on the planet). It’s rather an insult to musicians everywhere, because authors spend a great deal of time researching subjects to ensure accuracy in their writing, but they never seem to take the time to truly study and understand music. Maybe it’s taboo in the writing world to be well-versed in multiple art forms. Or maybe music is just A LOT of work (which it is). I don’t know. All I know is that as someone with a music degree, it hurts a little when authors write some truly unrealistic stuff.

Powers managed to make me love and appreciate music almost more than four years as a music major did. His writing about music is practically music itself. He spends several pages having Els describe The Quartet for the End of Time to his senior center music appreciation class. I actually learned a few tidbits about that work by Messiaen that I originally didn’t know. It also made me want to immediately listen to the entire piece and just bask in it. Powers captures the raw and sometimes bittersweet beauty in loving music and creating art. We see Els find inspiration and suffer defeat; we watch him struggle between wanting to succeed as a composer and wanting to find a good job and support his family. You receive an intimate view of Els’ life from 16 to 70, seeing as he grows and changes in his search for true music.

You get all that AND you get a neat story about a 70 year old man on the run from the feds for supposedly creating a terrorist bio-attack. It’s a lovely combination of lyricism and science fiction. If you’ve ever read “This is Your Brain on Music”, this is the fictional counterpart. Els loves music, but begins his college career working in chemistry. While he does eventually pursues composing, he also spends the rest of his life attempting to use chemistry and biology as a way to find music at the molecular level.

To Els, music and chemistry were each other’s long-lost twins: mixtures and modulations, spectral harmonies and harmonic spectroscopy. The structures of long polymers reminded him of intricate Webern variations. The outlandish probability fields of atomic orbitals–barbells, donuts, spheres–felt like the units of an avant-garde notation. The formulas of physical chemistry struck him as intricate and divine compositions.

Overall, the book isn’t so much about Els’ run from the law as it is a means to an end: a way for Powers to write an ode to music without it sounding like a dry and depressing textbook. People often shy away from classical music for the main reason that it’s ‘boring’. Oh nay nay, classical music is anything but, and Powers opens just the right door to introduce it to the world. He invites you in and regals you with stories, and you find exactly what you’ve been looking for all this time.

I wish I could accurately explain how this book made me feel, but putting that into words is not easy. I can say that I cried. So much of what Els feels is something I know on a deeply personal level. I pursued music with the belief that music is divine, something without definition. I think any musician, composer, music lover, what have you can relate to these feelings of utter heartbreak that come with pursuing something that is this entity far beyond the reaches of mankind.

I gave this five stars, but it deserves fifteen AT LEAST. If you enjoy music, I urge you to read this. If music is just noise on the radio to you, I still urge you to read this. If nothing else, it can introduce you to some absolutely stunning classical works out there that are placed on pedestals for very good reasons, and deserve to be listened to at least once. Even if you don’t listen to them, I urge you to read about the composers and why they wrote the works. Music has stories all it’s own, wanting to be read and understood.

If you’re feeling adventurous, I’ve included two of the works Els talks about in the story:

Messiaen was a 20th century composer who primarily worked in modern/contemporary. Reich is an American composer who pioneered the minimalist movement in the 1960s.

Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

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I received my second Book of the Month book and flew right through it. September’s choice was Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker, another thriller for my book shelf. The book was suggested by guest judge, Krysten Ritter (Marvel’s Jessica Jones), and seems to be a favorite this month.

Emma in the Night is the story of Cass and her sister Emma, two teenage girls in a highly dysfunctional family. When I say highly, I mean 90’s sitcom dysfunctional times 100 with some over the top drama tossed in for good measure, and a dash of ‘what in god’s name’. One night the girls go missing, and the case to find them goes cold until three years later, when Cass shows up at her home, out of the blue. The book follows the days after Cass’ return, as Dr. Abby Winter, a forensic pyschologist, and her team attempt to piece together what happened, and as they work to find Emma.

Before I move on to spoilers and whatnot, for those of you who haven’t read it, I wanted to go ahead and say I gave this one five stars. It’s a great book, and ultimately what I’ve been looking for in a thriller that Fierce Kingdom didn’t provide. It’s a psychological thriller, so it’s not scary so much as it just keeps you guessing and wondering (which is a-okay in my book, because horror=scary=I don’t sleep). There were some things I wasn’t a huge fan of, but they didn’t detract from the book enough to make me go “eh, I’ve read better” and then knock off a star. I do have to say that many of my predictions came true, but it still kept me guessing on a number of things.

Now that’s been cleared up, the discussion will be continued below with possible spoilers. If you’d prefer to keep the end a secret, don’t read on, or do. I’m not your mother. Do what you want.


This puppy got five stars, but there were a handful of things that kind of made this a four and a half star book (but Goodreads don’t play that, so five stars is what it got).

The main thing that was just a big ol’ “STOP’ for me was the main character, Cass. She was 15 when she disappeared, and 18 when she returned. Apparently in the three years she was gone, Cass became a leading behavioral psychologist. Which is all well and good except she was on an island for that entire time being essentially held hostage. Obviously, she grew up in a very dysfunctional family, and we get to the roots of that mess as the book progresses, but I don’t feel like an 18 year old, regardless of their background and experience is going to have that kind of understanding going on. Cass comments on things that one only really has revelations about when they’re 30 and looking back on their childhood during a long session with their therapist. So much of what she talks about is what I would expect Dr. Winter, the FBI psychologist to be saying, not some traumatized 18 year old. The biggest issue is that she goes back and forth between these revelations. She’s an evil mastermind and then all of a sudden she’s like “I think this is how this happens, I don’t know, Dr. Winter said it so I guess she’s right”. Her entire final chapter about her daughter and her escape read very simplistically. A 180 from her plotting in the earlier chapters. However, as I said before, it’s mere semantics, and doesn’t detract from the book as a whole. Not enough to make me hate it, anyway.

Also, per part of her horrendous childhood, Cass refers to her mother as “Ms. Martin”. The problem is that she refers to her as “Ms. Martin” and “mom” interchangeably, and frequently. To the point where I was losing track of who exactly she was referring to until I went back and reread the paragraph. In one sentence, she’ll refer to “mom” and “Ms. Martin”, and if you’re reading to quickly, “Ms. Martin” easily becomes “Mr. Martin” (her stepfather). It become confusing rather quickly. As you read, you come to understand why this occurs, but it seems a bit odd that in a one sentence thought she couldn’t just refer to her as “mom” across the board, or “Ms. Martin”. Especially considering she refers to her only as “Ms. Martin” when talking to her directly.

One thing I liked was how the book spends a lot of time focusing on narcissism and how mental illness affects the family dynamic. Dr. Winter is deeply invested in researching narcissism, and a good portion of the discussion revolves around the symptoms of narcissism and how children of narcissists react and ‘break the cycle’. Open discussions on mental illness are at the forefront of societal topics these days, but where as anxiety, depression, and even bipolar disorder are discussed regularly, lesser known illnesses like narcissism are not. The book does a good job of shining the light on something we associate with large egos and the self-absorbed. Or for me, the opening scene of Hercules when Hermes leans to Zeus and goes: “I haven’t seen this much love in a room since Narcissus discovered himself.” I do wish it wasn’t portrayed in such a negative light, but it’s not a pretty illness, so we obviously can’t make it all fun and games.

The most interesting thing is Wendy Walker once worked in law and finance. She practiced family law, and you can definitely tell when reading the books. I’m not used to my authors being lawyers too. The story did feel a bit bogged down with a lot of back and forth details from the divorce, the custody battles, the plotting and subterfuge, backstabbing and whatnot. I like to assume that when we say dysfunctional family, we don’t all mean THIS. But hey, sometimes your ex-husband is depressed, and your current husband has the hots for your daughter, who is playing a weird sexual cat and mouse with your step-son, who sleeps with you and then gets your other daughter pregnant. We can’t all have the Full House family I guess.

Emma in the Night: four and a half/five stars depending on who you ask.