My newly-formed little book club said they wanted a book possibly with poetry or essays, so this was one of my selections. I knew Joy McCullough’s book came with glowing reviews and it had been on my TBR for a while, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to read.
‘Blood Water Paint’, based on the true but heartbreaking story of the iconic young Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi, literally took my breath away.
Reading a novel based in verse (with some portions written in regular prose) with historical facts at its core, was quite new to me, and thank goodness for those mental (natural) breaks that came with the way it’s written, because it was one of the most astounding accounts of rape and incest I have ever read. This may well be based in Rome in 1610 and written in a way that doesn’t reveal certain details of such events as a reader may be used to reading, but I would still put up a big, red flag for a trigger warning. I had to put down the book for a breather about halfway through because of the tragic events unfolding within the pages. It is brutal, heart-breaking, and so emotional.
Artemesia was such a talented artist, but she and other women - within the book, we also learn the stories of both Susanna and Judith - basically had no rights or the right to an opinion in those days; women were stoned to death, and other brutal punishments were served at the hands of men who saw women as property. Artemesia’s father sees his own daughter as such, having her do the paintings and call them his own, and turns a blind eye to the events in this own home while he drinks after his wife/her mother dies. It’s hard to read such things, but throughout, Artemesia stays adamant that she will persevere and not let these men steal her ability to show her truth on the canvas.
It’s uncanny that the ‘me too’ movement resonates so strongly when reading a book like this, but four centuries later we shouldn’t be having to make the comparisons, perhaps. I was so moved by this book, and by my own experience, and I hope many young women reach for this book and get a discussion going. I’m looking forward to our book club meeting; this isn’t ‘light poetry fare’ by any means, and this book SHOULD spark a lot of conversation. Artemesia’s life (and many others) shouldn’t be in vain, for these experiences are too common place.
A note on the writing: Joy McCullough, as a debut author, has written a masterpiece. She wrote this as a play and then adapted it to be read as a book in this form. It’s masterful, and so beautiful to read. Since she’s local to Seattle, I’m happy to say she will be at the book club that will be meeting today; I’m glad we connected. I can’t wait for our group discussion. Absolutely superbly written.
**Update: Congratulations go out to Joy for the announcement that Blood Water Paint is on the long list for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
It’s probably humanly impossible to not like a book with fluffy clouds and a little squirrel holding nuts on the cover. So far, I believe this to be 100% true.
‘Unclaimed Baggage’, while having nothing to do with now-endangered and very cute red squirrels, is just as adorable a book on the inside as it is on the outside, and if it’s that cover that draws you in (like it did me), so be it). It’s the goods inside though that will make you stay a while.
The title of the book is the name of the store that brings three new and unlikely friends together in small town Alabama. Doris has been working at Unclaimed Baggage for a while, and takes great pride in her work, unpacking suitcases that have lost their owners somewhere along the way on their journeys around the world, left at airports, unclaimed, unnamed. The contents of the bags are then sold in this unique store, which gets customers from all over the place, and even has an Instagram feed.
Nell is the newcomer, who has been made to move from the Chicago suburbs to this tiny Southern town, away from her boyfriend and BFFs, and at the start of the summer too. Forced to get a summer job by her rocket scientist mom, she fortunately meets Doris at the store.
And to round out the unlikely trio, we have Grant Collins, the hometown (but recently disgraced) football star, struggling with a drinking problem, having recently lost his girlfriend, as well as his way. His mom calls in a favor and gets him a job at the store, which is probably the best thing to ever happen.
Over the course of their summer (but barely a couple of my days) this trio is taken through a bonding experience like no other, and not only do they have infinitely a more exciting summer than I had, these unlikeliest of friends learn some big eye-opening things about the world.
Author Jen Doll is a smart writer, and beneath all the adorable quirkiness, she presents a whole host of issues that teens (and a lot of us, in fact), have dealt and might deal with: sexual assault, alcohol abuse (particularly how it’s accepted in certain groups in high school), grief and loss, racism, a particular brand of which is still especially pervasive in the South, as well as an expectation for everyone to subscribe to the same Christian dogma.
Doll also gives us these wonderful teen characters that challenge these issues in a way that I found, for a change, to be brave instead of obnoxious, to be thoughtful instead of preoccupied, and actually give us cause to be sympathetic to their faults (especially dear Grant).
One key element of this novel, underneath all that quirkiness which I just loved, is relationships, and since this is a contemporary YA novel, it’s worth noting that it isn’t filled with text conversations, and there are also positive family relationships in this book, with the parents actually feeling like real people. I’m finding this is becoming a rarity in my reading lately (is it really so bad to put that out there?). Additionally, the close relationship Doris had with her aunt Stella, who’s passed away, plays a big part in the book; the exploration of Doris’ grief and the influence she had on her, adds depth to this story and her character.
All of this though, is served up with heaps and heaps of Southern fried syrupy goodness and charm, or at least, a furry manatee, and suitcases with their own names. The ‘scenes’ at the store were so wonderful, I wanted more, with all these amazing artifacts and personal belongings from people all over the world ending up on their shelves with the teens wondering their backstories.
I also didn’t even mind the fact that Jen Doll uses the alternating ‘voices’ of Doris, Nell, and Grant, to tell the story, which is a writing device I was becoming tired of lately but in the case of ‘Unclaimed Baggage’, I found it worked well. The book is also divided up into the three months of the summer vacation, to give you a sense of time flow.
However ‘slow’ their (or anyone’s) summer went, I raced through this book. It is funny, quirky, thoughtful, and full of so much heart that I can’t help but love it to pieces.
*I gratefully received this ARC as part of Miss Print's ARC Adoption Program.").
This squirrel is being released into the wild on September 18th, ‘18.
The Outsider is the newest notch in the belt of one of the most prolific writers of supernatural horror, Stephen King. It's been a good long while since I've sunk my teeth into a King novel but when I read the premise (and saw the ultra rad cover) I knew that it was time to take a bite. (That metaphor got away from me.) The very beginning launches the reader into a graphic description of the murder of an 11 year old boy named Frank Peterson. [A/N: As this is literally the first two pages I don't consider this a spoiler. I do want to point out that it is very graphic and involves a sexual element so if this is in any way triggering to you please steer clear.] It seems to be an open and shut case because of the preponderance of evidence which points directly to a prominent member of the community...who also happened to be the coach of the Chief Detective assigned to the case. Can anyone say conflict of interest? However, things are not so cut and dry because it turns out that this man has an alibi with witnesses. So how was he in two places at once? What next occurs is a roller-coaster of police procedural drama with a heaping dash of supernatural horror thrown in for good measure. I wrote tons of notes about this book after I had read it but because they are mainly about the plot and super spoiler-y I don't feel that I can enumerate them here. Suffice it to say that in trademark King style there are always more twists and turns just when you think there couldn't possibly be any more. I enjoyed it thoroughly right up until the very end which I felt was not up to King's usual standard. With that being said, I did really like it and immediately lent my copy to another coworker with my recommendation so I can't help but give it a 9/10.
What's Up Next: The Figure in the Shadows & The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs
What I'm Currently Reading: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
*Full Series (Episode 1-19) Non-Spoiler Review*
I am still quite speechless over this series. Absolutely one of the most emotional, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking and equally rewarding mind fucks I have ever read. And easily one of the best books/series I will read all year and one I would start all over again right now if I was not so emotionally drained. I will give this one time to fully digest and will most definitely be re-entering this Cartel again in the future.
Is this series for everyone? Likely not. But it is worth it...I guarantee. The physical abuse these boys are subjected to is like nothing I have ever read. And while there are series like those written by our dear Nicholas Bella, those are characters in which self healing is a part of their character makeup. That is simply not the case here. These are humans and they are slaves and part of a world which unfortunately I believe exists.
Not once was I bored or let down by a single episode. Each one beautifully crafted and quite thought provoking. You are constantly left wondering the mental state of these characters, if they are truly broken, playing along or just so fucked they don't know which way is up. While the physical torture is taxing, it is the mental torture that will leave you breathless.
Grab a friend and take the challenge. These boys will grab a hold of you and will not let you go. You will be yearning for more with each and every episode.
Thank you Marco for a BR I won't soon forget.