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review 2018-06-14 07:58
The Inflatable Woman (Graphic Novel) by Rachael Ball
The Inflatable Woman - Rachael Ball

Iris (or balletgirl_42 as she's known on the Internet dating circuit) is a zookeeper looking for love when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Overnight, her life becomes populated by a carnival of daunting hospital characters. Despite the attempts of her friends--Maud, Grandma Suggs, Larry the Monkey, and a group of singing penguins--to comfort her, her fears begin to encircle her, and she clings to the attention of a lighthouse keeper called sailor_buoy_39. The Inflatable Woman combines magical realism with the grit of everyday life to create a poignant and surreal journey inside the human psyche.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Zookeeper Iris is an active member on a number of online dating sites. While on the hunt for Mr. Right, she is sidelined with a breast cancer diagnosis. Though she is surrounded by support from friends and family, Iris becomes consumed with fear and anxiety when she ponders her mortality. Under the online handle balletgirl_42, Iris meets a lighthouse keeper who goes by the handle sailorbuoy_39.

 

The two quickly develop a bond via email conversations, but Iris fears losing her lighthouse keeper should he learn the truth about her. Though she poses as a prima ballerina, in reality Iris is a heavyset woman. Would her sailor accept her as is if she comes clean?

 

So yes, it's a story that somewhat touches upon the topic of online catfishing, but there's actually so much more here. Inspired by her own cancer story, author / illustrator Rachael Ball crafts a tale that touches upon all the tough emotions women are tempted to swallow down and not face. Fear of acceptance, fear of mortality, anger at your body turning against you, struggles with self-esteem within a female body, the most basic need for being accepted as we are.. yes, these are universal themes regardless of gender, but this story addresses them directly from the POV of being a woman. Powerful symbolism is incorporated, such as illustration of train = giving up while emergency stop pull = will to live.

 

 

The artwork is done almost entirely in black and white except for a few pages where bits of reddish pink are intentionally & impactfully added in. Note: because struggles with depression play a part in Iris' story, there are some pages that feature somewhat dark, disturbing artwork depicting the fight within her mind. But there are also moments of levity to lighten the heavy, such as penguins dressed as nuns! (It'll make sense when you read the book yourself... maybe...).

 

 

If you've been curious to get into the graphic novel genre but don't think anime or superhero arc stories are your thing, let me recommend this one. Though the overall themes are geared towards women, there are plenty of universal feelings within Iris' story that virtually anyone can appreciate. 

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review 2018-06-12 04:31
Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons
Eleven Hours - Paullina Simons

Didi Wood, eight and a half months pregnant with her third child, heads to a mall to get out of the oppressive Dallas heat and get some shopping done. She is supposed to meet her husband for lunch at one o'clock. By 1:45, she still isn't there-she's riding down the highway at breakneck speed with a madman at the wheel. His name is Lyle, and he has abducted her from a department store parking lot. But why he's done this, and what he wants, are anyone's guess. Now the police and the FBI have to somehow track him down. And a very pregnant Didi must keep herself and her unborn child alive at any price-even as they ride closer and closer into the darkest chamber of a psychopath's mind...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel describes scenes of GRAPHIC sexual assault.

 

Desdemonda "Didi" Woods, nine months pregnant, is abducted while shopping at a Dallas mall. While the abductor takes her across the flatlands of Texas, Didi's husband, Rich, works with the FBI to try to reach her in time. There are time stamps at the beginning of each chapter, so the reader can keep track of how much time is passing.. but spoiler! the whole thing takes 11 hours. ;-)

 

So now that you know the general premise, let's dive into all the cringey, facepalm potholes in the sloppy writing here!

 

First off, this novel was originally published in 1998, so it understandably, laughably reads VERY 90s now. There's a lot of time (pages) spent on Didi's shopping spree prior to her abduction -- wracking up $200 at Estee Lauder, moving on to FAO Schwarz, Coach, I even had a big hit of nostalgia when she has a walk through a Warner Bros. store... 'memba them! But something about this shopping also put me off about Didi as a character in general when she mentions that her child had requested a set of wooden blocks... that's it, just some blocks... but Didi wore herself out so much buying bags of stuff for HERSELF that she couldn't be bothered to try to find the blocks at the end of the day.

 

Though it's not really noted anywhere in the synopsis, once you get into the meat of this story, there is a noticeable Christian Fiction lean to the tone, which only gets progressively stronger as the plot moves along. Even Rich's job in the story is "national sales manager for a religious publisher based in Dallas." To be honest, the heavy-handed preachy tone laid over the suspense just got tiresome. But weirdly, on the flip side, there's also a strong dose of profanity and crudeness to the material here.

 

The kidnapper character is mildly disturbing but only shows minimal physical violence for most of the story. It's mostly just bursts of verbal abuse. It's likely that you've read much worse characters in more recent crime novels. One scene that was really bothersome though was when Didi is searching for something in her purse or on her person that she could possibly make into a weapon later, "anything that might help" as she says... but chucks a paperclip at the bottom of her bag. Pages later, her tormentor makes a lewd comment toward her and it's written, "she wished she had something sharp and ragged in her hands at that moment"... oh, what? like a paperclip maybe??!

 

Then there's the super team of Rich and the FBI. If you watch the time stamps on the chapter headers, Didi is abducted at 1:30pm. By 4:15 SAME DAY, the police are already saying "it doesn't look good." Wow. Just throwing in the towel then, boys? Later, when Rich is conversing with Scott, one of the FBI agents, Rich pleads, "Tell me it's going to all be okay." When Scott does, Rich snaps back, "You're lying." Here, with this crew, lies Didi's hope at being saved. Precious time being wasted with this BS back and forth.

 

Just in general, the writing is not stellar. One line that actually had me laugh out loud at how terribly lazy it was: Didi purchasing Sun Ripened Raspberry lotion from Bath & Body Works, which... keep up now... "smelled berryish". This is the same author who went on to write the pretty successful Bronze Horseman trilogy. We all gotta start somewhere, I guess.

 

I'll end on a positive though. There was a conversation near the end between Didi and her abductor where he reveals why he did what he did. Not saying it made the guy innocent, but it did have me feeling a moment of honest pity for him. Around these chapters were also some moments of honest suspense that I wished would've been consistently present throughout the rest of the novel.

 

Note to readers: This novel contains spoilers for William Shakespeare's Othello and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

 

______________


EXTRAS

 

* In her dedication, Simons notes that this, her 3rd published novel, was dedicated to her 3rd child. She also mentions that the book was made possible (possibly inspired?) by her husband taking a job as editorial director for Wishbone Books, which required the entire family to relocate to Texas.

 

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review 2018-05-07 11:16
Love Him Anyway (memoir) by Abby Banks
Love Him Anyway - Abby Banks

One night can change everything. Abby Banks put her healthy, happy infant son to sleep, but when she awoke the next morning, she felt as though she was living a nightmare. Her son, Wyatt, was paralyzed. There was no fall, no accident, no warning. A rare autoimmune disease attacked his spinal cord, and there was no cure. In an instant, all her hopes and dreams for him were wiped away. The life she envisioned for her family was gone, and she was frozen by the fear of a future she never imagined. As she struggled to come to grips with her son's devastating diagnosis and difficult rehabilitation, she found true hope in making a simple choice, a choice to love anyway-to love her son, the life she did not plan, and the God of hope, who is faithful even when the healing does not come. In Love Him Anyway, Abby shares her family's journey from heartbreak to triumph and reminds us that hope and joy can be found in life's hardest places.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this Christian-based, medical themed memoir, author Abby Banks writes of the years she and her husband spent praying and pushing through infertility struggles, eventually having two children via invitro methods. So when pregnancy #3 came along by natural means, the couple felt both shocked and blessed. Some months after their son, Wyatt, was born, the Banks put him to bed one night only to find the shock of their lives the next morning. Overnight, Wyatt seemed to have developed noticeable, unnatural mobility issues. Rushing him to the hospital, the first doctor brushed off the child's condition as a matter of "simply fatigue and dehydration". 

 

Feeling unsettled with this diagnosis, the Bankses pursue a second opinion. In comes a veteran nurse who, with a quick visual examination, dismisses the "simply dehydration" opinion and calls for further tests. Good thing, because a second doctor brings the truth out: Wyatt (still an infant, remember) had developed paralysis due to a rare autoimmune disease attacking his spinal column. To add to the strain of this moment, Abby Banks was receiving this news during the time she herself was being treated for thyroid cancer!

 

Now, when I first looked at this book -- took in the synopsis, considered the title -- I was a little confused and disturbed. My mind was thinking, "well, YEAH, should be kind of a given that any decent human would love their child no matter what... so what's with the title? Is this one of those stories where I'm expected to applaud someone for them doing what they should do naturally?" I realize that may come off harsh, but I'm an honest reviewer, one that has to make note of whatever rings odd or confusing in my mind as I'm reading so that I can hopefully make sense of it further on in the book... so, yes, these kind of thoughts / questions run through my mind as I'm mentally making notes to later work into a review. Let me just state now then, that my confusion on this matter was quickly cleared up over a few different points.

 

Firstly, I gather that the idea for the title came from a moment shortly after Abby and her husband are given the news that Wyatt would likely only have about a 33% chance of recovery from his condition, so the odds were high that he would remain wheelchair-dependent for much, if not all, of his life. When Abby and Jason try to explain to Wyatt's siblings, their elder son, Jay, responds, "We're just going to love him anyway." Abby shares her own reflections on their new reality with these words:

 

"I could drown myself in a sea of anger because life hasn't turned out the way I planned, but I know that life is a gift, and I want to fight to make ours amazing, no matter what it looks like... I cried for Wyatt and for the innocence and wisdom in Jay's precious answer. He was right. When we don't know what to do next and are crippled by fear, we love. We love until the fear is gone. When we can find no answers and can't make sense of the situations in our life, we love. Love will always be the right answer. When our faith is weak and hope is hard to find, love will carry us through."

 

Banks emphasises throughout the whole book that throughout this challenging journey, she wants to always strive to find purpose in the pain. Optimism and humor are a noticeable constant within Abby & Jason's story, which you have to admire, considering the horrifically bad luck this family has been put through! But that pursuit of the joyful seems to have been been passed on to Wyatt, as numerous times throughout this memoir Abby notes her son wearing a beaming smile throughout a slew of procedures, treatments and grim diagnoses.

 

Our nurse told us that it looked like an episode of House. The doctors and residents were searching for answers in books and running through every possibility, but they couldn't find an answer. Nothing made sense. Why would a seven-month-old simply stop moving? He was healthy. There was no fever, and he was still smiling. 

 

One aspect of this book that didn't sit quite right with me: Abby's obsession with her social media appearance -- multiple references to her consuming disappointment (to the point of being driven to tears) of not being able to create Pinterest / Instagram worthy parties, posting video of Wyatt's physical therapy on a local news channel's FB page, hoping it will get the most likes so their story can be featured on the news broadcast on tv.... these sorts of things were distracting me from the main focus of this book. I also didn't entirely agree with her stance on teaching her children that "feelings are not truth and feelings would fail them." In some cases maybe, but it's hardly a universal truth. In some life situations, it proves beneficial to choose your wild spirit, instinctual heart over your logical mind. 

 

That bit said, let me close on a strong positive note. Banks does have some quite empowering lines throughout her story here, one being: "God may not have moved the mountain but he moved me." In the closing chapters especially, Banks leaves the reader with some great, inspiring words. One of my favorites came from the chapter "What God Has Joined" where she focuses on how her marriage has transformed over the years, particularly with the challenges of Wyatt's condition. At one point, she writes, "I don't like the fire, but I like what it turns me into." Empowering words to plant into the hearts of all readers! 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Blue Ridge CWC and Ambassador International kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-02-19 05:15
The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year's Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma. This powerful book is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

In the year 2003, Joan Didion and husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, receive word that their daughter, Quintana, has been rushed to the ICU (on Christmas Day, no less). Quitana had been battling a severe case of pneumonia when her condition had suddenly turned septic. Just a few days later, December 30th, Dunne and Didion are settling into their dinner meal when Dunne suffers a massive, fatal coronary right at the dinner table. 

 

By October 2004, Joan Didion decides to start journaling some of her thoughts since experiencing all this pain and loss, this journal being the seed that would eventually become this book, The Year Of Magical Thinking. Here, Didion thinks on moments over the course of her forty year marriage to Dunne. Moments where she now, in retrospect, believes there were warning signs of the grief that was to come. As far back as 1987, she recalls, Dunne had expressed fears of premature death. By 2003, what would end up being the year of his death, Dunne had developed a long history of heart trouble, even having a pacemaker installed. Numerous times that year he had said he felt sure he was dying, but Didion admits she dismissed these moments as him just having momentary bouts of depression. 

 

Like most people trying to cope with the sudden loss of a loved one, Didion struggles to navigate through feelings of guilt, that sense that you could have done something more to save them. She even toys with the idea that she can still reverse the outcome of the events. But hey, don't judge. It's wild what grief can do to an otherwise seemingly sane mind. 

 

Didion also shares her feelings on being a mother having to witness her child suffering in illness and feeling helpless to fix it. While Didion's passages regarding her husband read strangely distanced in tone to me, it was these moments where she talks on Quintana that touched me much more. How awful that must have been for her to witness her daughter pull through brutal pneumonia and septic shock only to improve a bit before suffering a hematoma, pretty much putting the poor girl's health struggle back at square one! 

 

This book didn't land quite as perfectly for me as it did for a lot of other readers. That could be, in part at least, to the fact that I often don't do well with books -- either fiction or non -- that are written in a stream of consciousness style. As I mentioned earlier with some of the passages that speak on Didion's husband, the writing, at times, had a distanced feel to me. I acknowledge that grief can often bring on a certain sense of numbness and detachment from the world, but from time to time, this just read a little too arm's length to me, alternately reminding me of either a police report snapshot of events or perhaps a college paper being written on the theme of melancholy. 

 

But that's not to say I got nothing from this book. There were definitely passages that resonated with me, maybe moreso in that I read this the same year I lost my mother. That said, I am a little confused as to where the "magical thinking" comes in? Well written, no doubt, but it struck me as just a general sort of grief memoir rather than the life-changing work so many have touted it to be. 

 

 

____________

 

EXTRAS:

 

* Author Joan Didion has worked as a writer for both VOGUE and LIFE magazines

 

* There are a few spoilers for other books to be aware of in this book: namely her husband's novels DUTCH SHEA, JR. and NOTHING LOST, but also the play ALCESTIS and the film ROBIN & MARIAN starring Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery.

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review 2018-02-19 03:08
Where The Truth Lies by Jessica Warman
Where the Truth Lies - Jessica Warman

On the surface, Emily Meckler leads the perfect life. She has three best friends, two loving parents, and the ideal setup at the Connecticut prep school where her father is the headmaster. Then the enigmatic Del Sugar enters her life, and Emily is immediately swept away-but her passionate relationship with Del is just the first of many things that aren't quite what they seem in Emily's life. As the lies she's been told start to unravel, Emily must set out to discover the truth, a journey that will lead her to question everything she thought she knew.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

To the casual observer, Emily Meckler looks like she has pretty much everything going for her: good friends, loving parents, private school education.... but at night, Emily is having horrible nightmares involving out of control fires and walls of water. She can't figure out what these night terrors are stemming from and her parents are at a loss for a solution, other than sending her to the school therapist. Then a shift happens in Emily's life, brought about by the arrival of new student Del Sugar (yes, cringe now -- I know I did -- that's the name the author decided to plaster onto our main male love interest). Emily is warned by multiple people (including her father / academy headmaster) that Del is bad-boy-bad-news but of course the two find a way to get to know each other and Del convinces Emily he truly understands her inner turmoil (oh, and that they're totally meant to be).  No surprise, in no time flat Del has Emily's once stable life in quite the pickle. Strangely though, her involvement with him does set her on the path to finding the root cause of her nightmares. The answers she finds disrupt all she thought she knew to be true and solid, in terms of her very existence. 

 

My initial interest in this book mainly came from the main character struggling with sleep issues. As I have a sleep disorder myself, I was intrigued. But (my luck!) it seems that this plot element was really only used as a gimmick to hook readers in, as virtually no time or description is put into the nightmares themselves, other than a generic "ooh fire, oohhh so much water"... AAAND she's awake... and we're left to just accept that her very soul is shaken. Emily also seems to have very little issue with side effects of sleep deprivation. Sure she's a little sleepy here and there but that seems to be the extent of it. 

 

No surprise, the primary focus is put on Emily's interest in Del... who is very possessive and manipulative with her but in fiction that makes him SOOO hot, right?! For a "bad boy" character, Del struck me as being a lot of talk more than anything. You get 100 pages into this book that's barely over 300 and very little has actually gone down. He is, however, a stereotypical jerk that I'd venture to say a fair majority of women have had experience with at least once in their life. 

 

Scene after scene of Del straight up lying to Emily and trying to control all these aspects of her life, and Emily acknowledges here and there that she sort of recognizes it, but she adores him anyway... even though she notes he pretty consistently smells of sweat, beer, cigarettes and kerosene. Her words, verbatim: "The smell on him almost makes me want to gag." NOICE. LOL. The scene with the contacts -- Emily actually allowing Del to stick his fingers in her eyes and shift around her contacts just to say "I see parts of you you can't see..." NOOOO SIR. True love means you keep your dang fingers outta my eye sockets unless I have an eyeball literally dangling from my face (god forbid... just sayin'). 

 

To balance bad boy Del, readers are given over-the-top sweet, stand-up borderline boring guy Ethan to also vie for Emily's romantic attention. I'll admit, at the start of the story I was thinking with Ethan "Okay, this seems like a good guy for our girl" but his lack of virtually any edge had me changing my mind. Also, Emily's bland personality grated on me too much for me to care who got her in the end. 

 

It seemed like SO much focus / detail was put on the most mundane aspects of the story. This was one of those ones where I was just waaaiiting for the plot to kick in already. In the end, literally NOTHING in this book was a surprise. No redeeming plot twists! 

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