Year of Sanderson: “The Well of Ascension”

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“Year of Sanderson” is an on-going, monthly series that will post on the last Friday of each month in which I will cover various Brandon Sanderson-related things. This will largely be comprised of book reviews (some from his back catalog and some from the books being released this year), as well as assorted other topics like reviews of the items in the swag boxes that will be coming out as part of Sanderson’s Kickstarted campaign. Frankly, we’ll just have to see what we get from this series, very much like the Kickstarter itself!

Book: “The Well of Ascension” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, August 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The impossible has been accomplished. The Lord Ruler—the man who claimed to be god incarnate and brutally ruled the world for a thousand years—has been vanquished. But Kelsier, the hero who masterminded that triumph, is dead too, and now the awesome task of building a new world has been left to his young protégé, Vin, the former street urchin who is now the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and to the idealistic young nobleman she loves.

As Kelsier’s protégé and slayer of the Lord Ruler she is now venerated by a budding new religion, a distinction that makes her intensely uncomfortable. Even more worrying, the mists have begun behaving strangely since the Lord Ruler died, and seem to harbor a strange vaporous entity that haunts her.

Stopping assassins may keep Vin’s Mistborn skills sharp, but it’s the least of her problems. Luthadel, the largest city of the former empire, doesn’t run itself, and Vin and the other members of Kelsier’s crew, who lead the revolution, must learn a whole new set of practical and political skills to help. It certainly won’t get easier with three armies – one of them composed of ferocious giants – now vying to conquer the city, and no sign of the Lord Ruler’s hidden cache of atium, the rarest and most powerful allomantic metal.

As the siege of Luthadel tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

Previously Reviewed: “Mistborn”

Review: I have a very vivid memory of picking up this second book in the Mistborn trilogy. It was the second book I read by Brandon Sanderson, so I went into it with concerns that it would fall into the usual “second book syndrome” trap that so many books in series like these do. Of course, now, years (decades…oof) later, Sanderson has proven himself to be one of those few authors who really doesn’t often suffer from this sort of pacing problem over a long-running series. But at the time I didn’t know that.

While they have accomplished what many said was impossible, beating the Lord Ruler, Vin and her crew of rebels are discovering that running a city is an entirely different beast than organizing a revolution. So, too, while Elend has read about the ins ands outs of politics and religion, he suddenly feels out of his depth when asked to put these policies into play. What’s more, many others are seeing this time of instability as rife for their own accumulation of power. But Vin’s eyes are on something even more worrisome: the Mists are behaving strangely and powerful secrets are pointing towards a dark fate that she barely understands.

One thing I remember clearly about reading this trilogy the first time was just how out of my depth I felt with every additional book. In particular, I remember finishing up the second and then the third book and each time looking at the one that came before and thinking “Oh how quaint and simple that story was!” Indeed, each book built on the other in ways that are hard to describe. The first book really is a fairly straight forward adventure fantasy story. You have the big bad. You have the rebellion leader. You have the magical protégé. And yes, while there are several surprises in store (the death of said rebel leader), things play out in a fairly straightforward manner.

But then comes this book and with it a much more complicated tale. Not only do you have the realities of the aftereffects of a successful rebellion, but the world, history, and even biology itself are suddenly being given depths you’d never has expected from the first book. I really liked the former in particular, the exploration of the challenges that face those trying to rebuild government and society after the removal of a leader who had ruled for such a long time that the world itself seemed to turn around them. Sanderson grapples with the fact that often the very traits that would lead certain people to success with heading up this sort of revolution would not necessarily translate to the very different type of person needed to rebuild a world. Vin’s struggles with her changing role are very relatable, and the way that she uses the Mist and her abilities to both run away from these challenges but also explore mysteries that others don’t see were all intriguing. I also liked Elend’s story and how, even though he has his own struggles, without him Vin and her crew would have been really up a creek when dealing with this restructuring.

But beyond this, Sanderson goes into all of the increased world-building around the state of the world, the Mist, and the role the Lord Ruler played in it all. Like I said, the first book was very straightforward with how it presented all of this. But this book begins to peal back those layers and really dig into how society had come to be what it was. Not only the history of the the world itself, but how certain creatures, religions, and aspects of society were all built around these shifting norms. The last one hundred pages or so are really impressive with the sheer number of reveals and twists and turns.

I will say that the pacing is the one area where this book can feel a bit as if it’s brushing up against the dreaded “second book syndrome” thing. The first half, especially, really takes its time establishing where all are characters currently are, mentally, emotionally, and even physically, and then needs to spend a decent amount of page time getting them to where they need to be by the final climax of the story.

Rating 8: This book takes the promises given in the first book and then turns them on their head and inside out. And then ends with such a bang that it’s hard to imagine how I managed to survive the wait between book two and three way back when I read them originally!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Well of Ascension” is on these Goodreads lists: New Speculative Fiction Stars and SF/F Assassins!

Kate’s Review: “Hungry Ghost”

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Book: “Hungry Ghost” by Victoria Ying

Publishing Info: First Second, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a finished copy from First Second.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A beautiful and heart-wrenching young adult graphic novel takes a look at eating disorders, family dynamics, and ultimately, a journey to self-love.

Valerie Chu is quiet, studious, and above all, thin. No one, not even her best friend Jordan, knows that she has been binging and purging for years. But when tragedy strikes, Val finds herself taking a good, hard look at her priorities, her choices, and her own body. The path to happiness may lead her away from her hometown and her mother’s toxic projections—but first she will have to find the strength to seek help.

Review: Thank you to First Second for sending me a finished copy of this graphic novel!

I had been eying “Hungry Ghost” by Victoria Ying for awhile, and even had it on my NetGalley shelf ready to go, when I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to receive a print copy and to review it for the blog. The cover caught my eye from the jump, and then reading into the backstory and summary I was even more interested. Disordered eating is something that is a difficult and charged topic, but an important one to talk about. So I sat down and began my read, and found it to be a very emotional experience.

This is a very personal and unflinching story about Valerie Chu, a teenage Asian-American girl who has been pressured by her mother to stay thin since she was a girl, so much so that she has started making herself throw up in her teenage years and obsessively counting calories whenever she eats. It’s a really difficult read at times, but I liked how candid and straight forward Ying was with what Valerie was going through, and how complicated the various factors feeding into it could be. I really found Valerie’s inner turmoil to be compelling and upsetting, and I liked how Ying explores the familial pressure from her mother, the self pressure from Valerie herself due to seeing thinness everywhere as an ideal, and the pressures to be a perfect person and to have control, and how once control is gone how much it can make things spiral. For Valerie it’s the sudden tragic death of her father that sends her off, due to her grief, and the perceived need to be there for her devastated mother whose insistence on Valerie’s thin physique has been a pall over Valerie since childhood. There were so many moments in here that made me tear up, and I liked how Ying was sensitive but also very honest about these issues and how toxic all of this is for Valerie.

I also liked the depictions of how complicated Valerie’s relationships were with her loved ones. The most obvious one is her mother, whose domineering insistence on Valerie being thin has set up her disordered eating and mental health issues. It is made very clear that her mother is very wrong for putting this kind of pressure on Valerie (from the jump you see her denying Valerie a piece of her own birthday cake when she is in grade school, which is just… wow), but Ying is also very careful to not make her into a two dimensional villain. At first I was very ‘um maybe we should be calling this out a bit more?’, but thinking about it it started working for me a bit more because 1) this is her mother, and family dynamics can be so hard to disentangle, 2) it’s clear that it’s not just her Mom that has this hang up, as we also see some of her extended family voicing similar opinions, and 3) the death of Valerie’s Dad makes her mother’s emotional state all the more fragile and complex. Ying doesn’t excuse it, but also shows that sometimes people have to stand up for themselves or set boundaries in other ways. There is also the relationship between Valerie and her best friend Jordan, who is fat and is completely comfortable within her body and herself. Valerie adores Jordan, but it’s clear that her own standards of her body are constantly nagging at her (especially since her mother is always commenting on how fat Jordan is), and as things unravel more and more it starts to have an effect on their friendship. It is a really complex web, and I really appreciated that.

And finally I really loved the artwork. Ying is a very talented artist and animator whose work has been seen in various Disney ventures like “Moana”, “Big Hero 6”, and “Frozen” (among others!), as well as other books and graphic novels. And I really liked her style for this story, as it feels very accessible and engaging, while also hitting the emotional moments and beats.

Source: First Second

I really, really enjoyed “Hungry Ghost”. It’s poignant and powerful, and I am pleased that Ying has brought these various difficult and entangled issues to a moving graphic novel.

Rating 9: A gorgeous, emotional, and very personal story about grief, disordered eating, and complex family relationships, “Hungry Ghost” is a must read graphic novel.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hungry Ghost” is included on the Goodreads lists “2023 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”, and “Great Graphic Novels (Released in 2023)”.

Serena’s Review: “Happy Place”

Book: “Happy Place” by Emily Henry

Publishing Info: Berkley, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up six months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing the largest bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blue week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?

Review: Like many authors I’ve grown to love, I was first introduced to Emily Henry when we read “Beach Read” for bookclub a year or so ago. It was part of a romance theme we were doing at the time and was a great motivator to read a book and author I probably would never have picked up on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but I tend to stick pretty strictly the historical romance lane ala “Bridgerton” and the like. What can I say, Jane Austen really ruined me for other genres of romance. In particular, I’m not often a reader of contemporary stories in any genre, so contemporary romance was waaaaay down there. But boy, yet again am I thankful for bookclub because here I am, the biggest Emily Henry fan you’ll find!

Harriet’s happy place has long been established as not only a location (her friend’s rich dad’s New England beach home) but as the group of friends who have travelled alongside her through the past decade of her life. And part of that group has always been her longtime boyfriend, Wyn. But now, broken up for the past six months, Harriet is unsure whether she can find that happy place again. How can this close group of friends survive the sundering of one of its longest-running romances? Things are made more challenging when Harriet realizes that this will be the last year before their beloved gathering place is sold. Not wanting to ruining what may be the last time they’re all together for a long while, Harriet and Wyn decided to not break the news of their break up until after the trip is over. But keeping up this ruse may prove more difficult than either has expected.

There are a lot of things to love about Henry’s approach to contemporary romance. But I think one of the things I appreciate most is how deftly she manages to use very common, some might say worn to death, romance tropes and breathes new life into them. Here she tackles two tropes in one, fake dating and a second chance love story. In a lot of ways, I think this combination works better than either one does on their own, especially fake dating. I’ve always been a bit of a hard sell on fake dating. The scenarios used to make it a necessary thing always seem very contrived and unbelievable. And then the success of two people, often near strangers, successfully tricking people into believing they are a couple always seemed incredibly unlikely. Not only do these strangers need to fake their way through the awkwardness of physical interactions, but they have to somehow orchestrate the easy comradery and chemistry of a true couple. But, like I say, Henry wisely sidesteps this entire issue by combining it with a second chance love story.

Harriet and Wyn were not only a couple before, they were in a long-term, on the verge of marriage, serious relationship. Add in some unresolved feelings, and it’s easy to see how they could simply flip a switch into faking they’re still together. On top of that, the use of a very close friends group makes a compelling reason for why they would fake their relationship. Not only would a break up upend the boat of a small group of mutual friends, but a few of the friends have expressed reliance on Harriet and Wyn’s solid relationship as proof that long-term love is possible! It’s a perfect storm of circumstances that I think nicely lays the entire table for both of these romance tropes.

Another thing Henry does so well is ground her stories in other struggles and growth for her characters. As the story unfolds, we begin to see what went wrong in Harriet and Wyn’s seemingly perfect relationship. Through a series of flashbacks, we begin to learn that neither has ever been perfectly honest with the other about what they want from life. What’s worse, neither has been honest with themselves. Both are incredibly likable but flawed individuals, and we see how each has been swatting away the necessary work that would have lead them to healthier lives and a healthier relationship. Harriet’s struggles as a people pleaser and Wyn’s inability to place value in himself as he is were all incredibly powerful and well depicted.

And, of course, the romance is lovely. Henry also tends to write romances that read a bit bitter sweet. They end well, because that’s almost required of the genre. But given the way this book is structured, with the flashbacks slowly working their way towards the present, it’s difficult to watch Wyn and Harriet spiral towards the inevitable break-up. Between their own struggles and the challenges we see from some of the other members of this friends group, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a happy book. And yet, it also wasn’t sad. It simply felt very real and honest about the way even the closest relationships, romances and friendships, can be built on unhealthy habits and interactions. The ending was particularly cathartic after all of the build-up. I was also very happy with a few particular turns of events at the end where I think Henry improved on some of her previous character work in conclusions of other books I’ve read by her where I’ve been more frustrated. If you’re a fan of contemporary romance or of Emily Henry, this is definitely a must read!

Rating 9: Heartfelt and poignant, this story tackles not only the lies we tell others but, more importantly, the lies we tell ourselves.

Reader’s Advisory: “Happy Place” is on these Goodreads lists: That One Really Popular Modern Romance Novel Cover Style and 2023 Contemporary Romance Releases.

Kate’s Review: “For You and Only You”

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Book: “For You and Only You” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria Books/Emily Bestler Books, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Joe Goldberg is ready for a change. Instead of selling books, he’s writing them. And he’s off to a good start. Glenn Shoddy, an acclaimed literary author, recognizes Joe’s genius and invites him to join a tight-knit writing fellowship at Harvard. Finally, Joe will be in a place where talent matters more than pedigree, where intellect is the great equalizer and anything is possible–even happy endings. Or so he thinks, until he meets his already-published, already-distinguished peers, who all seem to be cut from the same privileged cloth.

Thankfully, Wonder enters the picture. They have so much in common. No college degrees, no pretensions, no stories from prep school or grad school. Just a love for literature. If only Wonder could commit herself to the writing life they could be those rare literary soulmates who never fall prey to their demons. There is so much they’re up against, but Joe has faith in Wonder. He will sacrifice his art for hers. And if he has to, he will kill her darlings for her.

With her trademark satirical, biting wit, Caroline Kepnes explores why vulnerable people bring out the worst in others as Joe sets out to make this small, elite world a fairer place. And if a little crimson runs in the streets of Cambridge who can blame him? Love doesn’t conquer all. Often, it needs a little push.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I am fully aware that I have been obsessed with Caroline Kepnes’s “You” Series since I read “You” and “Hidden Bodies” in 2016, to the point where all of the “You” audiobooks have become insomnia fighters for long nights of anxiety driven sleeplessness. Yes, I do indeed put in my ear buds and listen to Santino Fontana talk about super creep and obsessive psychopath Joe Goldberg as he stalks women and inserts himself into their lives while slowly destroying them. Apparently this is relaxing listening to me.

I am fully aware this probably means I’m deeply traumatized, it’s fine. (source)

So quite obviously I was waiting on pins and needles for the fourth book in the series, “For You And Only You”. And I was so, so lucky to get a copy from NetGalley, and there was much rejoicing. I had so many questions and theories about what was going to happen in this book, as when we left Joe in “You Love Me” he was about to be widowed and was running his own book bar in Florida, ready to fall in love again. So when I read that this one was going to take place in Boston? WHAT? But I fully trusted Kepnes to bring me there and to convince me, and what do you know? She did.

I think that what continues to impress me about Kepnes and her “You” books is that even though there is a very clear set of expectations of formula for each of these books, she still manages to make it feel fresh, interesting, and unpredictable. You can be certain of the following things in these books: Joe is going to be a loner, he’s going to start to obsess over a woman who is emotionally unavailable for whatever reason, and people in the way of his obsession are probably going to start dropping like flies at his hand (granted, in “You Love Me” he wasn’t the direct cause of the deaths in that book, he was just a domino effect). I was worried that this was going to feel repetitive by book four in the series, and yet I still was fully on board and I was still completely hooked by the story, the characters, the plot twists, and the overall twisted cynicism and dark humor of it all. These books probably aren’t for everyone, but I feel that Kepnes always knows how to pull the satire out of some pretty unnerving subject matter and themes, by finding the hypocritical undersides of supposedly enviable lives (be it being young and single in New York, to uber wealthy in L.A., to small town cozy on Bainbridge Island). This time the target is the hallowed halls of Harvard and the academic life of ever ambitious literary authors. I’ll admit that I WAS disappointed that we didn’t stick to Florida, as there were so many things that I feel like could have been SO satisfying with that as a backdrop (especially since 1) Joe’s old boss Mr. Mooney retired there and I love that horrible old man, and 2) Florida right now has so many issues I would have loved to see Joe just lose his mind there), but hey. I’m fine with lambasting elitist Harvard culture as it exists within Boston’s many backgrounds, and Kepnes really nails it. Joe clearly is desperate to fit in, as while he has always had a chip on his shoulder about those more privileged then himself, he thinks that the is just as good as them and needs them to acknowledge it. This time it’s because of a book he wrote that he thinks is genius, and he needs their validation. You just know that’s going to go poorly.

Joe is still Joe, and I will spare you all from going on and on about why he entertains the hell out of me once again, so let’s focus on our other characters. While the cast of characters don’t really outdo the assholery of previous characters (who could be worse that Peach Salinger? I’ve yet to see it), there are plenty of cutting bites at snooty authors and those who aspire to that. Part of the appeal of these books is that everyone sucks so when Joe starts going HAM on them it feels over the top enough that it’s not distasteful, and the nastiness of just about everyone is pretty well done here. I found Wonder, Joe’s love interest, to be especially grating, probably my least favorite of Joe’s love interests (yes, worse than Beck), but I did think that the due diligence is done to make her the way she is. But most everyone else was grating in a fun way so that you are really enjoying the ups and downs as Joe plots against them but is also annoyed by them. A major stand out for me was Sarah Beth, a fellow member of the fellowship who wrote a thriller novel before the workshop, whose interest in a true crime podcast about a body found on Bainbridge Island (oh Joe, did you REALLY think you could get away with all your bullshit? I love that we are starting to see some of these things start to catch up to him) puts a serious thorn in Joe’s side. She is weird and probing, and she also caught me by surprise a few times as she and Joe start a cat and mouse game between themselves while having to work together in their writing group. Perhaps it treads to farfetched territory at times, but I really found it fun.

“For You and Only You” continues Joe’s reign of terror through the lives of unsuspecting victims and the jerks that surround them. I hope that there are more Joe stories in store. I shall be adding this one to the middle of the night insomnia treatments, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Rating 9: Joe is back and I’m still fully on board. This series still catches me off guard and keeps me enthralled and engaged, and I’m still all about following Joe as he rips lives asunder all in the name of love.

Reader’s Advisory:

“For You and Only You” is included on the Goodreads list “Books Written By Scorpios Will Be The Death of Me” (it was too funny to pass up).

Not Just Books: April 2023

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

TV Show: “Succession”

I’ve resisted watching this show for quite awhile. I don’t love shows where it’s hard to find a character to like. My husband only got me to watch “Breaking Bad” after convincing me that Jesse was a character you could like throughout the show. But, while I have struggled to outright like any of the characters in this show, there’s no denying the quality. The writing, the acting, the ongoing tension. All top notch. I also was happy to wait to start watching until the final season was already showing so that I wouldn’t have to wait long for the inevitably horribly tragic conclusion. I never would have guessed from the beginning, but at this point…I’m kind of rooting for Roman??

Netflix Movie: “The Gray Man”

In an opposite situation, I had to convince my husband to watch this movie with me due to his ridiculous dislike of Ryan Gosling. I know, right? He’s crazy. But I was able to sucker him in with a preview that contained a sufficiently campy villain in Chris Evans. I really liked this movie, though. It was action-packed, funny at times, and surprisingly heart-warming at others. You can tell that both lead actors are just enjoying the heck out of their roles, especially Evans. If you enjoy fairly straight-forward action movies, this is definitely one to check out!

Movie: “Dungeon and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves”

I was fairly skeptical about this movie when I first heard about it. Obviously, the premise is a hard sell after the abysmal attempt at making a D&D movie several years ago. But then a few things began to work in its favor: Chris Pines is always awesome, the trailer looked genuinely hilarious, and a favorite reviewer of mine highly recommended it. And, yep, he was right! This was a blast of a movie! In many ways, it’s everything that the Marvel movies seem to have lost. It doesn’t take itself seriously, it commits to its premise, and it made wise use of its excellent casting. In many ways, I think it’s similar to “Pirates of the Caribbean” where many viewers are initially skeptical due to the weak source material. But like that movie, this one is well worth the watch, especially for fans of fantasy who enjoy a great mix of action and comedy!

Kate’s Picks

Film: “Smile”

This was a much delayed watch, as I wasn’t totally comfortable going to see it in the theater when it came out, and then Terror Tuesday wanted to wait for the entire group to be present to watch it as we heard it was wild. And when we finally sat down to watch “Smile”, we all lost our collective minds in the group chat. Wild is an understatement. Rose is a mental health therapist assigned to an emergency clinic, and one day sees a patient named Laura. Laura witnessed a professor kill himself in a horrible way, and says she is being stalked by an otherworldly being that follows her around and smiles at her, and then she has a complete breakdown and kills herself in the room in front of Rose. While smiling in a grotesque manner. Then Rose starts to see things, including people she knows smiling at her and driving her into emotional turmoil. Rose has to try and solve what happened to her, before she falls victim to the same fate. THIS MOVIE IS BONKERS. COMPLETELY BONKERS. There were so many moments where I was laughing hysterically because it was so fucked up, and we all decided that it was the most fucked up but fun movie we had all watched together (“Barbarian” was close, but I didn’t enjoy “Barbarian” and I REALLY enjoyed this one).

City: Duluth, Minnesota

If someone were to ask me what my favorite places to visit were, Duluth, Minnesota would almost certainly be top five. I love this port city on the shore of Lake Superior, and I love that it’s only about two and a half hours away from where I live, as it makes it very easy to get there with minimal fuss. And this April I was able to visit my happy place not just once, but twice. The first was a girls trip with some college friends, and the second was a solo vacation for emotional recharging after a long winter. I love being on the lake, I love the local breweries and restaurants, I love the unique attractions, and I love that I can drive up the North Shore and see a lot of gorgeous landscapes and nature scenes, whether it’s the lake or forests or rivers and waterfalls. And the waterfalls and rivers were especially breathtaking this month given the insane amount of snow the state got this winter. Very few places can center me like Duluth can, and I really loved my time there this April, whether with friends or on my own.

Web Show: “The Pit Stop”

So perhaps you noticed that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” didn’t make my Not Just Books picks this year. It’s not that I didn’t like it. Well, I liked the winner and the runner up, both quite a bit. But there were some weird production things going on this season that made it a frustrating watch, so even though I was happy with how it shook out in the end with my two faves coming in first and second, I did spend a lot of time frustrated. But never fear, for I do have some drag content, and it is “Drag Race” adjacent! “The Pit Stop” is a web show that recaps episodes of “Drag Race” and “Drag Race All Stars”, with commentary from a consistent host and a guest drag queen (and Nicole Byer on occasion). I’ve been mainly watching seasons that are hosted by Trixie Mattel and Bob the Drag Queen, as they are the funniest hosts, and they have great banter and chemistry with basically all of their guests. It’s also a great way to revisit past seasons that I didn’t really care for (cough season 13) and to breathe new energy into them. It was especially funny watching Violet Chachki and Trixie tear the Bag Ball episode apart. So many bad looks on the runway.

Serena’s Review: “Divine Rivals”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Divine Rivals” by Rebecca Ross

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After centuries of sleep, the gods are warring again. But eighteen-year-old Iris Winnow just wants to hold her family together. Her mother is suffering from addiction and her brother is missing from the front lines. Her best bet is to win the columnist promotion at the Oath Gazette.

To combat her worries, Iris writes letters to her brother and slips them beneath her wardrobe door, where they vanish―into the hands of Roman Kitt, her cold and handsome rival at the paper. When he anonymously writes Iris back, the two of them forge a connection that will follow Iris all the way to the front lines of battle: for her brother, the fate of mankind, and love.

Review: I really enjoyed Ross’s “Elements of Cadence” duology. It was lyrical, full of adventure, and centered a lovely romance at its heart. So it was a no brainer to place a request for her next novel when I saw it was due to arrive this spring. And while I don’t think this first book necessarily reaches the highs of that previous series, I did enjoy it a lot and I have high hopes for the next book in the series!

Several months ago, Iris’s life fell apart. Her brother felt compelled to join in a god’s war hundreds of miles away. Her mother fell into depression and alcoholism. And Iris was forced to drop out of school to support her family. Now, she works towards one goal: becoming a reporter for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the city. But she’s not the only one pursuing the position. Unknowing to her, her rival, a young man who is unfortunately as skilled a writer as he is frustrating, also happens to be the mysterious pen pal she found only by chance. But as the war becomes more and more real for Iris, she begins to realize that the world is much greater than she ever imagined, and her pan pal may be the only one who really understands her.

There was a lot to like about this book, but I think the book summary really buries the lead on the true strengths of this book. Yes, it starts out as a fairly standard work rivalry story alongside a sweet pen pal subplot. But about a quarter of the way in, things quickly shift and Iris travels to the front lines of the war. Here, the story really comes alive as it explores the experience of trench warfare and the experiences of those whose lives have been upended while living through a war that is taking place right outside their own front door. I really loved all that Ross had to offer in this part of the book.

This was all obviously a parallel to WWI, with similar tactics used, like trenches and the terrible use of vicous gases. But, of course, this is a fantasy novel, so the constant terror and threat of air raids were replaced by fantastical creatures that could target any town at any moment. I can honestly say that I can’t remember reading a fantasy novel that read anything like this one, and that was incredibly refreshing.

I also really liked Iris as a character. She was brave, but not foolish. Compassionate but also struggling with her conflicting emotions about a war that stole her brother away from her family. I also liked Roman Kitt, and, for the most part, the romance between the two. I think the title of this book does mislead a bit as far as the romance goes, however. The “rivalry” between these two barely warrants the term. Not only do we see very little of it, but it is quickly shunted to the side in favor of a completely cordial friendship building quickly towards romance. Indeed, an entire romantic arch from start to finish takes place within a fairly short period of the middle and end of the book. While I liked the love story, I kind of wish that it had been drawn out between this first book and the one to come. As it was, the romance just barely sidestepped becoming an instalove situation. It’s spared from this category only by the fact that, while quickly established, it does spend a good deal of time building up this relationship.

I also liked the idea of the feuding gods in this story, and the fact that the humans caught up in the war don’t have a full understanding of the history between these characters. But that also gets to my main issue with this book: in many ways it feels like an extended prequel. A very interesting and romantic prequel, but still. It was only towards the last quarter of the book that it really felt like the story got started. I still enjoyed my read overall, but I think the pacing was questionable, and perhaps, depending on how the next book goes, there might have been some better decisions to make with how this story was broken up. The one thing I can say for sure, the fact that the story really picks up towards the end of the book really leaves the reader primed for the second book. Despite a few quibbles here and there, I’ll definitely be right there in line to read the second one as soon as it’s available!

Rating 8: Lyrical and atmospheric, this book uses the fantastical to illustrate the horrors of war and the bravery of those who risk it all to save those they love.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Divine Rivals” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Working Women in Fantasy and Female fantasy authors – Children’s, YA and adult.

Kate’s Review: “Sisters of the Lost Nation”

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Book: “Sisters of the Lost Nation” by Nick Medina

Publishing Info: Berkley, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Anna Horn is always looking over her shoulder. For the bullies who torment her, for the entitled visitors at the reservation’s casino…and for the nameless, disembodied entity that stalks her every step–an ancient tribal myth come-to-life, one that’s intent on devouring her whole.

With strange and sinister happenings occurring around the casino, Anna starts to suspect that not all the horrors on the reservation are old. As girls begin to go missing and the tribe scrambles to find answers, Anna struggles with her place on the rez, desperately searching for the key she’s sure lies in the legends of her tribe’s past.

When Anna’s own little sister also disappears, she’ll do anything to bring Grace home. But the demons plaguing the reservation–both ancient and new–are strong, and sometimes, it’s the stories that never get told that are the most important.

Part gripping thriller and part mythological horror, author Nick Medina spins an incisive and timely novel of life as an outcast, the cost of forgetting tradition, and the courage it takes to become who you were always meant to be.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Horror fiction is, for me, a fun way to escape the horrors of the real world whilst also safely exploring emotions of fear and anxiety in a controlled environment. I love getting lost in a horror novel or movie, as it gives me some time away from real life scary shit. But more and more I’ve really come to appreciate horror stories that tackle themes of these real life horrors, especially in times like these where there is so much uncertainty and discord. Give me horror fiction that delves in metaphors for terrible things, especially if it brings awareness to these terrible things. Enter “Sisters of the Lost Nation” by Nick Medina, a new horror novel that involves a young adult Native woman named Anna living on a reservation who works at the local tribal casino. Strange things have been happening at the casino, and while Anna tries to tell herself that it’s nothing, it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Especially when her sister Grace goes missing after being involved with the casino and its shady practices.

I’m actually going to start with the thing that didn’t really work for me as well, just to get it out of the way because it did affect my experience, but not in a way that derailed it. I just think it’s needed context to make my ultimate rating make sense as I’m going to be gushing for the most part. The one aspect that fell a bit flat was the way that the book was structured. There was a lot of time jumping between chapters, in non-linear ways that felt a bit jarring and confusing at times. I did eventually get used to it, and it did eventually settle into a more clear cut timeline, but for awhile I had to keep flipping back on my eReader to remind me where I was in the story arc, and that could be frustrating.

But now onto the good stuff, as there is a lot of it. For one, I really liked the horror elements that Medina creates that come from various Indigenous stories from lots of different groups of Native peoples. The one that stands out the most is a story that has translated into that of a disembodied head that rolls around the (fictional) Takoda Reservation. Protagonist Anna Horn has been terrified of this story as long as she an remember, as her uncle told her the story as a young child and is now a teenager who still lives in fear of it. The weird beats where Anna catches a glimpse of something possibly rolling around, or feels the heat of breath from an unknown source, really creeped me out. But I also liked that her fear and obsession with this story and her belief that it is real also made it so that she was interested in the lore and mythology of her community and people, as it made for a stark contrast to the real life horrors of a casino that may be hiding some really dark secrets and is in some ways turning its back on this history in favor of monetary gain. Anna’s interest in her culture and its stories is a really powerful thread in this tale, and how the power of stories, be they terrifying or not, can play such an important role in a person’s life and their motivations.

And the best aspect of this book for me was how Medina has put such a candid and devastating spotlight on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a terrible epidemic that has reflects the continuing violence, apathy, and racism that Indigenous women face from greater Western society. Anna faces her own sets of victimization and racism at the hands of her peers and those above her at the casino, but she is also realizing that Indigenous women are going off the radar, and being dismissed as either runaways, or merely addicts who are off on the search for a hit. So when her own sister Grace goes missing, and there are few people taking it seriously, it hits close to home, and she begins to notice that there are suspicious things going on at the casino. And that the girls who are disappearing may have ties to the higher ups. I was so deeply invested in where these missing women went, and when it becomes clear that they are quite probably in danger, or being manipulated in other ways, it just makes the story that much more tense and upsetting. Medina sets the tension on edge and really builds it up, and addresses a very real problem against the backdrop of this fictional tribe with very real problems of poverty, corruption, racism, and misogyny. I also really appreciated the author’s note at the end which gives greater context to MMIW, as well as resources he used and information spots for the reader to familiarize themselves with all of it.

“Sisters of the Lost Nation” is a visceral and chilling read. Fans of horror and thrillers need to check it out, but I also think readers of all stripes should do themselves a favor and look into it. It’s wholly unique and talks about very real injustices that need to be paid attention to.

Rating 8: A searing and devastating horror-thriller that not only finds horrors in Indigenous mythology and lore, but also in the all too real Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sisters of the Lost Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Indigenous Horror, Thriller, etc”, and “Horror To Look Forward To in 2023”.

Serena’s Review: “Wings Once Cursed and Bound”

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Book: “Wings Once Cursed and Bound” by Piper J. Drake

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description:

My wings unbound, I am the Thai bird princess
The kinnaree
And no matter the cost,
I will be free.

Bennet Andrews represents a secret organization of supernatural beings dedicated to locating and acquiring mythical objects, tucking them safely away where they cannot harm the human race. When he meets Peeraphan Rahttana, it’s too late—she has already stepped into The Red Shoes, trapped by their curse to dance to her death.

But Bennet isn’t the only supernatural looking for deadly artifacts. And when the shoes don’t seem to harm Peeraphan, he realizes that he’ll have to save her from the likes of creatures she never knew existed. Bennett sweeps Peeraphan into a world of myth and power far beyond anything she ever imagined. There, she finds that magic exists in places she never dreamed—including deep within herself.

Review: First of all, thank you so much to the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, for sending me an ARC of this book! I can say that the cover is just as fantastic in person as it seems from the small image above. Very unique and vibrant, just the sort of cover that would make me pause when browsing the aisles of the bookstore. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t enjoy the actual book itself nearly as much.

When a fellow dancer hands Peeraphan a box with beautiful red dancing shoes, she can’t resist their magnetic appeal. Now, however, she finds that these are not in fact ordinary shoes, but slippers that have been cursed to compel their wearer to dance themselves to death. Luckily for Peeraphan, her own magical heritage has given her some level of protection from the shoes themselves. But there are those who are hunting artifacts like these, and they don’t seem to care that the shoes are currently attached to a living woman. Another artifact hunter, a vampire named Bennet, has also been tracking the shoes, but after meeting Peeraphan, he realizes that much more is at stake than a simple recovering mission.

I initially requested this book because of the very intriguing premise of the Thai legend of the kinnaree. Urban fantasy has long been entrapped by the classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. So I was incredibly excited to see a story focused on a lesser known legend. I also know next to nothing about Thai folklore or the legend of the kinnaree. Unfortunately, I still don’t. I’m not exactly sure what happened here really. I feel like I was sold on this very specific premise, but then I started reading the book and it turned out to be…not that. Our main character, who also goes by Punch (dislike), knows next to nothing about her own abilities. And then as the book goes on, very little is added on to that. Instead, we were once again bogged down with vampires and the typical “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” ilk.

I also never felt like Punch was given much characterization. The shoes show up with in the first few pages, far too quickly for any good character work to have been established prior. And from there, the action quickly sweeps her along, but I’m never given any reason why I should care or be particularly invested in her story. Instead, I was mostly just frustrated from the start! She senses something strange about the shoes right off the bat, and then, of course, just puts them on anyways. It wasn’t a strong start for the character, and the story never seemed to recover from there.

I also didn’t really care for Bennet or the romance as a whole. Again, his character and story felt incredibly familiar, with very little new to say about vampires or any of the other beings we encounter. The love story also felt rushed towards the end, and I couldn’t tell exactly who the audience was for this book. It didn’t feel as if it could commit fully one way or another, reading at certain points as very YA and then at others trying to take on a more gritty, adult tone.

Overall, the entire thing really didn’t work for me. Part of the problem was that I had fairly high expectations going in. I was really excited by the idea of a new urban fantasy story that was pulling from lesser known legends, and then when the book failed to deliver on that, it was hard to latch on to anything else. I think there will be readers who enjoy it, however, especially those who really enjoy urban fantasies as a whole. It just wasn’t for me, sadly.

Rating 6: While it’s an acceptable urban fantasy on the whole, I feel like the primary premise, that of the legendary Thai kinnaree, was a complete let-down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wings Once Cursed and Bound” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Fairytale Retellings in Contemporary Romance.

Kate’s Review: “The Haunting of Alejandra”

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Book: “The Haunting of Alejandra” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Del Rey, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Alejandra no longer knows who she is. To her husband, she is a wife, and to her children, a mother. To her own adoptive mother, she is a daughter. But they cannot see who Alejandra has become: a woman struggling with a darkness that threatens to consume her.

Nor can they see what Alejandra sees. In times of despair, a ghostly vision appears to her, the apparition of a crying woman in a ragged white gown.

When Alejandra visits a therapist, she begins exploring her family’s history, starting with the biological mother she never knew. As she goes deeper into the lives of the women in her family, she learns that heartbreak and tragedy are not the only things she has in common with her ancestors.

Because the crying woman was with them, too. She is La Llorona, the vengeful and murderous mother of Mexican legend. And she will not leave until Alejandra follows her mother, her grandmother, and all the women who came before her into the darkness.

But Alejandra has inherited more than just pain. She has inherited the strength and the courage of her foremothers—and she will have to summon everything they have given her to banish La Llorona forever.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I have had a serious, serious fascination with the La Llorona folk tale ever since I stumbled upon it in an American folklore book in elementary school. The idea of a ghostly woman who drowned her children, and now wanders the river banks of the Earth looking for her children, weeping loudly along the way, scared the absolute crap out of me (especially since as a child I lived within walking distance of the Mississippi River). When V. Castro, a Latina horror author who has taken Mexican folklore and written some fantastic horror fiction, said she was writing a La Llorona story, it became one of my most anticipated reads of 2023. I had really high hopes for this book. And man oh man did it deliver.

I am SO excited that V. Castro decided to take on the La Llorona story because of my childhood obsession with it, and given that she’s a fantastic horror writer with a voice that is so unapologetically Chicana it is just the perfect fit. And the way that she applies it to this story to fit real world horrors is just fantastic. It’s told mostly through the perspective of spiraling mother Alejandra, who has started seeing visions of a woman in white during especially trying moments. But then there are the ways that we trace back through the generations of Alejandra’s familial line, and how this presence has been there to torment many of the women through the generations, and whose lives were impacted or destroyed, the trauma passing down and down. Whether it’s an Indigenous woman who is making a dark bargain with this entity to escape her Spanish abuser, or Alejandra’s biological mother who gave her up after becoming pregnant as a teenager (and thought she was doing the right thing, BUT Alejandra was left with a very cold and controlling Evangelical family’s care, that’s a whole other layer to this story that I really thought was well done), or her grandmother with few choices in a marriage with too many children and a philandering husband, the presence of ‘La Llorona’, or whatever it is, serves as the perfect metaphor for the horrors of marginalized women with very few options. I loved seeing all of these women and their stories, and seeing Alejandra be pushed to perhaps try and stop that cycle and to fight against this entity is really, really empowering.

But I also found a lot of the horrors of motherhood aspects of this story pretty relatable. Caveat, I am no means in the same position as Alejandra is, as she is in a loveless marriage with a controlling boob who pressured her into more children than she wanted and discouraged her from working outside the home, while I have a really great romantic and parenting partner and we are one and done with our hilarious but spirited three year old. But all that said, there were so many spot on moments that Castro put in this book, whether it’s the frazzled rush of having to go go go with meandering children in tow, or having to be in charge of schedules and chores and doctor’s appointments and more, or feeling like you really don’t get a break while having to sacrifice so much, and then feeling guilty for feeling like you deserve more. While the supernatural demon/La Llorona bits and the suspense surrounding Alejandra and her women ancestors were super effective and scary, I was more set on edge by the way that Alejandra was being pushed closer and closer to breaking, and what that would mean for her and her children. Because THAT is something that does happen in real life, and the consequences of that can be deadly and devastating. This is just as much a horror story about postpartum depression and psychosis as it is generational trauma, and it is SO well done.

“The Haunting of Alejandra” is harrowing and evocative and everything I could have wanted from a La Llorona story. V. Castro continues to thrill and amaze me, and I am so excited to see how she tops herself next time, as I feel like she is always exceeding my expectations.

Rating 9: A deeply unnerving and scary examination of generational trauma and the unspoken pressures of motherhood, “The Haunting of Alejandra” is another fantastic horror tale by V. Castro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Haunting of Alejandra” is included on the Goodreads “Latinx Horror/Fantasy”, and “The Female Malaise: She’s Sad, Mad, and Bad”.

Diving Into Sub-Genres: High Control Group Escape Memoirs

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We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us will present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

I could probably just call this “Cult Escape Memoirs”, though I think some people would come after me were I to refer to some of these groups as ‘cults’. That and some are less about groups and more about toxic family dynamics which are run like a cult, but aren’t technically cults. So High Control Group it is! I’ve always been super fascinated by groups that close ranks, isolate members, put leaders on a firm pedestal, and build and build up abuses and corruption and use intimidation, coercion, and violence against those within, and all the brainwashing that comes with it. I also love harrowing memoirs of people who have been a part of such groups, and how they ultimately break away no matter the personal cost and sacrifice (and it is usually a lot).

There are a lot of different cults and high control groups that have functioned over the years, so this is merely a smattering of the various groups. But all of the stories are harrowing, enraging, heartbreaking, and hopeful, and it shows the resilience of those who have escaped when they never should have had to go through their trauma in the first place. These are all admittedly difficult reads with lots of content warnings, but I’ve found them to be fascinating and engaging reads.

Book: “A Billion Years: My Escape From A Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology” by Mike Rinder

Scientology has been pretty heavily scrutinized in the past decade or so, and a lot of voices leading the way are those who jumped ship and lost so, so much by doing so. Leah Remini is a very clear example of this, but her celebrity insulated her a bit from the fallout, which is why I decided on “A Billion Years” by Mike Rinder. Rinder used to be a very high ranking member under L. Ron Hubbard, but once Hubbard died and David Miscavige took over, the toxicity and abuse ramped up to the point where Rinder no longer felt he could stay. Leaving his family behind (they are still alienated from him) and everything he knew, he is now a whistleblower and a very outspoken critic. This memoir is a really good look at his time in the organization, and gives insight as to what it’s like for those inside who aren’t powerful celebrities. I really love that Rinder is trying to repent for his past complicity, and this memoir is honest and very harrowing.

Book: “Unspeakable: Surviving My Childhood and Finding My Voice” by Jessica Willis Fisher

This is the first of two memoirs that isn’t about a specific larger group, but more about the influence of an extremist fundamentalist family and its leader, and this one is a really, really hard read (it’s actually the read that gave me the idea for this list). Jessica Willis Fisher was initially known as the oldest of the Willis Clan, a Fundamentalist Christian family that performed in a band together and had its own reality show following their lives. What viewers and fans didn’t know was that the patriarch, Toby, was verbally, physically, and sexually abusive to his wife and children, Jessica herself one of his rape victims and ultimately the family scapegoat. Her memoir speaks to her childhood, her relationships with her family members, her love of music, and how she eventually started to push back against her father, and how that cut her off from her siblings and mother, but also pushed her towards people who did support her and help her come to terms with her traumatic childhood, and help her eventually turn her father in. Willis Fisher is so incredibly brave, her memoir so well written, and it has hope in darkness and love and empathy.

Book: “Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and My Father, Warren Jeffs” by Rachel Jeffs

I have read so many books about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints as run by Warren Jeffs/Rulon Jeffs and the compound in Short Creek, but if I had to pick one that encompasses the horrors of the compound and the abuses of the people who lived there, I would go with Rachel Jeffs’s memoir. They are all harrowing, but Rachel is one of Warren Jeffs’s many children, and her experience shows that his sadistic abuses and violence towards others was also very much a part of his family life as opposed to the non-related members of the community. Rachel is brutally honest about the things that she went through, and it gives a deeply personal connection to the Warren Jeffs years of the FLDS. It’s also a good look into the FLDS culture as a whole, and doesn’t mince words about how abusive, violent, and oppressive it is for those who live in it, especially the women. And it’s especially disturbing seeing how Jeffs treated his own children, his abuses and cruelty being doled out to them as much as it was to others in the community. Rachel is incredibly brave for getting out, and I’m glad she was able to push back in her own words.

Book: “In The Shadow of the Moons: My Life in the Reverend Sun Sun Myung Moon’s Family” by Nansook Hong

Of all the cults and high control groups that have fascinated me over the years, I actually didn’t know much about the Unification Church, a religious cult based in South Korea run by Sun Myung Moon. This memoir was written by his daughter in law Nansook Hong, whose marriage to his oldest son was wrought with discord and abuse. The Moonies, as they are known, present themselves as an ideal group of Divine Christianity, and Moon himself placed himself as a messiah-like figure and hoped to have influence across countries and political positions and leaders. But this memoir exposes the hypocrisy and corruption within the group and how Moon abused his power, and hid the violence and troubles within his own family. After years in an unhappy marriage that had abuse and addiction issues, Hong escaped one of the Moonie compounds and divorced Hyo Jin Moon, the eldest and heir apparent to the Unification Church. The Moonies kind of go under the radar these days when it comes to cults and high control groups, and this memoir has some really interesting context and has the story of a brave woman who left.

Book: “Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties” by Dianne Lake

There are so many notorious cults out there, but the Manson Family is the one that really shattered the American consciousness in the late 1960s when they carried about the multiple murders of Sharon Tate and her guests, as well of those of the LaBianca Family. While many of Manson’s ‘girls’ are remembered because of the huge court case (or in Squeaky Fromme’s case, when she tried to assassinate President Ford because that would help Charlie, somehow?), Dianne Lake was one of the few that got out, though not unscathed. Lake joined up as a teenager after her family went all in on a nomadic lifestyle, and pretty much just let her go off with Manson and his group, and soon she as deeply under his spell and living on Spahn Ranch. This memoir is about that time, as well as the childhood that led up to it, and then when she turned against him and the others after the Tate/LaBianca murders. I really like this one because it doesn’t only show how a group can manipulate and control vulnerable people, but how people end up in groups like that in the first place if they were not born into it.

Book: “Educated” by Tara Westover

Much like “Unspeakable”, “Educated” is less about a specific group and more about a family that has been overtaken by a zealous patriarch that imposes fundamentalist rules and abuses on his loved ones. But “Educated” is such an amazing book that I really wanted to have it here. Tara Westover grew up in an isolated, off the grid existence with her family, her father forbidding any contact with public education or healthcare and her mother working as an herbalist and midwife to other off the grid people. As Tara gets older, she finds herself wanting to learn and read anything she can get her hands on, and wonders what else is out there to learn beyond her family’s grip. And when one of her brothers becomes more and more violent, and Tara becomes the target of his escalating violence, her yearning to get into the world isn’t just about wanting to learn, but wanting to save herself from a dangerous and isolated family situation. This memoir very well written, incredibly inspirational, and there is a reason it was so well received when it came out.

What escape memoirs have you enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

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