Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Damage Done is right. Damage to my time and my reading sensibilities and my respect for YA literature. I have got to stop picking books from generic lists of ‘awesome books’. But when I saw Damage Done on one of these lists, I was immediately attracted to the simple cover and the idea of a Gone Girl style YA book. And there’s something about a book on a subject as gutwrenching as school shootings that’s meant to be read by an audience that is the age of the typical victims that’s intriguing. A book that challenges our treatment, not of the perpetrators of such crimes but of the people related to them. That shows how those people treat themselves. How we are coloured by the actions of the people in our inner circle. That’s the book I wanted to read. Panitch promises the story of Julia Vass in the aftermath of her twin brother’s mass shooting at their high school. A shooting in which she, and he, were the only survivors. But what we get is a mildly ridiculous love story where the shooting feels a like little more than a plot device.

Julia is now Lucy Black. In a new town, with a new name, and a new past. Her family relocated to escape the nightmare of media and threats that became their lives after Ryan killed eleven students. They run from the blame. Julia/Lucy’s parents were easily the most interesting part of the novel. Their reactions to the shooting were heartbreaking. Even though we don’t see them often, we see the impact of their withdrawal. The Blacks have essentially cut off all interactions with their daughter. They refuse to talk about Ryan at all. All pictures and memories have been removed from the house, left behind when they moved. Lucy has only one picture left. Hidden in the back of a drawer away from her mother’s cleaning hands. Mrs. Black has irised her life into cleaning. All she does is scrub. Bleach and scrub. A physical manifestation of her need to remove the memories of her child. Mr. Black is mostly absent. He allows his work to take him away from his wife and daughter. And he refuses, absolutely refuses, to allow Ryan’s name in the house. Any reference to their life as the Vasses is met with an immediate shut down. At least it is when Lucy wants to talk about their past.

Turns out (and from here you continue at your own peril) there’s been more Ryan discussion happening than Julia/Lucy thought. Ryan’s been out of his coma almost since he went into it. He’s awake. He’s semi-healthy. He’s not talking to anyone except Spence – his former psychologist. Julia’s parents know. They’ve made a conscious decision not to tell her. If you haven’t predicted the upcoming twist by the time this information appears, it seems a little cruel, but also makes sense. Why would they tell her that her twin is awake when she’s never going to be allowed to see him? They’re protecting her from more pain. If they keep his condition quiet, they save their family more pain. But there’s more to their silence than initially thought. Julia isn’t the girl she’s led us to believe she is. Continue reading

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The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I heard about The Library at Mount Char through my book club. We always do a little what-are-you-reading-besides-the-club-book round table. One of the girls talked about Mount Char a couple times. I was immediately attracted to the name. She could never really describe what the book was about, but said it was worth the read. So when I saw the audiobook pop up on hoopla, I immediately downloaded it and settled in, prepared for a certain kind of read. This book club focuses on young adult books. Even though I knew this wasn’t YA, you know, I had perceptions (that were totally made with no supporting documentation). Have I mentioned that I’m also terrible at reading book blurbs? Especially on books that are recommended to me? I typically read the first line or two and then just open and read the first paragraph of the book. I was unprepared.

What the fuck did I just read? I now understand why she couldn’t explain the book when she was recommending it. For the first 2-3 hours of the book, I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep listening. Not that I didn’t want to keep reading it, but there was so much going on and there were so many characters that I didn’t know if listening was the best way to imbibe this particular novel. But I persevered and it got easier. Kind of.

This is not an easy book. Maybe it is for people who read a lot of fantasy and are used to all that information being thrown at them, but for me – holy crap this brain made my brain hurt in the best possible way. The reader is dropped right into this world – which is finely balanced between our own world and the fantasy world – there’s no gentle submersion here. This is hard and fast.  This is not a book for the light hearted. It is full of death and destruction and people doing terrible things to each other, even their family members. Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

It took a while but I finally got through the fourth book in my Harry Potter re-read quest. It wasn’t that I disliked this re-read, in fact I liked it a lot, other books just needed to be read first. Honestly, someday, maybe, possibly, probably not, I’ll get my library lending under control. So, now I’m finally done Goblet of Fire and it was totally worth it. This is where the big, big stuff starts to happen. The books get darker. The damages get more severe. The consequences more extreme. And naturally, the differences start widen between the books and the movies. There is so much happening in these books. Not necessarily big exciting events, just lots of stuff. The timelines are extended. The everyday stuff is included. And the books still include big sections aimed at their young audiences – as they rightfully should. The audience for the books was basically whatever age Harry was in that particular book. They were still pretty young at this point. But the movies were a huge success with adults and began to pull in an audience that had either overlooked the books or would never end up reading them.

After Chamber of Secrets, the movies really started gearing older. They focused more on the darkness present in the magical world. Overall, I prefer the darker portions, but some of the stuff the movies overlook is pretty funny. Blast ended skrewts and bubotubers and other silly moments. But GoF also contains one of the most annoying events in the Harry Potter franchise – the creation of S.P.E.W. I had actually forgotten about this portion until a recent conversation with someone reading the books for the first time. She was annoyed that this section was left out of the movie. That shit cray – as the kids are saying, or whatever. S.P.E.W is Hermione’s attempt to unburden a group of beings that don’t believe they are being burdened. And she does pretty annoyingly. She’s so up in everyone’s business to get on her side. Granted, there is actually an important message hidden in this otherwise annoying distraction– does disagreeing with the way people live, give us the right to impose our values on them? We wouldn’t want them to do that to us, so why are our values better? This is something western culture is super guilty of. Where do we draw the line to say this is good and this is bad? It’s a lot of deep thought and conversation worthy stuff, but that’s not what comes across in the books. It turns into a silly thing that Hermione becomes passionate about and the boys are able to make fun of her for. I can’t remember if this carries forward into the next book, but I have a sneaking suspicion it does – something about Hermione making Christmas presents for the elves or something… Continue reading

Black Apples Edited by Camilla Bruce and Liv Lingborn

I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t love short stories. I usually don’t gravitate towards them in stand alone or collection form. The one exception is fairy tales. They are, by their nature, short stories. And they are typically sold in collection form. And this brings us to Black Apples – a collection of 18 modern fairy tales. Many of these stories borrow from historic tropes or pull classic stories into modern settings. I received this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I’m pretty down with this book – and it’s pretty, pretty cover! This book will most likely find its way into some stocking this Christmas.

These aren’t your Disney fairytales. These are much more in line with the original tradition of fairy tales. Dark and Grimm (see what I did there – yup). There are no pretty princesses being saved by dashing princes. There are no singing crabs or rabbits with waistcoats. Original fairy tales were often folklore and cautionary tales for citizens within certain communities. While there were many similar stories, they morphed with specific values and culture of a given community. Fairy tales were not necessarily meant for children – especially not in the way we think of children now. This book – probably not for your kids. Unless you’re awesome. There’s research out there about how children who are read the original Grimm’s tales develop better rational decision making skills. How credible are these studies? I don’t know, but I can see the logic. You raise a kid to only believe that someone else will always pop up to save them and that everything has a happy ending, it’s probably going to take them longer to realize that that’s not how this whole real world thing works. Teach them early that sometimes things take a turn for the dark and twisty and they might be able to apply these ideas to situations they find themselves in. However, you may also want to cushion these stories with – cutting out the heart of someone who is prettier than you is probably not your best problem solving path. Anyway, I’m finding myself falling down the rabbit hole of not relevant. Continue reading

The Likeness by Tana French (@tanafrench)

This is my third Tana French book since July, but it’s actually the second in the series. I liked this book a lot. Not as much as the other two but it was still very good. I think part of the reason I didn’t like it as much is because I kept getting interrupted while reading it. I was about 100 pages in when I received an advanced copy of French’s newest book. To meet the timeline, I had to put this one aside. Then when I came back to it, it took me a little while to get back in the groove. Then life happened and I wasn’t able to read a lot. And then I was too tired to read at night (which is when I get a lot of my reading done). It was a long process from start to finish. Also, the book is super long.

Once again French’s writing is spot on. If it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through it. She weaves these complicated relationships in slow, intricate waves. The book picks up some months after the end of In the Woods (as always, if you haven’t read the spoilers tag on the post, it’s your own fault). Cassie has moved to the Domestic Violence unit in the wake of Operation Vestal. She’s deeply unhappy with the work and her new partner. She’s still dating Sam, and although she says she’s happy in the relationship, she doesn’t totally seem to believe it. At the beginning of The Likeness, Cassie is called out to a crime scene. She shows up in a nicely pressed suit looking all business. This is not the Cassie from before. The one who dressed exactly the way she wanted to. Who drove her little Vespa. Who was mistaken for a much younger person and didn’t care. The old Cassie was vibrant and energetic. She left her vibe everywhere she went. Now she’s forced herself to fit the mold. She looks the part. She talks the part. She’s the officer everyone wants her to be. She’s definitely lost her spark. She is dying on the inside. Continue reading