Camille Preaker, journalist to a small Chicago newspaper, recently out of a mental institution after an in-patient stay to address her long-standing inclination to cut words into her body, has been asked by her boss to go to her hometown. Two little girls have been found murdered–with their teeth pulled out. Camille is not inclined to go home. She’s barely spoken to her distant, southern belle mother since moving out years ago and hardly knows her half-sister, 13-year-old Amma. But home she goes, staying with her mother, step-father, and half-sister to save money, drinking to cope as her demons haunt her, and investigating the murders that have shaken the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri.
This book hit my radar around the time there were all those articles judging Gillian Flynn for writing female characters who are bad/evil. I immediately was supportive of Gillian Flynn (bad women exist, hello) and interested in more of her writing. I started with Gone Girl so I could read it before seeing the movie, but Sharp Objects has been in my sightlines for a long time. The mere idea of an adult self-injurer going to her hometown and facing her demons was something I would want to read even without knowing how much I enjoy Gillian Flynn’s work. What I found was a tightly-written, fast-paced mystery with multiple complex characters and simultaneously breath-taking and heart-breaking lead.
I thought through most of the book that I knew the solution to the mystery. Whodunit. That didn’t bother me. I liked everything leading up to what I thought was going to be the ultimate reveal. The plot twists, though, surprising myself and characters in the book. While part of me likes the twist, part of me felt it was more cliche than the original ending that I thought I was getting. Ultimately, while I didn’t necessarily find the resolution satisfying, I did find it surprising and something to chew on. It will stick with me in a I’m thinking about it way like eating something unusual you’re not sure if you liked, rather than in an I remember feeling so pleasantly satisfied way, like how you might look back on Thanksgiving dinner.
The pacing in the book is superb. I read it in audiobook format, and I found myself using time to listen to it as rewards for accomplishing other things. I listened to it every chance I had because the pacing was so spot on. It never felt too quick-moving or too slow. Every scene felt like it had a reason for being there and kept me on the edge of my seat.
There is a lot of mental illness represented in this book, and that is wrapped up in the characters. I’ll talk first about the spoiler-free mental illnesses.
Camille is a self-injurer who has had a stay in a mental hospital where her roommate managed to commit suicide. Camille never names more of a diagnosis the doctors gave her than self-injurer. However, much of her behavior, including her self-injury, points to PTSD from her childhood. This includes the foreboding feeling she gets when returning to her hometown. How she feels driven to drink herself numb for dealing with certain triggering situations. Her impulse to inflict hurt on herself, etc… All of that said, the representation of Camille as a cutter is superb. This is an adult woman who still struggles with the impulse to cut. Who talks about how most people think of it as an adolescent problem. Camille manages to describe her urges to cut, what drives her to cut, without ever actually definitively saying what causes it. And this is great because we don’t actually know. Camille is nuanced. She is a woman who used to (still wants to) cut herself but that is not, not by a long-shot, all she is.
The book also secondarily depicts alcoholism and drunkenness as a self-medication technique. Camille drinks as a lesser evil compared to cutting when she needs to relieve her stress and discomfort from dealing with terrible situations. It shows how alcohol and cutting both can end up being used as coping mechanisms when no healthier ones are learned or taught. It also shows how stressors can impact sobriety and health.
Despite being both a self-injurer in recovery and a woman who abuses alcohol, Camille is depicted as a heroine. Her investigative journalism helps break the case open. She exhibits care and concern for her half-sister and loyalty to her boss and career. She is ultimately depicted as resilient in spite of her struggles, and I loved seeing that.
If you are interested in reading about other depictions of mental illness in the book, they are in the spoiler section below.
It is ultimately revealed that Adora, Camille’s mother, suffers from Munchausen by Proxy (MBP). This MBP is what ultimately killed Camille’s other little sister, Marion. Camille escaped this same fate because her mother didn’t love her and thus also didn’t really enjoy caring for her or garnering attention through her in this way. What Adora does is unforgivable and certainly causes a visceral reaction in the reader. However, there are scenes that discuss things such as how Adora’s mother didn’t love her. The implication is that some of the mental illness in the family is learned or a reaction to poor environment. It manages to keep Adora human rather than monstrous.
Similarly, it is ultimately learned that Amma is a sociopath. Camille seems to be uncertain if this is just Amma’s nature or a reaction to Adora’s “mothering” or some combination of the two. I feel that not enough time is given to analyzing Amma, once Camille learns her true nature. This depiction, compared to the others in the book, is just much flatter due to the lesser amount of time Camille and other characters spend pondering Amma.
The book ends with Camille wondering if she is able to love in a healthy way or if she’s doomed to repeat her mother’s unhealthy, hurtful mothering. Essentially, she wonders if MBP is inherited or if she can escape that. Some time is spent discussing what made Camille more resilient than either of her sisters. I think this is some of the more valuable portion of the book, as it really highlights the nuances of some of the things we still just don’t have a solid answer to about mental illness. What makes some people more resilient, more able to overcome bad childhoods and genetic tendencies than others? What makes some people better able to cope with a mental illness than others? They are important questions, and I like that they are addressed.
There are some scenes that will bother some readers. While rape is never depicted, it is discussed, as well as the idea of what counts as rape, with one female character arguing that a woman who is intoxicated is still responsible for any sexual activity that occurs. The character saying this was a victim of rape while intoxicated herself, so readers should bare in mind that this reframing of a rape as not a rape is very normal for rape victims who have not fully addressed the rape yet. Additionally, at one point one character has consensual sex with a character who has just barely turned 18. Also an adult partakes of illegal drugs and alcohol with characters who are extremely underage. All of these scenes work within the book and are necessary for the plot, however.
Overall, this is a fast-paced mystery with a strong yet flawed female lead and an engaging and thought-provoking plot that presents many different nuances of mental illness. Recommended to those looking for a fast-moving book with a unique depiction of self-injury who do not mind the violence or gray moral areas innate in a mystery revolving around serial killing.
4 out of 5 stars
It’s September 1768 in Boston, Massachusetts, and the King’s navy has sailed into Boston Harbor to start an occupation in an attempt to restore order and stop the stewing rebellion. Conjurer and thieftaker Ethan Kaille isn’t sure how he feels about the occupation but he is sure how he feels about the large spells he’s started feeling in Boston–not good. He feels even worse he finds out that all the men on board one of the British ships have been killed by a conjuring. The British navy hires him to investigate, while the mayor of Boston threatens to have all conjurers hanged in mere days if he doesn’t find the culprit.
I loved the first book in this series. Urban fantasy set in a historical time period in the city I actually live in just appealed to me so much. (I really do wish there was more historical urban fantasy. It is awesome). This book failed to capture my attention the way the first in the series did, and I’m uncertain if it was due to the tone, the plot, or the audiobook narration.
Ethan comes across as a bit more insufferable in this entry than in the first. Perhaps as an American and a Bostonian I just simply struggle to understand Loyalist leanings, but Ethan siding with the Crown over and over again, in spite of a literal military occupation just rubbed me the wrong way. It takes him far too long to be irritated by this over-reaction from the Crown, in spite of being on good terms with some of the Patriot leaders. I suppose what it comes down to is that I could take his waffling in the first book when rebellion was just beginning to brew. I thought he was closer to being on the Patriots’ side by the time period of this book, and he wasn’t. This would bother some readers less than it bothered me, I am sure.
Similarly, I had a hard time caring about the plot. I cared about Ethan solving the mystery in time to save the conjurers, but I simply didn’t care who had killed the men on the occupation ship. Everyone in the book, even the Patriots leaders, seemed to think it was this huge evil thing, and I just didn’t care much one way or the other. Part of this could be because I don’t see the difference between casting a spell and murder in other ways, whereas the characters in the book do. Part of it is that the reader never gets a chance to get to know anyone on the ship in a way that would make them sympathize. It felt for a lot of the book like Ethan was investigating a calamity of war, rather than a crime, and that just made it a bit dull to me.
All of that said, this book is a poor fit for an audiobook. I am certain I would have enjoyed it better if I was reading it myself, in retrospect. The pacing just isn’t suited to an audiobook’s speed. I wanted it to go faster, and I did speed up the narration speed, but I couldn’t speed it up too much or I’d miss important things. It was a bit frustrating, in spite of the narrator’s talents at creating unique voices for each character, which is something I always appreciate.
The ending of the book does speed up its pace, and the solution to the mystery is fascinating. This saved the book for me, although I am uncertain if I will continue along in the series. I may need to poke around and see if Ethan goes fully Patriot in the next book before I venture to pick it up.
Overall, this entry in the series fails to live up to the first, although an interesting ending will still spur the reader on to the next entry in the series. Readers who will be turned off by Loyalist leanings in a Revolutionary War book may wish to look elsewhere. But those who simply enjoy seeing urban fantasy in a historic era will not be disappointed.
3 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers!
My, it’s been quite a busy summer for me, and August is always the busiest, as anyone who works in post-secondary academia will tell you. On top of students coming back to campus and teaching orientations, I also started a new project at work and took on more responsibility in another one. In my personal life, my partner and I threw our first party together, which was a smashing success, and I finished out the month with some vacation time to get to go to the track with him again, something that I always really enjoy. It makes me so happy to get to see him race and also camp out and be in sunbeams all day on top of it!
Two things I’ve discovered this month that I’d like to tell you about. The first is something you may have heard of, MyYogaPro. Basically MyYogaPro features videos done by Erin Motz (one of my favorite online yoga instructors). The videos both break down poses step-by-step for you and also feature full-length programs, organized for various goals (flexibility, power yoga, backbends), progressing from easy to advanced. Even better, you earn badges for completing videos, which makes it like achievements in a videogame but for doing something physical. You can register for lifetime access for only $45 right now. I know this sounds a bit like an ad, but no one asked me to talk about MyYogaPro. I chose to sign up for the account, and I’ve found it really has enhanced my yoga practice. I’m learning and progressing in a way I never have before with yoga. I’m quite passionate about how the website enhances home practice. If you’re into yoga, if you’ve dabbled your toes but never got serious, or if you’re brand-new to the concept, there’s something for everyone.
The second thing I’ve discovered that I’m really enjoying is an app called Gratitude 365. It gives you a notebook page every day to put down however many things from that day you want to that you are grateful for. It also lets you attach a photo to that day. You can password protect the app if you want. You can both view a snapshot of your last few days and a calendar of all your pictures. It also keeps track of how many days you’ve journaled for and your average number of gratitudes. A lot of people talk about how taking a moment to be thankful each day enhances mood and reduces stress and anxiety, but even if that’s not your goal, it’s a great little journaling app that is easy to use in the day-to-day.
In spite of being so busy this month, I still managed to read 5 books. I currently have a back-log of three book reviews, so they should keep coming at a steady pace. I also created a new cross-stitch pattern. The test stitch is completed, I just need to hoop it for the recipient and create the pdf pattern. Keep your eye out for it. It’s geeky!
My partner is always wonderfully supportive during my most stressful month of the year, and I honestly think his support is part of why I handled this August with as much relaxation tossed in as I managed to grab, whether that was sneaking in 10 minutes of yoga, journaling gratitude, going for walks together, laughing at old Twilight Zone episodes, or reading outside flopped on a blanket together. When I think about my August, I don’t just think about the stress, and that’s quite the gift.
Happy reading, everyone!
Hello my lovely readers! You may have noticed the blog was a bit quieter than usual this month. That’s because I had my annual conference for work, and I extended my Memorial Day three day weekend into a five day one. The month was so incredibly full of both good and stressful busyness, I’m kind of amazed I managed to blog at all!
Every year for work I attend the Medical Library Association’s annual conference. This year the conference was in Chicago. I’d never been to Chicago before, and I made sure to make the most of my limited free-time to see the city! I walked through Millennium Park and got a selfie in the bean, went to American Girl Place on the Magnificent Mile (and bought a mini version of the Native American doll, Kaya), and went to Navy Pier. I also checked out the Chicago History Museum and got to see items that were melted in the Chicago Fire, such as marbles. I walked through Lincoln Park and went to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum where I got to hang out in a butterfly conservatory room. None landed on me, but I got some great pictures! My partner’s sister and her husband live in Chicago, so I went and had dinner with them at a Chicago style hot dog restaurant that actually had vegetarian hot dogs. Score! They also took me to see Lake Michigan, and I was blown away by how soft the sand is and how the lake is so large it looks like the ocean. I guess they don’t call them the Great Lakes for nothing! I know that sounds like a lot to squeeze into the amount of time I wasn’t at the conference, but I am the queen of getting a lot of sightseeing done in a short amount of time. I pre-plan, using Pinterest and its great maps feature, and plot out routes and timing so I can get everything in. Plus, in museums, I only check out the exhibits of greatest interest to me.
Of course, the main reason I was in Chicago was for work. I attended the conference, listening to many excellent plenary speakers, as well as presentations by various librarians and library students on their projects and papers, and networked with vendors at the opening event. This year I was an official blogger for the poster sessions. You can see my blog posts here. Our library director also took us all out for Chicago style deep dish pizza. While I enjoyed the deep dish pizza, it was a lot like lasagna without the pasta, I can’t imagine eating it more than a few times in my lifetime. I still prefer the thin crust brick oven or thick crust New England styles! When I got back to Boston, I taught a library skills class and presented a poster at an education event on my work’s campus. After all of that work, I took my five day Memorial Day weekend!
The reason I took the long weekend was because my bf and I wanted very much to attend Boston Calling, Boston’s live music festival. My favorite band, The Decemberists, and his favorite band, Built to Spill, were both playing, as was the band that sings our song, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The festival was Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s held in the center of Boston, at Government Center, on two stages. The architecture there is very brutalist, and the entry to the festival had signs up denoting male and female. We figured out later the signs were just telling you if the person doing the wanding was a man or a woman, it wasn’t intended to split up the crowd along gender lines, but the whole thing felt quite dystopian when we arrived and lent the concert a pretty damn cool vibe. I had such an incredibly wonderful time at the festival, I can barely put it into words. Hearing Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros sing our song live was stellar. I had seen The Decemberists once before, but not as up close as I got at this concert. It was raining when they came out, which, if you know their music, gave the performance such a perfect atmosphere. They sang both old and new songs, and it was just amazing. I also really enjoyed watching my partner’s favorite band, Built to Spill. They have amazing guitar skills, and their fans are of the cool head bob variety, so it was the perfectly chill performance for the sunny, relaxing day. When we weren’t at the concert, we went a long motorcycle ride and grilled for the first time this season. It was a great vacation!
Just because I’ve been busy doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I finished seven books this month, three more than usual, but only managed to review two of them so far. Definitely be prepared for an onslaught of reviews in the next couple of weeks!
I was also too busy for stitching most of the month. I would have stitched on my trip to Chicago, but fellow cross-stitchers and embroiderers stated that, even though the rules don’t say you can’t have a sewing needle, a lot of the times they get confiscated. I didn’t want to risk it. Once my vacation was over, I picked it back up again. I’m working on the second item for the Foraging New England line, and it is almost done!
Hello my lovely readers!
April was such a busy month, I can actually hardly believe it’s over already! It’s always a busy month for me at work, as I help organize and run an annual event on-campus. In addition this month, we also welcomed a new program to our campus, so the library was very busy putting in the groundwork for supporting students studying that new subject area. I also submitted my first-ever poster abstract. So busy! On top of this, the weekend of my work event was the same weekend as the first motorcycle race weekend of the season for my partner. He was incredibly busy prepping for the races. Instead of just the normal getting everything running again after the long winter, he also was prepping a new (to him) race bike to be track ready. Since I couldn’t go with him for the first race weekend, I wanted to send along something nice, so I made him a pie and cookies for carb-loading at the track. I honestly found the baking to be stress-relieving and really enjoyed it. I’m happy to report both the work event and the first race weekend went well!
In spite of the busyness, we were able to squeeze in quite a few hangouts with friends and dates for ourselves. One of our dates was to hike a local trail on Easter Sunday. It was gorgeous weather in a month of a lot of iffy weather. I always find it so refreshing to get outside and in the woods, and even more so with my boyfriend. We saw lots of jack-in-the-pulpits and also got a great view of Boston.
My stitching slowed down a bit this month, although I did release the first design in a new line–rhubarb in foraging New England. The rest of the patterns for the line are designed but they still need to be trial-stitched! I hope to release at least one of them this month.
I read and reviewed four books this month, sticking to my overall goal of one book a week. I’ll be happy if I manage to stick to that during my upcoming even busier month of May! In my own writing, I’m still working away whenever I have the time on my new book idea, writing background short stories. The typewriter my bf got me for Christmas is coming in really handy, freeing me of distractions.
Hello my lovely readers!
It’s my pleasure to be able to wish you all a happy spring! I am so excited for the lighter days and warmer weather, although we definitely are still having a few cold ones here and there. My partner and I celebrated Ostara (spring equinox) with an after-work walk on the Charles River, a special dinner, and presents of course. We were surprised to spot three swans on the Charles during our walk. It’s not common to see swans on the Charles, so it was a nice surprise. Plus, they let us get very close to them! For Ostara dinner, we made deviled eggs, salad with pickled turnips and homemade honey mustard dressing, and homemade handcut fries. I had a pina colada with it, and my partner had hard cider. Delicious!
Even though we’ve been together for over a year and a half, my partner and I had never been to a concert together. We finally changed that this month when we went to see The Dum Dum Girls live. They’re a band my bf is a fan of, so I hadn’t listened to them prior to the night. They put on a great show, though. Kind of surfer/rocker chick style music. Plus their outfits were really fun. I left the concert wanting one of their albums, which I think marks it a success on their part. We had a blast going to a concert together, and I’m pumped to go to more!
I posted six book reviews this month and read five books. I unfortunately got a bit bogged down in a stroke of bad luck of three mediocre reads in a row, so I didn’t end up with time to read a Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge book or an accepted review copy 2014 book this month. I plan to make up for it next month so I can stay on track!
I’ve been dialing back in my fitness along with the gradually lengthening days. I’m doing more yoga and calisthenics, and aiming to lift heavy once a week. Hopefully next month I can ramp it all up a bit more.
I hope you all are enjoying your springs! Happy reading!
Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day. Not as much as the shining does though. His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook. He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror. But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse. When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.
Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine. She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot. They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it. They call it steam. They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra. Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard. Dan.
A sequel that takes the original entry’s theme on overcoming your family origin and ramps it up a notch, Doctor Sleep eloquently explores how our family origin, genetics, and past make us who we are today. All set against a gradually ramping up race against the clock to save a little girl from a band of murdering travelers.
The book begins with a brief visit to Danny as a kid who learns that the supernatural creatures exist in places other than the Overlook, and they are attracted to the shine. This lets the reader first get reacquainted with Danny as a child and also establishes that the supernatural are a potential problem everywhere. The book then jumps aggressively forward to Danny as a 20-something with a bad drinking problem. It’s an incredibly gritty series of scenes, and it works perfectly to make Dan a well-rounded character, instead of a perfect hero of the shine. It also reestablishes the theme from The Shining that someone isn’t a bad person just because they have flaws–whether nature or nurture-based. That theme would have been undone if Dan had turned out to be an ideal adult. It would be much easier to demonize his father and grandfather in that case, but with the way King has written Dan, it’s impossible to do that.
The way Dan overcomes both his drinking and his temper, as well as how he learns to deal with his shine, is he joins Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In contrast to his father who tried to quit drinking on his own, Dan attempts it in a group with accountability. This then shows how much easier it is to overcome a mental illness with community support. I appreciated seeing this. I will say, however, that some of the AA talk in the book can get a bit heavy-handed. Some chapter beginnings include quotes from the book of AA, and Dan can sometimes seem a bit obsessed with it when he relates almost everything to something he learned or heard there. AA definitely plays a vital role in many people’s recovery from addiction, and it’s wonderful to see that in a work of fiction. However, it would have been better for the reader to see the role of AA more than to hear quotes from AA so often.
The big bad in this book is a band of supernatural creatures who were once human and still look human. But they change somehow by taking steam and go on to live almost indefinitely. They can die from stupid accidents and sometimes randomly drop dead. The steam is acquired by torturing children who have the shine. The shine comes out of their bodies as steam when they are in pain. They call themselves The True Knot. This troop is a cartoonish group of evil people who try to look like a troop of retirees and some of their family traveling in a camper caravan. The leader of this group is Rose the Hat–a redheaded woman who wears a top hat at an impossibly jaunty angle. I was pleased to see Rose written quite clearly as a bisexual. Her sexuality is just an aspect of who she is, just like her red hair. Seeing a bi person as the big bad was a delight. Her bisexuality isn’t demonized. Her actions as a child killer and eater of steam are. She is a monster because of her choices, not because of who she is. I alternated between finding The True Knot frightening and too ridiculously cartoonish to be scary. I do think that was partially the point, though. You can’t discredit people who seem ridiculous as being harmless.
How Abra is found by The True Knot, and how she in turn finds Dan, makes sense within the world King has created. It doesn’t come until later in the book, though. There is quite a bit of backstory and build-up to get through first. The buildup is honestly so entertaining that it really didn’t hit me until after I finished the book how long it actually took to get to the main conflict. So it definitely works. Abra is a well-written middle school girl. King clearly did his research into what it’s like to be a middle schooler in today’s world. Additionally, the fact that Abra is so much older than Danny was in The Shining means it’s much easier for the reader to understand how the shine works and see a child, who understands at least a bit what it is, grapple with it. This made Abra, although she is a child with a shine, a different experience for the reader who already met one child with a shine in the previous book. Abra is also a well-rounded character with just the right amount of flaws and talent.
There is one reveal later in the book in relation to Abra that made me cringe a bit, since it felt a bit cliche. It takes a bit of a leap of faith to believe, and I must admit it made me roll my eyes a bit. However, it is minor enough in the context of the overall story that it didn’t ruin my experience with the book. I just wish a less cliche choice had been made.
The audiobook narrator, Will Patton, does a phenomenal job. It was truly the best audiobook narration I’ve heard yet. Every single character in a very large cast has a completely different voice and style. I never once got lost in who was speaking or what was going on. More importantly to me, as a New England girl born and raised, is that he perfectly executes the wide range of New England accents present in the book. Particularly when he narrates the character, Billy, I thought I was hearing one of my older neighbors speak. I could listen to Will Patton read a grocery list and be entertained. Absolutely get the audiobook if you can.
Overall, this sequel to The Shining successfully explores both what happened to Danny Torrance when he grew up and a different set of frightening supernatural circumstances for a new child with the shine. This time a girl. The themes of nature, nurture, your past, and overcoming them are all eloquently explored. There is a surprising amount of content about AA in the book. It could either inspire or annoy the reader, depending on their mind-set. Any GLBTQ readers looking for a bi big bad should definitely pick it up, as Rose the Hat is all that and more. Recommended to fans of Stephen King and those that enjoy a fantastical thriller drenched in Americana.
4 out of 5 stars