Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.
Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.
Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.
The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.
In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy
I devoured this book so quickly that I forgot to mark it read in GoodReads for a few weeks. It’s a thrilling read on a lot of levels. Amy’s questionably vegetative state would give anyone chills, as would how she wound up there. Even before full details of the attack are known, everyone knows it was pretty gruesome. Alex’s “functional” alcoholism also sends chills down the spine. She’s lost almost everything, but she still drinks enormous amounts of alcohol every day. The juxtaposition of the two women is what makes the psychological thriller so thrilling. They’re both being held paralyzed in a state by an illness and any one of us could fall to either of those states.
I know the average reader is probably most interested in the mystery aspect of the thriller–the whodunit. I will say in short that it’s a well-done mystery. I had my suspicions but exactly how things ultimately went down was still enough of a surprise that I was delighted, and I thought the resolution was well-done. What I was much more fascinated by though was Alex.
A “trouble-making journalist” or a detective who drinks too much is the norm of thrillers and noir but usually that is played up as something slightly dangerous but also sexy. Here there is nothing sexy about Alex’s alcoholism. She wets the bed every night. It at first seems this is because she drinks at least one glass of water per glass of alcohol to stave off hangovers but later it’s clear it’s from her body shutting down from her alcoholism. Alex is a great example of a “functional” alcoholic. She’s holding down a job (sort of, her alcoholism stole her dream career from her), she runs every day, she’s capable of looking into this mystery of Amy. But slowly other things are revealed that makes it ever clearer that no, she’s not homeless, but she is far from functional, unless by functional you simply mean she can sort of exist in human society. She is nowhere near what she could be because of the alcohol, and she’s lost almost everything (career, husband, and more). I really liked that the reader is both compelled to respect Alex’s smarts and tenacity as a reporter but also to feel empathy and horror at how much alcoholism is stealing from her. Even if the reader doesn’t have an interest in addictions, it still makes Alex a well-rounded character. She is more than just that smart journalist. There are whole worlds going on in her own life outside of her investigation.
Overall, if you’re looking for a thriller with a twisting plot that also turns some thriller/noir conventions on their head (not least of which the fact that both leads are women), then you should pick this book up.
4 out of 5 stars
Mental Illness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge
Specific illness –> Addictive Disorders
Trigger Warning/Content Note:
Contains discussions of rape and sexual assault.
When Helen agrees to swap places with her identical twin sister Ellie at the age of six, she thinks it’ll be a short fun game. But then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioral problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered?
This book is an amazing depiction of gaslighting. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse where the abuser insists to the abused that reality is not in fact reality, and the abused is crazy. (For more about gaslighting, see this great information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline). This book makes gaslighting completely real and understandable for anyone, whether they’ve gone through it themselves or not. It’s easy to see immediately how poor Helen gets slowly tortured and driven mad by everyone denying to her that she is who she says she is. The author takes care not to demonize Ellie though, since it’s abundantly clear part of why Ellie doesn’t want to switch back is because their mother has pre-decided which twin will be the good twin and which the bad, and she consequently treats Helen far better than she treats Ellie. Why wouldn’t she not want to switch back?
How this childhood trauma has wounded Helen becomes more clear over the course of the book. But it’s not just a plain recounting of they switched places then Helen went crazy. The book opens with Helen trying to rebuild her life from addiction and Ellie being in a coma from a car accident. Ellie’s husband reaches out to Helen in the hopes that hearing from her twin will bring her out of it, and slowly long-held secrets reveal themselves.
I thought the whole way through the book that it was slowly building to a certain ending. Then something else came at me out of left field and I was left breathless and aching for Helen. That’s not to say it’s a tragic ending, but it is a shocking one. One that left me with a very different “bad guy” than I thought I had the whole book.
It’s a stellar read, and one of those books that I wish I was able to read for the first time again. It’s that good. Recommended to lovers of psychological thrillers and/or twin swap afficionados.
5 out of 5 stars
A jigger of tranquility is all Em Johnson wants, but now that her beloved Tiki Goddess Bar has been chosen as the location for Trouble in Paradise, TV’s hot new reality show, life is anything but tranquil. When a member of the camera crew is found dead in her kitchen-stabbed to death with Chef Kimo’s sashimi knife-the scene on the sleepy North Shore of Kauai goes from eccentrically crazy to downright dangerous. Suspects lurk behind every paper drink umbrella.
This book brought back all the strengths from the first book with the added delight of everyone at the Tiki Goddess Bar being featured on a reality tv show. As a (not-so-secret) lover of reality tv for the over-the-top ridiculousness and a lover of cozies for their delightful tongue-in-cheek puns and ability to not take themselves too seriously, the marriage of the two in this book was sheer delight.
A couple of scenes in particular struck me as the type of mad-cap tom-foolery seen in older 1920s romps, only with the added twist of reality tv cameras following the moves. I honestly would love to see a “The Office” style take on this series…a fake reality tv show version of the Tiki Godess Bar. That’d be a hoot! Anyway, one scene I really enjoyed involves the Hula Maidens in hula costume sneaking around on a golf course. Delightful.
I also like that the plot, although a bit predictable, weaves in a few different elements of various characters’ lives and stories. Em’s life moves forward, as does her uncle’s. Nothing is stagnant, just because murder is happening. I also thought grief and concern for loved ones’ safety were depicted well and realistically without slowing the plot down or removing the joy from the narrative.
All-in-all, a fun entry in the series that left me eager for the next one….and hoping the reality show will be back!
4 out of 5 stars
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. Krakauer found himself fascinated by this young man and set out to tell his story.
I read this in print, which meant everyone could see what book I was reading (at work, on the bus), and I must say I was surprised at how polarizing McCandless (who primarily called himself Alex) is. Some people find his obsession with living off-grid admirable, while others found it wasteful and irresponsible. Regardless of what you think of Alex, Krakauer presents his story in an engaging way, starting with the bare facts of how he was discovered and then taking the reader through his own investigation into who Alex was.
I feel like a lot of us know a person who is some flavor of Alex. Someone who grew up with the world his oyster but pushed it away in pursuit of simpler things. Some people take this to a reasonable level. For instance, they might refuse the $25,000 in savings from their parents but also not give it away to charity. Or they might give that money away but keep enough to get started on, not actually burn money. It’s very interesting to me how many people react with such utter disdain for Alex burning the money. I think it’s a clear example of an act of youthful passion. He really believed in this way of life. He really wanted to distance himself from his family. So he destroyed something. I wonder, when people react so strongly to this, whether they, in their youth, were never moved to destroy something in a symbolic manner? Perhaps some people are just not so possessed by the passion of youth.
In any case, while Krakauer’s own opinion of Alex is pretty clear by the end of the book, he does a good job holding it off for quite a while, letting the reader make up their own mind. I also think he might not realize he does this but he draws some interesting parallels to Walden and Thoreau that might make people who dislike Alex realize the privilege Walden and Thoreau were exercising in choosing to “go into the woods” but a woods they could leave at any time.
As a person who grew up in a very rural area with a father who hunted and fished and a family who grew our own garden of food and learned to shoot a rifle at a young age, I understand many Alaskans’ disdain for Alex. There’s something insulting about someone who has studied and learned nothing or next to nothing about surviving off the land just waltzing in and claiming they can do it. And often these people put the locals who live there in danger, whether by needing rescuing or causing wildfires or what have you. I get that. But I also get the impulse those who were raised far from the land with too much handed to them on a platter have to go out and prove they can do it on their own. For a long time I myself couldn’t understand the downsides of coming from money but I have come to learn them from observing others who come from money. There is a certain freedom in family and money not going hand-in-hand and in being pushed into adulthood and making it on your own early.
If this clash of those living on the land and those desiring to abandon it all and live on the land intrigues you, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s well-written, even-handed, and demonstrates the value in taking a moment to consider other perspectives and not jump to heated conclusions.
4 out of 5 stars
The Maze Runner
By James Dashner
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
Who made the maze and monsters?
Oh, that. Is that it?
3 out of 5 stars
House of Leaves
By: Mark Z. Danielewski
A young family moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Someone impressed his
Lit prof but not me with his
2 out of 5 stars
The Quality of Silence
By: Rosamund Lupton
On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrived in Alaska. Within hours they were driving alone across a frozen wilderness. They are looking for Ruby’s father. Travelling deeper into a silent land. They still cannot find him. And someone is watching them in the dark.
Don’t you fucking dare
Keep me up at night worried
Then grant no closure.
2 out of 5 stars
When Monica Albertson comes to Cranberry Cove—a charming town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan—to help her half-brother Jeff on his cranberry farm, the last thing she expects to harvest is a dead body.
It seems that Sam Culbert, who ran the farm while Jeff was deployed overseas, had some juicy secrets that soon prove fatal, and Jeff is ripe for the picking as a prime suspect. Forming an uneasy alliance with her high-maintenance stepmother, Monica has her hands full trying to save the farm while searching for a killer. Culbert made plenty of enemies in the quaint small town…but which one was desperate enough to kill?
So I just had to pick this up for three reasons:
1) I love me a punny title.
2) I had just harvested cranberries with my husband friend and her wife on a farm in MA.
3) It’s set in Michigan where my husband is from.
That’s a lot going for it, and I don’t have too high of a bar with cozies (I just want to be entertained, for the resolution to the mystery to not be painfully obvious, and for the main character to be likeable OR someone you love to hate). This one didn’t meet the bar, though, which was a bit disappointing.
The plot itself was good. I didn’t fully guess it before the end, and I liked the small town secrets aspect of it. But the main character. Yeesh. What a judgmental woman. Sometimes it seemed like all she did was judge people who had never done anything to her. And not even just the people in the small town who she judges and then comes to love by the end of the book. No, no. She’s judgey of everyone. Even people she’s known for years. The one repeated instance of her being judgey that really rubbed me the wrong way was the main character loathes her stepmother, and the only reason I can decipher is because she doesn’t like the way she dresses. And she makes snarky asides about that a lot. The stepmother is actually a very kind woman who goes out of her way to help the main character, which makes the behavior even more inexcusable. This may not bother some readers, but the main character struck me as an uptight “I know what’s best for everyone” snob, and I didn’t get the impression that readers were supposed to feel that way about her. She felt very much like a character we were supposed to admire and identify with. So. That really spoiled the rest of it for me.
I didn’t regret the read, but I won’t be going back for the rest of the series. Honestly, there’s enough other cozies out there that I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to read this one, but if you’re hurting for one currently and just love any and all cozies then you’ll probably find a way to enjoy this one, in spite of the main character.
3 out of 5 stars
Have you ever heard of Typhoid Mary? The Irish-American cook in the early 1900s who was lambasted for spreading typhoid through her cooking. What many don’t know is that she was an asymptomatic carrier. This was the early ages of germ theory, and most didn’t realize you could pass on an illness without any symptoms. Captured and held against her will on North Brother Island, it’s easy to empathize with her plight. Until she’s released and begins cooking again.
I grew up hearing the cautionary tale of Typhoid Mary, who was mostly mentioned within hearing range in combination with an admonition to wash your hands. But some people (mainly other children) told tales of her purposefully infecting those she served. These sentences were spoken with a combination of fear and awe. On the one hand, how understandable at a time when worker’s rights were nearly completely absent and to be both a woman and Irish in America was not a good combination. On the other hand, how evil to poison people with such a heinous illness in their food. In any case, when this fictionalized account of Mary Mallon came up, I was immediately intrigued. Who was this woman anyway? It turns out, the mixture of awe and fear reflected in myself and other children was actually fairly accurate.
I’m going to speak first about the actual Mary Mallon and then about the writing of the book. If you’re looking for the perfect example of gray area and no easy answers mixed with unfair treatment based on gender and nation of origin, then hoo boy do you find one with Mary Mallon. The early 1900s was early germ theory, and honestly, when you think about it, germ theory sounds nuts if you don’t grow up with it. You can carry invisible creatures on your skin and in your saliva that can make other people but not yourself sick. Remember, people didn’t grow up knowing about germs. It was an entirely new theory. The status quo was don’t cook while you’re sick, and hygiene was abysmally low…basically everywhere. It’s easy to understand how Mary was accidentally spreading sickness and didn’t know it. It’s also easy to understand why she would have fought at being arrested (she did nothing malicious or wrong and was afraid of the police). Much as we may say now that she should have known enough to wash her hands frequently. Wellll, maybe not so much back then.
Public health officials said that they tried to reason with Mary, and she refused to stop cooking or believe that she was infecting others. This is why they quarantined her on North Brother Island. Some point to others (male, higher social status) who were found to be asymptomatic carriers who were not quarantined. True. But they also acknowledged the risk and agreed to stop doing whatever it was that was spreading the illness. Maybe Mary was more resistant because of the prejudice she was treated with from the beginning. Or maybe she really was too stubborn to be able to understand what a real risk she posed to others. Regardless, it is my opinion that no matter the extraneous social factors (being a laundress is more difficult than being a cook, people were overly harsh with her, etc…) Mary still knowingly cooked and infected people after she was released from North Brother Island. Yes, there were better ways public health officials could have handled the whole situation but that’s still an evil thing to do. So that’s the real story of Mary Mallon. Now, on to the fictional account (and here you’ll see why I bothered discussing the facts first).
At first Keane does a good job humanizing a person who has been extremely demonized in American pop culture. Time and effort is put into establishing Mary’s life and hopes. Effort is made into showing how she may not have noticed typhoid following her wherever she went. She emigrated from Ireland. She, to put it simply, saw a lot of shit. A lot of people got sick and died. That was just life. I also liked how the author showed the ways in which Mallon was contrarian to what was expected of women. She didn’t marry. She was opinionated and sometimes accused of not dressing femininely enough. But, unfortunately, that’s where my appreciation fo the author’s handling of Mallon ends.
The author found it necessary to give Mallon a live-in, alcoholic boyfriend who gets almost as much page time as herself. In a book that should be about Mary, he gets entirely too much time, and that hurts the plot. (There is seriously a whole section about him going to Minnesota that is entirely pointless). A lot of Mary’s decisions are blamed on this boyfriend. While I get it that shitty relationships can cause you to make shitty decisions, at a certain point accountability comes into play. No one held a gun to Mary’s head and made her cook or made her date this man (I couldn’t find any records to support this whole alcoholic boyfriend, btw).
On a similar note, a lot of effort is made into blaming literally everyone but Mary for the situation. It’s society’s fault. It’s culture’s fault. It’s Dr. Soper’s fault. They should have rehabbed her with a new job that was more comparable to cooking than being a laundress. They should have had more empathy. Blah blah blah. Yes. In a perfect world they would have realized how backbreaking being a laundress is and trained her in something else. But, my god, in the early 1900s they released her and found her a job in another career field. That’s a lot for that time period! This is the early days of public health. The fact that anyone even considered finding her a new career is kind of amazing. And while I value and understand the impact society and culture and others have on the individual’s ability to make good and moral decisions, I still believe ultimately the individual is morally responsible. And at some point, Mary, with all of her knowledge of the fact that if she cooked there was a high probability someone would die, decided to go and cook anyway. And she didn’t cook just anywhere. She cooked at a maternity ward in a hospital. So the fact that the book spends a lot of time trying to remove all personal culpability from Mary bothered me a lot.
I’m still glad I read the book, but I sort of wish I’d just read the interesting articles and watched the PBS special about her instead. It would have taken less time and been just as factual.
3 out of 5 stars