Our Dark Duet- A Review

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song. The first part of the review will be spoiler-free. I’ll warn you before you get to the spoilers.

I read This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, last November, and I fell in love. I may have screamed in frustration when I found out there was going to be a sequel that wasn’t due out for 11 months! It had a fresh premise, interesting and flawed characters. And monsters. (I like monsters.) It also had moral dilemmas and was a thoroughly discussable book. I partially reviewed it here.

Our Dark Duet came out on June 13th, and I bought a Kindle copy immediately. The story picks up six months later, letting us know what August and Kate have been doing since This Savage Song ended. Kate’s been fighting monsters in another town, and August has been trying to save South City.

For me, Our Dark Duet is a solidly good book, though I didn’t love it as much as the first one. But apparently I’m in the minority there. Folks on Goodreads and Amazon have rated the second higher than the first.

The Spoiler Free Good

Our Dark Duet has all the things I loved about the first one, plus a new and fascinating monster. We get to see more from insight the Flynn compound, and wrap up with all the characters who were in the first book.

The Spoiler Free Bad

Part of what I loved in the first book was the relationship between August and Kate. It wasn’t just about chemistry and shipping them (though that was an element for me). It was also about how they grew to depend on one another. They’re separated for most of the second book.

*Spoiler alert below the picture, including discussion of the ending. You’ve been warned.*

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The Good, With Spoilers

I love that they finally try to kiss, and that it brings Kate’s soul to the surface. I loved that they explore moral complexity more. Kate’s soul is “stained” because she shot someone in self-defense. She admits that maybe she could have done something different, but she didn’t because she assumed the person was a monster. Previously, when August has been reaping a soul, the confession clearly shows that the person is a bad guy. But they reveal that other people have done bad things with good intentions, or that they did bad things previously, changed. I appreciated that acknowledgement, because ignoring that always bothered me in the first one.

The Bad, With Spoilers

I don’t love it that Kate and Ilsa die. I’ve been thinking about it (which is why this review is written almost 2 weeks after I finished the book), and it’s probably the right ending. But it feels so hopeless. Kate and Ilsa helped August keep himself sane and in check. They remind him of the best parts of himself. Having them die and then it just end makes me worry about what August will do going forward. Not that he’ll go dark or lose his way again. But just that we all need to connect with someone, or what’s the point? And I know August loves his parents (even though Henry is dying too… ugh), but it’s not the same. Ilsa and Kate were the people August connected to the most.

I guess the implication was that August and Soro are going to form more of a connection, but… I neither liked nor disliked Soro, so that’s not comforting to me.

It almost feels like a loose end to me, and I want to know what happens to August next. Even though, honestly, I probably wouldn’t like if the author tried to stretch the premise into another book. It’s over… but it doesn’t feel that way.

I don’t mind that Kate and Ilsa died; it kind of feels right to me. And it’s life, isn’t it, that sometimes we don’t get what we want, and endings hurt? I just… I guess I wanted more for Kate and August; a chance for them to see who they could be together when they were a team.

What did you think of this book or this series? Have there ever been books where you both loved and hated the ending?

Annie Wilkes Had a Point

IMG_8818I love a good antihero, but don’t normally sympathize with villains. And Annie Wilkes (of Misery, by Stephen King) really was a villain. After all, she captured an injured man and refused to release him, making him write stories for her, then injured him when he made her mad. That’s firmly in villain territory.

One of the things that made her really mad was “cheating.” You know, when an author promises one thing and delivers another? Or when the author says one thing happened, but then backtracks and says “It was all a dream” or “It didn’t really happen that way.” I mean, when those things happen, I kind of understand her desire to break the ankles of the offending author.*

(*I’m not actually advocating violence here. Please don’t go out and break anyone’s ankles.)

I recently read a book that I love and hate at the same time. It was good, and it paid off all the promises the author made. But the ending was sad. I don’t want to like the ending. I want to demand the author take it back. Kind of like when JK Rowling went on a killing spree in Book 7.

But it was the right ending.

The author gave the book the ending it deserved. No flinching (well, probably flinching), no cheating. It hurt. I mean, if it hurt me, it probably hurt the author more.

It’s just that I was so emotionally invested in the book. I wanted everyone to be okay, to have a magical happily ever after. And while a lot of books do end like that, not all of them do. And not all of them should.

As a writer, I wand to give all of my characters happy endings. After all, technically, I can. I could write a happy ending for everyone because I’m the one typing the words on a page.

But stories are a living thing. The good ones breathe life into the reader, and the reader breathes back. If a writer forces the story into a corner, it will do what it’s told, but it won’t breathe magic anymore. Maybe in the moment, the ending will be satisfying, but ultimately forgettable. Because if the ending isn’t real, right, alive, then there’s no point to writing it.

And sometimes real, right, and alive hurt.

The logical part of me knows this. But the emotional part? Well… I think I’m going to go reread Misery.

Are there any books that ended in a way that felt right, but still hurt? Or any books you’re still mad about because they “cheated?”

(On a side note, for those of you who follow my blog, I’m going to try switching to a Monday/ Friday update schedule. Sunday/ Wednesday just wasn’t working for me.)

 

20 Books of Summer Challenge

20-booksCathy, over at 746 Books, is a book addict, like many of us. She started a blog when she realized that she had 746 unread books on her shelves. (I haven’t counted mine… I’m scared.)

She created the 20 Books of Summer Challenge for herself, as a way to get through some of her book stack. But it’s become an event, and many of us have joined in. Though I confess, I only recently heard about it from While I Was Reading

The challenge is simple: Between June 1 and September 3, pull a stack of 20 books and read them. She also has alternate challenges if you want to join, but can only read 10 or 15.

Here are my stacks:

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Plus 5 alternates:

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So, here we go; these are the books I’m going to read between now and the end of summer. I’m sure they’re not the only books I’ll read. For me, the challenge isn’t the quantity, but actually reading what I’d planned to. I’m not good at that; I see new books and I want to read them. For me, going to a bookstore is like going to the animal shelter… I want them all! But like 746 Books, I need to cull my stacks.

Anyone want to join in? Have you read any of the ones I’m attempting? If so, what did you think?

Audiobooks: Using Every Moment of Time Productively

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From my Overdrive account. These are all books I’ve borrowed from the library.

I came across an interesting article the other day: America’s unhealthy obsession with productivity is driving its biggest new reading trend.

In the article, the author asserts that audiobook sales have increased in a way that can’t be accounted for just by their ease of use. The author states that Americans hate downtime, and that’s why we rush to fill those silences with something.

The author concludes that creativity comes out of those silences, and that we don’t know what we’re missing when we rush to fill them. But “there are far worse addictions.”

*sigh*

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not addicted to books. I can (and have) gone days without reading. Well… books. In the days I haven’t read books, I’ve read articles online, cruise ship news (on a cruise ship, obviously), the back of cereal boxes, etc.

But if you told me I had to go a week without reading a book, I honestly don’t think I could do it. I don’t want to. That’s like telling me I should go without breathing for awhile to see how I like it.

I didn’t jump on the audiobook bandwagon until about 6 months ago. Mostly because I’ve tried reading audiobooks in the past, and I just couldn’t understand them. About two years ago, I got my first set of hearing aids. My audiologist told me that my audio center (probably the wrong term, but this is how I remember it) was probably somewhat atrophied because I’m used to relying on other ways to understand conversations. She also said that the more I used them, the more I’d be able to better understand spoken language.

So, it’s possible that my liking audiobooks now is because I’ve exercised my brain enough that the words make sense. The more I listen and hear, the better I can understand. In my case, listening to audiobooks is actually a form of exercise!

Though honestly, I’ve heard other people say that they had to get used to listening to audiobooks, so it’s probably a skill like any other. It requires practice to improve.

Anyway… I love quiet time. When I walk my dog on our local greenbelt, I never listen to books or music. The sounds of the creek rushing by, the birds singing, and the little animals scampering around the underbrush help soothe me, like a form of meditation. Often it’s when I have my best ideas.

But sitting in traffic, painting my garage trim, or cleaning up around the house (for example) are not made better by quiet time (for me). When I’m engaged in a frustrating activity, or one I just don’t like, why wouldn’t I make it a little better by listening to a book?

I love to read; it makes me happy. It’s a form of escape, like a mini-vacation. I don’t do it because I want to increase the number of books I’ve read. I do it because I want to read more books. I want to read all the books! (But unfortunately… adulting… ugh.)

And audiobooks are so easy to get now. When I was attempting to read them, like 10- 15 years ago, it was either use Audible or get CDs from the library. Both ways took time, and I’m pretty sure that downloading books from Audible was kind of a pain.

Nowadays, I log onto my library’s webpage, select the audiobook I want, and tell it to download to an app on my phone. It takes longer to pick the book than to download it. The ease of access has to be a major factor driving up audiobook consumption.

I get it. I’m sure there are people out there who are using audiobooks to increase productivity. But to call it an obsession is an oversimplification. We do live in a faster world. There’s so much available to do and see and listen to! Why wouldn’t we want to enjoy as much as possible?

Related posts: Can I Really Say I Read An Audiobook?

I Promise These 4 Tips Will Get You Hooked On Audiobooks, over at While I Was Reading

8 Great Books for Self-Help & Self-Improvement

IMG_8709.JPGI used to be dismissive of self-help books. But then, my first year in grad school, we were assigned to find ten self-help books that we might use as a therapist. So, one day, I drug myself over to the local Barnes and Noble. With a notebook in hand, I started taking apart their self-help section.

There are a lot of goofy, unhelpful self-help books out there. That being said, what helps everyone is individual. I don’t personally know anyone who managed a true mental health issue (like depression or anxiety) through reading self-help books alone, but I do know that they can be a helpful tool in an overall wellness toolbox.

Okay, I’m going to step-off the soapbox now.

  1. PostSecret books, by Frank Warren I realize these aren’t technically self-help books, but I think they’re worth mentioning. PostSecret started as an art project, where people mailed secrets on postcards. It turned into a movement, and Frank Warren is an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. The secrets run the gamut from funny to sad to frightening, and everything in between. PostSecret isn’t for everyone; some people might be triggered by some of the secrets. But for most of us, it’s nice to know we’re not alone; that others have the same secrets we do.
  2. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin I was very skeptical of this one, figuring that it would be fluffy and silly. But my friend, Ramona, recommended it. She usually picks good books, so I gave it a try. I really liked it. It’s practical, interesting, and best of all, the author doesn’t pretend to be perfect.
  3. On Writing, by Stephen King If you think this book is only good for aspiring writers, you’d be wrong. Yes, I think every writer should read this book, but it’s also a book about life. The advice and information can apply to many different types of goals.  “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”― Stephen King In other words, love what you do, and do what you love, no matter if you’re validated by the world or not.
  4. This Year I Will: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, by MJ Ryan We all have habits we want to break, but it’s difficult, even when we feel motivated. A lot of self-help books are one size fits all. This book encourages you to look at what approach will work best for you, and do that.
  5. For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, by Shaunti Feldhahn I have a Masters in Mental Health therapy, I’m married to a man, and most of my friends are men. Yet this book gave me a lot of information I didn’t know. I can’t tell you how many times, reading this book, I said out loud, “That explains it!” Men and women’s brains are a little different; it’s science. Learning how we think differently can improve communication and empathy. After all, it’s easier to empathize with what you understand. There’s a companion book for this one, For Men Only. It’s on my TBR, and I’m hoping the author does as good of a job explaining women as she does men. The author is Christian, and it influences her writing. I thought that it was lovely, but I know some people may not be into it.
  6. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD This is a super-short book, but I think it should be required reading for everyone. I don’t like change, and I know I’m not alone. Even “good change” is stressful for people. This book is a parable about the way that people react to change, and how to improve your outlook.
  7. The Dude and the Zen Master, by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman This was a fun and unusual book, giving a transcript of various conversations about life and zen between Jeff Bridges (the actor) and Bernie Glassman (a zen master). It references the Dude from The Big Lebowski as a zen figure, and even though I don’t love the movie, their take on it is interesting. There is A LOT of cursing in this book, so if that would interfere with the message, skip this one.
  8. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl This book is amazing and difficult to read. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. He explains that what got him through was focusing on surviving long enough to finish his book. He talks about the people who survived, and those who didn’t. He talks about how to find meaning in a life that sometimes seems cruel and unfair.

Are there any books you’d add to the list?

11 Best Non-Fiction Books About Mental Illness

On Sunday, in honor of May being National Mental Health Month, I posted my ten favorite fiction books about mental illness. Here’s a list of my favorite non-fiction books on mental illness. It’s a mix of memoirs and psychology books, but I kept the list to books that I think would be accessible and interesting to non-psychology majors.

Please note that all these books could be difficult reads for some people. I chose them because they’re real and raw, and don’t gloss over the struggles. If you want to learn more about any of these issues from a close up perspective, these are great books.

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  1. Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle With Anorexia, by Harriet Brown It’s a mother’s memoir of her daughter’s struggle with anorexia. It shows the toxic thinking that a person can go through when in the grip of a mental illness, despite a supportive and loving family. It also shows that mental illness becomes a family issue, leaving no one untouched.
  2. Why People Die By Suicide, by Thomas Joiner When I started working in mobile crisis, this book was required reading. Mr. Joiner became interested in the topic after his father committed suicide, and he made it his goal to find out why people do it.
  3. Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, by Rachael Reiland Rachael was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, considered by many people to be the “worst” disorder. I know a lot of therapists who don’t like working with people with this issue because they’re incredibly exhausting. But if they’re exhausting to a therapist, imagine living like that… As with many folks diagnosed with this disorder, she struggled with explosive anger, substance abuse, and anorexia. Rachael is real about how it feels to live that way, and how, with a supportive therapist, she recovered.
  4. Loud In the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl, by Stacy Pershall Stacy grew up as a “strange girl,” someone who never fit into her small town. She struggled with all kinds of self-destructive behaviors. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, and eventually began a long road to recovery. Today, Stacy embraces her life as a strange girl and is an advocate for mental health.
  5. Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen This book isn’t all that much like the movie. It’s a look into the dark past of mental health treatment. In 1967, after a single session with a psychiatrist, Susanna was placed in a mental hospital for the next two years. These days, people are only hospitalized if they’re a danger to themselves or others. It’s rare for anyone to be inpatient for years. Still, this is an important past we shouldn’t forget.
  6. When Rabbit Howls, by Truddi Chase Truddi was the victim of horrific abuse from two-years old on. To deal with it, her mind created “The Troops,” alternate personalities who protected her from the reality of what was happening. She didn’t find out about them until adulthood. I was deeply fascinated by dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder) when I was a kid, reading all the books I could get my hands on. This, and Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber, are the two best memoirs on the topic that I’ve found.
  7. Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER, by Julie Holland This book was written by a doctor working weekends at a psychiatric ER. Folks coming to the ER were in acute distress, and it gives a good picture of what it’s like working with people in psychiatric crisis. Most people who reviewed the book poorly did so because they didn’t like her personal decisions or her lack of empathy (which she talks about). I thought that this added to the book, because lack of empathy for the mentally ill is a huge problem with the professionals who are there to help them, in my opinion.
  8. A Piece of Cake, by Cupcake Brown Cupcake was a child when her mother died and she ended up with an abusive foster parent. After being sexually assaulted, she began running away and using drugs and alcohol to escape. Growing up, she didn’t know how to live differently, and stayed on her self-destructive spiral. It would be easy to dismiss someone like her as a loser, a drain on society. But Cupcake was a survivor, and eventually got sober. Now, she’s a lawyer and a writer. This is a fantastic, wrenching memoir, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s a great reminder to judge no one because you don’t know what they’ve been through.
  9. Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin Temple writes about her experiences with autism and thinking differently, and mixes it with information about the brain. It was a fascinating look inside her mind, one I wish I’d read when I was still doing therapy. I thought it was an easy read, though the two people in my book club thought it was dry. Be warned.
  10. The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing, by Bruce Perry This is one of my all time favorite books. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist who works with traumatized children. This book recounts stories of horrific situations kids have been through, and what he did to help them. It discusses how early childhood trauma actually affects brain development, and how we can help retrain the brain of these kids.
  11. Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, by Irvin D. Yalom Dr. Yalom literally wrote the book on group therapy, and is considered one of the most historically influential therapists. This book is a series of stories about him doing therapy. It gives a glimpse into therapy sessions, and he also talks about his human struggles with being a therapist. It’s not always easy, and I think that often, therapists put on a mask as if we’re perfect, when we’re all just human. If you read only one book on this list, I’d recommend this one.

Honorable mention: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath I didn’t put this one on the fiction list, because it was inspired by true events in Sylvia Plath’s life. It’s the story of a young woman’s breakdown and hospitalization.

10 Best Fiction Books About Mental Illness

IMG_8691May is National Mental Health month. If you’ve been a subscriber of this blog for awhile, you know that I’m passionate about destigmatizing and discussing mental health. I like writing about characters who struggle with mental health issues. In fact, I have a novella coming to E&GJ Little Press soon about a man struggling to deal with a mentally ill woman he once loved. Stay tuned…

Memoirs aside, my main problem with mental health in fiction is that it’s not portrayed well. Often times, the mentally ill character is frightening, or a caricature. But I shouldn’t complain, because at least authors are trying to portray these characters in a positive light. We’re all talking about mental illness, which isn’t something we did in the past. But I caution you to use stories as a bridge to discussing mental illness. Don’t assume you know what someone’s going through, just because you read about it. Even if it is accurate, everyone’s experience of mental health is different.

I’ve taken this opportunity to list my 10 favorite books that portray fictional characters with mental illnesses. In no particular order…

  1. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Naess Thirteen-year old Conor has a monster come to visit him, and helps him deal with grief over his mother’s illness. This story was great because it shows how people can grieve before an event happens. So often, we think of grief as a discrete event, occurring after a loved one dies, and having an ending point. Through the story, this demonstrated that grief can begin in anticipation of a loss. Genre: Young adult
  2. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven Violet and Theodore are on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but are both contemplating suicide. They become friends and start a project together. It’s told in dual point of view, and both of them are heartbreaking. But as one of them starts to recover, the other gets worse. It’s a powerful, haunting story. Genre: Young adult, but may not be appropriate for all teens
  3. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon Maddy can’t leave the house because she’s literally allergic to everything. Olly moves in next door, and Maddy watches him, getting more and more interested in his life. They become friends, first messaging, and eventually, Maddy risks her life to meet him in person. I can’t tell you why this book is about mental health without spoiling the ending; but trust me, it’s not a rip-off ending where Maddy’s crazy and everything’s a dream. It’s fantastic. Genre: Young adult
  4. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell Cath struggles with anxiety. So much anxiety. When she goes to college, she expects to live with her twin sister, but her sister wants them to meet new people. At first, Cath makes it to class, but can’t even go eat dinner alone. But eventually, she makes friends and some of her anxiety eases up. And, like real life, Cath isn’t the only person in her family who’s struggling. Genre: Young adult
  5. The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick I talked about this one during my A to Z blog, so I’ll be brief. But I liked this one because Pat just got out of the mental hospital and is learning how to live, and his romantic interest, Tiffany is strange and does unexpected things. But they find something in one another that’s important and lovely. Genre: General
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher This book (and the TV series on Netflix, which I haven’t seen) have become very controversial recently. Books about suicidal characters are nothing new, but this book is under fire because it’s about a girl named Hannah who leaves tapes for 13 people, explaining how they contributed to her suicide. Some people who kill themselves want revenge against people who wronged them, and Hannah gets it. There’s also a part where she tries to get help, but the counselor brushes her off. It’s portrayed as if Hannah did everything she could have to get help (though she doesn’t). I debated about putting this book on the list. I liked it, but I’m an adult without suicidal thoughts, and not going to be triggered by a book like this. For a teen who’s contemplating suicide, this could be a dangerous book. If you like dark books, this is an excellent one, and it does a good job of showing how bullying can contribute to suicide. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Genre: Technically Young Adult, but not appropriate for all teens
  7. All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark  Laurie is kidnapped as a small child, and returned years later. She leads a normal life until after her parents die, when her history of trauma from being kidnapped and her subsequent dissociative identity disorder come to the surface. Honestly, I don’t know how good of a depiction of dissociative identity disorder this is. I’ve never worked intensively with someone with the disorder. From what I’ve read about the disorder, the book seems well-researched and legitimately portrayed. In any case, I love this book. Genre: Thriller
  8. 600 Hours of Edward, by Craig Lancaster Edward has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. His life is a set routine. When a new neighbor with a nine-year-old son move in, things change for him. At first, he struggles with the change, but over 600 hours, his life becomes different and better. I liked this book because of the way it portrayed his OCD. Too many books and movies just go for obsessive cleaning, but the disorder is about so much more than that. It’s a fast read, and I loved all the characters. I especially loved how the neighbor, at first, reacted to Edward with fear. Because that’s what would happen in real life, and the book doesn’t shy away from ugly truths. Genre: General
  9. The Silver Link, the Silken Tie, by Mildred Ames This is one of my all time favorite books. I just randomly found it at a flea market one day, and it seemed interesting, so I picked it up. Tim has always felt out of place, ever since a family tragedy that he feels responsible for. Felice has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an orphan, and an outcast among her peers. When the two of them are thrown together, working on the school newspaper, they absolutely hate each other at first. Though they don’t fit in anywhere else, they find that maybe they fit together. Genre: Speculative Young Adult
  10. Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock This is a book about two girls who experience abuse from their father. The sisters decide to run away from home to escape the abuse… the ending is one you won’t forget. This is a fantastic, underrated book. Genre: General

If you’ve read any of these, did you like them? Why or why not?

On Wednesday, I’ll post my list of best non-fiction books about mental illness.