Review of Tales of Nash

Tales of Nash by Ann Worthington

Overall, this was a solid book. 4/5 stars.

The premise:

Triumph or tragedy? For seventeen-year-old Nash, the summer was both.

At first, leaving his friends in Portland to live in the woods seemed like a horrible idea. Who lives without television, video games, and the internet? But, with patience and guidance from his grandfather, the beauty of nature casts its spell, and Nash flourishes like the garden under his care. 

But when Nash is arrested and accused of murder, he is paralyzed by fear and doubt. Did he make the biggest mistake of his life? He must decide whether to tell the truth about what happened, or say nothing and let a jury decide.

Tales of Nash is a story about the fragile bonds of family, the tragedy of loss, and the triumph of hope.

My thoughts: I love the then/now alternating chapters. (Huh, almost like in my upcoming book). It helps add to the tension by creating uncertainty and conflict, while helping reveal the character development. Similarly, I loved the short chapters and the quick pace. I love that, unlike many mental health books, there is no love/romance that Cures the Protagonist. The dialogue, which I normally would not have loved (lacked tags and actions, and instead consisted just of the spoken words) somehow worked really well. This is a testament to the author, as hard as it is to do.

The portrayal of mental illness, especially substance abuse, was artfully done. We see many of the tenets of such issues in the book. These included the familial links, the cycles of unsupportive parenting, and denial of problems by those affected. The triggers– including friends who also use, boredom, coping with emotional issues, etc– were both accurate and felt realistic. Like those who fall into addiction, there was no one moment where Nash “became addicted” but rather a series of intensifying decisions that start with innocent curiosity.

Similarly, the exploration of PTSD, including the nightmares, withdrawal, and occasional flashbacks, was realistic without being overdone. Similarly, the issues of addiction and PTSD feel important to the story, but were not the only drivers of plot and characterization. This leaves the reader with round, dynamic characters that we can root for even while they make mistakes.

There was also the exploration of other issues, which I won’t go into in order to not spoil the ending, that have been controversial recently. I appreciated this as well.

I didn’t give this 5 stars, as well done as the book is, because I thought it was solid, but not The Best Ever. Things I wish were different:

  1. The title. I love the cover but the title doesn’t do the book justice
  2. More resolution. I’m all for an open ending, but it felt a little incomplete. Mostly, I would have liked a hint that Nash was going to make better friends, actually study for the GRE, and have a new goal besides just staying sober. I didn’t need to see this play out but even an ending scene where he runs into someone and starts up a conversation, or opens the GRE documents and starts on them, or starts looking up schools, would have gone a long way.
  3. Indeed, I think part of what made this book not quite a 5 is that there is plenty of conflict and tension, but I wish I knew more of what Nash actively wanted, besides Not going to jail and Not being addicted. What does he like to do? What dreams/goals does he have now?

All in all, a solid read with great depictions of PTSD and addiction.

Review of We Were Restless Things

We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu

I received an ARC on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Premise:

From debut author Cole Nagamatsu comes an atmospheric contemporary fantasy about three teens coming of age in the wake of a mysterious death.

Last summer, Link Miller drowned on dry land in the woods, miles away from the nearest body of water. His death was ruled a strange accident, and in the months since, his friends and family have struggled to make sense of it. But Link’s close friend Noemi Amato knows the truth: Link drowned in an impossible lake that only she can find. And what’s more, someone claiming to be Link has been contacting her, warning Noemi to stay out of the forest.

As these secrets become too heavy for Noemi to shoulder on her own, she turns to Jonas, her new housemate, and Amberlyn, Link’s younger sister. All three are trying to find their place—and together, they start to unravel the truth: about themselves, about the world, and about what happened to Link.

Unfolding over a year and told through multiple POVs and a dream journal, We Were Restless Things explores the ways society shapes our reality, how we can learn to love ourselves and others, and the incredible power of our own desires.

My thoughts: I was drawn to this book by the beautiful cover and the blurb. Drowning on dry land? The CSI/Criminal Minds fan in me was intrigued. Coming-of-age in the wake of a death? Sounds like the kind of post-traumatic growth/mental health representation I live for. Indeed, the beginning was great.

Nagamatsu is an incredibly talented writer, especially in terms of imagery and description. The metaphors were fresh and lush, the scenes lively. Indeed without this, I doubt I would have finished the book.

The representation of an asexual character was refreshing, although I’ll go into what I wish was different about it later.

Other than that, the more I read, the more let-down I felt. I wanted to give this a good rating, especially since the author is a debut, but I couldn’t in good conscience give it more than a 2/5 stars.

What I wish was different: To start, the names were unique, in the bad pulls-me-out-of-the-story because I’m trying to pronounce them/understand them way. (i.e. Cesca, from Francesca, so probably pronounced Chesca. Noemi, girl Lyle, Gaetan, the last name Lake, despite the Lake being a big metaphor).

The imagery really was beautiful, but after a while made the story drag. Part of that was the dependence of the book on the imagery, with little plot/tension/characterization driving the story. The dialogue was just mediocre. There was nothing I really needed to keep reading to find out (its apparent very early on the lake is some fantastical thing, so what more is there to learn?). Similarly, I didn’t understand why I should care about any of the characters. Jonas was the closest I came to feeling for someone, but Link, for example, or even Noemi, I honestly didn’t care much about them. Part of that is they don’t seem to have concrete, tangible goals they are trying to accomplish.

I loved that the story took place in Minnesota, since I am from there as well. Shivery, MN was a great place name (its cold all the time here) but Galaxie was another too-on-the-nose metaphor/name.

Speaking of the asexual representation, while I appreciated it, and thought it was refreshing in the midst of a romance plot, some of the language used made me cringe. Over time, I understood it, but at the beginning it felt like the problematic trope of kissing/etc-despite-not-liking-it and not saying anything/saying no, as a reinforcement of women not stating, and sticking to, their boundaries.

As for the dream sequences, these felt unnecessary and aggressively literary. A former creative writing teacher of mine used to say that all parts/sentences should “do work” i.e. characterize, push the plot forward, or reveal themes. From the description it feels like these are supposed to be thematic, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how or why. Similarly, what’s the point, thematically, of the book? I can maybe see the argument for “learning to love ourselves”, but how is this any different than any other book? And for the power of our desires? How does this appear? Also what desires? Part of what this book was lacking were concrete goals/desires for the characters to achieve besides the nebulous “find out about the lake”.

All in all, the author is, no doubt, incredibly talented, especially with imagery. I wish I enjoyed this book more, and perhaps would have if it stopped at about 1/4 of the way through.

Release of The Kings 100

The King's 100 by [Karin Biggs]

Karin Biggs’ The Kings 100, which I previously reviewed here, is now available on Amazon! You can find the book here.

The book already has 8 reviews (all 4 and 5 stars!) and yesterday was the #1 release for Teen/YA Romantic Mysteries.

An overview of my thoughts:

4/5 stars. A great debut book. The characterization was masterfully done and made it easy to root for the characters. The world building felt obvious, but worked. With the ending, there was enough closure to be satisfied, but enough left unresolved that the ending 1) was thought-provoking and 2) feels like the world continues on beyond the story, as it should. Additionally, the plot was predictable enough that it both made sense and was satisfying, while also having enough novelties to be unique.

All in all, if you’re a fan of The Selection or a non-tragic Romeo and Juliet, check this out!

Review of Hunger Point

Hunger Point by Jillian Medoff

The premise.

“My parents may love me, but I also know they view me as a houseguest who is turning a weekend stay into an all-expense-paid, lifelong residency, and who (to their horror) constantly forgets to flush the toilet and shut off the lights.”

Twenty-six-year-old Frannie Hunter has just moved back home. Bright, wry, blunt, and irreverent, she invites you to witness her family’s unraveling. Her Harvard-bound sister is anorexic, her mother is having an affair, her father is obsessed with the Food Network, and her grandfather wants to plan her wedding (even though she has no fiancé, let alone a steady boyfriend).

By turns wickedly funny and heartbreakingly bittersweet, Hunger Point chronicles Frannie’s triumph over her own self-destructive tendencies, and offers a powerful exploration of the complex relationships that bind together a contemporary American family. You will never forget Frannie, a “sultry, suburban Holden Caulfield,” whom critics have called “the most fully realized character to come along in years,” (Paper) nor will you forget Hunger Point, an utterly original novel that stuns with its amazing insights and dazzles with its fresh, distinctive voice.

Overall 2/5 stars. DNF. I tried really hard to finish this book. Unlike many, I had to force myself to keep reading, but ultimately decided not to finish it. According to other reviews, this was a good decision– apparently there is some redemption at the end, but not enough to make it worth it.

Overall, the characters had little to recommend them. Frannie is self-centered and self-pitying. Her lack of drive and follow-through, which later we can attest to depression, coupled with no redeeming qualities, makes it impossible to root for her. The mother is arguably more self-centered. As a mother she is absent at best and borderline emotionally abusive at worst. She is having an affair, both with another man and her unending supply of painkillers. The father is passive and unhelpful. The sister, Shelly, who suffers from anorexia, is the most likable character, but since the book is through Frannie’s point of view, we don’t get to understand or appreciate her as much as I would have liked. While a dysfunctional family is unfortunately common in mental health issues, having no positive qualities in these characters worsens the stigma and is an ultimately unfair depiction of some of these issues.

On the other hand, there is a lot Medoff does well in educating about mental illness. The therapist was realistic in her comments and suggestions. Likewise the descriptions of Shelly in the hospitak felt authentic, making it clear that Medoff had done her due diligence in research. I appreciated the attempt at an eating disorder book from the family member’s point of view, especially exploring other member’s issues, but I wish the execution lived up to the promise. The crossover from dieting culture growing up to the eating disorder as an adult in Shelly, but not Frannie, was a good representation of risk and protective factors (ie not every family member will have it). Similarly, the family’s inability to grasp the severity, and essence, of Shelly’s disorder is unfortunately realistic.

Plot was another area that held promise but made it harder to stay engaged. Some of the initial conflicts– Frannie’s search for a job and love, and Shelly’s battle with an eating disorder– lost steam as the book progressed. Part of this was not liking the characters. Another part was Frannie’s own apathy towards her goals and her lack of influence over Shelly’s progress.

One saving grace of this book is that the writing is relatively well done. Medoff is clearly talented and managed to keep me reading longer than others might have, thanks to her great prose.

All in all, the premise held a lot of promise, but the book falls flat in multiple areas, especially likable characters and an engaging plot.

Review of A Danger to Herself and Others

A Danger to Herself and Others
A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Trigger warnings: self-harm, eating disorders, psychosis.

Overall 3/5 stars. This book was okay. Not bad, but not great. In terms of being mental health fiction, there’s a lot that this book tries to do (and does) well, but also areas where it falls short.

What it gets right: There is an emphasis on de-stigmatizing mental health (comparing it to a broken bone, emphasizing that it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person, etc). The first-person narration helps us feel the confusion and the inability to discern reality from illusion. Additionally, the author tries to promote the idea that people with mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves than others. Having a protagonist with psychosis is not common (most mental health books tackle anxiety and depression) and this helps psychosis feel less nebulous.

What I wish was different: The description of eating disorders, as an ED researcher, made me cringe. “Bulimia” is not the same as purging/vomiting and “anorexia” is not the same as restricting. You can have bulimia and restrict what you eat (very common) and/or anorexia and vomit (purge subtype)– the main difference is body weight, not the ways you keep your weight down.

Additionally, there are plot holes. Hannah’s very toxic relationship with her parents is not addressed. Especially with the doctor knowing this, she would not have let Hannah leave without family therapy and/or at least addressing it in individual therapy. I would have liked for there to be more tension/higher stakes overall– or something that made me want to keep reading more than I did. The inpatient care representation wasn’t accurate in ways that were frustrating– I’ve never heard of an inpatient center that uses books or bathing as “rewards”, nor any that prohibit outside books. This is especially true since lack of self care is a hallmark symptom of schizophrenia, and not something treatment facilities would promote. There was no group therapy (most inpatient centers have this) or any kind of other therapeutic activities like exercise or yoga.

I’m not sure I liked Hannah. In terms of making a compelling, not-likable protagonist, I think the author does a good job. However, in portraying psychosis, this further perpetuates the idea that those with mental illness aren’t likable (not the author’s intent, I’m fairly sure, but it comes across that way). Similarly, while Hannah says she’s more likely to hurt herself than others, this doesn’t feel genuine in her actions (the number of times she has hurt friends, potentially in deadly ways, vs Hannah’s one outbreak where she hurts her arm).

Overall, I think this book means well, and tackles really important themes. The unreliable narrator is well-executed. However, in terms of the mental health aspect, there are unrealistic, and sometimes untrue, aspects that take away from the story.

Guest post: This Is Why You Should Write Character Driven Stories

Guest post by CW Spalding.

C.W. Spalding is an emerging fantasy writer. She loves reading and writing middle grade and YA fantasy. Also, she’s an avid 5th Edition Dungeon Master. If you’d like to know more about what she’s up to, she makes regular posts on cwspalding.org as well as Twitter.

Tell me why it is that Spongebob is the main character when Patrick is the star? I’m kidding, but only a little. 

There are two ways to approach the progress of a story, the first of which is plot-driven. In plot-driven stories, you have characters which are subject to the whims of their circumstances. A great example of this is The Lord of the Rings. It is a phenomenal story that delves into the effects of returning from war. Ultimately, though, the characters—the character’s lives—do not drive the plot. It is not because Frodo is a hobbit that the events of the story unfold. He merely happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with a very stressed out Uncle.


– From LOTR

In contrast, with character-driven stories like To Kill a Mockingbird, tension comes from the characters’ hopes, fears, joys, and sadnesses. Things are happening in the world, but the main character, Scout, isn’t in immediate danger most of the time. She’s learning, watching, and coming to her own conclusions. A central character with no personality feels unrelatable and forgettable. You want to write a Harry Potter or a Katniss Everdeen. These are characters that act under pressure (even if they make wrong choices). These are also characters that have wants, desires, and lives outside the primary plot.

There has been—in recent years—a shift from plot-driven stories to character-driven stories. Readers like active characters, so here’s some tips you can use to make the shift.

1. Choices Drive The Story

It’s not about what happens to the character; it’s about what the character does. A character without autonomy feels lifeless. Does the character become better, does the character fall into ruin, or do they stay firm in the face of confrontation? It doesn’t really matter what’s going on around them so much as what they’re thinking, what they’re choosing, and where they end up.

2. Man vs. Self

Here are some examples. A person who wants to overcome an addiction, but they can’t. Another who wants to come out to their parents, but they’re scared of being thrown out. Man vs. Self shines in character-driven story telling. If a character’s actions can’t yet fulfill their desires, you have something juicy on your hands. What’s an example of man vs. self that you’ve read in recent years? Go ahead and comment below and don’t forget to follow Molly for regular updates.

3. Not Perfect

Now listen, because this is important. You aren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. There is nothing more boring than a perfect person. Even “good” people aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, mess up, and don’t always know that to do. If you’re writing a character who’s the strongest, the bravest, and the besterest at everything, then it’s not a character-driven plot. Don’t describe your character with perfect features, give them physical and behavioral flaws.

4. Let Them Wander

Hey, if you know, as a writer, that the character doesn’t want to go to point B from point A, but you also know that there’s something important at point A… don’t force them there. Don’t drag them to the destination. Don’t kidnap, enslave, or pluck them up with your god in the machine and place them there. Let them wander! Let them conclude that they want or need to go. This goes back to our first point: what are their motivations? If your character is apathetic to the fate of the world, let them be like that. You’ll get a more unique story that way.

I hope that this article has helped you realize not only that, yes, you need to write a character-driven story, but also that you can write it. Keep writing, don’t give up. You too can write a character who is a star, just like Patrick. Much thanks again to my host Molly and thanks to all of you for reading this to the bitter end. Don’t forget to tell us your thoughts in the comments below. Do you agree with the lean towards character-driven story or do you reminisce about the plots of old? Good luck with your endeavors and may all your characters be rotund in body and soul. 

Review of Karin Bigg’s The King’s 100

The King's 100

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review*

The premise: Sixteen-year-old Piper Parish, princess of the loveless, STEM-only kingdom of Capalon, is a disappointment to her citizens and to her older sister, the queen. When Piper receives an anonymous note stating her mother is still alive and living in the enemy kingdom of Mondaria, Piper chooses to risk death in effort to prove once and for all that she’s not just the queen’s defective little sister. With the companionship of Chip, a piece of tech embedded in her wrist, Piper flees Capalon and enters a world where love and emotional expression are unrestricted.

Posing as a singer for the enemy king’s court of performers, the King’s 100, Piper risks death if she is revealed to be the Capalon princess, but discovers that living a life without the freedom to love might actually be the most dangerous risk of all.

The King’s 100 is a glittering sci-fi love story woven among the camaraderie singers, drummers and magicians by debut author, Karin Biggs.

 

My review: 4/5 stars. I love books like The Selection, with royalty and big ball gowns and Love, so I was excited to read Karin Bigg’s The King’s 100. If you’re looking for a light-hearted romance, with just enough science fiction for flavor, but not enough to be overpowering or confusing, this is a good book for you. The premises are relatively simple– two opposite, and rival, Lands (Capalon and Mondaria– interestingly similar to Capulet and Montague from Romeo and Juliet… coincidence? I think not. Also look for other fairy tale references, such as Cinderella). A Capalon princess searches for her dead (or is she?) mother, the queen. But of course to look for her, Capalon Princess Piper has to go to Mondaria. The differences between the two “Lands” initially felt oversimplified, but was ultimately apt in creating a sense of the two kingdoms and driving home themes later on.

The characterization was well done, so much so that I didn’t realize it was happening (which is a feat, since I often pick up on these things as an author). It was also unexpected since the world-building felt so obvious (not necessarily in a bad way). Part of it, I think, is that the characterization relied partially on the world building (ie Piper is logical because Capalons are). Nonetheless, the characters felt whole and realistic, without being cookie-cutter. It was easy to root for Piper, even during the “scary-movie-situations” where you’re saying “don’t go down the dark stairs” and the character does anyway.

In the same vein, I tend to hate when characters withhold information, deny/lie about their feelings, or generally have issues that could be fixed with talking. From a plot perspective, and in terms of the world, I get it. But its still frustrating. Similarly, while the distinct differences of the Lands made sense in terms of world building, a bit of nuance would have been wonderful. Especially as a researcher I know science isn’t that logical, given the need to infer and interpret, biases in publishing, and the arbitrary nature of statistics. But even with that aside, it would have been nice (namely more realistic and believable) for it to be Capalon-scientists-who-are-logical-except-they-love-cake or Mondarians-who-are-emotional-except-really-into-being-fiscally-responsible.

I have to say, the ending was amazing and made me like the characters and worlds more than I thought I would. There was enough closure to be satisfied, but enough left unresolved that the ending 1) was thought-provoking and 2) feels like the world continues on beyond the story, as it should. Not only was it a great way to end, it lent credibility to both the world and the story. Additionally, the plot was predictable enough that it both made sense and was satisfying, while also having enough novelties to be unique.

Overall, a great debut from Karin Biggs! I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

 

Interview with author Karma Chesnut

book_file2

I have previously written blog posts reviewing Karma Chesnut’s novel, Unfit, as well as revealing the cover. I recently had the opportunity to interview her about the book, which is now available to pre-order on Amazon and will be released April 7th! This is a great read, by an incredible author– don’t miss out!

While great fiction is always relevant, Unfit is especially relevant right now. Transmission of disease, airborne like Covid-19, or genetic like in the book, is on everyone’s mind. Also relevant are fears of infection leading to extreme measures, stereotyping, higher burden-of-disease on those in poverty, and separation of those infected. Intrigued? You should be.

 

The interview:

  1. Tell me a bit about Unfit. Why did you write it? What did you like about the process? What was hard about it?

I have been toying with the plot of Unfit in one way or another pretty much since high school. I love biology and the social sciences (I ended up studying Anthropology in college) and am fascinated by human behavior, genetics – everything that motivates us and, essentially, “makes us who we are.” So, long story short, the topics in Unfit are all very dear to my heart. 

What I loved about the process is also what made it so difficult, though. I wanted to write a book that made people think, that not only resonated with the readers’ current views of the world and each other, but that also made them reconsider those views. The problem with a story like that, however, is it can become preachy or trite very easily. Finding that balance was tricky. 

 

  1. Were you inspired by any books in particular? What do you learn about writing from reading?

I took inspiration from a lot of different books ranging from Harry Potter to Atlas Shrugged. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was probably my main source of inspiration when I was deep in the writing process, though. Whenever I would hit a wall, I would open up to a random page and just start reading. It really helped me get into the headspace for writing – of visualizing the scene and following the characters’ movement within that space. 

 

  1. Your book covers topics like eugenics, cycles of poverty/wealth, and corruption that are symbolized even on the cover with the red line. Why do you think it’s important that books talk about tough topics like these?

If you don’t talk about the problems in the world, nothing is ever going to change. I’ve had several ARC readers tell me just how close to home this story hit, and even had a review that read, “the story didn’t seem that fictitious.” What people don’t always realize is that a lot of this story was inspired by true events. Eugenics was practiced in the United States not that long ago. (Buck v. Bell, the Better Baby Contests, etc.) Individuals were forcibly sterilized because they were too poor, too stupid, too promiscuous, etc. It might sound cliché, but I really believe the saying that unless the cycle is interrupted, history is doomed to repeat itself. And books have the power to break those cycles.

 

  1. What advice do you have for other writers?

Writing is hard. It is a solitary endeavor by nature and can easily feel isolating. What really helped me was finding my writing group, Writing Through Brambles. They’re a fantastic group of authors with similar goals who not only have great writing advice, but who push me to keep going even when I start to doubt myself. 

There are so many resources out there for writers; conferences, writing groups, Facebook groups, etc. Find your people and let them help you refine your craft. 

 

  1. What avenues are you going down in terms of marketing? Anything you especially recommend?

Right now, my marketing plan is pretty straightforward. I’m on social media (twitter, Facebook, Insta, Goodreads) and have an author website (https://karmachesnut.com). Those are always great places for any author to start. 

One book that I found really helpful for outlining a straight-forward marketing plan is Buzz!: Your Super Sticky Book Marketing Plan by Polly Letofsky. 

 

If you’re interested in reading more about Karma or Unfit, find her book on Amazon or visit her author website.  Subscribe to my blog on the right, if you haven’t already, for more interviews, book reviews, cover reveals, and more. 

Updates: Unfit cover and Short story publication

UPDATES!

  • The Running Wild Anthology is coming out this summer. My short story, Paper Girl, will be published in it! The cover should be out soon (which I will post when it is released).
    • My story, Paper Girl chronicles a girl navigating relationships with her family while at an inpatient hospital for an eating disorder.
    • As such, the money received from the story will be donated to WithAll (formally The Emily Program Foundation) to help with eating disorder prevention, reducing barriers to care, and supporting friends/family.

 

  • The cover just got released for Karma Chesnut’s Unfit!
    • Here it is below, and if you haven’t read my review of the book, read it here.
    • I will be posting an exclusive interview with the author soon.

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  • Subscribe to my blog (using the tool bar on the right) to get updates, including cover reveals for the Running Wild Press Anthology, release information, and an exclusive interview with author Karma Chesnut soon!

Review of Reverie

Reverie by [La Sala, Ryan]

Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Premise:

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different—reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling.

 

My review: Overall, 4.5/5 stars! I got this book on Amazon after seeing Ryan La Sala on Twitter, especially the beautiful book cover and the fact that he said he studied neuroscience like me.

For anyone wanting to write a LGBTQIA+ book the right way, use this as your guide. The tension was high, the characters well-rounded, and the plot intriguing and satisfying. The premise alone is such a unique take on magical powers and reality. I struggled a with a few things that prevented me from giving it 5 stars, but I think many others would find it a 5 star book.

 

What I liked: 

Descriptions and dialogue were beautiful and well-written. La Sala is clearly a talented writer, creating prose as magical as his worlds. This also helps cement the vibrant characters and premise. Moreover, this book is LGBTQ+ in all the best ways. Sexuality feels intrinsic to the characters, not just something added for Characterization or to make the book Diverse. In the same way, sexuality is obviously important to the characters but it does not take over as the Most Important Thing, nor should it. In the same vein, where many authors struggle to have their characters directing the plot, Kane and his friends have a refreshing amount of autonomy. They are clearly in control of causing the ending, even though they (obviously) have to struggle to get there. Rather than the plot being something that happens *to* them, its something that happens *because of* them. This is something that often separates good from great writers, so props to La Sala on this.

Continuing on the theme of plot, I was really satisfied with the ending. It was fitting and well-done, with aspects from the beginning (like the diner) that help it feel at-home. Furthermore, there is enough plot twist where things aren’t too predictable, while the twists stay realistic and fitting so they don’t seem out-of-place or solely for throwing the reader off.

I think the ideas of memory and its role in personality/identity was a cool theme that could have been pulled from La Sala’s studies of Neuroscience. Furthermore, the ideas of perception, dreams (and lucidity), grounding (identifying reality), and more were well done.

The small details made this book feel authentic and unique, from Poesy the drag queen to Ursula’s stress baking. Each character is whole, their traits feel intrinsic to their motivations and actions, and together make up a solid, well-written story.

 

What I wish was different:

Who is Kane? I kept feeling like I knew him but then people would interject about how he was before he lost his memory and it was confusing. Perhaps he changed through losing his memories (as can happen) and perhaps this was to intensify his character arc, but there were a few times I felt a little lost. Then again, this plays into what I said earlier about themes of identity in the midst of memory loss, so perhaps it was intentional that way.

One thing I struggle with in a lot of fantasy books, and others too, is that initially the plot can feel arbitrary. Later on, once the characters and world are apparent, this goes away, but at the beginning *why* characters do certain things (and especially why they do that over something else) often trips me up. This only happened a few times (I won’t go into detail to prevent spoilers) but took me out of the story. If you aren’t bothered by this, its a 5/5 book. Even if you are, its amazing.

 

All in all, this was a great book that was well written with characters you want to root for, a wonderfully unique premise, and enough tension to take you through the book in one sitting.