Books Written about the Prison Experience

It’s the last weekend of June and it’s been an insane month of changes for me.  I am going to be taking new responsibilities at work and saying goodbye to my first boss in my adulthood career.  I have spent eleven years under his leadership and moving forward will have to figure out my own leadership dilemmas without his counsel.  Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but he was part of my becoming an adult in the world of adults.  I had internships and practica and jobs before the one I have now, of course, but I was always sheltered as a student or one with low responsibility.  I still have a way to go, though, in my emotional development as an adult.  Goals for myself to be the best I can be at what I do and to not compromise myself in the process.

Also, my birthday just went by and I really want to enjoy my 40’s.  I am giving myself two years for the emotional growth I need to enjoy that decade, the one that research shows that adults enjoy the most when looking back at their lives.  I’d really like to stop caring about things that don’t need my emotional energy.

It’s no surprise that after my life and the reads I’m reviewing here I went to the safety of some diversion reads.  All the actualization and growth in my life is a privilege in itself.  These books are about the transformative experience of doing time in prison.  I’m grateful that my growth experiences have not had to involve incarceration, whether from a poor choice or being gravely disadvantaged.   Like, I’ll miss my boss, but my life is and always has been a delightful array of choices and will continue to be so.

And I diverted a tiny bit from the category because they were supposed to be written in prison but they are about prison experiences, likely composed after the fact.  So I cheated a little.  I don’t think either of these were actually written in prison.  Sometimes I think that if I went to prison I’d do a lot of writing, but I think I’m assuming my privilege would extend into a situation where it would fall painfully short.

A Book Written In Prison

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The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton and Laura Love Hardin

A black man in 1980’s Alabama is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.  He is eventually exonerated, but not without a grueling number of years of surviving and trying to clear his name from his extremely disadvantaged standpoint.

This was as riveting as it could be depressing.  Ray Hinton wasn’t born with much but he was likable, just trying to make it in the world before he was imprisoned, and then when he comes out of his emotional dark place to make the best of his situation and survive.  He was impoverished and loyal to his family, and got through it out of others’ undying loyalty to him, both family and when he finally found a lawyer that could get him out.  How he got tossed onto death row without the usually precursors of trauma and abuse and how he was stuck there and what he discovered about the world and about himself were all a compelling journey.  One that I was grateful to experience from the outside.

Stories about inequality, privileges, and resilience have a place in our culture and it’s no surprise to me that Oprah has featured this book.  Bad things still happen to people in this country on the basis of race, and people still hang in there in terrible situations that make most other people’s lives look pretty okay.  I’m feeling pretty white here over my sadness over a change in leadership at my work and what it means to me, the fact I have a career that I can take as far as I want.

The other prison book I read is Prison with Privilege.  Nothing like Hinton’s soul crushing years on Death Row in the Deep South, smelling other people dying and waiting for his turn.

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Orange Is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

The title sums it up and it’s a Netflix series, so I can keep this short: Piper ran a suitcase of drug money during a less focused time in her life and had to spend 15 months in Danbury Correctional Facility when the people she worked for ratted her out when the ring was busted.

Hilariously I binge watched Season One of the Netflix series in the winter of 2013, when I had a year old baby and a husband watching football in another room.  I didn’t then appreciate the intersection of these facts to create the rare opportunity for binge watching such an adult program.  It was one of those where I could keep going once I got started but I had to be willing to face some of the cringe worthy intensity that makes the show as appealing as it is, and then I would get hooked.  I can’t do this one episode at a time.  I won’t push through the whole thing.  I can only binge it.

Since I saw the show I was going to read the book.  I knew it was dramatized for Netflix, but most of the elements I remember from Season One are in the book, just to a lesser degree of drama.  The show made me petrified of going to prison and I became paranoid for a few weeks that somehow I’d get framed into such a situation.  The book didn’t make it seem exactly appealing, but slightly less traumatizing, until she is transferred to another correctional facility to testify in court.

I’m not well versed in books written about prison experiences, but I am willing to bet that this particular book brings an element of privilege that most others don’t.  She is white, she is well educated and well loved, something she knows sets her apart from the population.  She talks about how her advantages get her through it and how she learns to use her connections to others better, rather than doing it all on her own.  Ray Hinton’s connections also get him through his harrowing experience.  Our connections and the meanings we assign to experiences are what helps us to survive.

She talks about this but I don’t think she looks down on the other prisoners. The show also tells more about the backgrounds of the prisoners to help people understand how women end up in Danbury.  The struggles that lead them there. I always feel that the world could do with more empathy and I get behind any form of entertainment that helps to grow it, especially for the disadvantaged.

So good, but so difficult.  Hopefully next week starts a new chapter of summer posts.  I’m probably reading too much.  I’m trying to keep the joy in my writing but probably avoiding it a little with my reading.

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Not typical: Two Books about the Neurodiverse

I have to say that in June, I believe myself to be living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.  Everything is lush and green, birdsong trilling through the trees, fish jumping, ducks and geese on the water with new babies.  Everything is teeming with beauty.

Usually I slow down on my posting at this time of year and while I am trying not to this year, I see where I get busy with traveling to where it gets to be difficult.  Not to read, really, because audiobooks make car rides beautiful things (and walks, and crafting time), but sometimes to make sure a post gets in on time.  On top of the fact that lately, after this post and the next one, all I have wanted are diverting reads.  It’s a privilege to even have diverting reads, to even be able to take breaks from the realities I read about.  I’ll say that straight out.  Today’s post involves two books of walking around in someone else’s shoes.

A Book by or About Someone who Identifies as Neurodiverse:

 

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The Reason I Jump:  The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A young boy with autism is able to answer questions that others pose to him about what it is like to be autistic and why he does what he does.  It’s not long and is a basic Q&A, but that does not detract from the enormous value of this book.  The preface is by a parent whose own child is also locked in this puzzling and overwhelming world and he also speaks to the magic and value of getting a chance to hear what it is like to be neurodiverse, for the world to be processed in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.  When developing an intervention we always want to know, as best we can, what causes something, what makes someone act the way they do in order to see what else we can do to either manage or sidestep it altogether.

Even though it is short, I didn’t do this straight through.  I had to take breaks.  It’s a nightmare trying to imagine from my relatively neurotypical perspective what it is like to always have so much to process and deal with all the time and feel ill equipped to do so.  Feeling that it takes a long time to do what is asked because my brain has not gotten there yet to figure out and do what is needed.  I mean, this is why it’s a challenge on the list.  Because it’s not easy, and it will make me slow down more when intervening with someone who is on the spectrum.  Rarely are valuable lessons easy to learn.

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A Mango Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A middle school aged girl discovers that her ability to assign colors and shapes to tastes and sounds is actually a diagnosis (synesthesia) while struggling also with the loss of her grandfather and the changing world and life of being in middle school.

I deliberately chose for my second read a book that was not just autism.  There are many ways to be autistic and there are many ways to not quite process the world the same as others, and I have read books with autism in them for other challenges.  I have wondered about synesthesia since we talked about it in graduate school and have always felt I had a tiny bit of it myself, assigning colors to things like months, days of the week, and numbers.  Like, I have always thought of the number 4 as a pale pink.  It’s faded away some since my brain has had more to do than visualize numbers and words, but that would make sense with how the brain prunes back extra connections that it isn’t using.

I loved this book.  It was about being different and finding your place in the world with a neurological condition, but it was also about the normal issues of grief and loss, first crushes and other constantly changing relationships with peers.  I read through this one pretty fast.  It was still normal enough for me to get carried along by the plot.  It was enough about normal life I think for a child in the intended audience to read it and get something out of it.  It’s also a great book, a little less intense to digest.  Intensity isn’t bad but I have been finding lately that tempering it can be helpful when I am chugging through reading a writing goals.

Speaking of goals, I finally chose a number, 80, for my Goodreads Challenge.  Mostly because Goodreads will provide a spot where I can easily check my book progress this year.  I try not to  make my reading so much about progress, but I do.   June ends next week (with my birthday, of course) and as of this posting I have read 17 of the 24 categories, my added bonus of two books per category.  With, of course, the manga and comics pushed off to the end.  And I am doing something other than challenges for July but I actually found at least one book that fits that.  But I say I’m mostly on track, mostly because although I only have 14 challenge books left in 6 months, I also take time for scary reads and sometimes Christmas reads, which cuts into the challenge reads time.  And I have been reading some books lately just because I want to.  Getting seriously crazy up in here, right?

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A Buzz Book and a Man Booker

I love my reading challenges, but occasionally, I need to fit in the buzz books and the award winners, which are represented in two books in this post.

I would complain a little about celebrities starting book clubs if Oprah’s book club, back in the late nineties, didn’t bring a lot of great titles into my life.  I say I’d complain because I wish I lived in a world where celebs didn’t have to encourage people to read, but that’s not this world, and Oprah’s books seem to have a similar goal to mine: read widely, open your eyes to other perspectives and situations in the world.  My mom got into it but it was more about reading the It book, not about opening her eyes really to the plights of others.  I can say that because I don’t even think she knows I have a blog.  Ha.

This one is from Reese Witherspoon’s book club and I confess I have not taken the time to look into the titles she recommends. I usually know what they are because they float through my Audible promo emails, but I don’t look at their blurbs. But when my father wanted me to read this one too, stating it was a favorite of his, I knew at least that it ended okay.  He doesn’t enjoy tragic books.  Then it was described as fitting for someone who loves Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell.  Bruh.  Bruh.  I’ve read most of what they have written and I know what I have left to read.  At least one of Karen’s is getting read for my summer reading posts.   And this one was a six month plus wait on the electronic versions at the library.  So that old feeling crept in that I have sometimes, that if I don’t catch this particular It book, then I can’t consider myself that widely read.

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Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

A young woman, Kya,  abandoned by her family in the Carolina swamps back in the fifties is surviving on her own when the town discovers one of it’s favorites, a white rich guy who was a high school football star in the upper echelon of society, has fallen from a fire tower and is dead.  He has had a romantic relationship with Kya, and she is tried for his murder.

Now, I spent a good part of this book waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I had to coast on my father’s recommendation that he would not tell me to read something with weird sexual relationships or something really tragic.  I had to coast on it because there was no way you could read this book and not become invested in Kya.  I know about attachment and I feel Owens describes it well:  yearning for closeness with others and to feel connected, but with so few opportunities, the times that she gets burned are not easily recovered from.  Periods where she feels she is better off alone or with her more casual friendships, like the one with the black couple who buy her oysters for subsistence and give her things that she needs.

Other than becoming invested in Kya, I was concerned about how much like Karen Russell this one was.  I think they meant more that it channels Swamplandia!  her 2012 Pulitzer finalist, with feral children making their way in a unique environment.   Russell is brilliant at setting up scenarios in unique environments. There were not the weird sexual relationships that characterize her short stories, at least in her collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. But nothing weird, no getting raped by her dad before he left, no neighborhood children hurting her. (Sidebar:  I have Russell’s two other story collections right now and I haven’t read them yet! And she has read her stories on Podcasts I have not consumed!)

This was brilliant also in its focus of natural history entwined with the American South at that point in history, a time that many think of as the good ol’ days, but shows the reality of the marginalized at that time and the slowly changing attitudes toward the marginalized.  The natural history part was also reminiscent of Anthony Doerr, but the writing is probably more like Kingsolver without the doom and gloom of how we are ruining the planet.   Kya’s love and interest in her environment, mixed with her complicated relationship history with members of the outside world and the portrait of the outside world at that point in time combine to make this novel’s compelling brilliance what it is.  I don’t regret using an entire Audible credit on it.

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Milkman, Anna Burns

Milkman, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, is less accessible than Owens’ book, even though it also involves the complications of being a female who is different in a world where being different isn’t welcomed. A young woman is being pursued by an older man in 1970’s Ireland, and although she does not want the attention, it sets off rumors and commentary and judgments on her.

There is a plot, but I felt it was a little slow and rambling to get there.  It read mostly like a stream of consciousness.  I primarily listened to this as a way of consuming it, and I think the female narrator with the Irish accent helped bring this one to life.  I think it is supposed to be the rambling thoughts of a typical girl in that day and time who is interesting.  Who reads while walking and doesn’t want her mother to pressure her into the correct social behavior at the time, like marrying young and in general just not being true to herself.  The language was intentionally repetitive, discussing ‘political problems’ and being ‘beyond the pale’ and ‘maybe-boyfriend.’  No one is named. The protagonist tries to avoid the man and can’t seem to explain to anyone her feelings on it and be believed and taken seriously.  It’s assumed that since he is showing attention to her that she is willingly jumping in his bed, despite being significantly older than she and married.  I imagine this book encapsulates the frustration of this situation for any woman who is rumored to be involved in something she is disgusted with merely because the man seems to be interested and n one takes the time to listen to her about it.

Both of these books are about assumptions people make about women or anyone without privilege, implying more intention and fault than just matter of course and unlucky coincidence.  Women in these books are both under and overestimated, judged, talked about for being themselves or for situations beyond their control.  And for these reasons I am glad they have been in the spotlight as much as they have.  I’m pleased that buzz books now aren’t completely about the plights of the white and privileged.  I’m pleased that the award winners are about opening eyes, mine included.  Assumptions are dangerous things.

BookRiot lists for June and then something different for July is in the making.

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BookRiot: Self-Published Books

The books reviewed here are far from the first self pubs that I have reviewed on this blog.  Some I was even asked for.

I was pleased to see BookRiot push people to read self published work.  It’s still hard work to self-publish, not by any means the easy way of getting your book out there, even though there are not the gatekeepers that there are for traditional publishing. It doesn’t appear faster, either, to get your book traction on your own, and I think some of the stigma is fading from it.

Also, in case anyone is wondering, I am so pleased that the beauty of summer is here. This weekend I am spending with friends as a Bon Voyage to a friend who is moving to the Netherlands to do a post doc. I usually see my long distance friends over the summer, but later on after the school year is done in New York.  I might have to visit him in the Netherlands whilst he is there.

But on to the self-published books.

A Self-Published Book:

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The Inevitable Fate of E & J, Johanna Randle

A teen boy and girl who used to be best friends but who fell apart through circumstance are brought back together by forces they cannot control:  namely, that their souls are linked via past life experiences and they are warned that being together to figure out the story can be detrimental to them both.  Clearly, this is only the first in a series of indeterminate length.

I actually found this via an indie author community on Twitter and asking one another to comment their books for consideration.  It was hard to determine what books are self-published and which are not, as evidenced by my reading two Ania Ahlborns before I realized that she was picked up by Amazon. (but also not wasted time.  She just came out with a new book that she published herself, Now You See Her, so of course that landed on the TBR).  But I follow Johanna Randle on Twitter and she makes no qualms about having put her own work out there, and I admire her that.

I liked this story, it was completely wholesome and the nice boy is the one who wins, which I always like in YA romance, and the girl is learning through the story to stand up for what she likes and wants, not what others want of her.  The world of what everyone thinks a teenager wants is the life she leaves behind in favor of what her heart says. However, as this is the first in a series, there is a lot of set-up in this one.  There is a lot of uncertainty of the hearts coming back together, a lot of self doubt and wondering over action.   It picked up right in time for setting up for the next book. I’d be interested to see if the second books speeds up with all the initial stuff out of the way.

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A Light Amongst Shadows:  Dark is the Night, Book 1, Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

Two boys meet and fall in love in a sinister, Gothic era/novel reform school.  Ghosts crawl the property and when James’ roommate goes missing, they discover the sinister reason why and free the school of it’s dark secrets.

This was an ambitious novel, Gothic and historical, for something self-published, as well as having a romance/sexual relationship between two males.  I know LGBT is becoming the thing lately in YA, and I can’t say the book I’m sending out doesn’t have that, but I still think a gay relationship is forward in mainstream YA books.   I swiped this one off the list of BookRiot recommends, seeing as I can barely handle finding out what is a self pub on my own.

This one moved along a little more, but it could have used some perking up.  Some more subplots to keep it going.  The curiosity is drawn out with the boys not knowing why the others have been disposed of in reform school, and the reveals do have their effect on the main romantic relationship, as they should.  I loved the ghosts, and the secrets, and there were some very scary parts to this one.  It was deliciously dark, which is why we pick up Gothic stories in the first place.  This one also is the start to a series that would be worth continuing.  I saw in getting the image for this post that there is already a 2 and 2.5 out?  Nice.  I love finding something where  I can keep reading.

Mayhaps I have a summer reading/blogging plan.  It could possibly be forming.  It still looks like weekly posts, but I am thinking about working through some of my short story collections, now that I seem to have a better idea of what makes a short story good or special or stand out.  It might help me form my own shorts better if I read a lot of them, armed with this knowledge.  And I could use a short story read down.

But my next post will be two popular novels by women that have gotten a lot of attention.  Ones that I don’t feel I can miss while still considering myself well-read.

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BookRiot: Books with under 100 reviews

I have begun the intimidating slog of manuscript submission.  It threatens to eat me alive.

But only threatens.  I need to use that balanced self talk that I try to instill into the inner voices of the kids I treat.  Acceptance of my book in a press in a traditionally published way will not make or break my life satisfaction.  I feel confident that someone out there might show some interest, and if they don’t, I can decide from there.  I can’t hand over my well-being by thinking that it is solely based on my success in this venture.

Additionally I have other projects on deck that doesn’t squash the fun out of writing and I am keeping those alive to stay energized and moving toward the prize.  I don’t know why everything I want in my life is always so much work.

Also I’m writing this post on the deck of my she shed and the same jumping spider has just turned up for the third time. I wonder what the attraction is.

I want to share my writing journey on this blog, but it also fits into the BookRiot category I have read into for the post, which is books that were published before Jan 1 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.  I’m glad BookRiot was charitable here because it was harder to come across ones with fewer than 100 ratings. I was able to use books that I already had for this one, double bonus.

It fits in because it makes me think about how much all writers share the dream of being well-known after all the time and effort that it takes to hammer out a manuscript and then you never know how it will go in the world.  If it will mean anything to anyone nearly as much as it meant to you.  And books without ratings are not bad books.  They just haven’t found their people.  Or they only apply to a small group of people.

A Book Published Before Jan 1 2019 with Fewer than 100 Reviews on GoodReads:

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Triple Love Score, Brandi Megan Granett

Published 2016

Number of Reviews as of May 2019: 38

A quiet poetry professor has spent her life waiting for a childhood companion who disappeared from her life inexplicably years before, only to have him show back up and want to make amends and move forward as a couple with her.  There is the usual corrections of the misunderstandings, which is central to the second chance at love trope.  She is figuring out what to do with her life in all sorts of ways, with her hobby of posting poetry in a Scrabble format online and with her best friend having to get married all of a sudden to a boyfriend that she has had for ten years, and a romance along the way for her that proves not to be what it seemed at the outset.

This book definitely reminded me of the uncertainty and the seemingly endless possibilities and as thus, still unanswered questions that one can still have at that age.  I, too, pursued academics at that point in my life, everything else being pushed aside in the meantime.  I had my romances but nothing that was heading for permanence, and I still wondered if something important to me in my past could come back around and be my happily ever after (and I am certainly okay with the fact that that’s not how it happened for me).  I think it’s a sign of good writing when you can empathize to that degree with a character, and that the situations presented in the story are meaningful to readers.  I cared about the protagonist Miranda and understood her choices, even when her friends did not. This is a sweet, easy romance with tension but not so much that it’s hard to press on (see two previous posts if you want books on that).

My only issue with it is that I felt that the story spent way too much time on some parts, especially when she travels to be at her friend’s last minute wedding.  I know that is the chance that the lovers have to get reacquainted as their adult selves and feel if they are enough of the same people where it would still work, but I felt like that was a lot of the book.  There were parts that got slow, but I could just have been reading too much intense stuff lately and I have become a needy reader where I am not happy unless I am constantly jerked around emotionally by the story or the plights of the characters.  I forget that some books are just easier to read and meant to be more diverting.

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The Astronomer, Lawrence Goldstone

Published 2010

Number of Reviews as of May 2019: 56

It’s the world of sixteenth century Paris and a theology student is asked to uncover the secret that is threatening Catholocism to be granted legitimacy.  He is confronted with his own religious doubts and Copernicus’ scandalous discovery of the sun, not the Earth, being the center of the universe.

This is fictionalized history but nonetheless based on fact.  It takes your attention to get into and to follow.  I enjoyed it, as I enjoy historical fiction and the way it helps me better understand the events of different time periods, but I can see where others might find it a struggle.  I can see where it may have been slow to garner reviews. I have read most of Phillippa Gregory’s amazing Tudor novels so it was fascinating to see other parts of Europe in that period of time, how the Inquisition and mayhem played out in France.  Henry VIII was mentioned anecdotally, as he was making his own religious reforms at the time and making choices that affected the other rulers at that time. Also, this explained a little better why the heliocentric model was so threatening to Catholicism.

My readers know me by now and my love for the history of white people.

Both of these were good and likely a tremendous amount of work.  I’m hoping that both authors feel satisfied with their successes on getting a good book out there.  As I hope I will be in that sort of a space in my life.

Maybe by the next post, which should be on self published authors which coincidentally will also be my 200th!! post, I will have figured out my post frequency for the summer.  I already think I know I’m doing something different for July this year, other than my BookRiot smash up.  But you’ll have to wait with baited breath to see what it is.

Also I’m not sure I finished eating my jellybeans, all I know is that they have vanished.

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BookRiot: Books in Translation

I’m hoping that everyone is enjoying the kick off to summer holiday weekend.   I’m married to a vet so I know it’s not just about picnics and parades and grilling.  I know.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t revel in the beauty of the kick off of summer, my favorite season.

And this blog post isn’t completely incongruous with the spirit of the weekend, as translations usually remind me to acknowledge my white privilege.  Memorial Day is about remembering those who have fallen.  I will remember why I am lucky to be at this place and time and country.

The translations in this post, though, are deliciously dark. That’s where their fitting in to the theme of this holiday weekend ends.  Stops dead in its tracks.

A translated book written and/or translated by a woman:

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The Wolf and the Watchman, Nicklas Natt och Dag, translated by Ebba Segerberg

A grisly murder mystery set against the backdrop of 1793 Stockholm. Two detectives thrown together, a brilliant barrister dying of tuberculosis and an ex soldier, given the position of watchman, not only with PTSD and a false arm (that proves a formidable weapon) but laden with guilt over being unable to save a friend.  They both need meaning and direction in their dwindling lives and they find it in solving this hideous crime.  Of course, there are other layers, other characters, a political climate, extreme cold weather, extreme desperation, destitution and darkness.

I hunted this book a little.  It got my attention right away and I finally gave in to checking it out of the library, even though I didn’t realize that it was translated by  a woman.  I thought it was a line jumper in my list of reads, just something I had to do.

Of course I loved it.  I love a murder that looks unsolvable at the start.  Nothing to identify the body or understand how it got to be dismembered and floating in the pre-sewage city’s cess pool.  And often with books I love, there are times when I almost feel they are too dark to continue on.  When I care too much about the people that have the terrible lives common of that place and time and my heart aches with them.  The reviews I scanned on Amazon had a similar feel, that if you can handle the heartbreak, some of the gruesome details,  and the overall feeling of grim futility, the novel is very good.  I realize this could sound sarcastic and hardly sells it; suffice to say, it makes me want to read the Alienist now, which I was already told I would like.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about, other than the darkness which how could it not be in a country with an unstable political environment, extreme cold and few social programs, was the amount of time spent in the middle on building a character and her history who felt like a minor player to me in the action.  Somewhat tangential. I mean, I wanted to be sure that she would be okay, more than the two main sleuths, but there was a lot of time spent on her plight.

And one other thing was that sometimes, the clues to solve the mystery required some hunting but other times they fell into place.  And one of the characters gets out of a situation that he really shouldn’t have survived. I know that kind of thing make dramatic tension but it almost didn’t seem feasible and it wasn’t really explained how he got himself out of that.

Interesting to note, however, that the plots end up mostly resolving positively.  Last week was the Ania Ahlborn posts that always end up miserable.    But as I said, it was worth the read and I’m interested in The Alienist now.  More interested.

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Moonstone:  The Boy Who Never Was, Sjon, translated by Victoria Cribb

I really could have titled this post people on the fringes throughout history.  This is a novella about a homosexual orphaned school dropout working as a prostitute in 1918 Iceland, with the Spanish flu and the magic of the cinema coming to town and providing a window into the fascinating world outside the borders.

This seemed bizarre at first, but then felt more haunting in all the facets that are packed into 142 pages, just over two hours of listening (probably less for me because I listen at 1.25x, picked up from Audible’s 50-70% off sale).  Some reviewers on Goodreads talk about it as a fever dream.  The protagonist belongs at some points in the book and is on the fringes in the other, but shares the love of the cinema, using it as a break from his realities.   The backdrop is artfully entwined with the boy’s personal history. It was easy for me to imagine that place and time.

The blurb notes that this is the author’s most accessible and realistic piece.  It doesn’t make me want to see his other works if they get weirder.  The beginning of this was a little strange.  It was strange enough, but not too much so.

I have to note that these translations, which was how they were chosen, were well done.  I forgot that they weren’t originally in English.  It didn’t feel like anything was lost in the translation either time, even though I imagine neither of these was easy to translate without losing their essence.

I’m thinking about what my summer posts will look like, if I will slow them down like I do sometimes.  I’ve not regretted my two on a theme that I have been working on with the challenge this year.  I was worried that I would, but I have enjoyed getting two examples of the categories that made the list.  I might feel differently when I am reading the comics and the manga.  No matter how many times BookRiot wants me to do it, it doesn’t seem to grow on me any more, and they are always the ones I push off til the end of the year when I have posted on my holiday reads and I have to finish.

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Backlist of a Hoarded Author

In a full disclosure moment, I’m still eating down the Easter candy that I bought too much of.  Not as much as last year, but my son doesn’t care about jellybeans in enough proportion to the amount that I buy.

I’m going to justify this with the amount of darkness that I seem to have read since finishing my sweet two little cozies. Yeah, people died and disappeared, etc but it wasn’t like, carnage.

I decided to read some of Ania Ahlborn’s backlist for that.

I thought she was self-published.  I swear that Seed, her first book, was self published before Amazon picked her up.  I didn’t realize the remainder of her books were Amazon’s presses, that dance low priced delicious books before our eyes.

Self-published can be difficult to determine, especially with all the author services nowadays that you can pay for yourself rather than a publishing house.  I’ve had some bad experiences with some self published stuff, but that’s not the norm for me anymore.  I discovered her through Amazon’s marketing and I’ve loved her since.

I’m currently reading the actual self-published books that qualify for the BookRiot category.  Also not disappointing so far, but decidedly lighter than my decision to spend a week reading/listening to two of her horror stories back to back, as well as sneaking in a line jumper that hurtled itself into my arms at the library which is also depressing.

See?  I need all the jellybeans.  All of them.

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The Shuddering, Ania Ahlborn

A bunch of friends get together for a last hurrah weekend in a family chateau before the chateau officially changes hands.  Before the brother of a twin pair is taking off on a new adventure that will pull him away from his sweet, do the right thing second grade teacher sister in the throes of a divorce.  Before his best friend and her ex boyfriend moves forward into a new life, sealing their long ago but still raw breakup against a reunion.  And the forest is full of intelligent, never before seen, people eating nightmare monsters.

I don’t know how I forgot that she never has happy endings.  I won’t spoil it more than that, but it’s not that much of a spoiler when it’s a hallmark of her books.  This is gory and gruesome, grosser I think than the other four of her books I have read (although I read The Bird Eater and Seed quite a time ago), I can’t be sure.  I liked the rhythm.  It moved right along between horror and the story, the characters making close calls against the monsters before actually coming in contact with them, but she already described other people’s encounters with them so you knew what they did before the characters you truly came to care about came in contact with them.  I found myself sitting in the parking lot at work, listening when I should have been going in, bingeing because I wanted to know how it was going to turn out.

I just took an online course in looking at horror in more depth, (I’ve been learning about all genres in internet course I have been buying lately, but that can’t be a bad thing) and I was looking at how the motives of the characters intertwined with the monsters.  And how the monsters devastated the characters.  Her horror (good horror) sets up achingly vulnerable people against scary and impossible odds and yet you root for them the whole time.  I definitely enjoyed this.  Even though it wrecked me.  Because I have not read a single book of hers that resolves the horror.  Not a one.

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The Neighbors, Ania Ahlborn

A man moves in with a roommate to escape the oppressive and dead end life he was living with his alcoholic, agoraphobic mother, and finds a much scarier secret in the neighbors next door, who fix to entrap him in their nefarious ends.

This is the only one of hers I have read without a supernatural element.  Through the beginning I was waiting to see what these neighbors truly were.  Nefarious neighbors scheming under the veil of perfection made me think they were probably the devil, as he tends to show up dressed as everything you could ever wish for, and these people were certainly that. But they are human.  They became dark from the disappointments/hurts/traumas in their own lives.

This is not the entire reason why I felt this one missed the mark.  Not as spot on as her others. I thought the character’s motivations could be a little stronger, but I know that’s a hard element to hammer out. It’s not as gory, not as visceral (meant both ways there haha) as her other books.  It even resolved more, to me at least, than her other books tended to, and that didn’t even make up for it. It didn’t grab me and hang on the same way.  Maybe a more supernatural element would have helped up the ante.  I don’t know.

I am also starting to notice she’s a real music lover.  That part of her personality is seeping into her books.  She writes intelligently about music and what it means to her characters.  Very cool.

I still need to read Brother, The Pretty Ones, The Devil Crept In, I Call Upon Thee, and Apart in the Dark.  And the one she has coming out in the fall.  She’s talented and she knows how to sink her story talons into my brain.

I’ll make sure I have an abundance of some kind of comfort food if I do this to myself again.

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