Book Review: It’s My Life by Stacie Ramey

life

If she wants a future with him, she’ll have to make peace with her past.

Release Date: January 7, 2020

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Jenna’s never let her cerebral palsy get her down. But when she discovers that her condition was actually caused by an injury at birth, she’s furious with her parents, who withheld the truth. And as they push her to get yet another difficult procedure, Jenna feels her control over her life starting to slip.
Enter Julian, Jenna’s childhood crush. He’s just moved back to town, and he’s struggling in school, so Jenna reaches out to him―anonymously―to help. Soon, their conversations are about so much more than class. She’s falling for him all over again, hard and fast. But would Julian still be interested in her if he knew who she really was? And can she find a way to take back her own narrative before she pushes away everyone she loves?

Grade: B

Review:

I really appreciated this book in regard of enlightening teens on what it means to live with a chronic illness. The tone of the book, although it illustrates how it feels to live with cerebral palsy, is still a light one in the way any rom-com would be. In a way, this book is still a rom-com since the main focus of the book is how Jenna loves Julian (a childhood friend who moved away but has returned to town and is now in her English class). She’s trying to be a normal teen by getting to know him on a more intimate level through texting, but at the same time keeps her identity concealed because she feels that no boy could possibly fall in love with her damaged body.

I really liked Jenna, so reading the story from her perspective was fun, plus there were a lot of likable side characters as well, such as her best friend Ben and sister Rena. The flirting between Jenna and Julian was totally adorable and appropriate for their age.

I know that some of the premises in the book may seem unreasonable (such as Jenna wanting to legally emancipate herself from her family so that she could make her own decisions in regards to her health when it comes to surgeries and tests). But since the rest of the book was good I could overlook that minor lapse of judgment.

I recommend this book for anyone who’s wanting to learn more about living with a chronic illness and if you’re in the mood for a quick light romantic read.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Cover Reveal & Pre-Order for Strange Girls – Women in Horror Anthology

If you follow this blog or follow me on Twitter, then you may know that I’ve been busy putting together another Women in Horror Anthology. The good news is, I’ve finally sen up a pub date! Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology will be coming out February 18 (I thought a February date would make the most sense since it is Women in Horror Month!). But if you wish to be uber cool and support some amazing talent, then the book is set for pre-order here (a print copy will be available to order upon publication date).

Curious about what kind of stories you may find? Below is a quick synopsis for each short story found in the anthology:

Strange Girls - High Resolution

Her Garden Grows by Maxine Kollar

I belong to Rosamund now. You can’t save her.

Revival by Madison Estes

While grieving the loss of his sister, a medical student begins to suspect his laboratory cadaver is still alive. She shows signs of life, leading him to question his reality. He must decide how far he is willing to go to save her—if she can be saved at all.

Sideshow by Jude Reid

Everyone knows Ritchie and Sylvia are the perfect couple—everyone, that is, except for Sylvia, who’s walking the narrow line between the “yes” she doesn’t feel and the “no” she can’t bring herself to say. It takes a trip to the travelling Carnival, a tin duck, a strip show and a snake with amber eyes to teach her—and Ritchie—a lesson they won’t forget.

Jenny’s Bobo by Hillary Lyon

He’s her best friend; more stealthy than a cat, more loyal than a dog. But what happens when a clever teenage girl hijacks her parents’ most demonic asset for her own ends?

24 Hour Diner by Charlotte Platt

A young server in a 24-hour diner wiles his life away, watching the clock and waiting for something interesting to happen. When a beautiful homeless woman brings a colourful arc of intrigue in with her, he has no intention of letting that slip through his fingers.

Campfire Tales: The Bloody Rings by Emma Johnson-Rivard

A small-town legend is remembered in brutal and sometimes extremely dry detail. It concerns a man, a woman, and a strange town up in the North Woods.

Personal Demons by Angelique Fawns

It’s not easy being a teenager who identifies as non-binary. Especially when your new crush turns out to have some very dark appetites….

My Mirror Wife by Ash Tudor

Amelia’s beauty is formidable, but Ethan is a professional and introduces himself with the deadly charm of a true hunter. As their encounter changes into something intimate it becomes unclear who is hunting who, and beneath her mask of loveliness Amelia hides a simple yet lethal truth; she loves her husband.

Tribal Influence by Erica Ruhe

A skirmish in a detention center on the Texas-Mexico border uncovers an opportunity for a unique weapon of mass destruction — an innocent asylum seeker with the power to influence the emotions of others. And the U.S. military wants dibs. For Colonel Carl Holden, harnessing Joaquina’s supernatural abilities have proven challenging and he is forced to bring in his old colleague and bitter rival, Dr. Hector Espinoza, for help. Working through his own moral reservations, Hector’s efforts will reveal Joaquina’s terrifying potential and Carl’s hidden agenda but the breakthrough will come at a heavy cost to them all…

Night Terrors by Angela Sylvaine

In an isolated mountain town centered around a secretive research facility, a teen girl struggles to distinguish nightmares from reality after a near-fatal accident leaves her with terrifying nightly visits by masked tormentors.

Extinguishing Fireflies by Rebecca Rowland

Lea wanted nothing more than to have a child. When her daughter Arielle was born, Lea believed, as every new parent does, that her child would be special. At nine-years-old, Arielle is athletic and precocious and curious, and sure enough, has a very special—and terrifying—gift.

The Eyes of the Dead by Danielle R. Bailey

The Eyes of The Dead is a shocking perspective of what lies ahead for us all. Fighting for survival, a young woman discovers the realm of true horror.

The Girl Who Never Stopped Bleeding by Sam Lauren

The Girl Who Never Stopped Bleeding is a literary charcuterie of menstruation mythology. Everyone has heard of at least one, but is there any truth to them?

Blood by Red Claire

In a racist and repressive theocracy, a princess ponders the nature of power and symbols.

Friends with Benefits by E.F. Schraeder

Linked to a powerful mother, one girl doesn’t know if memory or magic holds her family together; can she trust anyone but herself to find out?

The Doll’s House by Alyson Faye

After Sophie’s mother is imprisoned for murder, Sophie inherits the doll’s house; whose inhabitants she believes are alive. As family secrets are revealed, is it Sophie or a supernatural force committing the crimes? Is anyone safe in Sophie’s family?

Leda and the Fly by Marnie Azzarelli

Leda has a problem and stares at a white wall to cope. That is until a fly decides that her precious space is its new home.

Self-Portrait with Pears by Rachel Bolton

A young man’s crush on a classmate slips into obsession when things don’t go as he expects.

A Song Only She Can Hear by Wondra Vanian

High school is hard enough when you don’t have to hide scales from your classmates. Unfortunately for Jewel, she’s about to learn that there are worse things than high school – and she might be one of them.

Angel of Death by Phoebe Jane Johnson

The mass murderess known as La Angel Muerta has been sentenced to death, the first woman to be executed under the newly restored death penalty. Although many scream for justice, a political power play proves justice is not blind. Simultaneously, a nation realms away follow the case as two worlds are destined to collide.

Cracked by Regan Moore

Gabby is about to find out that sometimes someone else’s treasure could become someone else’s curse.

Patterns of Faerytales by Azzurra Nox

The night before his wedding day, Cillian learns a dark secret about his wife that not even she is aware of. Her ignorance could be their bliss, but if she finds out what it is, then life as they know it might very well no longer exist.

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Book Review: The Grace Year by Kim Leggett

grace

We’re told we have the power to lure grown men from their beds, make boys lose their minds, and drive wives mad with jealousy.

Release Date: October 8, 2019

Order on Amazon

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Price: $13.59 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

No one speaks of the grace year.  It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.

Grade: A

Review:

This novel is touted to be a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, although to be honest the majority of the book has more of a Lord of the Flies vibe. This novel is mostly about survival and dealing with a group of adolescents. Once the girls in this dystopian society reach the age of 16, they’re sent off to live on their own on an island for a year, dubbed “The Grace Year,” in order to rid themselves of their womanly seductive magic and return as submissive, meek wives for the men in the county.

Tierney’s tale is a highly harrowing and very addictive one. Even in places where the pacing seemed to slow down, it was still interesting. The Grace Year girls not only have to survive four seasons out on a remote island on their own, but must also survive being hunted by poachers as prey, and each other (the girls turn on each other pretty quick not even a few weeks upon arrival). This story is a fascinating one because we see the lengths that girls will go to in order to survive and adapt to a new setting and society. All the girls look to Kiersten who is the alpha female of the group. Unfortunately for Tierney, Kiersten detests her for various reasons and will do anything to alienate her from the group. Some of the punishments they inflict on each other are both brutal and violent.

I really enjoyed this book because it showed the determination that prevails to survive the worst, even when all hope is lost. And ultimately, even in a tale of brutality and discord, you can find some kernels of light and sisterhood. My only complaint is that I would’ve liked more info about the community that the girls lived in. The county didn’t have electricity, nor did it seem modern. And I couldn’t gauge if the people who lived there were in a cult of some kind and made up stories of how life beyond the county was terrible to keep everyone within their walls, or if it was true that life beyond the county was awful.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys survival type books with a feminist edge.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Upcoming Anthology: Running Wild Stories Volume 4

runningwild

Sometime in April, my friend and fellow Inkblotter, Erica Ruhe and I decided to pen a short story together. We figured that if we could join forces, using our strengths to collaborate then perhaps we could write a very compelling and moving story that both of us could be proud of. That’s how our short story, Fragile Fruit was born.

For some time I wanted to write a short story set in Sicily in the late 1960s. I had always been intrigued by how vastly different Sicily was to the rest of the world during that time when it came to women’s rights. 1968 was widely known as the “peak of the sexual revolution” and yet, in Sicily, it was very common for young men to kidnap girls they fancied and rape them, and then said girl was expected to marry their rapist in what was known as a “rehabilitation marriage.” The only way for a woman to regain her sense of worth and dignity from a rape would be to marry her rapist, which would make her an “honourable woman” again and thus automatically extinguish the crime for the man. Franca Viola was the first woman to stand up to her rapist and say NO. She refused to marry him and it made international news, as many women saw her as a pioneer for cultural progress and emancipation. While many men, on the other hand, saw her as a threat.

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Franca Viola, the Sicilian feminist icon that inspired Fragile Fruit

Inspired by Viola’s courage, we decided to pen a story about a girl, Marietta who too, refused to marry her rapist but instead of remaining in her hometown of Maletto, fled to New York in hopes of a new life. Four years later, Marietta is forced to return to Sicily when her mother is on her death bed. She soon finds that she’s going to have to find a way to make peace with her demons and her past before both threaten to overtake her.

But when her rapist Alfio turns up dead a few days after her return, all eyes are on Marietta. But did she really do it?

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So, since April I’ve been sending this short story to various literary journals and magazines and of course as the norm of any writing it was rejected by a lot of them, despite each of them stating that they had enjoyed the short story very much. Flash forward to last week when I receive an email from Running Wild Press that Fragile Fruit was selected to be in the upcoming anthology Running Wild Stories Volume 4. Of course, both Erica and I are thrilled about this opportunity and that our creative child finally found a home. I don’t know yet when the anthology will be released (sometime mid-2020), so keep your eyes peeled for that info!

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Book Review: What Kind of Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

whatkind

Girl in Pieces meets Moxie in this unflinching exploration of all the hurts young women endure.

Release Date: February 4, 2020

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $17.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary

The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But the students have questions: Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Why did she stay so long if he was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true? Some girls want to rally for his expulsion – and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.

Grade: B

Review

Full disclosure: I was ready to DNF this book at 25%, mostly due to the fact that it seemed to jump around a lot and that it was slow-moving. But since I enjoyed this author’s other book, A Danger To Herself and Others, at the beginning of the year, I decided to give it another try. I am SO GLAD I DID. Because Maya and Junie’s tale is a memorable one.

I think this book is important for teens because it explores a very timely topic: abuse within a relationship. Maya’s boyfriend Mike hits her, but she remains silent, like so many women do, because he’s the golden boy and somehow she feels like people would think she’s lying about the abuse or that she deserves it in some way. Apart from that, she also struggles with bulimia. I think the author explores these issues without glorifying or romanticizing them, but rather showing how someone truly struggles in those situations.

I also think this book sends out a very positive message for young readers as it shows the power of friendship and the importance of standing up for oneself even when you feel like the rest of the world would be against you. I recommend this book for all those that want to broach these difficult topics with their children but don’t know how. This could be a way to start the conversation.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Comic-Con LA – Get Your Nerd On!

This was my second year attending Comic-Con LA (thank you for the Press Passes!), so I kinda had an idea of what to expect this time around. But what I didn’t expect was for the crowds to be even bigger than last year. Again, I attended only Saturday, as it seemed like the day with the most interesting panels.

One of the things that I simply love about Comic-Con is getting to see all the amazing and creative cosplays. I may have a soft spot for those who cosplay horror characters, so you may see more horror related characters than any others. In fact, one of the first booths I stopped by was that for Crypt TV. Last year, they had the LookSee creature, but this year they had one of my favourite creatures, The Birch! Not only did they have a Photo Op with the awesome Birch Forest but it was a way to promote the new series inspired by the original short. I even had a chance to attend The Birch panel and viewing of three episodes. If you’re into creepy woods, witchcraft, and a creature who gets rid of bullies, then I suggest you hope on over to Facebook Watch and check the series out. The panel followed with a short Q&A session with the creators, producers, and actors. Since my favourite character from the series The Birch was the seemingly complex bully, Thurston, after the panel was done I had a chance to chat with the actor, Dempsey Byrk who portrays him. He was really nice and I wish I hadn’t been popping cough drops like no tomorrow to keep a cough attack coming, so I wasn’t as talkative as I probably would’ve been in better spirits.

Afterwards, I attended the panel for Zombieland: Double Tap. The fans were promised a surprise and everyone thought that that meant that Billy Murray would show up. I knew that would be too good to be true, so had joked that most likely we’d be graced by Jesse Eisenberg presence instead. And well, let’s just say that Jesse Eisenberg did show up, but so did Zoey Deutch and (probably this was the surprise) Rosario Dawson. The panel was fun and some lucky peeps got to win tickets to the premiere that was happening that same night.

Once the panels I was interested in were done, I went comic book browsing. I was looking for some vintage horror comics but like always, most of the ones that were awesome were way too expensive. But I did find some vintage Archie Comics and even Joe Hill’s Tales from the Darkside. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t many new horror comic books there this year as there were last year. But all in all it was still a very fun experience. I love getting to check out all the vendors (there are so many talented artists!) and getting the chance to try out new food items (I tried this vegan ice cream from Nice Pops that was really good, and being lactose-intolerant it was a plus to have ice cream and not deal with a stomach ache afterwards). These pops are handcrafted and made from Cashew Milk. I got the chocolate one but they had other flavours too and they cost $5 a pop.

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With tired feet and famished, I was ready to call it a night once 6pm rolled around. But as always, Comic Con LA didn’t disappoint. It was a fun way to spend a Saturday in the company of creative people and getting the chance to check out new things in the world of horror and comics. If you’ve never been to Comic Con LA, I highly suggest that you book your ticket for next year (which it’ll be in late September) because I have a feeling that with each coming year, it’s only going to get bigger and better every time.

Photos by: David Hanger

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Book Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

scars

Before, I was a million things. Now I’m only one. The Burned Girl.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

Order on Amazon

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $16.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary

Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn’t need a mirror to know what she looks like–she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be “normal” again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends–no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn’t have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn’t afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she’s going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ava’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. After becoming severely disfigured by a house fire, she not only has lost both of her parents and cousin but also her face. Or at least what her face used to be. For months, Ava fights for her life as she undergoes surgery after surgery but once she’s deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital, her aunt and uncle think it’s time to transition back into high school. But Ava doesn’t think she can survive high school with the face she has. That is until she meets Piper, a fellow survivor with a spitfire personality.

It’s rare when the characters in a book feel so real to me. But Ava and Piper were incredibly real, and the situations they found themselves in were also real for their circumstances. There were so many heartbreaking moments in the book, but it was also very hopeful. It wasn’t all about despair, as it easily could have been considering the topic. Instead, Ava realized that she could either wallow in misery her whole life and not live or decide to live again and find purpose in her new life with her new friends and support group.

I loved how each character was their own person, and that even the so-called “mean girls” of the school ultimately had a soul and reached a growth of their own by the end.

I suppose this was the sort of book that I wish it hadn’t ended because I still wanted to read more about Ava and Piper. It’s probably why after completing the book I took a break from the novel-reading and instead focused on reading poetry books instead. Because a part of me still wanted to hold on to Ava and her strong spirit. This book is a must-read for readers of any age, but especially teenagers so that they can learn how you can overcome the worst in life if you have the right people standing by you.

 

Short Q & A With The Author

Why did you select fire as the source of Ava’s disfigurement?

SCARS LIKE WINGS was actually inspired by Marius, a friend of mine, was burned and severely scarred by a house fire as a child in Romania. Now 20, Marius’ story has always inspired and intrigued me, not only because of the power of his tragedy but because he chooses every single day not to let it define him. He has had children run screaming from him. He has had bullies call him Freddy Krueger. I wanted to write a story that would go to these dark, lonely parts of tragedies like his, but also to the beautiful, hopeful parts. As Marius has told me, the only way he survived was because every time he wanted to give up, someone was there, helping him choose to live. I hope Ava’s story can show readers that we all have a choice after a life-changing event: We can choose to be alone, isolated and angry that our normal is gone, or we can let people in and find a new normal, together.

Reading Scars Like Wings it looks like you did a lot of research in burn victims when it comes to the healing process and medical work needed. Did you speak to professionals that help burn victims or did you solely rely on books about the topic?

Oh, definitely! As I wrote this book, I felt heavily the burden of presenting an accurate, respectful representation of the burn survivor community. I spent a lot of time speaking with survivors, reading their stories, talking to doctors about wound care and recovery, and generally immersing myself in the terrible/wonderful/inspirational/reality of being a burn survivor. Learning about the physical and emotional pain of burns was gut-wrenching at times, but I wanted to preset a story that went beyond stereotypes and pity to the reality of what it’s like to live with physical and emotional scars like Ava’s.

I know that Ava hates seeing herself as a survivor, but she is a very inspiring character. The reader can’t help but want to root for her the whole time. When did Ava’s story first come to you (as in inspiration)?

Well, like I mentioned, Marius originally sparked the idea for this story, but the character of Ava took shape slowly as I started researching and drafting. She has some qualities just like Marius, like her thumbs on her hands instead of fingers, and then pieces of other stories that survivors have shared with me. The more I thought about her and wrote about her, the more she became a fully-formed character with interests like Broadway musicals and a personality all her own. I’d love for readers to see Ava this way by the end of the book, as a smart, funny, talented teenager who just happens to also have scars.

As much as Ava is wonderful, Piper is a true scene-stealer. I feel like everyone needs a Piper in their life. Was Piper inspired by someone in particular?

Not really, but I knew from the beginning that Ava needed someone like Piper to draw her out of her shell and remind her that she has a lot of living and loving left to do. Piper’s loud, out-there attitude is a great counterbalance to Ava’s initial belief that her life is over after the fire. Like a lot of people, though, Piper’s bravado is hiding her own pain and struggles. And when she starts to push Ava away, too, we start to see how deep her pain runs. Both girls finally realize that they can have full, happy lives after their trauma, but they can’t ignore the pain, either.

So many YA novels lately are being made into movies or TV series, which actress would you like to see bring Ava to life?

Oh, wouldn’t that be amazing! If I’m being honest, I’d love to see the role of Ava go to a burn survivor. I think it would be so wonderful to see someone who has actually lived a similar storyline portray this recovery journey!

(Editor’s note: I LOVE Erin’s idea of a burn survivor being the one to portray Ava, although if I had to choose an actress, I think Joey King would tackle Ava’s journey well.)

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Almost Home by Madisen Kuhn

almost home

A gorgeous poetry and prose collection that explores the meaning of “home” and the profound discovery of finding it within oneself.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Gallery Books

Price: $14.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

In this stunning third collection from Madisen Kuhn, Madisen eloquently analyzes some of life’s universal themes within the framework of a house. Whether it’s the garden, the bedroom, or the front porch, Madisen takes you into her own “home,” sharing some of the most intimate parts of her life so that you might also, someday, feel free to share some of yours.

Filled with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations from Melody Hansen, this boldly intimate, preternaturally wise, and emotionally candid collection encourages you to consider what home means to you—whether it’s in the lush, green-lawned suburbs or a city apartment—and, more importantly, explores how you can find it even when home feels like it’s on the far-off horizon.

Grade: B+

Review:

For someone like me who has been on the move since I was born, reading a book that explores the meaning of home was very relatable. What’s the difference between a house and a home? And how do you know when one feels just like a house and what makes a home a home? The poetry is very heartfelt and emotional. For some home is a physical place or location, while for others the meaning of home is a person. What makes us feel at home? Ultimately, it’s the place where we feel safe.

One of the most poignant lines was, “I am jealous of what you have but not of who you are. Regardless it withers me.” I’m sure many people have often felt this way, feeling envious of what someone may have but not being particularly keen on the person in question.

Many of the poems explore the meaning of finding a home within a person. I think that we all yearn to feel at home with someone, although oftentimes that is merely a mirage and we’re far lonelier together than when we are alone.

This poetry collection really hits a nerve for me because of my incessant search to feel at home. If you’re a fan of Rupi Kaur or Amanda Lovelace, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

dead

Red Lady, Red Lady, Show us your face….

Release Date: December 10, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: $26.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ll be honest, when I read the first chapter, I wasn’t too intrigued although it opened with a very disturbing admission, that the protagonist Heather had killed her best friend when she was a tween. It wasn’t until the following chapter reverted to the THEN portion of the story that I was hooked. The novel is sectioned in alternating chapters with a chapter in the present and the following chapter in the past. By far, the THEN chapters are way more interesting because it shows Heather as a twelve-year-old, and being best friends with Becca, and also with Rachel and Gia, whom like her and Becca also enjoy a fascination for the macabre. The girls are intrigued by deaths and serial killers so much that they decide to create the Dead Girls Club. A club made to share scary stories or true crime stories. The girls usually got together for these meetings at the basement of an abandoned house.

That summer though, Becca becomes obsessed with telling the story of the Red Lady, a witch who was killed in an atrocious manner. At first, the girls are intrigued by the stories, especially Heather, but she begins to resent the stories when she notices how it has begun to affect Becca. Because Becca is convinced that the Red Lady is real and the only one who can save her from her alcoholic, abusive mother.

In the present time, Heather receives a pendant that Becca was wearing the night of her death in the mail, which causes her to spiral in paranoia. Did somebody see her kill Becca? Is the Red Lady after her?

This book is so deliciously twisty that you find yourself questioning what’s real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heather an unreliable narrator but more it’s an exploration of devout friendship and how often stories in our youth can begin to feel real if we allow ourselves to believe in them.

I honestly wish that we had gotten more chapters from the past or that we could’ve gotten a whole book about the Red Lady (the story was simply very fascinating as it was horrific). I suggest this novel to anyone who loves thrillers with a dash of supernatural spookiness into the mix.

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*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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I Was Friends with J.T. Leroy: From Fame to Hoax

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Laura Albert as “Speedie” and Savannah Knoop as “J.T.” with Asia Argento in 2002

J.T. Leroy was one of the greatest literary hoaxes of the internet era. It’s also proof that reality is much more outrageous than fiction. Up until the New York Times’ Warren St. John uncovered the hoax in January 2006. Up until then, J.T. Leroy blazed the literary scene and was pretty much a rockstar with the celebrity friends (Bono, Madonna, Shirley Manson, Courtney Love, Michael Pitt, Gus Van Sant, and Asia Argento just to name a few). Shirley Manson even went so far as to write not one, but TWO songs inspired by J.T., Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) and Bleed Like Me. But J.T. Leroy wasn’t really who he claimed to be, the son of a truckstop whore in West Virginia and former junkie and prostitute himself. He wrote about his childhood in West Virginia in the book The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and Sarah. Both books were published as fiction, and yet in interviews, he suggested that they were based on fact.

But up until 1999, no one had ever seen Leroy. In fact, Leroy never did book signings or readings. It wasn’t until sometime in 2000 that Leroy began to do public appearances, and he was always disguised by a wig and sunglasses.

In 2006, we found out exactly why he was always in disguise because J.T. Leroy never existed. Rather he was an “avatar” for writer Laura Albert who hired her sister-in-law at the time, Savannah Knoop to portray J.T. in public.

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Winona Ryder with Savannah Knoop as “J.T.”

How to best describe the moral outrage that many felt when they found out they had been “duped” by the duo were best said by Warren St. John when he stated, “The books are fiction but the marketing device to get us to read them was a lie, pure and simple.”

Recently, a film was made based on Savannah Knoop’s memoir, Girl Boy Girl: How I Became J.T. Leroy, where androgynous It-Girl Kristen Stewart brought to life both Knoop and the enigmatic Leroy, while a wildly unrecognizable Laura Dern played Laura Albert as well as Leroy’s so-called “manager,” the cockney-accented Speedie.

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Laura Dern playing Laura Albert as “Speedie” and Kristen Stewart playing Savannah Knoop as “J.T. Leroy”

In the film, Asia Argento was played by Diane Kruger (although they changed her name to Eva, probably to avoid any legal issues). Although the film excelled with these actress’ performance, the film lacked to explore how writing was therapeutic for Laura Albert and how that propelled her to hide behind J.T. Leroy. It also failed to address the fact that maybe J.T. wouldn’t have had so many people willing to be helpful towards him had he not been a young, white male. One of the most poignant moments in the movie was towards the end, when after the hoax was exposed and Savannah reveals to Laura Albert that she’s planning to write a book about her experience portraying J.T., Albert replies with, “Remember, just because you played a writer, doesn’t make you a writer.” A little too tongue in cheek.

For years, I’ve avoided writing about J.T. because for me he wasn’t just an author that I admired (he was so young and had already accumulated so many accolades and for someone like me who was an aspiring writer at the time, he was such a great inspiration), but he was also a friend. You see, back in the early 2000s there used to exist Yahoo mail groups, and somehow I found myself being in the one dedicated to J.T. Leroy, which was run by the actual author. At some point sometime in late 2001, he and I began to correspond. And our correspondence lasted up until The New York Times unveiled the hoax in 2006. He and I would talk about books, movies, cartoons (we were both obsessed with Spongebob Squarepants) and chocolates. In fact, on several occasions, I sent him Italian chocolates.

Watching the movie J.T. Leroy was kinda triggering in the sense that it reminded me of so many J.T. things that I had forgotten over the years. It also left me sad, because although he didn’t exist, in some ways he did and his memory remains alive in those that had a chance to be friends with him. Even after all these years, when I visited San Francisco in 2016, I found myself going to places that he had suggested I visit so many years ago (Ghirardelli Square being one of them), and also Polk Street (only because it was predominately featured in Leroy’s final book, Harold’s End.

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Pictured at Polk Street in San Francisco with my cousin in August of 2016

In today’s age of social media, Laura Albert wouldn’t have been capable to pull off the hoax for very long. But for me, the fact that she not only managed to pull it off, but to market J.T. in such a way that had him picking up awesome gigs left and right (he wrote for Vogue, got to interview Billy Corgan’s short-lived band Swan for The Rolling Stone, and wrote the screenplay for Gus Van Sant’s Elephant). In other words, Laura Albert was a master class in marketing and promoting, and I think any author would benefit from being more like her in that regard.

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Laura Albert the writer using “J.T. Leroy” as her avatar

I know some people in the literary world still shun Laura Albert today, but no one can take away the fact that the novels she wrote provided solace to many of those that had succumbed to the child abuse she depicted in them. Maybe, the hoax went on for so long because we all wanted J.T. to be real, and in believing it, he ultimately became real.

I miss you, J.T. There’s a part of me that still wishes that someday you’ll find your voice again and we’ll get another book.

Here’s hoping, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Savannah Knoop as “J.T.” with Bono sometime in 2003

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