The Literary Lollipop

Guilt-free adventures in reading, writing, and original fiction

Purge, baby, purge! — January 15, 2017

Purge, baby, purge!

library-january-2017

Let’s get accountable, acc-oun-ta-ble! Sing with me, now! Like any addiction, quitting cold turkey is difficult, and not always sustainable. I’ve tried it, made progress, and then cancelled that hard-fought-for progress. Over the years, I’ve purged old books – quite a few, actually – and yet, I’ve purchased more. More and more. As if I needed any more books. Puh-leeze.

Now I’m back where I started. But that’s okay. This is my confession. Thankfully, my budget bookshelves haven’t crumpled beneath the weight of my collection yet, so I still have time to save those laminated slabs of MDF from certain death.

Back in October, I made a concentrated effort to put all books for donation in a paper bag near my dresser. Every time I finished a novel, I tossed it in that bag. In the fall of 2016, I managed to purge at least two full loads at my local bookstore and library. For nearly three years, I’ve been tracking my progress (and backsliding) on an excel spreadsheet. Each title of my library is accounted for on my spreadsheet. And so I’m sharing this with you to keep me honest. Feel free to download my library-of-titles, nor not. (This is for posterity and my tracking pleasure, so it’s a very basic document.)

After all, this is resolution season. Although I’ve never been big on resolutions, per say, I like to aim for something. My goal for 2017 is to, above all else, get my sh*t together, as they say. Get organized. Streamlined. Keep ahead of my laundry, get rid of clutter I don’t want, use up what I’ve purchased, make sure I’ve brushed my dog’s teeth every damn day, get my ass to the gym and/or yoga studio, and generally feel less frazzled and overwhelmed by life. And part of that picture includes my monumental hoard of unread books. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating. It’s not monumental. I only have two bookshelves. There’s only so much I can fit on two meager bookshelves. But still, it feels like a lot to me. Daunting, you know?

So anyway, long story short, this is my plan: purge, baby, purge! Not to mention, hold myself accountable for my lapses in judgement and book buying, which I’m proud to say hasn’t happened for at least three months. Pat on back. Wallet in pocket. Forgiveness for past failures. Moving on.

The Upside of Winter Hibernation — January 12, 2017

The Upside of Winter Hibernation

upside of winter hibernation

I love the heat, so winter is my least favorite season. Anything below twenty degrees Celsius is simply undesirable. (I may have been a lizard in a past life.) Ottawa winters are especially long and brutal, with record snowfalls each year, which only exacerbates the frustration factor. But if I spend all my time complaining, what would that do to improve the situation? Absolutely nothin’ – huh, say it again! So this is me, being positive about winter hibernation. Feel free to add to this list in the comments below.

Cozy blankets and socks

As much as I hate being cold, I love curling up under a wool or electric fleece blanket. Perhaps enjoying an electric blanket makes me sound geriatric, but hey, such is life. I also have a collection of fleecy, men’s work socks that are way too big for my feet but pair perfectly with a chilly evening and a scary movie.

Hot yoga

Nothing makes more sense to me than hot yoga in winter time. If the wind outside is brittle enough to freeze your face off, it’s pure bliss to spend ninety minutes in a tropical climate, a tank top, and brightly coloured leggings.

Knitting

This is the perfect time of year to make a new scarf. I already have more homemade scarves than I need, but that’s okay. Warmth is good. Plus, knitting is meditative.

Plenty of time to read

In general, I spend less time reading in the summer because I’d rather be outside in the sunshine, going for a run. January, however, is an optimal time for catching up on my reading, because blizzards make it easy to skip the treadmill.

Soup & Stew

Easiest meal ever. Throw stuff in a pot, then cook. Instant warmth. A hot bowl to wrap your hands around. Lots of noodles. Need I say more?

Amaretto liqueur

All it takes is a few sips to get the blood flowing. Amaretto is absolutely delicious, like marzipan and caramel put together with high alcohol content. A great way to end a bad day.

Hot chocolate and chai latte

I don’t drink coffee, but I’ve recently joined the chai latte bandwagon. Say hello to my little friends: sugar and milk fat. What’s a few extra calories in the winter? More insulation. Practicality never tasted so good.

Snow can be pretty (when it’s not causing car accidents)

Okay, okay, I confess! As much as I dislike the cold, snow is beautiful, especially at Christmas, glowing like the moon against strings of twinkle lights. I love walking home under a canopy of fat, crisp flakes.

Baking

During the summer, I avoid using the oven at all costs, so the apartment doesn’t feel like Dante’s Inferno. This time of year is perfect for making cookies and bread, cakes and other scrumptious treats. The scent of cinnamon is a comfort.

Tea

Speaking of cinnamon, it tastes wonderful in tea. I enjoy selecting interesting loose leaf brands at David’s Tea and the local health food store. Suddenly, tea’s trendy, which makes it easy to find fun, healthful flavor combinations almost anywhere.

Dispatches from Pluto — January 11, 2017

Dispatches from Pluto

dispatches-from-pluto

Richard Grant is a truly fantastic travel writer. He’s insightful and empathetic, understanding, fair, and patient. I know little of Mississippian history, and Dispatches from Pluto painted a balanced and thoughtful portrait of the Delta, a unique region of the southern United States.

At the beginning of this unusual memoir-slash-travelogue, Grant and his girlfriend, Mariah, are living in a tiny New York apartment with their spatially depressed German Shepherd, paying exorbitant rent, and struggling to find work. On the upside, they enjoy easy access to yoga, shopping, world class food and wine.

While visiting his friend Martha Foose in Mississippi, Grant learns that her father is selling his house, an old plantation in the small Delta town of Pluto. The view is majestic. There’s nothing but green space and beautiful sky. The peace and quiet is magical. He can barely contain himself. Never one to settle down or want a house, content to be a nomad, this is the first time in his adult life Grant considers purchasing property.

The idea percolates, and eventually he brings Mariah to visit the house and get her opinion. She loves it, and gives her blessing. Grant then begins the long and arduous process of applying for a mortgage. Rejections pile up, and he wonders if his Mississippi dream might never come to pass. When he explains his financing issues to Dr. Foose, Martha’s father and the current homeowner, he pulls a few strings and orchestrates a helpful meeting at a local Delta bank to move things along. And that was after he offered to loan Grant the money himself.

Once the couple moves in, they soon realize that living in Pluto means a significant but interesting lifestyle change. (He’s a British expat and she’s from Arizona.) Keeping their property safe from alligators, insects, poisonous cottonmouth snakes, bugs, and other mischievous creatures, requires a swift and adept use of a gun. Grant learns to hunt deer and other fowl. Both of them struggle to navigate the heating system of their new home during the wet and cold winter months. But on the upside, Mariah finds a job at a local independent bookstore, and their garden, once tamed and cajoled into being, produces an amazing assortment of produce. Not to mention, the local and regional musicians are just a short drive away.

Eventually, they get used to and relish the slower pace of living. Their growing network of neighbours and new friends become like an extended family. However, one subject that Grant struggles to understand is race relations in the south, specifically in the Delta; and, by extension, wealth and poverty. The more he learns about this complicated slice of Mississippian history, the less he grasps of what he eventually realizes is the ultimate, but still unspoken, elephant in the room. He has countless conversations with people in the region, and each new perspective adds another unusual layer to an already tricky topic. It is most appropriately described in chapter seventeen as “grabbing smoke.” In other words, impossible to isolate and label, as there are contradictions and exceptions, rendering the vocabulary unpredictable and inconsistent. Grant’s analysis is very open-minded and considerate; I appreciated his honesty, but also his uncertainty. There are many points in the memoir when he admits he just doesn’t know what to make of it all. The puzzle pieces don’t fit together in the way we might expect them to.

Dispatches from Pluto is a wonderfully thoughtful book of social observations and personal memoir, unique food and southern history. It will break your heart and, somehow, simultaneously revive your faith in humanity.

The New York Trilogy — January 5, 2017

The New York Trilogy

new-york-trilogy-paul-auster

Ah, existentialism. It has turned into a four-letter word for me. Meaning, every time I’ve ever read an existentialist novel, on purpose or by accident, I want to swear like a sailor and throw it across the room. Hard. Like, hard enough to smash a hole in the wall. Or, if I was being appropriately melodramatic: out the window, crash right through the glass, and into a muddy flower bed below, to be buried for all eternity and never found again.

That is, until now. Paul Auster achieved the monumental feat of making an existential novel palatable to my rage-inducing impatience with plotless plots. The New York Trilogy, three novellas unified by vague philosophy but not coherence, is uniquely bewitching. This time, I didn’t go crazy with manic frustration. Miracle of all miracles! There was no need to hurl the book at the wall hard enough to cause damage. Steam did not gush from my ears. Yes, I had a few moments of mental anguish and (ghostly) headaches, but they soon vanished and left me with nothing but curiosity.

Never have I turned the pages more quickly to learn nothing. Never have I been more fascinated by the draw of an endless ending. The stories went in circles. And yet, I was at peace with the narrative circles. The mystery was so tautly developed, and then unraveled, that I was almost amused by it all, by Auster’s ability to expertly spin a tale and then let it all go.

To re-hash the actual goings-on of The New York Trilogy, detail by detail, would be an exercise in foggy futility, so I will not torture you (or me) with what will likely result in a half-baked attempt. To keep it simple, I’ll only say that nothing is as it seems. Private investigators are hired to spy on odd individuals, and then promptly get lost in the life they are being paid to observe. People are not who we think they are. The meaning of names and words evaporate into the ether. People disappear and then reappear. But, I digress. My intention was to keep this simple.

However, regardless of all the excess complexity, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of mind bending references to Paradise Lost, Walden, and Don Quixote throughout the trilogy, specifically City of Glass. After being forced to read Paradise Lost from beginning to end in University, an entire class devoted to analyzing the monumental poem from every possible angle, this is the first time I’ve actually had to call on that knowledge. And you know what? It came in handy. That much I’ll admit. Despite the misery and absolute boredom that class induced, Paradise Lost eventually grew on me, and it is because of secondary material like The New York Trilogy and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman that I’ve come to appreciate the original. Thanks to Paul Auster for the much-needed, intriguingly outfitted push.

Alas, Babylon — January 4, 2017

Alas, Babylon

alas-babylon

Though written in 1959, Alas, Babylon resonates for a 21st Century reader. Considering current political discussions and fears, Pat Frank’s interpretation of a post-apocalyptic world recovering from powerful Russian H-bomb explosions was plucked from my bookshelf at an appropriate time.

It is Christmas in Fort Repose, Florida, when we are introduced to Randy, the “hero” of Alas, Babylon. Randy is an unlikely choice for lead narrator, especially for the era, as his perspective is particularly modern and rebellious. He is an unmarried, childless, sometimes womanizer, with a spotty employment history. He’s lost and relatively lazy, but still well-intentioned. The residents of Fort Repose don’t really trust him, and he is regarded as somewhat disreputable. (I get the impression that Pat Frank is attempting to be didactic with the character of Randy, as he’s directionless at the beginning and develops purpose throughout the novel, with each new struggle he encounters.)

Randy has a brother in the military, Mark, who sends him a cryptic warning via telegram. Mark has access to highly confidential information and believes that an attack, or something significant and impactful, will happen soon on American soil. At first, Randy is skeptical, like anyone might be, but the more evidence he hears and is presented with, the more nervous he becomes. Randy follows his brother’s instructions that include: purchasing bulk amounts of food, liquor, batteries, and candles; filling the bathtubs with water; preparing for the arrival of Helen (Mark’s wife) and her two children; then, stock piling disinfectant products and medicine. He is unable to accomplish everything prescribed, but completes as much as humanly possible. Most importantly, Randy is ready for Helen and the kids.

At this point, the gossipy residents of Fort Repose are noticing Randy’s strange behavior, and start asking questions. The librarian, who is especially observant, is one of very few in the town who seems to appreciate the potential severity of the situation. Eventually, after a few rumors spread, there’s a run for cash at the bank, and the seed of panic is born. Soon after, supplies dwindle.

And then it happens. IT. HAPPENS. Late one evening, the sky is illuminated by a bright, white explosion. It is the first in a series that will inevitably destroy the infrastructure of their small town, which relies on the resources of bigger cities for food deliveries and electricity.

This is when the story really begins. If you can get past the military lingo early on in the novel, your patience will be rewarded. Once the explosion occurs, and the town is forced to deal with the effects of radiation, the loss of plumbing and electricity, and the inevitable violence of survival, that’s when the novel comes alive.

Slowly, Randy works with the people around him to rebuild a functional community. It is not a romantic tale of modernity lost, but I can’t help but notice that everyone in the community regains a long-forgotten sense of self-worth. In the new world, there is death and illness and struggle, but there is also euphoric success and satisfying work, physically and mentally. Money has lost its value, and the definition of ‘enterprising’ is entirely new. People are forced to learn about the land, devise new ways of solving old problems, and be economical with the resources they managed to salvage.

As depressing as Alas, Babylon had the potential to be, I was enthralled by the level of scientific detail, the social commentary on segregation, the roller-coaster of problem and solution. I cheered when Peyton found fish after weeks without. I cheered when Randy found a hidden jar of coffee just when it was needed. And, I cheered when Dr. Gunn recuperated after a severe beating. As far as post-apocalyptic novels go, Alas, Babylon has more hope for the future than you might expect.

Best reads of 2016 — January 3, 2017

Best reads of 2016

It’s that time of year again. Part of me can’t believe it. An entire year has gone by! Where the heck have I been? The insanity of 2016 held me hostage, and I feel like I’m finally surfacing from the chaos.

Well, at least I’ve managed to read in some satisfying capacity – 27 books in total, an okay number, but decidedly low compared to my ambitious goals. However, taking a step back from reading was necessary, so that I could finish a couple of writing projects. It’s one or the other; unfortunately, I don’t have the mental prowess to do both simultaneously.

In retrospect, I’ve had a lukewarm reading experience this year, but five books in particular come to mind as my absolute favourite:

overwhelmed

Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte

My appetite for non-fiction has increased over time, especially books with a spiritual edge. During moments of frustration and heavy stress, I gravitate towards Osho and Buddhist texts, but also to social observations and commentary. Overwhelmed is a fantastically researched and written study on time, parenting, and social expectations. Most importantly, it is a perfect example of how we torture ourselves with perfectionism and, as we grow older, lose our capacity for creative spontaneity. (Read full review.)

best-friend-exorcism

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Unique twists on traditional horror tropes are a blast when fearlessly executed, which is exactly my reason for enjoying My Best Friend’s Exorcism so intensely. Hendrix recaptures the youthful poof of an adorable John Hughes movie by setting this unique story in the 80s, but don’t let the Molly Ringwald reference fool you. This book is pure horror, blood, and guts. Hendrix pays homage to all the horror greats. The best part? I know I’ve used this phrase countless times, but the dialogue – my favourite element of storytelling – is pitch perfect. (Read full review.)

Born Standing Up

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

I was late to the Steve Martin party, but now that I’ve arrived, I can’t sing his praises loudly or emphatically enough. Born Standing Up was an absolute pleasure to read. Sure it was funny, but it was also tremendously insightful, written by someone who’s been through the mill a few times, and isn’t afraid to share some unconventional wisdom. (Read full review.)

Mr Vertigo

Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster

If my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Vertigo was the light at the end of a depressing book tunnel. At the time, I had been going through a dry spell, and this was the novel that revived my enthusiasm from the depths of boredom. The characters have chutzpah to spare. Love, love, love. (Read full review.)

rubbernecker

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Purchased at LAX, after much hemming and hawing, Rubbernecker was probably the best random read of 2016. I had never heard of it, nor had I heard of the author, so I had zero expectations… which appears to be the recipe for enjoyment these days. No expectations. This novel is a fantastic reinterpretation of the typical crime novel narrator, and I adored every minute I spent with Patrick Fort. (Read full review.)

Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas — December 8, 2016

Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas

nate-the-great-crunchy-christmas

It’s been a tough year for me and, I suspect, many others. I say this not to ruin your mood or get negative, but only because it’s relevant to the bigger picture, which is the reason I insisted on having a visit with my favourite childhood fictional character, Nate the Great, in the first place.

The Christmas season brings on great big waves of tradition and memory and nostalgia. It’s the reason I watch Prancer and One Magic Christmas every year. I am reminded of a simpler, happier time, when my young mind was blissfully ignorant of rent costs, a forever tricky economy, and political strife. I used to read my Nate the Great books, play in the snow, go sledding, and do crafts at the kitchen table. What did I know about the world around me at that age? A little. I had an inkling of things to come, but not much. And I was okay with that.

To recapture some of that childlike innocence from my youth, to step away from the adult world for a moment, I treated myself to a copy of Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas. I love the illustrations, and the sarcastic sense of humour, the obsession with pancakes. Anyone who reads the book, despite his or her age, can’t help but smile and laugh in earnest. Nate’s trusty sidekick, Sludge, has a hilarious roster of facial expressions that crack me up. There are even some fun activities listed at the back of the book and I might actually do a few, to spark my imagination and feel like a kid again. And, if I ever need to make dog biscuits from scratch, there’s a recipe included as well. My bases are covered.

What are you doing this year to spark some joy in your holiday? Do you have any childhood traditions that you continued into your adult life? If so, why? What is it about the childhood tradition that gives you a sense of content? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Christmas Bliss — December 7, 2016

Christmas Bliss

christmas-bliss

This is the second time I’ve ventured into the world of Weezie and Bebe, of Savannah, GA. Christmas Bliss is a complimentary story to Blue Christmas, which I also read and loved for the outrageously hilarious dialogue and emotionally satisfying story. Christmas Bliss was just as fun and just as hilarious. It didn’t take itself too seriously, which was a welcome breath of fresh air, especially after reading a rather heavy-handed and overtly pretentious literary novel. (Mercifully, two books that couldn’t be more different.)

In this installment, Weezie, short for Eloise Foley, owner of an antique shop, is preparing for her winter wedding to chef, Danny. For the time leading up to the holidays, Danny is in New York as a guest chef at a swanky restaurant.

Meanwhile, Bebe, eight months pregnant and owner of a retro-inspired inn, learns that her second husband didn’t legally complete their divorce. She spends most of her time tracking down leads that might help her finalize a relationship that nearly left her bankrupt, so she’s stressed, to say the very least.

When Weezie learns that her husband-to-be is working with an exceptionally attractive woman, she spontaneously ventures to New York. Is this a stupid idea? Yes, okay. Sort of. In this regard, Weezie’s overreaction is frustrating, and she’s not very city savvy, which she proves the minute she arrives in the Big Apple and allows herself to be suckered by a fake taxi driver. As a result, she ends up stranded without a coat in a questionable neighbourhood, and Danny has to come and pick her up, even though he’s sick with the flu.

Regardless, all ends well.  Weezie and Danny have a cute visit and experience Christmas in New York. We also learn that the gorgeous woman Danny’s working with is stupendously kind and generous, and has no intention of stealing him away. Imagine that. I’m shocked. As if every female with enviable cleavage is secretly plotting to seduce all engaged men within a ten mile radius. An exaggeration, of course, and completely ridiculous, but I understand that plot requires friction to move forward. Hence, the enviable cleavage and Weezie’s modest jealousy.

Both storylines are conveniently wrapped up in a bow, but not without a few dangling threads – a thoughtful reflection of life as it happens, and how even storybook endings will have a few uncertainties. The mental health of Weezie’s father, for instance, is never fully resolved. Even though Christmas Bliss is meant to be a light read, Andrews injects a few random but effective elements of realism. (The stickler in me very much appreciates the effort.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the idiosyncrasies of the two main characters and their families, their quirky dialogue and regional sayings. I felt like I was hangin’ out in Savannah, celebrating the holidays in Southern style.

The Infatuations — November 29, 2016

The Infatuations

the-infatuationsI can’t believe I finished this book. I almost gave up. But I pushed through the endless sentences and the plotless plot, the philosophical meanderings and the tangents, and the commas; comma, after comma, after comma. I can’t explain why I felt the need to finish. I was determined to see the story through to the end. The mystery lover in me wanted to see the mystery solved. Or, at least, come to a conclusion of some sort. Well, at least there was a conclusion; whether or not it was satisfying is another discussion entirely.

[Spoiler alert]

Maria Dolz works in publishing, and every morning before work she observes “the perfect couple” in a Madrid café. Seeing them interact gives her a sense of balance, as if the earth is on its proper axis. One day, the couple stops coming to the café. At first, Maria doesn’t notice; she just assumes they have gone away on vacation and will be back soon. But then she learns the husband, Desverne, has been murdered, stabbed several times by a mentally ill homeless man. Maria is shocked, and ruminates on the tragedy of the situation.

She later meets the wife, Luisa, and eventually falls in love with Javier, a friend of the deceased husband. But then, in the midst of their affair, Maria overhears an unusual conversation that reveals Javier may have orchestrated the death of Luisa’s husband, so that he could take his place in the marriage bed. Maria ruminates some more on the information, is sort-of disgusted, but still moderately in love with Javier. She spends many paragraphs staring at his apparently beautiful lips.

Javier is suspicious of what Maria knows, and to calm her fears he reveals that Desverne was terminally ill with an extremely rare disease and had asked Javier to kill him because he didn’t have the guts to commit suicide. But the clues don’t add up, and Maria reflects for chapters at a time on the contradictory evidence, and a number of theories develop. Is Javier guilty? Should she turn him in? Should she report him to the police? What would that do? And so on. Why destroy the life of a man with such beautiful lips if he isn’t guilty of murder?

I think it’s safe to say that I am not the target demographic for The Infatuations, which is less of a murder mystery thriller – the genre the novel was marketed as – and more of a subdued existential conversation, where all the characters sound the same and speak the same philosophical language and ask questions like:

  • What is murder? Is murder really murder if people die anyway?
  • Is murder still murder if the victim is terminally ill?
  • Is murder still murder if the person asks you to kill them?
  • Is love real? Does it matter?
  • Why do we love who we love? Does it matter?
  • What is truth? Why should we care? It is too subjective.

To be perfectly honest, had I known The Infatuations would take me down the same road as a Simone de Beauvoir novel, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Existentialism is not my cup of tea. This time, I accidentally stepped into it without realizing until I was waist deep. Now that I’ve reached the end of the story, I’ve realized it would be best to trade this novel at my local used bookstore, where it can find a more appreciative reader.

When bad endings happen to good books — November 16, 2016

When bad endings happen to good books

sudden departure of the frasers

Deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. The Sudden Departure of the Frasers had so much potential, nearly five hundred pages of potential. I whipped through the first three hundred because I was riveted. Completely and utterly glued to the story. I love it when that happens, when I’m absorbed into the fictitious world and I feel like I know and (sort-of) understand the cast of crazy, compelling characters. Even the most ridiculous gaps in logic couldn’t tear me away. Suspension of disbelief doesn’t begin to describe the obsessive page-turning. Until the ending turns into a predictable mess, of course.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown weary of Gone Girl repeats, the unreliable, psycho femme fatale narrator is no longer a surprising plot twist. Perhaps it’s because I was never a fan of the Gone Girl trend in the first place. I don’t know. I had the same reaction to The Deadly Sister. However, The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is an incredibly well written book. I can’t emphasize that enough. Louise Candlish is a gifted storyteller. Her words flow in a way that feels natural and true. She makes her characters realistically flawed and deeply human, with relevant daily concerns that many women identify with.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers begins with Christy Davenport, accepting the keys to her new townhouse in Lime Park, an upscale suburb near London. She brings with her a raging case of impostor syndrome, because even though she has worked her way up the social/financial ladder, Christy continues to feel as though she doesn’t belong. She and her husband Joe have mortgaged their futures and sanity in order to own this piece of property – impossibly priced, a bargain. Christy is looking forward to meeting her new neighbours and building a life in Lime Park, though she hesitates to have children because of the immense cost of the house looming over her head. They have borrowed extensively to pay the down payment. As time goes on and the neighbours, with whom she’d hoped to develop friendships, continue to ignore her, Christy begins to wonder if something more sinister is going on.

The narrative alternates between Christy and Amber Fraser, the beautiful, sensual wife of Jeremy. They are the original owners of number 40 Lime Park Road, and the story of their “departure” is slowly unfolding alongside Christy’s perspective. From the outset, Amber is unlikable and certainly not worth any reader’s trust, mainly because it’s so damn obvious that she’s up to no good. Amber tries in her usual charismatic way to sway the reader to her side of the morality fence, but reservations remain. She unpacks her convoluted backstory and reveals the many layers of her manipulative self.

Eventually, the two narratives collide in a predictable, frustrating fashion that made me feel duped and dirty. Unfortunately, as much as I adored Candlish’s writing, language, and voice, I simply didn’t care when Amber spilled the obvious beans at the end. In fact, there were no beans to spill, because I’d already had my suspicions. The reveal at the end was nothing more than an affirmation that, as Maya Angelou wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”