Thursday, October 12, 2017

REPOST: Book Review: Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke

Release date: October 14th 2014
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Age group: YA
Pages: 336
Buy the book:  Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters' story. Those girls don't get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing

Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.

When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.

While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.

And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.

Enhance the experience with the companion soundtrack, Imogen Unlocked, by the author's band, Wedding Day Rain.



"I am whole. I am more that just the pieces that I see. I am stronger than I seem."

I liked this book so incredibly much. From page one, I felt a connection with the main character, Imogen, and throughout the 336 pages this book made me feel compassion, joy, anger, sadness, happiness and so many more feelings I cannot put into words. This review will attempt to open up why this book was such a great reading experience for me - in fact, one of the best overall reading experiences of 2014!

"I just can't understand folks who willingly go to the gym and participate in choreographed masochism. Maybe I'd have to experience it to get it. Like, maybe if I knew what it was like to put on my jeans without doing the fat-girl, jean-buttoning rain dance, I'd understand."

This quote, from the second page of the novel made me realize that this would be one of those books that I feel an incredibly connection with. It perfectly introduces us to the character of Imogen, who is funny and sarcastic, but also deeply troubled. The book starts with Imogen visiting a therapist, which right away makes us face the issues she is dealing with. Her mother had died when she was young, her father has remarried and now the daughter of her father's new wife is moving into to live in the same house with Imogen. And she's definitely not fine with that. Not at all. Carmella Cinder (later on known was Ella Cinder) has only met Imogen once, but it seems like the moment they saw each other, Carmella decided that she hates Imogen. 

"Being ignored means nobody's making fun. It means nobody's making comments under their breath about me being overweight. It means less anxiety."

Imogen is tired. She is tired of being feeling the way she is. More than anything, she just wants to be normal. But since normal does not seem like an option for her, she has accepted that her not being normal equals misery. When her step-sister Carmella, who happens to represent everything Imogen is not, moves in, things start to get even more complicated. Carmella seems to be there just to destroy the small resemblance of happiness Imogen has - her involvement with the theatre group, her invisibleness inside the school and her friendship with Grant, the boy Imogen has been in love with for a long time. At first, Imogen thinks that according to the laws of the nature, it is okay for Carmella to bug her - whereas she is perfect, beautiful and like the princess in fairytales, Imogen sees herself as the step-sister who is destined to be the loser, the one left alone and unhappy. For Imogen, it seems like there will be no happily ever after for her. 

"When are we gonna get a fat princess? How about a princess with bad acne and crappy posture and the mouth of a sailor? Probably never. Every. Single. One. Is the same. Totally hot. Totally predictable. "

You can't believe how refreshing it felt to read about a protagonist who is overweight. A protagonist who deals with issues related to her body image and how she is supposed to look versus how she really looks. I feel like many times when it comes to body issues, young adult novels deal with eating disorders so some sort, because those inevitably feel more dramatic than someone being overweight. But as someone who does not really fit into the "normal body type" category, I feel like I was able to identify with this type of description much more. Imogen so desperately wants to be confident and love herself and her body, but then there are people and situations that make her feel like the elephant in the room. She thinks about how her life would be if she would be skinnier, but comes to the realization that it is not really her weight that makes her life occasionally like hell. It is the people she has to deal with and their toxicity. What she realizes also is that she needs to just shut those people out, surround herself with people who love her despite the way she looks, and most importantly, learn to love herself and embrace herself as someone worthy of love.

"I look at myself, at my shape, at my body, and I smile."

Despite the heavy issues the book deals with, from bullying to mental health issues, Damsel Distressed is also extremely funny. And by that I mean laugh-out-loud, trying-to-stop-laughing-at-a- public-place, funny. Imogen is such a fantastic character to read about, and from page one I kept thinking that it would be awesome to have someone like her as a friend. Yes, she is troubled and messed up and all that jazz, but she is also incredibly kind, creative and caring. For a long time, she just does not seem to be able care about herself the way she cares about others. She has a great sense of humor and she is quite sarcastic, which I ALWAYS love, because I love sarcasm and being sarcastic. And despite her problems, she can make fun of herself.

"Real happiness? You show me a barrel full of chicken nuggets and ten different sauces, and I'll show you real happiness."

I think I already mentioned Grant once. But oh my, Grant deserves several mentions, because he is WONDERFUL! He is exactly the type of male character and a love-interest I want to read about. He is kind, funny, nerdy, loving, but also flawed. He can also be a bit ignorant towards Imogen and her feelings, but he learns from him mistakes, asks for forgiveness and rightfully gets it. For some, Grant might seem a bit boring, but for me, he was just perfect. He is entertaining and interesting without being dark, mysterious, sparkling, dangerous or a bad boy in general. The more and more I read about him, the more he made me think of Seth Cohen, one of the best fictional guys I've ever been fortunate enough to be introduced to. And seriously, anything that makes me think of Seth Cohen, has to be perfect.

"The mild October wind blows and steals away the last wisps of the smell of him, and I miss it before the leaves can settle again on the concrete."

I guess to some extent it could be argued that the relationship between Imogen and Grant is quite predictable in the sense that you pretty much can guess that they will somehow end up together. But I guess that is the case with pretty much all YA books that deal with friendships that turn into something more. What Macke excels with is the establishment of that moment, the building of that relationship and what it takes for the characters to declare what they are feeling or not feeling. There is no instalove here, no cliche moments - everything feels so real and so honest and just so romantic in its simplicity.

"I was just wondering how a girl who is as messed up as me managed to be here. With other humans. Who don't seem to hate me. Kinda makes me nervous I'll mess it up. 

I feel like slut-shaming often becomes an issue with books like this where there is a bully and the bullied, someone who is "perfect" and someone who is "imperfect". For a long time, I feared that despite how much I was enjoying this book, I would have to mention in my review that it does include some slut shaming. But oh man, I am happy to say THAT IT DOES NOT! Macke carefully untangles everything that could be identified as slut-shaming, making her "villain" a human too, someone who is also hurting, someone not so different from Imogen. The ability to do this made me like this book even more, and really made me appreciate Macke both as a writer and a human being, while also making me really excited to see what Macke comes up with next.

"You watch me live, live alone inside my pain
You watch me try, try to keep it locked away"
(Sinking by Wedding Day Rain)

Damsel Distressed is accompanied by a soundtrack by Wedding Day Rain, a folk-rock band the author of the book, Kelsey Macke, is a part of. The soundtrack can be found from www.damseldistressed.com and the book itself identifies which song should be listened when. Since I was mainly reading this book at home, I decided to listen to the soundtrack in addition to reading the book and really found it to be an interesting addition to the story. The songs really fit fell to the events that take place within the novel and I feel like the songs really give a voice to the characters, mainly Imogen and Grant. I almost wish this book would be turned into a film and the soundtrack provided with the book would be the one used in the film. 

As you can probably sense from this quite long and rambly review, I really LOVED this book. There are so many other things I could write about, but at the same time I do not want to give up too much because I want you all to pick this one up and love it as much as I did. Seriously, do it! You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (Review)

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me by Alexie Sherman
Release date: June 13th, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

A searing, deeply moving memoir about family, love, and loss from the critically acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award winner.

When his mother passed away at the age of 78, Sherman Alexie responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is this stunning memoir. Featuring 78 poems, 78 essays and intimate family photographs, Alexie shares raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine--growing up dirt-poor on an Indian reservation, one of four children raised by alcoholic parents. Throughout, a portrait emerges of his mother as a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated woman. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is a powerful account of a complicated relationship, an unflinching and unforgettable remembrance.




Alexie Sherman has written the screenplay for one of my favorite movies, Smoke Signals, which is why I am always excited to pick up books written by him. I read a short story collection by him earlier this year and came across You Don't Have To Say You Love Me kind of accidentally while looking for non-fiction books to read. 

The synopsis sounded interesting so I bought the book as an ebook. I am happy I did so because while You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is an interesting family story, it also taught me so much about things I already knew about as well as about things that I had no idea had taken place.

I studied North American studies as a minor during my postgrad degree and did quite a bit of research on the representation of Native American individuals on film. Through that research, I got a chance to learn about something I had not really been introduced to within the Finnish education system. 
"My parents sold blood for money to buy food. Poverty was our spirit animal."
I believe it is not the job of a book like this or an author like Sherman Alexie to educate mainly white Americans about the issues relating to reservations and the treatment of the Native population. Rather, it is the job of the white reader to pick up a book like this and really think about the things Alexie writes about -- the violence, the abuse, the poverty, the hopelessness. And perhaps Alexie's tales of his family, the traditions of his tribe, and the complicated yet supporting ties that bind him to his reservation can inspire the reader to do more research, to know more about the history of the people that the white Americans have systematically attempted to vanquish for centuries. 

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is very much centered around Alexie's difficult, conflicting relationship with his mother. As he writes about his mother, he ties his mother's story, and in essence his own, into stories about his reservation (Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington), his ancestry, his life outside the reservation, and the history and the lives of the Native Americans in general.  By mixing short essays and poetry, Alexie paints a vivid picture of his childhood, his reservation and much more. 
"Has there ever been a place in the United States where a poor Native woman and her kids could be truly safe?"
"She was female, poor, indigeous, bright,
Commodified, hunted, and tape-measured.
She survived one hundred deaths before she died,
But was never thrilled by her endangered life." 
One of the aspects I really appreciated about this novel is the way in which Alexie writes about Native women like her mother and her sisters. He discusses the dangers in which women often find themselves from within the reservations and the violence and abuse they have to endure in their daily lives. While Alexie's relationship with his mother might have not been the easiest at times, the way he writes about his highlights the love and respect he must have had for her. 

Alexie also discusses Trump and I think quotation from his book tells everything you need to know about his opinion (I completely agree with Alexie, btw!):
"In 2016, white conservatives elected as president a serial liar who is likely the most fearful and paranoid and wildly insecure white man who has ever run for the office. And those white folks elected him because they believe they are victims. Yes, I am Spokane Indian -- an indigenous American -- who grew up with white folks who think this country is being stole from them."
At times, You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is difficult to read due to the subject matters it discusses such as rape, alcoholism, and abuse. Despite that, the book feels pretty much like essential reading, because it made me realize how incredibly privileged I am -- unlike the majority of people living on reservations like the Spokane Indian Reservation Alexie writes about, I didn't have to grow up and deal with issues like alcoholism and abuse on daily basis. 
"When people consider the meaning of genocide, they might only think of corpses being pushed into mass graves. But a person can be genocided -- can have every connection to his past severed -- and live to be an old man whose rib cage is a haunted house built around his heart. I know this because I once sat in a room and listened to dozens of Indian men desperately trying to speak louder than their howling, howling, howling, howling ghosts."
As mentioned, I read this from a position of privilege. For someone who does not hold that privilege the experience of reading this will definitely be different and affect the reader in a different way. Whatever your position as a reader is, I highly recommend picking this one up and seeing how it will affect you as a reader. 


Rating:



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why Kids Kill - Inside the Minds of School Shooters by Peter Langman (Review)

Release date: January 6th, 2009
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 256

Description (from Goodreads):

Ten years after the school massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, school shootings are a new and alarming epidemic. While sociologists have attributed the trigger of violence to peer pressure, such as bullying and social isolation, prominent psychologist Peter Langman, argues here that psychological causes are responsible.

Drawing on 20 years of clinical experience, Langman offers surprising reasons for why some teens become violent. Langman divides shooters into three categories, and he discusses the role of personality, trauma, and psychosis among school shooters.

From examining the material evidence of notorious school shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech to addressing the mental states of the violent youths he treats, Langman shows how to identify early signs of homicide-prone youth and what preventive measures educators, parents and communities can take to protect themselves from the tragedy.




Before I write anything else, I want to say that I found the premise of this book and Langman's categorization of the shooters interesting. He is a psychologist and clearly knows what he is talking about. Unfortunately, the way he presents his arguments didn't work for me -- he has a lot of interesting things to say, but I feel like he only manages to scratch the surface. His research on the topic is probably much more extensive than this book is, and I wish more of his analysis would have been included here. 

As mentioned, Langman is a psychologist. Due to his academic and professional background, he explains his approach to the topic in following way:
"I focus on people as individuals and on what goes on their minds -- their personalities, thoughts, feelings, perspectives: all the things that make up their identities. This does not mean that I ignore external influences. Family interactions, social environments, and peer relationships have a profound impact on people's identities and experiences. What I sought to understand, however, was what it was like inside the minds of the school shooters. How did they see the world? How did they understand their homicidal urges?"
Langman focuses on ten different shooters by going through their family background, possible notes and diaries they wrote, and so on. While a focus on different kind of cases could potentially offer variety, I kept feeling like Langman offered a quite uneven analysis of the subjects -- some, like the Columbine shooters are covered in much more detail, while some only get a few paragraphs. This is partly due to the fact that not all shooters left behind the kind of information Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris did, but I couldn't help feeling like Langman should have just focused on those that he had more information on so he could have provided more analysis and information, rather than trying to cram so much into a fairly short book.

I think what Langman excels in is discussing some of the myths that are often associated with school shooters -- bullying, being a loner, having parents that do not care, etc. I am a media scholar, and I felt like extensive parts of this discussion could be related to the way media narrates school shooting situations and how it builds up the images of the perpetrators. Langman argues:
"In the wake of a school shooting, a brief period of massive media coverage often follows. Much of the initial information that gets reported is not accurate, and by the time more accurate information has been obtained, the media has moved on to other stories. Thus, reliable versions of the events often do not reach the public. For this reason, we need to go beyond the sound bite to a more nuanced look at the factors that are often cited as contributing to school shootings."
This brief period of intensive media reporting, of course, applies to a lot of other situations as well, and especially during a time when social media is also seen as a news source by some (according to research conducted by Pew Research Center, 62% of American adults use social media as a news source) inaccurate information can have the ability to reach larger and larger audiences. Langman himself does not talk about the media much more beyond this point, but, for example, Dave Cullen has written about the mediation of school shootings in Columbine.

Langman categorizes the shooters into three categories based on his research: psychopathic, psychotic, and traumatized. He then goes into discussing the 10 shooters by dividing them into these categories. After this, he introduces five cases he has worked on and talks about five children that were seen as potential school shooters. Finally, he introduces a list of things parents and teachers should keep their eyes on in order to possibly prevent school shooting situations. 

The discussion about the five children Langman has had as patients, children who were all planning acts of violence in school, was interesting, but unfortunately, like a lot of other things in this book, only managed to scratch the surface. After I finished this book, I kept thinking that Langman probably would have had more room to provide more analysis if he would have chosen to focus on five shooters, ones that he actually had the most information on, followed by a more thorough analysis of these five patients he has worked with. 

I believe that for someone who has not read much about this topic, this book could work as a sufficient starting point. But as someone who has done research on this topic before in an academic context, I couldn't help feeling like something was missing. As mentioned, the categorization Langman provides is interesting but other than that, I kept feeling there was really nothing new here for me. 


"People often label all school shooters psychopaths, but this is inaccurate. Most school shooters do not fit the diagnosis of psychopaths."

"The lesson to be learned is that there is no profile of a school shooter that we can compare kids to in order to determine how dangerous they might be. A threat assessment is based on behavior, not taste in music, fascination with violence, or negative role models."

Rating:


Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Why Are You Taking Photos of Books?"


"Why are you taking photos of books?" has been a question I have heard several times after I started actively posting to my bookstagram account.

For me, it feels like a no-brainer to take pictures of books -- they are beautiful and I spend a lot of time with them. I collect them, I fall in love with them, I entertain myself with them. And most importantly, I love sharing my love for books with book lovers.


The bookstagram community has blown up massively in the last couple of years and it has been interesting to follow how some accounts has grown extremely popular. This is definitely a trend I support wholeheartedly and love the fact that there is now easy access to massive amounts of beautiful photos of books.


I used to post pictures of books to my personal Instagram account, but once I realized that I could still maintain a bookstagram account when I didn't have time to blog I decided to make an account just for book/literature related content. I have been posting to the account actively since April, I believe, and have utterly enjoyed sharing what I've been reading and buying with other bookstagrammers.


I am constantly amazed by the creativity of bookstagrammers and constantly feel like I am coming up with ideas of book photos to take myself. Bookstagram is also a great way to find new books to read -- even though my TBR is massive I am always ready to add new interesting titles to it.


Do you use bookstagram? Let me know in the comments so I can follow your account!

You can find my bookstagram from here or by searching for my username avoraciousreader from Instagram. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (Review)

Release date: February 14th, 2017
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240

Description (from Goodreads):

From the award-winning author of Hold Still comes an achingly beautiful novel about grief and the enduring power of friendship.

"You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother."

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punch, We Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.
 



Nina LaCour's name rarely comes up when I list my favorite authors, but now that I started to think about it, the fact is that I have enjoyed everything I have read by her previously, Hold Still and Everything Leads to You. We Are Okay will definitely be a new addition to that list.

To be completely honest, not that much actually happens in We Are Okay. If you are looking for an action-packed read, this is definitely not for you. While I think plot-based books are interesting, I am more of a fan of character-based, almost character study, type of books, and at least for me, We Are Okay is exactly that kind of book -- a story of a young woman going through change after a tragedy.

Marin's life has been divided into two -- life before her grandfather died and life after it. She has escaped her past in California to study in New York. While she probably never fully intended to do it, she has also left her best friend Mabel behind. 

We Are Okay narrates both the events of the present time (Mabel visiting Marin before Christmas) as well as events from the past that led to Marin's departure from California.

While Marin finds herself from a new and strange environment, it is clear that she is not just suddenly able to get rid of her past. I think Marin is an incredibly likable, multi-dimensional character, and while We Are Okay is a short and quick book to read, LaCour is able to create a character that is memorable and someone I was definitely able to relate with to a degree (being able to relate with a character is definitely not something I require from a book to be good, but it definitely is a bonus). 

Like Marin, I have not been able to avoid grief. I read this book in February, but am only writing this review two months later (April). A week ago, my grandmother passed away and after the initial shock, I started to think about this book and how it deals with grief. 

Marin loses her grandfather and initially learns that he has been hiding something from her. While I probably won't find out that my grandmother has been hiding something from me, my reflection of this book made me realize that there are parts of my grandmother's life that I never learned about, and never probably will learn about now that she has passed away. 

LaCour writes so beautifully and lyrically, and at times it felt like I was reading poetry. It seems like every single word is carefully chosen, which results in the fact that as a reader, I never felt like there was too much or too little of something in here. 

I especially love the way LaCour writers about the relationship between Marin and Mabel, a connection that, at a time, was more than just a friendship. The narrative about families, especially the kind of families we can gain later in life through friendships etc., was executed beautifully and definitely made me tear up.

I highly recommend We Are Okay to those looking for an emotional, beautifully written contemporary novel that deals with grief, friendship, love, and second chances. And come on, look at that cover... it is absolutely gorgeous!


Rating:


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Milka Recommends: True Crime (Books, Podcasts, and Series)


When it comes to true crime books, podcasts and series, I am a HUGE fan. So much so that I often opt for tales of true crimes rather than listening to music as a bike around, spend my money on true crime books instead of novels and eagerly wait for new true crime series to make their premiere.

A while ago I was asked to recommend my favorite true crime books on Twitter. While I did share some recommendations there, I got the idea of putting together a more comprehensive list of books, podcasts and series I often recommend to my friends and family members.

Let me know in the comments if you have read/listened to/watched intriguing true crime content recently -- I am always looking for recommendations for new stuff to familiarize myself with.


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

"Imagination, of course, can open any door -- turn the key and let the terror walk right in."

Without Truman Capote's In Cold Blood the true crime genre would probably be very different than it is today. In Cold Blood is a monumental account of murders that took place in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. This careful, precise observation of the murders, the investigation, and trials of the accused made waves in the literary world when it was published and over 50 years after its publication it still manages to shock, awe, and intrigue. If you pick up only one recommendation from this list I hope it is this one!

Columbine by Dave Cullen

"The final portrait is often furthest from the truth."

Written in astonishing detail, Dave Cullen's Columbine is an account of the 1999 school shootings that shook the United States and the world. A result of ten years of investigation, Columbine offers a very factual, often brutal, representation of the events by utilizing expert statements from psychologists, the FBI, and so on. Interestingly, Cullen spends quite a bit of time trying to understand the killers and in a sense builds profiles for them. In many ways, Cullen has an almost academic approach to the issue -- some have blamed him for lacking humanity, but I personally appreciated the very fact-based, objective approach. 


"When an individual is raped in this country, more than 90 percent of the time the rapist gets away with the crime."

A book that will, and should, break your heart. A scary, harrowing, and heartbreaking read about situations way too many young women are forced into. The way the women Krakauer writes about were treated by the police and the judicial system made me SO ANGRY. If you have felt like you need to read a comprehensive account of victim blaming and rape culture, this one should be on your list of potential books to read. 


"Americans are no more inherently violent than anybody else. What makes its society more deadly is the widespread availability of firearms. Every country has its problems, unique to its own history and culture. But in no other Western socity would this book be possible."

On average, seven children and teens are killed by guns daily in the United States. That means an average of 210 children/teens in a month. An average of 2555 children/teens in a year. And this statistic does not include suicides. In Another Day in a Death of America, Gary Younge tells the stories of ten children/teens who lost their lives in fatal shootings on Saturday 23 November 2013. Rather than focusing directly on gun laws or racial issues, Younge states that his book is "about America and its kids viewed through a particular lens in a particular moment." I found this book to be EXTREMELY interesting and heartbreaking and the stories the families of the dead children are endlessly devastating and heartbreaking. 


"Life is full of suffering, and this is mine. I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born. But I believe it would not have been better for me."

A brave, personal, emotional account of her life after the Columbine shootings by Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the shooters. If you are among those who felt like Dave Cullen's Columbine lacked humanity and compassion I recommend picking this one up because Sue Klebold's account is based more on feelings and memories than hard facts. Sue Klebold accounts what happened during the hours, days, months and years after the massacre at Columbine high school -- the judgment she faced as a mother, the sorrow she felt for the loss of her son, and the time spent wondering what she could have done to stop Dylan. Klebold writes quite a lot about suicide survivors/survivors of suicide -- the friends and family of someone who has committed suicide -- which is something I could relate with since I am a survivor of suicide myself. While this made the book a bit more difficult for me to read, I think the research and the personal accounts Klebold shares with the reader might have been good for me too, since they made me think of things I usually try to bury extremely deep. 

All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues!


Serial season 1

"It's Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent -- though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she's nowhere to be found."

It feels kind of useless to recommend Serial since I feel like EVERYONE has listened to it already, but at the same time I deemed it impossible to publish this list would including Serial on it. A brilliant feat of journalism and research, the first season of Serial proceeds like an intriguing fictional crime story, adding more to the mystery episode by episode. What really happened to Hae Min Lee? Was Adnan somehow involved in her murder? If you are interested in my opinions on the case, hit me up on Twitter @milkamilka or let me know what you think in the comments!


"The Undisclosed podcast investigates wrongful convictions, and the U.S. criminal system, by taking a closer look at the perpetration of a crime, its investigation, the trial, and the ultimate verdict...and finding new evidence that never made it to court."

Undisclosed started as a podcast focused on the case covered during the first season of Serial -- the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of Adnan Syed. While Serial presents the case as a narrative story of sorts, Undisclosed's focus is more on the court proceedings, the little details of the evidence and the statements given by people, and so on. After a successful first season, the Undisclosed team started to focus on other cases such as those of Joey Watkins and Freddie Gray. A new season titled "The State v. Shaurn Thomas" has just premiered and is available via the Undisclosed website and different podcast providers. 


"In 1972, five-year-old Adrien vanished while on a faily fishing trip in Eastern Ontario. Despite an intensive search and investigation, no sign of Adrien was found, no clue as to where he might be. Ridgen goes back to investigate."

"On December 31, 1997, at a New Year's Eve party broadcast on live TV, Sheryl Sheppard accepted a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, Michael Lavoie. Two days later, she disappeared."

I came across the first season of Canadian podcast Someone Knows Something which focuses on the disappearance of a five-year-old boy in Eastern Ontario by accident and listened to the whole season within the span of few days. I waited for season 2 anxiously and it certainly did not disappoint -- while the first season is brilliant in its own right, the second season really intrigued me from the get go and managed to keep me interested in it for months. David Ridgen is a brilliant journalist and an engaging storyteller who shows curiosity and compassion towards the cases he covers.

Season 3 of Someone Knows Something is set to premiere in November 2017!


"Sparked by a chilling tip, Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams? is an eight-part podcast investigation that unearths new information and potential suspects in the cold case of a young indigenous woman murdered in British Columbia in 1898."

A CBC podcast I came across while listening to Someone Knows Something. The story of Alberta Williams is heartbreaking and the mystery behind the last moments of her life is extremely intriguing. The podcasters Connie Walker and Marnie Luke are engaging and narrate the events surrounding Alberta's death in a manner that made me look forward to listening to every episode. 


"John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who's allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthning of the mysteries of one man's life."

S-Town, a spin-off of sorts of Serial, starts as a true crime podcast and ends up being something completely different. I have always had a fascination with the Southern United States which is why this podcast focused on a man from a small town in Alabama instantly caught my attention. Brian Reed, the senior producer of This American Life, is an incredible storyteller and the connection that forms between him and the subject of the podcast feels extremely special and unique. 





Making a Murderer (Netflix)

"If we wanted to eliminate Steve, it would've been a whole lot easier to eliminate Steve than to frame Steve...or if we wanted him killed, it would be much easier just to kill him."

Netflix's Making a Murderer premiered to critical acclaim in November 2016. The 10-episode documentary focuses on the murder of Teresa Halbach on October 31, 2005, and the criminal trial that followed the intensive investigation into the matter. The producers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi present a well-researched, comprehensive account of the murder, investigation, and the trials as well as an interesting study of Steven Avery, the accused man, and the place he comes from. 


The Confession Tapes (Netflix)

"This true crime documentary series investigates cases where people convicted of murder claim their confessions were coerced, involuntary or false.

The Confession Tapes is a recent addition to Netflix's true crime line-up. The episodes focus on different cases in which the people convicted of murder discuss their confessions and the possibilities that those confessions were coerced. The first few episodes are certainly the most interesting out of the whole series and on a general level, the series provides an interesting look into the US judicial system and the practices of law enforcement. 

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO)

"I did not knowingly, purposefully, intentionally lie."

I really hope you have not been spoiled for the ending of this documentary series, because honestly, that ending is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen -- I seriously felt like I am going to shit in my pants as events started to unfold. Even if you have been spoiled this series is worth a watch, though. Robert Durst seems like such an unlikely subject for a murder investigation, yet it all starts to make sense as the series proceeds. Andrew Jarecki, the documentarian, has also directed a true crime documentary film called Capturing the Friedmans which is absolutely brilliant and one of the best docs I've ever seen. 

BuzzFeed Unsolved (BuzzFeed)

"BuzzFeed Unsolved in a WebSeries created by BuzzFeed that discusses unsolved mysteries, both Criminal and Supernatural cases."

I kept seeing mentions of this show my Twitter timeline on daily basis during the summer and felt like I needed to know what Buzzfeed Unsolved is all about. While the hosts, Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej, have also discussed cases of the paranormal on the show, I have mainly just focused on watching the true crime episodes. They don't necessarily add anything new to the conversation, except their wonderful senses of humor, but have managed to introduce some interesting cases that I had not heard of before. If you are like me and consume quite a bit of true crime content some of the cases might seem overly familiar, like the case of JonBenĂ©t Ramsey, but the fact that the episodes are so short and interestingly narrated makes this series worth a watch. 

The Staircase

"Miniseries by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade documenting the trial of Michael Peterson, accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson."

I've seen and heard this being called the best true crime documentary ever made and in many ways, I have to agree with that argument. I was completely engrossed by this documentary series focused on the murder of Kathleen Peterson and the trial of Michael Peterson -- in fact, I watched the whole thing on one sitting through the night. The Staircase gives an in-depth look into the work of lawyers, the process of trial preparation, and more. 

In case you are sitcom fan you might already know that the NBC sitcom Trial & Error parodies this documentary and the details of the case. 

So here they are -- my true crime recommendations. I hope you found something interesting to read/listen to/watch from this list. Let me know in the comments if you are planning on to take on any of my recommendations. If you have any recommendations of true crime content please share those in the comments as well!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday (#73) - Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List


It has been a year since I wrote a Top Ten Tuesday post. To be honest, I have kind of missed putting these lists together. When I was browsing through the Broke and Bookish site I got so excited when I noticed the topic for this week because I knew putting this list together would mean I would have to go through lists of new releases as well as titles from my already existing TBR.

I am hopefully going to find the time to read more than just these ten books during the fall, but here is a list of ten titles I am really looking forward to reading!



Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

"A Southern Odyssey" set in Mississippi. A tale of a family, hope, struggle, addiction, and more. This has been described as an "essential contribution to American literature", a statement that was certainly able to capture my attention. Sing, Unburied, Sing has been longlisted for 2017 National Book Award.


What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

A lot of books have already been published about the election and more will likely make their appearance as the presidency of that Dum-dum continues. Though the topic interests me in general, this account by Hillary Clinton is the one I want to read ASAP. 


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I KNOW I SHOULD HAVE READ THIS ONE ALREADY! At the time this book was published earlier this year I was super busy with my thesis and last assignments, so I figured I should not even pick it up because then I could not focus on anything else. The publication was months ago, my thesis has been submitted and I have graduated and I still haven't managed to read this one. This is probably the highest priority title on this list! The Hate U Give has been longlisted for 2017 National Book Award.


The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

I find the subject matter extremely intriguing. The fact that this one has been getting amazing reviews definitely adds to my excitement to read it. 



A collection poems, essays, and photos telling the story of the life of the mother of Alexie Sherman. Sherman has written the screenplay for one of my favorite movies (Smoke Signals) so I am pretty much interested to read anything he writes. I think this one also delves into Sherman's childhood on an Indian reservation, which is something I am really interested in reading about.


Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens 

Small town setting, a group of friends, and solid reviews by reviewers I trust all make me want to read this one as soon as possible! I also tend to think books set in small towns are perfect for the fall!


This non-fiction book focuses on a case of wrongful conviction through the case of Willie J. Grimes. I am obsessed with true crime shows/books/podcasts so, obviously, this new release is something I am dying to read. 



This one is also about the American system, which I have started to find more and more interesting in the past few years. This one has gathered some pretty impressive reviews and I am eager to know if the hype is deserved. 


Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

I have loved everything I have previously read by Jennifer E. Smith and I have a feeling I will be in need of some easy-to-read contemporary stories after I finish with the previous two books on this list. 


One of Us Is Lying by Karen McGinnis

This is not necessarily the kind of book I would normally pick up but the synopsis caught my attention and the stellar reviews my bookish friends have been giving to this certainly help too. I also heard that this one will be turned into a TV series which definitely sounds interesting too!

Let me know in the comments what you are planning to read this fall!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall (Review)

Release date: January 3rd, 2017
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Clarion Books

Description (from Goodreads):

At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?



Oh my, this one was REALLY good! 

I always feel slightly hesitant to pick up books which deal with anxiety because of (a) my own anxiety and (b) the fear that anxiety is used only as some sort of gimmick that the anxious character suddenly and magically gets rid off when for example a cute guy shows around.
"It's like my mind and my brain are two separate things, working against each other. I can't get them to cooperate."
The latter is just not the reality of anxiety (at least not for me) and I am glad to report that at least I was able to identify Gornall's representation of anxiety and anxious feelings as realistic. Because of that, Under Rose-Tainted Skies is hard to read at times, but that also makes it so damn real. 

The novel focuses on Norah, who suffers from agoraphobia and is unable to leave her house. As she herself says, she is "scared of everything." She lives with her mother, who I absolutely loved by the way, and is used to spending a lot of time on her own.
"She thinks that all my baggage shouldn't matter. She thinks people should see past it, should see that I am more than what is wrong with me. The clouds in her sky are always rose-coloured, which I know is a beautiful way to be. Alas, I have a mind that muddies everything. My skies aren't so pretty; more tainted with fear than tainted with whimsy."
While agoraphobia is obviously a huge part of Norah's life, I loved the fact that she is not defined only by that. What I mean by this is the fact that Gornall represent Norah as this wonderful, multifaceted character who fears the outside, but who also fiercely loves her mother, dreams of a kind of future her mind keeps fighting against, and who possesses a wonderful sense of humor and an ability to laugh at herself. Pretty much from page one, I was rooting for Norah!

I always like it when young adult novels feature good description of a therapist-client relationship, and I think Gornall does pretty good job creating the scenes in which Norah talks about her life with her therapist. Such scenes are also interestingly used to give insights into Norah's condition and the different things she has been going through. 

One of the main aspects that made Under Rose-Tainted Skies hard to read at times are the sections of the novel focused on Norah's self-harming behavior, such as cutting and picking on her skin. As a result of these scenes, I would definitely attach a trigger warning about self-harm to this novel!
"Acceptance of the strange is his superpower."
The romantic element of the novel is introduced when a new guy called Luke moves to the house next door to Norah's. As she connects with Luke, first hesitantly, Norah starts to feel things that both scare and excite her. In general, Luke is a super decent guy, but I did appreciate the fact that Gornall does not attempt to portray him as some sort of 100% perfect prince but rather as someone who is flawed and might not always know at first how to talk to or act around Norah. All and all, the romantic aspect of the novel was very cute, yet realistic, at least to the extent that Norah does not suddenly just recover from her anxiety after a cute guy looks at her.

I though Under the Rose-Tainted Skies was a beautiful, touching, occasionally funny, and romantic novel about growing up, about coming to terms with issues related to mental health. Gornall writes beautifully and once I really got into this story I found it extremely difficult to put down.


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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (Review)

Release date: March 4, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 237

Description (from Goodreads):

A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King.

"This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it, but I do."

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners' pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.
 



Once in a while you, if you're lucky, you come across a book that changes how you think about certain things. For me, The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld was that kind of book.

When you really start to think about it, isn't it actually quite strange that certain combinations of words can make you feel so much. To make you think. 
"In here, names end. We end. Like periods end sentences. Like the ropes and the bullets and the hot electric nodes and the frying chair, and eventually, the cool milky tubes. Even if we live out our lives in here, we end. Our creation is over."
I imagine that when you decide to write about death row inmates, one of the first things you must decide on is how to portray individuals whose actions have been deemed so horrible that they have been convicted to death. You can sensationalize such individuals, turn then into caricatures of human monstrosity. You can keep them clouded in mystery and let other characters speak for them. Or then you can do what Rene Denfeld has done with The Enchanted.

In addition to being an author, Denfeld is actually a death penalty investigator, and I think the fact that she has done work similar to what "the Lady" does on this novel really allows her to write about death row inmates as human beings, as people with feelings and thoughts, fears, and hopes. Yes, they all did horrible things to end up there, and at no point does Denfeld try to deny that. But it also questions a system that makes people want to die instead of trying to fight for some sort of life. Not necessarily a life of freedom, but at least a life that allows one to exit the conditions of solitary confinement.
"No one heals from what I did. I want her to pretend that I never happened -- I was an abortion that went undone. I want to tell her I wish I could take it all back, fold back into the womb, erase myself into a seed, make myself obsolete. Never have been, never was here. never did those terrible, horrible, heartbreaking things to her son."
I come from a country where death sentences are not "a thing". In general, you cannot really be convicted "for life" -- you can get a life sentence, but that usually means about 14 years of imprisonment, after which it is seen that one has suffered his/her punishment and is allowed to start a new life. There are of course those, who get out, commit a new crime and are taken back in, but in practice, an individual who for instance murders someone can walk free after doing his/her time. 

The US prison system is probably more familiar to me than the Finnish one, just because it has been the focus of some many movies, books, TV shows and documentaries that have allowed me to take a look to it from different points of view. Denfeld's novel is definitely a worthy addition, and one that I think possesses a kind of honesty I have never come across before.

Since "the Lady" and Denfeld herself are death sentence investigators, individuals who try to find ways to save death row inmates from a death sentence, I would imagine both are against the death sentence. Even if your opinion is opposite to theirs, you should definitely read this one, because it might provide you with something you have not thought about before. 
""Yes" is the most beautiful word in the world to him, a word of open doors and new adventures."
The focus of The Enchanted is on a number of characters -- there are the inmates on Death Row, the Lady trying to save a character named York from the execution of his sentence, a priest who has fallen from grace, a young boy who comes face-to-face with the brutality of the prison system, and many others. The narration of the novel is done extremely interestingly. Honestly, I do not want to say much about it, because I think the narrative voice and the events he describes are elements every individual reader should make his/her own interpretations about. If you have read this one, leave me a comment and let's chat about our thoughts on the narrator

Denfeld writes so beautifully and gracefully about people and especially places that are definitely not considered beautiful or graceful. But while the words are beautiful, this definitely is far away from a "feel good" book of any kind. It is brutal (trigger warnings esp. for rape, violence, discussions of self-harm) and harsh, and what makes it so difficult to read about is the fact that there is a sense that these are not things that Denfeld has just come up with. Rather, these are things she has witnessed, things she has heard about.
"Later I read that there are things inside us too tiny to see. Not even a microscope can capture them. This got me thinking -- if there are things inside us too tiny to see, might there be things outside us too big to believe?"
While for the majority of this novel there is a sense of hopelessness present, little moments here and there feel hopeful and show that even in the darkest of darknesses there is a possibility for a sudden ray of light.

I cannot really name a specific group of readers I would recommend this to, because I honestly want everyone to read this! It might not be for all, and the subject matters it deals with can understandably make some readers hesitant about reading it, but if the synopsis at all catches your attention, I highly recommend that you at least give it a try. And hey, if you like magical realism, there is some of that here as well!


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