mini-review · stuff I read

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

34964868Summary from Goodreads:
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. . . But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

I first heard about The Trauma Cleaner from Liberty on the All the Books podcast in a round-up of anticipated 2018 releases. Lib has never steered me wrong, so I pulled up the galley on Edelweiss and devoured it.

The Trauma Cleaner is an absolutely fascinating book that twines three stories into one: the surface-level business of trauma cleaning (the cleaning done after a person has died or is in a hoarding situation, etc), the heart-rending biography of the woman who owns the business and how she has managed to survive with such compassion for others still intact, and the thread of the author’s own story with her own history of trauma. The story of Sandra Pankhurst is also the story of the struggle of LGBT+ persons in Australia against discrimination and for trans-men and -women to live as men and women with the same legal rights as everyone else. This is a rough, rough book to read though.  Pankhurst endured a lot of physical abuse from her parents and sexual assault as an adult. All the trigger warnings. Be prepared to step back and take a breath.

As one of Sandra Pankhurst’s doctors said, it is astounding to think how much she has accomplished given that she is physically ailing and how much more she could accomplish given better health or opportunities earlier in life.

The Trauma Cleaner is out today in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

35180979Summary from Goodreads:
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark —the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a completely absorbing and terrifying (especially in the first third or so) work of true crime reporting/memoir/Google sleuthing about the search for the Golden State Killer (who was not named that until McNamara gave it to him, which was a thing I did not know). The writing is compelling, kudos to McNamara’s research assistant and team who organized and completed the book after her death. They were very careful to note which parts of the book were finished by McNamara herself and which were finished by her team. Although, there’s a weird Epilogue addressed to the killer placed AFTER Patton Oswalt wrote a lovely Afterword to his wife and the timing is just NO. That Epilogue should have come before the Afterword.

I do have to warn you that you absolutely do NOT want to read or listen to this book at night.  Alone.  By yourself.  Unless you want to wind up getting absolutely no sleep and finding out that the cat managed to open the door to the garage in the middle of the night so you spend an hour checking in all the closets of the house to make sure no psychos are lying in wait for you.

Dear FTC: I listened to an audiobook recording that I borrowed from the library.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Women · stuff I read

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

35840657Summary from Goodreads:

Selected by Emma Watson as the Our Shared Shelf Book Club Pick for March/April 2018

“Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small… What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined.” ―Roxane Gay, author of Hunger

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

“A sledgehammer. . . . Her experiments with structure and language . . . are in the service of trying to find new ways to think about the past, trauma, repetition and reconciliation, which might be a way of saying a new model for the memoir.” ―Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

“I am quietly reveling in the profundity of Mailhot’s deliberate transgression in Heart Berries and its perfect results. I love her suspicion of words. I have always been terrified and in awe of the power of words – but Mailhot does not let them silence her in Heart Berries. She finds the purest way to say what she needs to say… [T]he writing is so good it’s hard not to temporarily be distracted from the content or narrative by its brilliance…Perhaps, because this author so generously allows us to be her witness, we are somehow able to see ourselves more clearly and become better witnesses to ourselves.” ―Emma Watson, Official March/April selection for Our Shared Shelf

I don’t know what got into Spring 2018 publishing, but Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot is another knock-it-out-of-the-park book. I cannot even begin to tell you how beautiful and heartbreaking this slim memoir actually is (and I mean slim – barely 150 pages). Mailhot’s use of contrasting style and tone is perfection. Her critique of how Native women’s language is taken from them and twisted is breathtaking. An early forerunner for best memoir of the year.

My only critique is that the extra-textual information contained in the flap copy above really does not figure directly into the narrative that Mailhot is working through in this book.  Details flit around the periphery. The reader has to work to piece everything together, right along with Mailhot. And I don’t think the extra-textuals are needed because then we spend the whole book searching for the matching details.

If you are following #metoo, Sherman Alexie did provide an Introduction to this book (not sure if it will stay for future editions/printings). But it really adds nothing to the book. If he bothers you, you can safely skip it, read Mailhot’s writing, and then read the Afterword by Joan Naviyuk Kane, which is a Q&A with Mailhot and amazing.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because YES.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #5)

34848198Summary from Goodreads:
Edith Drummond owes her life to Niels Buchanan and his brothers. Waking after an illness to a castle overrun by rugged Highlanders is disconcerting, but so is learning that she’s slowly being poisoned. Niels insists on staying by her side, and Edith soon discovers that even more dangerous is her wild attraction to the fierce warrior.

Niels has never met a more courageous—or enticing—woman than Lady Edith. The idea of such a bonny lass being forced to enter a nunnery is more than any red-blooded Scotsman could bear. He’ll gladly marry her himself. But while sweeping her off her feet is easy, it’ll take all his skill to defeat her family’s relentless enemies, and convince her to surrender to his sweet embrace.

Lynsay Sands’s Scottish romances are ridiculous, and silly, and occasionally frustrating and impossible for me to quit. The last outing in her Highlanders series was a bit of a disappointment, so I was hoping Surrender to the Highlander would be a course correction. And I did like Edith’s and Niels’s romance quite a lot. So often in a Sands romance there’s a danger to the heroine and the hero restricts her activities to the extreme and then she goes and does something stupid out of frustration. *cue eyeroll* But with Surrender to the Highlander Edith and Neils actually discuss plans of action. Edith is treated like a smart person (which she is) who knows the castle and its people better than any of the Buchanans; Neils insists on many guards, but even though they get underfoot, Edith goes along with it because she’d really prefer not to be deceased. If you’ve read a lot of Sands, then the murder poison plot feels a bit rehashed but oh well. Sands could use an editor for the language (if you take the time to pepper in “ken” and “sgian-dubh” you can do the research for a suitable Scots epithet instead of “ai yi yi”). There is one scene where Edith asks the maid how to please Neils, because she’d like to return the favor (if you know what I mean), and gets some VERY TERRIBLE BUT FUNNY advice.

I am glad to see the next book coming is for Aulay (finally) then perhaps one for Rory, since he’s actually expressed that he’d like to fall in love compared to the remaining single-guys-get-all-the-ladies attitudes of the younger brothers. Bad news for the cover designer though – tartans are the same color in one family (Dougall’s cover had a blue-ish tartan, this one is red, and Aulay’s is green for the next one – they’re all brothers).

Surrender to the Highlander is out Tuesday January 30.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

The ending was an interesting one, but after sitting with it for a while I have a bit of a quibble. I’ll put it behind a Read More tag (trigger warning for discussion of rape and suicide).

(ETA: well, beans, I guess the Read More only works if you’re on the blog’s main page, not the post itself, so feel free to stop reading here if you wish.) Continue reading “Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #5)”

mini-review · stuff I read

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282Summary from Goodreads:
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

The premise of The Immortalists is very intriguing: if told the exact date of your death, would it change how you lived your life? Does this mean that the lengths of our lives are predestined, limited to the thread spun, measured, and cut by the Fates of Greek mythology? Four siblings in the waning, hot days of 1960s Manhattan get word that there is a woman who can predict, to the day, when you will die. It doesn’t matter that such a thing is preposterous, or impossible, they feel compelled to tempt fate. This outing fractures the family forever.

The result is a very compelling novel about how perceived fate impacts the Golds’ lives. Some feel compelled to take risks, others to “play” it safe. The first two sections with Simon and Klara read very quickly. Their characters’ lives are vivid, fast-paced, and surreal. I found their stories the most compelling. The third section was Daniel’s and I had trouble with his section for some reason. It felt as if the plot and his life plus his “date” didn’t quite make sense to me. The book picked up again with Varya – her section does have a lot to think about with its focus on longevity (are you getting more years or better years?), asceticism, and self-denial. An excellent book to kick off the reading year.

Trigger warning: If you’re sensitive to animals being hurt, there are some pages in Varya’s section that are rough.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (transl. Elizabeth Bryer)

29633622Summary from Goodreads:
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as “the time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez (b. 1975, Lima, Peru), critic, scholar, and author, founded PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York, where she lives, and won the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize for her debut novel, Blood of the Dawn.

Blood of the Dawn came across my radar when Amanda recommended it on a recent episode of All the Books.  So I picked it up at the library and put it in my readathon stack. And it is an absolutely heartbreaking and stunning short novel set during the time of the Shining Path insurgency told through the voices of three women: a revolutionary true-believer, a Quechua villager, and an upper-class reporter/photographer. Brutal, pain-soaked, and surreal.

TW for rape, which is an unavoidable event during this period in Peru and used against women on both sides of the conflict, and other brutality.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #12)

27240748

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

When I started reading romance again in 2011/2012, there were only three books in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series.  And then three more…then three more.  Now, the twelfth and final book has arrived and I was really looking forward to this.  The series has evolved in a direction that I don’t think anyone expected and I really wanted to know how Hoyt was going to wrap it up. Besides, Raphael was introduced in Duke of Pleasure and that was very…intriguing.

Duke of Desire was not the book I was expecting.  It’s a good book, and I really liked it, but it felt more a conclusion to the 10-12 trilogy (Duke of SinDuke of Pleasure, and Duke of Desire) than to all twelve books as a complete entity. I suppose I had wanted a “get the whole band back together” type of ending for the series.

The timeline for the book is too compressed, in my opinion, to really allow a solid relationship between Iris and Raphael to fully develop. Also, I think Raphael’s original plan – infiltrate the evil cult to take it down from the inside – was pretty half-baked. (Because you sort of have to participate in something icky then? like when the undercover cop has to do the line of coke so no one thinks he’s the narc…only this cult deals in rape and murder, not substance abuse, so what did Raph think he was going to have to do to gain the group’s trust? I have logistics questions. He didn’t answer Iris’s questions satisfactorily.) Lucky for him Iris showed up aka was served up to him because she was kidnapped by the cult by mistake forcing him to abandon his original plan. Iris surprised me as a heroine. She may not fight with swords like Alf but she stands her ground and picks apart Raphael’s mental blocks until he is able to function as a human again. (Speaking of Alf, boooo, no Alf. Kyle shows up, but not Alf. Humph. Also, no Val…because I would have relished his appearance at the climax of the plot.)

But a big trigger warning. This book gets dark, really dark. Hoyt had been dancing around depicting what the Lords of Chaos get up to for a few books now, but she really went for it in Duke of Desire. Raphael has PTSD and I think Hoyt really gave a good depiction of what it was like to suffer from psychological trauma at a time when those issues weren’t recognized. TW for descriptions of child abuse and rape.

(1,000,000 negative points to the cover designer. Got a scarred hero? Sure, put an unscarred dude on the cover. *side-eye*)

So that is it for Maiden Lane novels (there are a few novellas in the pipeline still).  Lord of Darkness with Megs and Godric is still my absolute favorite of the series, followed by Dearest Rogue and Duke of Sin.  Can’t wait to see what Elizabeth Hoyt has up her sleeve next.

Duke of Desire is out today!

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book from the publisher, but I also have it pre-order on my nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry

33413878Summary from Goodreads:
A fierce memoir of a mother’s murder, a daughter’s coming-of-age in the wake of immense loss, and her mission to know the woman who gave her life.

When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.

The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.

Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.

I had the digital galley on my radar, but wasn’t sure I was going to get to it until I heard Liberty absolutely raving about this book. So then I had to read it.

After the Eclipse is an extremely compelling book of memoir and crime writing. Sarah Perry confronts a lot in this book – institutionalized sexism and misogyny, family violence, domestic abuse, gender roles, trauma – and has created a complete work that brings her mother’s life and her own life into parallel and contrasting narratives. At the same time, there is no sensationalism. Although the catalyst for the work was the trial of her mother’s murderer, Perry uses the information she has gathered to better understand the parent she was denied the opportunity of knowing in life. A definite recommend.

Trigger warning for violence against women and descriptions of rape.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.