[781]: Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

The writing duo of Keeland and Ward are one of those author collabs whose work I tend to enjoy. I haven’t fully explored their back list, but I can at least admit that whenever I see they have a new release, my ears perk up. The instant reaction is the compunction to one-click that baby right into the oblivion that is my Kindle.

Their latest (which I read in one night — soon after I got in the mail, no less) didn’t disappoint. You’ve got a Brit who followed his dreams right to the US of A, and an American novelist with a pet pig. The best part of a romance novel is how an author (or authors, in this case) connects two unseemingly likely characters right into the path of love. For Griffin and Luca, it all started when they were kids and with the aid of a good ol’ snail mail. Once pen pals for years, the two lost connection when they were on the cusp of adulthood. There were reasons, of course. But Griffin never did find out what they were. One night, when Griffin was feeling the sting of rejection, Griffin wrote Luca a hate mail that she didn’t get to read until years later.

Admittedly, this book was emotionally-charged than usual. At the risk of spoiling one of the driving force of the plot, Luca, over the years, had become a recluse. She shied away from people and being in public places. She does her grocery shopping in the middle of the night when there’s very little chance that she’d run into people. Aside from her ancient therapist, she spoke to the grocery clerk that works the night shift and her pet pig, Hortencia. Her world shrunk considerably. And then there’s Griffin – whose station in life couldn’t be more different.

In other words, they have a huge stumbling block to face if they ever want to give their relationship a go. There’s also the distance: Griffin is based in Los Angeles, and Luca in Vermont. Regardless, they’ll give it a fighting chance — until they couldn’t.

While it would’ve been tempting to let Luca be the type of character who miraculously found cure for her disorder in a man, the authors didn’t cop out and do just that. Luca needed patience, kindness and generosity in her partner so I feel like Griffin was just that person. It was frustrating at first, to give Luca her space, but in the end, I understood. Because sometimes, the pressure of trying to be “normal” for the people that we love hurts us more than we realize.

Once again, the writing duo of Keeland and Ward deliver in spades. A story about how important it is to accept that sometimes, we have to give the people we love what they need even if it means forgoing ours. Griffin understood Luca’s predicament and he didn’t push her just because he wanted to be with her. If you’re asking if this ends in HEA, *spoiler alert* it does.

Huge shout out to Montlake Romance and Thomas Allen & Sons for letting me be a part of this blog tour. Please follow along!

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[780]: The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

I’ve always found that novelists from Scandinavian and Asian countries to be first class story tellers in the Thriller genre. I don’t know what it is but their books, as well as the movies just give me the chills.

The Good Son definitely fit the bill as well. Written by a Korean author, this book tells the story of a man who woke up bloodied but somehow relatively unharmed. Upon further examination, he finds scratches and bite marks on his arm. And as he moves about his house, he finds his mother in her bedroom — in a bloodbath with a deep slash across her neck. He realizes too soon, and with uncanny calmness that he may have had a hand in her death.

The story pieces together in a series of flashbacks while he tries to figure out the next step: turn himself in? Bury his mother? Or dispose of her body then leave the country altogether. But the more time he spends trying to decide his next move, the more bodies fall.

The terrifying thing about the story is the undetached way he spoke of the deaths. Because, yes, soon enough, the readers will realize that our character gets a thrill out of killing people. Especially the process of how he stalks his prey then calmly watch them bleed. As if he’s roasting marshmallows or something.

We also learn that he’s always been deranged even as a child. The first time he saw his dad used an antique razor while shaving, he asked with cold-blooded intensity if he could have his blade when he dies. Which was the reason why his mother hid it from him over the years. But he found it anyway. It was especially chilling to find out that he had a part in the deaths of his father and brother.

The Good Son challenges the basic idea of nurture vs. nature. And while in most cases, someone can be nurtured into someone not homicidal, this is an exception where nature definitely wins over nurture.

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[779]: Silent History by Eli Horowitz, et al.

I was under the impression that this book is a horror. But as the chapters flew by, it quickly become clearer that it was more Sci-Fi than anything. I enjoy Sci-Fi/horror anyway, and since I don’t have very many of those, I’m always game to dive in. However, I felt that this book went way too long for my taste and it didn’t have the sustainability to keep a reader like me.

In here, we find a generation of children without voice and no means of communication. It was as if they were born without that part of their brain. Parents, doctors, scientists were confounded. The children can’t speak, and unable to make any sounds at all. They were shunned by other children who can speak, treated as if they were mentally handicapped. But the worst part of all was that they were vulnerable to predators. Case in point, a kid who was abducted while shopping in a mall when he couldn’t scream for help.

Told in part as chronicles of testimonials, The Silent History contains a world whose ability to communicate vastly changed. Half of the world spoke in a telepathic manner but was not taught and can’t be learned. Though this book is 500-some odd pages, I found myself racing through 50% of it. It was a fascinating world, one where half the population scrambled to learn about a new kind of language all together.

However, it doesn’t take time until I found myself lost — not in the story, but literally lost. The plot quickly becomes convoluted. With the discovery of nanotechnology that enabled the children to speak, the Science of it all complicated what was an otherwise absorbing story. And as the cure was slowly introduced, so were the factions that contributed to the chaos. It was harder to keep track of the number of points of views — and there were many.

The cure, while great on the surface, became a bone of contention for some parents and the government. After the kid was saved from the sexual predator that kidnapped him, the government instituted a law that aimed to protect children under the age of 6. They made it a law to have all outfitted with the cure. And while I can understand why the parents would want their kids to have the ability to speak, I also saw why some parents were against it. In essence, the cure would invariably change their children into different people altogether. Some chose to let the children decide for themselves as adults.

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[778]: Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Hollow Kingdom follows the story of a world that succumb to the zombie apocalypse. Told through the eyes of a pet crow, Shit Turd walks us through a world suddenly devoid of ‘mofos’ — humans, in other terms. Ever loyal to his master, ST tried his best to cure Big Jim from his zombification. But when all else failed, he had no choice but to leave the only home he’s ever known to try and make sense of what became of the world. Accompanied by Dennis, Big Jim’s bloodhound and ST’s only remaining friend in the world, they set out to rally the rest of the animal kingdom and salvage what was left.

Part horror-part dark comedy, Hollow Kingdom was largely an homage to the humanity’s penchant for destruction. And while it was not said that the cause was a virus created in a lab, I think that the author aims to show us that Mother Nature is more than capable of destroying those who was determined to destroy her.

The use of the animals’ points of view was brilliant itself. Because at the end of the world, the only living things that will remain are those of the floras and faunas variety. If you’ve read Anne Bishop’s The Other series, you will have a sense of the kind of perspective you can expect. There is a detachment and an uncanny amount of lack of emotional range. Astute, honest, candid, and somehow humourous. But that only changes as soon as the animals speak of their human families. I especially ached for ST. He was heartbroken as he witnessed the slow demise of Big Jim, his owner. He was trained as a house pet from the very beginning and had considered him as his best friend.

ST is a sentient crow, and because he saddled the worlds of humans and the animal kingdom, he felt the enormous responsibility to find a cure — or an explanation at the very least.

I enjoyed this book. It was ingenious and heartwarmingly funny. And despite the horror of waking up in a wasted world, Ms. Buxton was able to show the beauty in its haggardness.

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[777]: America’s Reluctant Prince by Steven M. Gillon

The summer of 1999 was the first time I’ve become aware of the impact the Kennedys have in America and the world as a whole. Tragically, it was because John perished in the sea with his wife, Carolyn and her sister, Lauren.

America’s Reluctant Price brought that feeling of loss back to the surface all over again. At the time, it felt like an incredible weight sat on my chest. And it was because of a squandered opportunity to know a great person when they were still alive. The loss felt greater somehow. It was like losing a person before you even get to know them. It left me feeling hollow.

Before I read this book, I can count on one hand all the things I know about John F. Kennedy, Jr:

  • He was a Kennedy.
  • He lived a charmed life.
  • He was handsome and magnetic.
  • He would’ve made his parents proud.
  • Had he lived, we would’ve perhaps change the course of America’s political landscape and made a great impact on the world.

But with every page, this book offered an insight that was every bit shocking, tragic, and beautiful at the same time.

John’s life was far from charmed. He was a mediocre student who barely scraped by. He was surrounded by people who were hypnotized by his presence and his name. Most of the time, he didn’t know who was real. Posthumously, he still fascinated the world.

But here, we see the real truth behind the handsome face — behind the charmed life. The truth was, he was burdened by the legacy of his name. Constantly afraid that he would never be good enough. I suppose it would be akin to having Michael Jordan as your father. That no matter what you do in life, the legacy will follow you around, and you will never measure up.

He was a devoted son who also did his best to be a good husband. but Carolyn could not cope with the same burden that John carried. Hounded by the paparazzi, she became a recluse. She ended up hating being married to someone whose birthright was in the same vein as royalty.

The truth is, John’s life was full of tragedy. Starting with his father who was assassinated in front of his mother. And it was almost befitting that his life would end tragically.

Most of the reviewers have commented that there’s nothing new about this biography. That if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. As one of the thousands who will always be in awe of the Kennedys, I will never stop reading about this family. I will forever be thinking of what could’ve been, what kind of life he would’ve led, and how great the world would’ve been had we not lost him.

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[776]: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

“I was both relieved and irritated when Reva showed up, the way you’d feel if someone interrupted you in the middle of suicide.”


I pretty much waited throughout the entirety of the novel for our nameless character to kill herself, to be honest. Not because I wanted her to meet her own doom on her terms, but it’s because she left me feeling like she was always on the precipice of offing herself. On the surface, she didn’t have anything to feel bad about her life: she’s wealthy, beautiful, and a job at an art gallery fresh off university. But she somehow found herself perpetually in the winter of her discontent. (Though, I’m sure saying that a person has no reason to be depressed about is toxic. Not to mention, that statement is counterproductive, completely insensitive and obtuse.)

This book, however, is exactly about that: our character’s self-induced, heavily medicated coma sleep but on her own terms. She wakes up intermittently only for personal hygiene and sustenance. Otherwise, she’s shut herself from the world. By her reasoning, the world has virtually forgotten her anyway. Her parents didn’t have time for her; her only semi-stable relationship has run its course; and her friend, though a constant presence in her life was a bit of a self-involved user. Her therapist can only be relied on for prescription drugs. So at the end of it all, the unsuspecting reader would feel as if they went through the wringer themselves. And I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

I have not read her first book. But based on the reviews, it seems like Ms. Mosfegh has a penchant for subjecting her characters to some pretty unconventional ways to deal with their mental and emotional anguish. The most shocking thing about them is that she makes it work — she’s very convincing. In here, our nameless protagonist has a pretty severe case of self-hate. That regardless of her seemingly blessed fortune, she still found ways to debase her own self. Unfortunately, she doesn’t find happiness at the end of the book. Or even a glimmer of hope that she’ll be happy with herself. The heartbreaking thing of it all is that this book climaxes during 9/11 and thereafter. So while people around the world found it in themselves to be happy about their lot in life, our character seemed unattached. And considering she lost her best friend in World Trade Centre, I didn’t find anything that closely resembles to a spark of life.

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[775]: Inside Out by Demi Moore

Demi Moore didn’t pull any punches in her memoir. When she decided to excise her demons, there wasn’t enough holy water left in the world to douse all the bad jujus she unleashed. The book in itself is not a big volume by any standards. At less than 300 pages, she was able to convey a highly emotional, painfully honest confession about her life, loves, failures, addictions, and perseverance.

She was a teen from New Mexico, constantly embroiled in her parents’ dysfunctional relationship. Abusive at times, toxic even. It was painfully clear that she would either follow in her parents’ drugs and alcohol addled footsteps, or she could choose a different path. And while those demons won out for a time, she somehow always found a way out. She was determined to be better. Determined to not make the same mistakes. But fame, money, and freedom always comes at a cost.

Her romantic relationships always start off ideal in their own ways. But what was common was there was always an age gap. Her first real relationship was with a man 12 years her senior (he was 28, she — 16). Her mother sold her for $500 to a man old enough to be her father. But before that, she had her first sexual intercourse with a neighbor with whom she thought was her friend. He was 23, she was 15.

And for a time it may seem like she’s always chasing safety and security that her parents never afforded her. Then she met Bruce Willis with whom she would have 3 daughters. Though it was at the period of her life when she found success in her career, juggling marriage, motherhood, and having a career would prove to be difficult. It was also during those times when she would put more pressure on herself to look a certain way. Punishing her body to levels of exhaustion and hunger. But still she wasn’t satisfied. Even if she was one of the most beautiful people in the world — and still.

She was branded by the media as a diva, one who wanted to get paid more. In the meantime, she was only doing her part to bridge the gap of income inequality in Hollywood. Slowly, she became one of the highest paid actress of her time. But things at home was slowly unravelling. Her’s and Bruce’s split coincided with her mother passing — her mother, with whom she hasn’t spoken to in years. Ironically enough, she’s long decided she will never depend on a man for her happiness due in part because she’d seen what it did to her mother. Unfortunately, her determination to be independent from Bruce lent to their break up.

Then she met Ashton Kutcher — a young actor 15 years her junior. The attraction was instantaneous. He was sweet, loving, kind and very supportive of her career and her family. Subconsciously, she knew she would do anything for him. Until they crossed a line they couldn’t go back from. She tried to learn from her mistake during her marriage with Bruce but it was a one-way codependency that she didn’t know until it was too late.

The only way out is in.

Andy Warhol

The title of Demi’s memoir was taken from painting that Andy Warhol gave Demi personally. And I couldn’t agree more. I think we all need to confront our painful pasts before we could heal and love wholeheartedly. It’s too bad that for most of us, it sometimes takes a lifetime for that realization to come. But for Demi, I think confronting her past was her attempt to eradicate the stigma that has long followed her all her life; and that is that she doesn’t belong, and she doesn’t deserve her successes and her place as one of the most revered actresses in Hollywood, if not the world.

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[771]: The Starlight Claim by Tim Wynne-Jones

I was able to get through Tim Wynne-Jones’ The Ruinous Sweep with great impatience. It was slow, and frankly, so weird. So I approached this book with trepidation. Thankfully, this was far from his 2018 release. Firstly, it wasn’t as verbose, nor as dense. It was a straight forward story telling that The Ruinous Sweep severely lacked. As well, this novel isn’t as ambitious as that Dante retelling.

Four months after his best friend disappeared, Nate is suddenly plagued with nightmares. Dodge, his best friend, was like a ghost or a restless soul that kept appearing in his dreams, pleading for Nate to find him. It is Spring in northern Ontario and winter has barely left, but he was confident enough in his survival skills to trek through the frozen landscape to the cabins both their families owned. It is where Dodge’s entire family perished and where he hoped to find Dodge. The bodies of his father and his brother were found, frozen and drowned. Dodge’s however, wasn’t. He was meant to go with someone else on this pilgrimage, but when his classmate was grounded, he decided to go on his own without the knowledge of his parents. It was a costly decision that would not only threaten his life, he would also come face to face with a family secret he thought was long buried.

He was in a race against a brewing blizzard, and the elements that was far from forgiving. With only two days to do what he set out to do, finding the cabins occupied by escaped convicts was not his idea of a good time. Now, not only is he pressed for time and the storm that was coming, he was also fighting for his life.

This was a fast pace read; it took me a day to finish it. Wynne-Jones’ writing didn’t let up from beginning to end. And though, I saw the twist from the get-go, it was still fun to see come to fruition. If you’re looking for an honest to goodness thrilling read, The Starlight Claim fits that bill. Bonus: the author perfectly captures the ambiance of frozen Canada and the coziness (if you can feel cozy whilst being hunted) of the cabin life.

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[770]: The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

It’s 1953 in Tehran. The country, for the most part, was governed by a democtratic prime minister. But it was in the grips of communism, regardless. Demonstrations happened every day, kids at school were divided in their ideologies. Roya, idealistic though as she was, remained somewhat detached. Her days were filled with family, school, and a once a week trip to a stationery shop where, for at least a couple of hours, enabled her to luxuriate in the words of Rumi.

Then one day, with a blast of cold wind, in came Bahman, ‘the boy who would change the world’. He had a penchant for politics. He was staunched in his belief that his country will remain unaffected by the pressures of globalization. He was handsome, charismatic, idealistic, and he shared Roya’s love for Rumi’s poems. The shop owner, seeing the palpable connection between the two, decided to intervene. Thus the relationship, albeit, short-lived, blossomed until Bahman’s proposal of marriage.

Then on the eve of their marriage, and on the night of the coup d’etat, Bahman disappeared. Desperate, Roya did everything she could to find him. Broken-hearted, not only for Bahman’s betrayal but for her country’s demise, Roya left Iran to study in America. It would be 60 years later would have the chance to find out why he never showed up at the meeting place they agreed to meet.

This novel is so sublime; quiet in its beauty. And despite the strife the country went through over the years, it still managed to paint Iran in all her glory. I can barely imagine this Iran, some sixty odd years ago. A country that somewhat progressive, depending on who was at the helm. In the backdrop of Bahman and Roya’s story was a history lesson of how many times their government was manipulated by outside forces, and how their people fought long and hard for peace and independence. Ideologies change over time; factions switch from one belief to the next so the country went through years of upheaval politically and socially.

They had one immovable force in their way: the dreams of a mother who favours status over the happiness of her own son. They were apart more than they were together. But even with the separation, their lives were governed by the memories of each other. And yet, their loved endured through decades. They each married different people but 60 years later, it’s as if nothing has changed.

The Stationery Shop was one of those unassuming novels that makes your heartache in the subtlest of ways. It spoke of a bravery for Bahman and Roya to move forward in their lives even though they know they will not be together. Roya’s life in America was not always the easiest. Being Middle Eastern and a woman at that, lent for some prejudice with which she had to contend. Bahman, on the other hand, grew to care for the woman his mother chose for him to marry. But despite the pretense, the memories of their young love was a ghost that haunted them.

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[769]: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Full disclosure: this book wasn’t in my radar until Jimmy Fallon featured it as a summer read for his book club. And while I don’t usually take any celeb’s reading suggestions to heart, there’s something about this book that called on my bibliophile sensibilities. And boy, was I happy I picked it up. This was an enduring, heart-captivating read about family, mental health, friendships, love and forgiveness for the people we love no matter the veracity of how they wronged us.

This is a story about two families whose lives are irrevocably connected regardless of time and circumstances over the years. We first meet the two patriarchs of the Stanhopes and the Gleesons in 1973. Besides being in the same profession (cops), they have nothing in common. But somehow, they end up living right beside each other. Behind closed doors, one wife dealt with the loneliness of young motherhood (Lena, Francis’ wife) while the other lived with mental instabilities that isolated her even in her home (Anne, Brian’s wife).

Years later, a friendship between Francis’ youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter blossomed. When they were both fourteen, and during one of Anne’s episodes, a violent crime was committed that would change the trajectory of their lives. What followed was years of loneliness for both Peter and Kate as they tried to deal with the fallout of the tragedy that struck their lives.

This is one of those books that no matter how ugly your connections were, fate somehow, someway, intervenes. That regardless the distance or how many years have passed, the connection can’t be severed. As in the case of Peter and Kate. Because of how their stories were intertwined, they’re never too far away from each other’s thoughts. And while Kate tried her best to move on, Peter, being the sensitive soul that he was, couldn’t. He loved Kate right from the beginning, and vice versa. Despite their families’ wishes to not see each other, and the mental and emotional baggages that came along with them, they were irrevocably tied.

My heart ached for Peter. He was, for all intents and purposes, abandoned by his own parents. Even though both were physically present, they had emotionally checked out from his life since his knowing years. His mother suffered from a mental illness that made her unstable. She was abusive at times, catatonic, most days. But on her good days, she was a mother who doted on Peter. His father, on the other hand, did his best. And unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t strong enough to carry the load. He left Peter in the care of his brother, George — who gave him the emotional support of a father.

In the end, and in the rubble of years of heartaches and disturbing pasts, love survives. Forgiveness endures. Family remains. I think those were the foremost lessons I have gleaned from this book. There are no villains here. Just people surviving from one day to the next.

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