Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey checks all the boxes for me to make it a 5⭐️ book. I loved this surprisingly brutal novel because of it’s characters and prose, and I highly recommend Inconvenient Daughter as a next read!
Rowan Kelly lives on Long Island with her parents and younger brother, but from the moment her 5-year-old peers question where her “real” mom is at Kindergarten Drop-off, she knows that she is different. Rowan and her brother were adopted from Korea by a white couple, and while there are details available about her brother’s bio parents, Rowan knows nothing. From the outset, Rowan’s perceived other-ness drives her decisions and her search for acceptance.
What I loved about Inconvenient Daughter:
Rowan’s story of being a transracial adopted child is not often one that I’ve seen in a novel, and I am here for it. I have friends who were adopted, and I could relate Rowan’s story to what they’ve shared about their own experiences. This book remained true to Rowan, despite all of her bad decisions, and her feelings about being adopted, not knowing about her bio parents, and questioning whether she was truly wanted by her Irish-Catholic parents who do not look like her.
The Complex Relationships
Rowan and her mom have the usual teenage girl/mom fights about clothes, school, and boys, but underneath those explosive arguments, Rowan believes that ultimately Mom did not want her, did not accept her, and will not be satisfied with Rowan’s decidedly average achievements.
The Search for Self-Worth
The bulk of this novel is about how Rowan grapples with the desire to be worthy of others. She seeks outward praise from her mom and in intimate relationships, which lead to startling consequences for this young woman.
Ms. Sharkey uses multiple timelines to tell Rowan’s story, giving us a look at what happened in childhood and young adulthood and then switching to the present to let us feel how all of those experiences shaped Rowan in the now. The prose is stark – beautiful and dark while remaining simple and clear, making this book all the more powerful.
I listened to Inconvenient Daughter as an audiobook, but I plan to find a physical copy to add to my shelves because I loved it so much. At 232 pages, this short book packs so much into the story, and I know I’ll want to revisit it in the future – a true indicator that this is a 5-star book.
If you’ve been around any book lovers on social media in the last minute, you have seen a post or two about Sarah J Maas and her trio of series: Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and most recently Crescent City. The general consensus amongst Bookstagrammers is that these series are swoon-worthy, fandom-worthy, and praiseworthy. There are some naysayers amongst the group, and the best series is up for debate, but overall, these series are popular to the max.
I am fully entrenched in the SJM camp, mostly because of my love for A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR). This was the first SJM series I read, and while I love Throne of Glass (Celaena and Rowan forever) and think Crescent City is well-worth the read, ACOTAR will always have my heart. Here’s why I love this series so much.
A Retelling of the Best Kind
ACOTAR begins as a retelling of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. There are plenty of references to this much-beloved tale in the first book, from which the series draws its name. We meet our protagonist, Feyre Archeron, as she’s trying to feed her father and two sisters after years of hardship and poverty, into which the family was thrust when her merchant father wrongly hinged all his fortune on a ship full of riches and paid for it with a crippling beating from his creditors. That loss, along with the tenuous treaty between the human world and the Faerie who live across the border (The Wall), have left the Archeron family in a wooden shack where Feyre takes on all the responsibilities for her family as her father has regressed into depression and her sisters, Nesta and Elain, are still mourning their life of riches.
In desperation, Feyre becomes a huntress and in a moment of fear and opportunity, she kills a wolf in the forest beyond the wall. That wolf pelt will feed her family, she knows, but she sees something unique in the wolf’s eyes before she makes the kill. This is where the story begins, and Feyre quickly learns that her kill would not be without repayment when a monstrous beast breaks into the Archeron cabin in the middle of the night. He terrifies the family as he demands to know who killed the wolf. Feyre, as she has done so many times before, sacrifices herself to protect her father and sisters. The beast insists she become his prisoner, and he takes her into the Faerie world beyond The Wall.
This is classic Beauty and the Beast inspiration, and I am here for all of it. The beast – named Tamlin – whisks Feyre to a mysterious castle where he shifts back into his Fae form, complete with a mask welded to his face. Tamlin is High Lord of the Spring Court, a brooding High Fae who protects his lands with mystery and passion. As the original BATB story goes, the Beauty melts the Beast’s cold exterior, but in ACOTAR, it is Tamlin’s wooing that eventually breaks Feyre’s apprehension.
Feyre faces kidnappings and challenges within a High Fae’s nightmare court as we meet Amarantha, a former general and now self-proclaimed Queen of Prythian, the Faerie realm. Amarantha is cruelly evil against her subjects Under the Mountain, and presents Feyre with three challenges to free Tamlin, who is now imprisoned by the Queen. From this adventure to those in the next four books, the story expands from a retelling of BATB and into an epic story of love, found family, war, and magic. It is glorious, and please read it!
As the story grows beyond Book 1, the depth of the characters grows and becomes more intimate. When I first read the series and then re-read it, I found my love for the characters deepening because no one is who they seem at first, each has a backstory, and each acts with a passion to reach their goals. Here are four of my favorite characters, although I could go on about many more. (Note: This is where I’ll be spilling a few spoilers for the series.)
Feyre: She loves her family (biological and found), will sacrifice herself, and doesn’t know how much she can accomplish. She is full of fire and love, but she is much more. She feels deeply and puts herself in danger to protect others; she’s flawed and guilt-ridden because she can’t eliminate all pain. Her guilt pushes her to fight against evil, and she does it with a beautiful partner next to her.
Rhysand: At first meeting, this half-Fae, half-Illyrian High Lord is the typical bad boy with a heart of gold. He sacrificed himself to Amarantha’s court to protect the people of Velaris, his Night Court home. Like Feyre, he feels a deep sense of responsibility for his people and is willing to do anything to protect his citizens, his found family (The Inner Circle), and his mate, Feyre. He is overprotective in many ways, but he believes in Feyre’s power more than she does herself.
Morrigan: This magnetic siren of a High Fae woman is Rhysand’s cousin and a member of the Inner Circle. She is sexy and flirtatious, but she uses those traits to hide the painful past that exists because her father feared her immense power so much that he sold her in marriage to a son of the High Lord of the Autumn Court. Morrigan fought the marriage and was punished, but she escaped to the sanctuary of the Inner Circle and will fight to the death to save them.
Azriel: This Illyrian warrior is mysterious, literally cloaked in shadows that swarm around his massive wingspan as he watches everything. He and Rhysand met in the Illyrian war camp when they were children sent there to train, joining together with Cassian, another one of my favorite Illyrians. Azriel is the spy shadowsinger of the Inner Circle, and he remains silent most of the time, but once he has something to say, people listen. He is haunted by his past and even shy, pining for Morrigan and then Elain. While he may be one of the most lethal of the Inner Circle, he is also one of the most gentle characters in ACOTAR.
There are so many more characters I could talk about: Cassian, Manon, Nesta, and more. But I’ll stop to transition to the third reason I love this series.
The World Building of Prythian
This was my first venture into High Fae fantasy, and I had no idea how much I loved it. SJM does an amazing job of world-building throughout the series. The unique characters, the settings across the nine Courts of the Prythian realm, the monsters, and the lore that lives in the background of these stories is just so intriguing and fantastically described.
Reading an ACOTAR book is like being whisked away into a technicolor world of intrigue, romance, violence, and magic. It’s a world that I am here for. If you want a deeply descriptive book, illustrative of a fully fleshed-out story and history for all characters, then this is the series for you.
I hope these three reasons will be enough to encourage you to read the ACOTAR series in its entirety, or at least give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Writing a book review about a thriller is a challenge for me. I want to provide a good synopsis of the book, as well as my thoughts, but try to avoid spoilers as much I can. Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins presented such a challenge. So, here’s a friendly warning, this post may contain a few spoilers.
Lux followed her new boyfriend, Nico, from California to Hawaii with the hope of making a new life with this intriguing, good-looking man. Before meeting Nico, she was lost, having watched her mother die of cancer, quitting college, and waitressing to make ends barely meet. Nico presented her with a grand plan: he’d sail his boat, The Susannah, to Hawaii where Lux could meet him and they’d earn enough money to then start their sea adventure across the world.
A few months after arriving in Hawaii, Lux and Nico still haven’t started their global travels. With a damaged boat and Nico’s apparent satisfaction in working on the docks, they’ve grown stagnant, and Lux isn’t sure what will happen next. Then they meet Brittany and Amma, two college girls who have been on a whirlwind international trip and want to end it with a bang on a sailing trip to Meroe Island, a remote location with a dark history of shipwrecks, military bases, murder, and even cannibalism. The girls offer enough money for Nico to repair his boat in order to take them to Meroe Island, and Lux agrees with the plan with the hope that this will jumpstart her and Nico’s travels.
When they arrive at Meroe Island, the four discover that two more travelers have had the same plan. Jake and Eliza are a beautiful, sun-kissed couple with money and a gorgeous boat, Azure Sky. While Amma shows disdain for the unplanned additions to the group, Jake and Eliza are magnetic personalities with plenty of wine and good food.
Meroe Island is mysterious and exotic, but the allure starts to wear away for Lux. Then, with the new arrival of Robbie, another sailor with a much more questionable past. Lux takes an instant dislike of him. Robbie disrupts the balance of the group but disappears with as much mystery as his arrival. Soon, Lux suspects that Brittany and Amma have a dangerous connection and starts to further question her relationship with Nico.
The entire trip starts to fall apart, with blood, skulls, and drugs. Lux doesn’t understand what has happened, and soon all that she knew explodes.
What I liked about Reckless Girls:
The multiple timeframes and points of view. This book is set in The Before and The Now. While Lux is the protagonist, we learn more about Brittany and Amma in their own chapters.
Meroe Island (at first). Sailing to an abandoned island seems exotic and adventurous, and I like the idea of being on a beach with just a few people, but after reading a few chapters of the island’s descriptions, I don’t think it would be for me.
What I did not like about Reckless Girls:
The overall plot. I liked this book at first, and I am happy to have read it. However, I don’t think gothic mysteries are for me.
The characters. None of the characters in Reckless Girls are likeable. Unreliable narrators, characters with questionable pasts? I’m here for those in a lot of books, but these characters, including Lux, were just too much for me.
The ending. This resolution of this book definitely soured my opinion of it. I wanted more. It felt too much like a movie ending where the producers forced a cliffhanger.
Overall, I’m glad I read this book because of the hype I’ve seen on Bookstagram and because this was one of my Book of the Month picks. But, it wasn’t one that I loved and the ending was unsatisfactory.
I spent years fighting my brain, trying to heal myself, hide my struggles, and normalize who I am. I have come to (mostly) accept that my serious mental illness is part of who I am.
About a week ago, I received an unsolicited DM on my Bookstagram account. I had posted a photo the night before, referencing how reading books – getting lost in novels – is a refuge for my diagnosed anxiety disorder. The next morning, a probably well-meaning follower offered to send me samples of Matcha tea because she claimed that drink would soothe my anxiety and help my mental health.
Was she correct? Does Matcha help mental illness? According to a quick Google search, Neuroscience News reported in 2019 that a new study showed promising results when people with anxiety drank Matcha (read more here). Nevertheless, this seemingly innocuous DM enraged me. After deleting the DM and blocking the sender, I posted a photo of a green stack of books in support of #mentalhealthawareness that encapsulated my feelings about this unsolicited message. Here is an excerpt from that post:
I have disclosed my mental health struggles and the importance of mental health awareness. On top of sharing my love of books here, I use this little space of mine as a place to vocalize what took me decades to own (and some days I still fight it). Engagement on those posts mean[s] the world to me.
But what doesn’t help? Receiving an unsolicited DM this morning that “matcha will make you feel better” and that “you’re happy to send samples.”
Honey, don’t you think I’m trying every avenue to feel better already? Don’t you get that a serious mental illness is just that – an illness? Your DM reeks of trying to monetize my struggles, with scents of an MLM proposition on the side. Don’t capitalize on my honesty and vulnerability. Don’t @ me anymore.
Why was I so upset? Because it felt too personal and it felt like the sender was trying to capitalize off my disclosure. It’s ironic that a “hard DM / promote it on [insert mental health tag here]” comments flooded the responses to my post, comments that I promptly deleted. But the experience has me thinking about why I post about mental illness.
Mental Illness Should Not Carry Shame
I spent years fighting my brain, trying to heal myself, hide my struggles, and normalize who I am. I have come to (mostly) accept that my serious mental illness is part of who I am.
At first, as a teenager, I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought I was abnormal and hid my thoughts. I didn’t have the language to describe what was happening. Then, after a vodka-sodden night that ended in me tearfully blurting out the story of my sexual assault in college, my friends insisted that I try therapy. It wasn’t easy. Suicide attempts, psychiatric holds, and bulimia followed. But therapy and medicine helped me to find the words.
I learned that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, just like having any physical illness should not carry shame. My brain chemistry does not work correctly. The chemicals and the neural pathways need a prescribed boost to help me deal with my clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t need to explain this to everyone, but I do disclose when necessary or when I feel so compelled.
We Need to End the Stigma of Mental Illness
Aside from not understanding what was happening in my brain, the stigma of mental illness kept me from disclosing anything for a long time. Despite posting about it here and on my Bookstagram account, I don’t talk about it on a regular basis with people, other than close family. But, I am always aware of it. Completing my dissertation on mental health in the workplace helped me to understand the stigma that people with serious mental illnesses (SMIs) face. Also, I started to gather statistics to quantify the impact of SMIs in the world. I’m clearly not alone.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that in 2020, one in 20 U.S. adults – 14.2 million people – experienced an SMI (nami.org, 2022). And, one in five U.S. adults (52.9 million) experienced mental illness that year (nami.org, 2022). While the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant influencer of mental health in 2020 and continues to have an impact now, the numbers prior to the pandemic are just as significant:
From 2008 to 2019, the percentage of U.S. adults who had any mental illness (AMI) increased from 39.8 million people to 51.5 million people, and SMIs in the U.S. adult population increased from 8.3 million to 13.1 million people (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020). So, to break that down into percentage growth over a decade prior to the pandemic: AMIs increased by 29% and SMIs increased by 58%.
Those numbers – before the pandemic and during – are nothing to scoff at. So why does mental health stigma still exist? In my opinion, it’s a lack of education, a lack of awareness, and a deep-rooted fear that it can happen to anyone.
Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate
The research on which populations are more susceptible to mental illness varies; however, it is true that anyone can experience mental illness. The disparities exist in who is more fortunate to have access to mental health services. As a white woman whose employer provides medical insurance, who has the funds to take care of my copays and prescription costs, and who has the option to choose from a variety of doctors, I am extremely privileged. It wasn’t always like this – there was a time in my life where I did not take my medications because of the out-of-pocket expense – but I have access to the help I need.
Others are not fortunate like me.
Statistics about Demographic Groups with Mental Illness
All data provided by nami.org (2022). Of demographic groups that have any mental illness, the groups that have the highest percentage of treatment are
Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual: 54.3%
Non-Hispanic white: 51.8%
Of demographic groups that have any mental illness, those with the lowest percentages of treatment are
Non-Hispanic Asian: 20.8%
Hispanic or Latino: 35.1%
Non-Hispanic black or African American: 37.1%
Treatment is not equalized amongst the U.S. population (or any population). All statistics available from nami.org (2022).
11 years: The average time it takes between onset of a mental illness and treatment
134 million: The number of people who live in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area
11%: The percentage of U.S. adults who had a mental illness and no medical coverage in 2020
11.3%: The percentage of U.S. adults who had an SMI and no medical coverage in 2020
46.2%: The percentage of U.S. adults with mental illness who received treatment in 2020
64.5%: The percentage of U.S. adults with SMI who received treatment in 2020
Why I Need to Talk About Mental Illness
Sharing about my mental illness is not easy. It is not something I take lightly. But for all the reasons above, and more that I can’t quantify right now, I feel obligated to disclose what I struggle with. I have a tiny platform, but I have a voice. It’s important to me that I share it.
But don’t DM me with a proposition to capitalize on my decision to speak out.
Did I stay up past my bedtime to finish one more book in February? Yes.
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult is a 5-star book with so much heart and thought surrounding the story of Diana as she faces the start of the pandemic in New York City in March 2020. This book treats the COVID pandemic and all who have been impacted by it with care and opened my eyes to others’ experiences.
What I loved about this book
Diana’s drive and ambition, to which I can totally relate, and how she struggled when life took an unplanned turned.
Finn, Diana’s boyfriend, who is a frontline resident and whose narrative builds respect and empathy for all caretakers.
The Galapagos. I definitely added this archipelago to my bucket list after reading Picoult’s descriptions.
The people Diana meets on Isabela Island. Beatriz and Gabriel are rich, nuanced characters. Abuela is a joy.
This book is full of triggers, as the pandemic is still real in so many ways. But, Picoult handles it with the grace and beautiful writing for which she is known. I definitely recommend this book as I found it to be unique and engaging.