In the Existence of Mental Illness

Book Review

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

Amy is existing. She goes to work, makes excuses to avoid happy hours, and moves through life while knowing that simple existence is not right. She has something, a voice, a compulsion, a suffocating threat to any semblance of the life she used to have. Her friends continue to be there for her, but her secrecy, excuses, and separation keep her from accepting their kindness.

Lana Grace Riva has delivered a book that encapsulates mental illness, giving voice to every bit of Amy’s struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Reading Amy’s first-person account of her mental illness was true and gave a voice to what it’s like in the thick of it, not after years of medicine, therapy, and improvement. It’s a rare book that truly does this.

Thank you to Ms. Riva for gifting me with a copy of this book to review and provide my own thoughts about this valuable mental health novel.

A Special Place for Women

A Special Place for Women

By Laura Hankin

Jillian is lost. Her mother recently died, her writing job is over, and her crush (and former boss) is married. She’s searching for answers while dealing with her grief, and she’s coming up empty.

Enter the women of Nevertheless. They’re shiny and mysterious, rich and accomplished, and Jillian sees a story, a chance to reboot her career and fulfill her promise to her mother that she’ll use her journalism skills to do good. Little does Jillian know that joining this illusive club of well-to-do women who cloak themselves as do-gooders but have their own motives.

I enjoyed A Special Place for Women by Laura Hankin. This is a fast-paced read with well-developed characters and a plot that surprised me. With a satisfying ending, this was definitely a good read for me.

The Fastest Way to Fall

A Five-Star Book Review

The Fastest Way to Fall

by Denise Williams

Do you have a positive relationship with your body? I’ll admit that I don’t. I’ve always felt like I take up too much space and have battled cycles disordered eating and low self esteem for decades. Right now I’m at a low point in that cycle, TBH.

I think that’s why The Fastest Way to Fall resonated with me so deeply. Britta dreams of being a writer at BestLife, and when she gets the opportunity to compete in a column challenge in the hopes of being promoted. Tasked with reviewing the FitMi app and sharing her journey to reach her goals: “to look and feel good naked” and “to meet the weight limit to jump out of a plane,” she signs up with the app, gets a trainer, and starts on a course that she didn’t know she needed.

Wes, her trainer, has his own hills to climb. He’s the restless CEO at FitMi, worries constantly about his addict mom and absent sister, and feels like something is missing.

What happens when the two pair up? This is a romance, so you can guess! But what I loved even more about the book:

  • Britta is confident about herself before her health competition. She doesn’t know her full worth at the beginning of the book, but she knows who she is and embraces her life.
  • I feel most romances I read ignore a lot of male characters’ backstories. This book didn’t! We is a flawed but human character with a huge heart and sense of responsibility.
  • The workout scenes were precious and realistic. FitMi is a fictional brand that focuses on non-scale victories, and we need more of that in real-life. Britta’s claims of “I hate you” when Wes pushes her to try just a bit harder felt real, just like I would want in a personal trainer. (I’m married, so none of that romance spark, of course.)

In short, I loved this book and it as what I needed to read right now. Will I start a 5K training program tomorrow because of it? Who knows. But if a fictional story can make me think about personal changes, then it’s a great read.

A Year in Books – Part 1

As 2021 comes to a close, I’ve been taking a look back at my favorite reads for the year. This was a fun exercise to reflect on what I consider to be the best of the best for my year of reading.

January: A Woman is No Man

There are some books that manage to rip your heart out, filling you with grief for the characters, and then they give you hope for the future at their conclusion. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum is a story of three generations of Palestinian-American woman, and it explores fate, choices, culture, and traditions. It is a book about suppression and violence, but also about faith and personal strength. I loved it so much!

Read A Woman is No Man if you want to explore the depths of female relationships and cultural expectations.

February: A Court of Silver Flames

Sarah J. Maas took the Prythian world to the next level with her much-anticipated novel of Nesta and Cassian. With new mythology, new creatures, and new steam, A Court of Silver Flames is a great story of fierce action, heat, and love, all the things the Maasdom has come to expect.

What I loved most is that Ms. Maas went even further with this book. In taking us back to the Night Court and sharing Nesta and Cassian with us, Ms. Maas managed to build a fantasy that also addresses mental health, self worth, and the Me Too movement. The struggles and desire for empowerment may be cloaked in Fae magic here, but they’re relatable to us humans as well.

Read A Court of Silver Flames if you want a steamy book that makes your heart ache for an unlikeable protagonist (Nesta) while diving deep into a fantasy world that is well-designed and intricate.

February: The Four Winds

I couldn’t pick just one book for February, so here is my second favorite book from the shortest month of the year: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. Ms. Hannah is an author whose books I pick up knowing that my heart is going to be ripped out, and her newest novel did not disappoint!

I could feel the despair and heartache that these characters experienced in the Dust Bowl of 1930s Texas and in the neverending circle of poverty when Elsa, our heroine, moves her children to California in search of a better life. From the touching relationships between Elsa, her in-laws, her children, and her friends, and the emotive descriptions of the landscape during the Great Depression, Ms. Hannah has created a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Read The Four Winds if you love historical fiction and deep-rooted familial love alongside a lot of conflict.

February: Concrete Rose

And another favorite from February is Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, a book full of Ms. Thomas’s beautiful prose, vivid imagery, and glorious characters. I truly hope she continues to tell stories about Garden Heights because each novel gets better and better.

Maverick Carter is 17 and dealing with a lot: his dad is in prison, he’s dealing drugs outside of his gang’s operation, and he just found out he’s a father. That’s just the start of the challenges that Maverick faces in Concrete Rose, and every bit of his journey brings all the emotions. With plenty of Easter eggs from The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, this book takes us back to the Garden Heights in the 1990s. It’s a powerful, emotional book that deserves all the Sevens, all the roses, and all the stars.

Read Concrete Rose if you want a brutal, beautiful story of a young man who has to grow up suddenly and to see how his choices make an impact on everyone’s future.

March: People Like Her

People Like Her by husband-wife writing team Ellery Lloyd is a cautionary tale about social media, motherhood, and appearances not being what they seem. Told from three points of view, the story is fast-paced and nuanced. We get an inside look at the world of Instamums, their hangers-on, and what happens behind the little squares of our favorite social platform.

I loved the relationship between Emmy and Dan, the power couple of the story. They love each other, but also they want to pay their bills and achieve greatness. As their priorities conflict, their husband-and-wife relationship becomes more convoluted, ending in a climax that shocks you.

Read People Like Her if you like fast-paced novels that make you question all your expectations of the characters and if you want to see a behind-the-curtain view of social media influencers.

April: The Last Story of Mina Lee

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a beautiful read! Ms. Kim crafted a gorgeous story about family, loss, language, and tragedy. I loved the dual timelines that told the story of Mina Lee and her daughter, Margot. With differences in culture, understanding, and desires, this mother-daughter relationship is complex but realistic, and I felt empathy for both characters.

The book shares the immigrant experience in a vulnerable, often brutal way, while honoring the stories of each character. As her debut novel, Ms. Kim has set the bar high and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Read The Last Story of Mina Lee if you like books about mother-daughter relationships and the complexities of the immigrant experience.

May: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

I know there have been comparisons to Daisy Jones & the Six, but The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton goes so far beyond a journalism-style review of a 1970s rock group. Ms. Walton addresses racism and bigotry in the U.S., weaving a story that shows that we really haven’t done that far since the 1970s. She illustrates how women’s voices – especially those voices of BIPOC women – were silenced then and now. She brings together music and fashion to demonstrate how art can take so many forms for so many people.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev that spans 40 years but is timely for today. It is a book that is about much more than music and a failed rock band. It’s about the choices each character has made themselves and the demands that society places on them because of their appearances and their backgrounds.

Read The Final Revival of Opal & Nev if you love it when an author combines historical fiction, music, and social justice to craft a great story that sticks with you.

June: Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Different than most of my heavy picks for the first half of 2021, Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano is a wild romp of a novel that pits a woman who’s life is falling apart against her ex-husband’s fiancé.

This book was funny and fresh with a touch of murder-for-hire thrown in. Finlay is a nuanced protagonist who makes a lot of bad decisions but remains plucky and endearing at the same time. I enjoyed this one at lot more than anticipated, so it was a pleasantly surprising read. My only complaint was I wanted more backstory for Vero, Finlay’s nanny-accountant-accomplice.

Read Finlay Donovan is Killing It if you like protagonists who make bad decisions but keep a deadpan sense of humor about them. Pick it up before the sequel, Finlay Donovan Knocks Em Dead, drops in February 2022!

What’s Next?

I’m wrapping up the last half of 2021 this week and still haven’t found my favorite book for December! Stay tuned for what I choose! Happy reading, friends!

A Darker Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone

By Leigh Bardugo

A 4-⭐️ Book Review

I fully recognize that this is probably an unpopular opinion, but here it is: I liked Shadow and Bone, but I didn’t love it.

Let me say this, I know that the Grishaverse fandom is strong, and I get it. I understand how people could ship Alina and Mal. I see the appeal of the Grisha. I definitely appreciate the world-building in this book.

But it just felt a bit flat to me. I wanted more of Baghra and Genya. I wanted more of the Darkling. And I definitely wanted more steam from Alina and Mal.

This book is good, but it wasn’t a 5-star read for me. It’s a “very happy to have read” because I’m glad I know the story now, but it’s not at the top of my list. Maybe that’s because I read it so slowly and have been in a heavy mindset for the past few weeks.

Have you read Shadow and Bone or another Grishaverse book? I have several recommendations that I should read the Six of Crows duology. What do you think?