“The Tribulations of August Barton” is a sweet, kind of coming-of-age novella. Except it aims to show how the college experience has helped Augie find his voice, and with the help of his ex-prostitute grandma, Gertie, get a hold of his anxiety during a period of change. Augie may not have ventured very far to go to college (hey I didn’t, either) but it’s not about the distance. It’s about putting yourself in new situations and meeting new people, broadening your horizons in every sense of the word, and Augie definitely does that! Everything from his first time getting drunk, to falling in love, to even streaking in freezing temperatures, August finds his footing more than most in college. But throughout all of Augie’s adventures, there is this undercurrent of appreciating your elders, and spending time and enjoying the elderly while we have access to them that I found to be quite beautiful.
“The First Conception” is a very hard book to read for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The obvious: right in the synopsis we know that this is a revenge story told from the perspective of the female survivor—she was raped and abused sexually and physically her whole childhood and well into her adult years. This “inspired” her to take away the ability to conceive for the whole world. Now, I love a good revenge plot where the MC is less than “good”, especially when it’s over something as heinous as abusing a child so repeatedly. Also, there are your trigger warnings for rape, graphic violence against both women and men, sexual assault against children, spousal abuse, and if topics of infertility are sensitive for you, then this may not be a good fit. Granted, some of these warnings make sense for the genre—it’s billed as a thriller, after all—and while that’s fine, I think this book got to the point of being gratuitous.
This book has Jason Bourne vibes all over it: the best “gun for hire” out there suddenly finds himself on the other side of the sniper’s scope. He doesn’t know who put the contract out on him or for what offense—he’s a legend in his field, so the list of people who want our main character dead is pretty long. If Eidolon—also known as John, which, admittedly, is less intimidating—wants to stay alive, he has to figure out who put the contract out on him, and make them remove the hit, and hopefully before the people who have unexpectedly gotten close to him get hurt. This is a killer with some morals, after all. And, ultimately, if you like military action books with a Bourne and a sort of spy vs. spy vibe, then this is going to be a fast paced, fun read for you. But there are some trigger warnings!
I don’t know where to begin with “Picture Us in the Light”. The simple fact is that, at first, I thought the book was kind of slow and the odd section every now and again written in second person threw me through an uncomfortable loop, but then… well, then magic happened and I fell in love. This is such a great book with so many tender messages and depictions of what it’s like to be a modern day teenager who struggles to be perfect on paper for college admissions, constantly pushed to the brink by helicopter parents, and the deadly consequences of what being told “you aren’t good enough” can do to a young person. There were so many tender moments depicting parent/child relationships, and Danny’s love for Harry. The synopsis makes you think Danny is confused by his feelings for his friend Harry, but he never was. He knew, always knew, that he loved Harry, that he wanted to be with him, that the idea of being far away from Harry in college was devastating. And, interwoven with the slow burn mystery that gets unraveled through the course of the book, is an honest commentary on some current stances when it comes to race in America and immigrants. So, even with the slow start, this book had me as enamored as Danny was with Harry come the end.
If there is one central message to “Sophie Last Seen” it was: grief has no timetable. Or at least, that was the message I took away from this raw tale of a mother’s unrelenting search for her missing daughter. The story focuses on the way grief, and the anxiety riddled feeling of not knowing whether you should mourn someone’s passing or never give up the search, changes people. The way it shapes them and how it can both destroy, and reinvent them. Jesse, at the start of the novel, is nearly destroyed by the lack of answers she has regarding Sophie’s disappearance. She constantly searches, turning herself into an alcoholic and a bit of a hoarder as she believes every little thing she finds is a clue as to what happened to Sophie and where she is. Sophie’s best friend, Star, is nearly crippled by her guilt and the thoughts of what could have happened to her best friend to the point where she is haunted by images of Sophie and turns to self-harm in order to banish the disturbing thoughts and images. Their grief, guilt, and destructive coping mechanisms are incredibly raw and they create a tangible ache in the reader, even if they haven’t experienced what these characters are going through. It’s definitely not a light read, but it is a powerful one.
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