Book Review: Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Three out of Five stars

I didn’t know much about this book other than the information on the dust jacket. It sounded funny. It sounded kind of like a Harry Potter thing with the school of magic. I didn’t know that it was a carry-over from her Fangirl novel (which I haven’t read). I didn’t know that it was like a fanfic inside a fanfic trying to be a stand alone novel. The similarities to Harry Potter (while not reading as parody) were so jarring that I had to stop a few chapters in and Google some information on this book.

It is entertaining. It is important as a LGBTQ+ positive, YA novel. And it does stand on its own merits. Eventually. The first half of the book was slow and too steeped in Harry Potter parallels. I know we all miss JK Rowling’s world, but we are not seeking to read something so similar that it could have been published on the internet under a screen name. I am just unsure as to why the later (unique) elements were not incorporated into the front of the book.

While I don’t mind switching view points, I think we had too many in this book. It detracted from the development and appeal of other characters. The conclusion was also anticlimactic for our main protagonist.

Carry On was not a bad book, but I would say that it was a disappointment from Rainbow Rowell.

My Painful Past

If you haven’t been following along, I like to set my readers in a good place to start the story. I was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia after a two year battle with daily pain and I have taken it upon myself to document my story of chronic illnesses here. When I think about it, when I really focus, I can remember a life-long relationship with pain.

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In elementary school, I sat out of a lot of P.E. activities. Mostly if they involved running. I have never been very sporty and grew to hate gym class but I don’t think avoidance was my issue. I distinctly recall that my ankles bothered me when I ran. I remember it as a sharp, jarring pain that was worse in one ankle than the other (which one I can’t be too sure of at the moment). I saw a doctor several times. I had X-rays done. I might have even worn a brace? But the most vivid memory I have of this time period is that a doctor eventually decided I had hurt my ankle and was now causing micro-fractures every time I ran on it. He put me in a cast (bright pink, waterproof) in the hopes that I would heal. It was very weird explaining to people that I had not broken anything really. I don’t remember what happened after that. I don’t know how long it took for my ankle problems to dissipate but they did. I don’t currently have problems with them and I haven’t had problems with them in a decade or more. It’s entirely possible that I grew out of whatever issue my ankle bones had with running.

In middle school, I graduated to back pain. I don’t remember if it took awhile for people to take me seriously or not. I do remember describing what I went through sometimes, as the muscles in my back gripping tight and refusing to let go (spasms). I remember I got pretty good care. I went through dozens of tests including five million scoliosis exams, XRays, an MRI, and a bone scan. A couple of those were damn near terrifying considering my phobia of needles and enclosed spaces.  The most frustrating part was that they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with chronic back problems. They thought maybe I had injured myself from carrying around a 25 pound french horn and a backpack that weighed even more as well as carrying my emotions in my back muscles. I went to a gifted and talented school and was pushed to be a high achiever. I was under too much stress for a thirteen year old.  They sent me to stress management counseling where I learned how to meditate (a skill that has been very useful to me over the years). In the end, my mom sought out chiropractic care and massage therapy. Both were considered way more alternative than they are now. But I actually found answers and relief. Although my situation would remain chronic.

Over the years I was able to achieve lower levels of pain and many, many pain-free days. I was able to remain moderately active. I didn’t need any prescriptions. I was never bed-bound. It became routine. Familiar. I was actually proud of my tolerance, considering it fairly high because I dealt with pain so often. It didn’t have a scientific name and I never wrote “back problems” down under medical issues. Life carried on.

At twenty nine I was pregnant. Along with many other issues including but not limited to debilitating fatigue, oily hair, burning acne on my chest, horrible depression and suicidal ideation, my old friend Severe Pain returned. It was most prominent in my tail bone, butt bones, and pubic bone and it started early. They liked to tell me that my body was preparing for labor and I would just stare at them like ,”Guys, I’m only two months in.” Exercising? Out of the question. Walking became ridiculous too. Rolling over in bed? Agony. It has come to my attention that I was probably suffering from Symphysis pubis dysfunction but even if I had gotten them to diagnose this, they still would have waved it off.

It set the precedent for the next two years: being in pain and being ignored.

 

Book review: Dog Songs

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

Five out of five Paws

When I asked for help to find this in the bookstore, the employee was enthusiastic, inquisitive, and he told me that I would love the poet. I just wanted to share that because it made me smile and think about the value of brick and mortar stores. I’ve worked at a chain bookstore and it was the only job I ever truly enjoyed.

Back to Mary Oliver: I had never read her which is kind of shameful as she won the Pulitzer, but I suppose there are too many writers out there for me to know everyone. This book was on my to-read list after it was recommended to a grieving dog parent. I had actually been interested to know if anyone was writing “good” dog poems. I should  know better than to ask such things of poetry.

Well, the bookstore employee was right. I did love this book. I even devoured it in only a few hours which never happens anymore. It made me cry. Books never make me cry.

I am aware that this review has become merely an overview of my visceral response rather than any thoughts on writing style or whatnot but I’d like to think that saying “this book broke and mended my heart” is review enough.

Book Review: The Scorpio Races


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

4.8 out of 5 Paws

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This is an unusual book and a bit of a jarring switch from her usual if you spent the past couple months working your way through Stiefvater’s books. I would classify this one as magical realism.

I loved that I could tell Stiefvater was a fellow horse lover. I didn’t know for sure until after I finished the book and looked it up. It was the way she wrote about them. Even the blood-thirsty sea horses.

I also ended up looking into whether or not Thisby is real place. It’s not. But it felt so real. That was one of the real strengths of the book. You could feel the sand and taste the salt on the air.

It was a love song to place and animals.

Book Review: Wild Becomes You

Wild Becomes You by Ashley Sapp

Five out of Five Paws

It’s about friendship and grief and depression. It’s about the beauty of nature and our bodies’ literal and figurative place on Earth. It’s about love.

This chapbook is timely. I feel intensely like it embodies the struggles and thoughts of the older millennial (as much as I hate that word). But then, it is not so rooted in the year 2017 that those from other and future generations won’t be able to relate. Honestly, a couple of poems (those particularly about the loss of friendship) hit me so hard and so exactly square in my chest that I stopped reading for awhile. But it was nice, so nice, to feel un-alone in such a situation that makes a person feel very isolated.

Sometimes I fear that mental illness (especially depression) and the notion of empowering the self (in particular, women) has become trendy. I have read some poems lately that felt bland and obvious. Ms. Sapp’s writing, her words and metaphors are unique. She makes you think about some of the things that others are talking about too, but she makes you see them in a whole new way.

I just really enjoyed this. And I hope, and also know, that Ms. Sapp will go far.

It Starts Here

back-1432137-639x852The journey starts here.

But I think “journey” is the wrong word because it sounds pleasant–all path through the autumn woods, yoga and protein shakes, essential oils and leggings. It was nothing like that. It was a battle–no–multiple battles. It was a war.

I’ve been kind of flailing through space here on my blog. I wanted it to be mostly about writing but in truth it has simply become a catch-all for any thoughts I can manage to get through a keyboard.  I’ve been wanting to give it a niche. Especially since I have vowed to keep all my new creative work to myself in an effort to traditionally publish.

Two weeks ago I was finally given a diagnosis for the chronic pain I had been dealing with for two years. This was the battle. If you’ve never been your own medical advocate, let me tell you how exhausting it is, how hopeless it feels. You bounce from PCP (primary care physician), to specialist, to alternative practitioner looking mostly for relief but also answers. They believe you a little, or not at all. Maybe they believe you fully but their hands are tied by licenses and degrees.

There’s nothing wrong with you.
Then why couldn’t I get out of bed?
Aren’t you glad?
Look, I’m happy that my blood is negative and that my organs function properly but there’s something wrong with me. And that’s ok. Ok? I’ve had “something wrong” with me for fifteen years now. But this is different. Help, please.

I battled my way to a diagnosis. I slashed and stabbed and bloodied many doctors’ offices as well as my own life. I have fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome/chronic pain disorder. My central nervous system is all screwed up with pain and pain signals. Finally: answers.

But I had only won one battle. There are many more to come. And there have already been others. This war didn’t start two years ago but fifteen. And it didn’t start in my muscles, my joints, nor my skin. It started in my head.

My senior year of high school I was diagnosed with social and general anxiety disorders. Four years earlier, I had experienced my first major depressive episode. In college, I spun through the whirlwind of hypomania. I had been self-harming for years by then. It wasn’t until grad school that any of these other issues were addressed. I had to completely combust first.  And, even then, it wasn’t until after I graduated that someone seemed to have a clue and the medications finally started working a little. I had been on so many. I had gained 80 pounds. I was merely surviving. I was bipolar (II). I had PTSD. I still had anxiety disorders. I was severely depressed for five long years.

The hardest battles are the ones you fight with yourself while laying in a dark room, staring at the wall.

Should I be writing about this? I’m already in enough pain daily. Should I be ripping open my soul and letting it bleed all over the internet? You know, nothing ever truly disappears on the internet. There are still people out there who don’t believe in any of my diagnoses (lol, ok, just go ahead and stick your fingers in your ears and sing “la, la, la”). There are people out there who think I’m a drug addict looking for a fix. There are people out there who think I’m just a lazy cow.

And that’s why I have decided to lend my voice to the other brave voices screaming to be heard. My blog, my little pocket of the internet, is now being dedicated to sharing my past and future experiences of being a writer with chronic illness.

(And book reviews.)

Book review: Your Soul is a River

 Your Soul is a River by Nikita Gill

Three out of Five Paws

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I discovered Nikita Gill on Instagram. I loved her content. The short poems were inspirational. My favorites spoke womanhood and the wolf. Of embracing the wild in you. One spoke so closely to my soul, that I have decided to tattoo it on my back someday.

Needless to say, I was excited to grab this book.

While three stars is not a bad review, I was expecting to read a five star quality chapbook. I was a little disappointed.

The book was divided into sections by theme, which would be fine and is not particularly unique, only here it serves to emphasize that Gill’s poems are very repetitive. Having motifs in your poetry is good, but Gill needs to find different ways, different words, to say similar things. As it stands now, the repetition of words and even phrases make the work bland and a little tedious.

That being said, the great poems in this collection are outstanding and the book itself is beautifully put together. The poetry is easy to understand (obvious sometimes, as a downfall) but I am a champion of accessible writing. Whatever it takes to get people to read.